‘Sure I’m old. Real old. You could only hope to get as old as me. But I’m not dead yet; just a little while longer and I’ll have made it all the way to the century. Once you’ve got three digits in your age, your safe.’
Jon stood in the hallway looking through the large windows that stretched the length of the room. The Sunroom they called it. There was a sign on the door that identified it as such. It didn’t seem like a particularly sunny place to Jon.
It was a large open common space, walled off with floor to ceiling glass that separated the space from the hallway. The residents gathered to spend their waking hours, doing activities together, performing for the therapy staff or just huddled in front of the big screen tv to watch game shows and be left alone. The staff never turned the channel to soap operas, too much drama, spousal cheating and kissing and they never let the residents watch the daily news, even worse than the soaps.
Many gathered there after breakfast. It depended in large part on what the day’s activities were going to be, as to who would be there. Some residents just retreated to their rooms after breakfast, for their morning nap. Some didn’t need their nap until after lunch. Much of it depended on when meds were distributed, everybody was on their own special schedule.
‘It must be chaos, trying to manage it all,’ Jon thought.
He stood there, in the hallway outside the Sunroom, reluctant to enter in case someone wanted to engage him in conversation. He didn’t like that, talking to people or more that they talked to him and then expected him to respond. Nobody here would be interested in what he would want to talk about anyway, things he knew about with his great degree of expertise.
‘They all have their own lives, their own stories, but what do I care. Am I really that interested in listening to a tale of their life on the farm or their work in the factory, their six kids and twenty-nine grand kids? Listening to their stories uses up my time. There is so little of it left, why should I waste it on them. Except maybe that Mrs. Branbury I heard about. She has a story to tell, I bet. Secrets she could share on how she made it this far.’
Mrs. Branbury would soon celebrate her one hundred and eighth birthday. Such an amazing accomplishment. Every year past a hundred was an order of magnitude success. And she could still see, though she wore thick eyeglasses, of course, and she could still hear, though she did have a hearing aid for one ear. She didn’t walk anymore and her voice was feeble and hard to hear, but she still had a wit and could crack a joke or scold a misbehaving resident. Everybody loved her. She seemed to always be in good spirits except on the days when she lamented about those that had gone before her, her husband Bernie and both of her children especially.
‘It’s hard to say if she was good looking when she was young. I was certainly better looking when I was young.’
Mrs. Branbury sat in the big soft chair that was reserved for the most senior resident. Queen of the Sunroom.
‘I would ask her what her secret was, to make it this far. But it wouldn’t do me any good now. Too late to put any of her advice into practice. Still, it might be an interesting chat and maybe she’d be interested to hear about me too.’
“Going in?” Karl stood at Jon’s left arm.
“No, not today.”
“They’ll all be moping about Old Man Blount, for a while. Go in now and you could take control of the TV.”
“I don’t watch much TV.”
“Or maybe we could go cause a little trouble.” Karl pulled an old used syringe from his lab coat pocket. Jon took a step sideways.
“Just a little fun, a little sport.” Karl flicked his thumb up and down pretending to push the plunger of the syringe. “A little fun. This freaks them out, especially the old ladies. I tell them I’m the Doc, come to give them their injection.” Karl laughed.
“Put that thing away.”
“Some don’t even know it’s a joke. You should see their face.”
Karl carried all kinds of junk in his lab coat pockets; string, elastic bands, a small roll of duct tape, a cigarette lighter, kitchen utensils, a host of flotsam and this spent syringe.
“Stay away from me with that thing. It’s probably rife with bacteria and disease.”
Karl held the syringe to his face. “Naw, this one is nearly fresh. Wouldn’t hurt to scare the life out of some of these old broads anyway. There’s too many of them. Got to be ten of them for every one of us.”
The great majority of the residents were women, left to spend their waning years without a spouse, husbands culled by life long ago. But not Jon Magnusson. He had sadly outlived his wife, by ten years now.
The memory of Harriet still brought a deep ache to his heart. ‘What a waste. What a tragedy for all of us, for me.’
Harriet’s death drove him to dark places, imprisoned him in solitary, to the point where he was ready to follow her. It was the memory of her that always made him smile to himself and draw him back. She gave him fifty five years through all the stages of love and life. She gave him their son, Magnus, and from him their grandson Walden and his kids, their great grandchildren. ‘She lives through them’. Jon looked for her in their faces. He brought her ashes with him to The Lodge. She rested on the dresser in his room, next to his armchair, so he could visit with her in peace and quiet; ending each day with her and say, ‘thank you for my life, I miss you every day, even after all this time’.
It was the memory of Harriet that made Jon determined to see his hundredth birthday. He imagined, though knew it was folly, that if he could just make it to one hundred years old that his soul might achieve immortality, that his essence would exist in the universe forever and he would meet with all those people that were his ancestors, thousands and thousands of souls that came before him and thousands that would come after. That he could be with Harriet and perhaps he could even be with Snorri.
The great Snorri Sturluson. The primary character in Jon’s occupation as a professor, teacher of Icelandic history at the University. More than being one of the most notable figures of Iceland’s past, Snorri was an ancestor, a 19th great grandfather, his genes were in Jon, his blood was their blood, even though Snorri was eight hundred years gone. That is a grandfather with 19 greats in front of it. He knew this as an amateur genealogist, who over many years had researched his own family ancestry and incorporated it with his teaching at the university.
Jon declared himself an atheist. He scoffed at organized religions and their practices. Yet he had come to this belief that there was some magic in 100 years that would grant one immortality in a better place.
‘That’s just another BS name for heaven or whatever. Don’t be such a hypocrite, such a fool,’ Jon told himself. But he couldn’t help it.
“Please yourself then,” Karl said as he shuffled away down the east hall, pretending to poke his syringe at each resident he passed, then leaving them with his snide laugh.