He shuddered as the hand touched his shoulder. His eyes opened slowly but could not focus, still clouded with sleep.
“There is so much blood,” Jon croaked, his throat needing clearing. He was looking at the face but it took moments for him to understand whose face he was seeing. It was Walden, his grandson. For a second Jon thought it was Órækja or Thorleifur maybe. But it was Walden. A chill ran through him at the thought of his brain drifting, at the thought that, just for a few seconds, he imagined he was living in a different time and place, back in Snorri’s time, in that other universe that is sometimes crossed into at the instant between sleep and waking. But he had just drifted into a nap, in the Sunroom, as many residents did while watching the tv with the warm afternoon sun covering them like a blanket through the tall windows.
“Afi.” Walden shook Jon’s shoulder gently.
Jon winced from sleeping the wrong way, a knot had tightened in his neck, his joints had seized. It happened so often he was used to it and knew it would pass. He cursed his body when that happened; cursed it for betraying him but then relented, conceding that to even be able to walk unaided, at his age, to still see with some reasonable clarity, to hear, to be able to cut and chew his own food, was a blessing and he shouldn’t complain. He was in far better shape for his age, than most everybody in this place. Except for Mrs. Branbury, and she was a miracle.
“Afi.” Walden shook Jon’s shoulder again. “It’s me, Walden. You awake?”
“Jeez, don’t scare me like that. I thought for a second you were Arni Fishbiter and I was Snorri.”
“No, it’s me Walden not Arni fish eater.”
“Fishbiter,” Jon corrected him.
“You must have been dreaming about your old Icelanders again.”
Jon rubbed his hands over his face, as if he were washing it, pushed his thin white hair back over his head and rubbed his eyes. “Wal. I wasn’t expecting to see you today. Is it Saturday already?”
“It’s still Friday. Remember, I dropped you off this morning and went to do the arrangements for mom and dad.”
“For the funeral. There’s so much to do and there is just me.”
“Just you? Where am I?”
“At The Lodge. I brought you here, remember. They have a room. I told them I would be back and they said they would get you some breakfast and then settled into your new room.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“ How are they treating you?”
“Oh, you know. I can always use some real company, someone to talk to. These old fogies are useless. Half of them have no brain left and the other half never had one to begin with. The dementia, you know. Old timers disease I call it. How are your ma and pa?”
None of the third floor residents were casualties of Alzheimer’s disease, though Greta Lundberg was obviously stricken with dementia and was soon to be transferred down to the unit on the 2nd floor that was better equipped to care for her.
Walden gave a short nod and reluctant partial smile to his grandfather’s question.
Walden’s father, Jon’s son, Magnus and his wife Wilma, were gone. Gone in their sleep, from carbon monoxide, when their furnace went on the blink. Jon had forgotten this was why he had come to The Lodge.
Walden sat in an armchair next to Mrs. Branbury, looking long at her to see that she was still breathing. She snored peacefully in the big Queen’s chair, propped into clouds of pillows.
“I had Snorri on my mind, in my dream just now. I was seeing him, then I was him, then I was seeing him again.”
“Dreams can be strange, can’t they,” Walden said. He removed his jacket against the warmth in the room.
“I know him like I know myself. I studied every nugget of his life. I searched every nook, read every piece of vellum that contained his name or told a story of his deeds. I travelled in Iceland, in Norway, in Denmark. I uncovered anecdotes from King Hakon and Earl Skuli. They were really the cause of his murder, you know, them and Gissur.”
“Yes, you’ve said.” Jon had told Walden stories about Snorri Sturluson so often, Walden knew almost as much about the ancient scholar as Jon.
“I felt like someone then. I was admired, praised for my accomplishment. I know him better than I know myself perhaps. But here I am now. What good is it to anyone that I have all this knowledge about some old guy that lived eight hundred years ago. Soon I will be gone and all that will be left is the book. You must read it and know it, so that it can live on after I am gone. Otherwise it will be just another book on the shelf gathering dust, eaten by worms and mites. It is the only thing of me that will carry on my legacy.”
The treatise he had authored about the famous Icelander was in his lap. He had carried the book with him to the Sunroom, showed it to a couple residents, had conversation with them about it though sometimes they drifted into sleep while he spoke. He read from it, though there were times he couldn’t recall that he was the author, that he was the one that had done the copious research to fill the pages. He did know Snorri Sturluson better than himself.
“You have us Afi. Me, my wife and kids, we are your family.”
“Yes, just as I am the genes of Snorri, you are as well. We are his family.”
“You seem to be settling in,” Walden said.
“This place is like death row. Everybody here is just biding time, tip toeing about, hoping to make it safely to death. I can’t stand it. It gives me the creeps. It’s like we’re all swirling and spinning down into a drain in the bathtub, a black hole with the singular purpose to swallow life. I won’t give it up, not like all these sorry old souls. Except for her of course. She has the secret; I’ve got to get it from her before she goes to sleep and doesn’t wake up.”
Mrs. Branbury snored quietly in her Queen’s chair. A large purple bruise showed through the paper thin skin on her left hand. It had been there a long time.
The resemblance was strong between Walden and Jon. The family lines engraved deeply in the curve of their chin, the solid cheekbones, pale blue of their eyes, they both combed their hair the same way. Walden was the image of Jon Magnusson, fifty years earlier, not as tall and a little rounder in the middle. With the sad demise of his own son, Magnus, Mike as he was called by most, Jon’s hope was now to pass his knowledge of their shared ancestry to Walden, keep it alive in the Magnusson family long after he left this world. Jon wasn’t certain that Walden held the same interest.
“I don’t know any of these people Wal. I don’t want to stay here. I want to go home. I don’t want to die here. This isn’t some comfy retirement home where people visit all day, play bingo and go for walks in the garden or sit outside in the sun. I shouldn’t even be in this place.” Jon stared into space. “Your father would have let me be, I was doing just fine.”
Walden nodded. “I know.”
“Another pair just kicked the bucket for crying out loud. Murdered probably. This guy Karl says there is a killer on the loose in here, but I think it might be him. It’s not safe here.”
Walden shook his head. “People just get old and die, Afi. I’m sure nobody was murdered.”
“There is so little time left, its bloody criminal to make it any shorter than needs be.” He motioned Walden to lean in, then whispered, “we’ve got to be vigilant. I’ve got to make it to my hundredth birthday or all is lost.”
Walden had heard this claim before; the message was always the same, that his grandfather expected immortality should he survive to one hundred years old. An odd thing, his grandfather wasn’t the least bit religious or spiritual and was known to be a staunch atheist. He had never talked about going to heaven or any place at all after he died.
Mrs. Branbury stirred, her eyes opened, she smiled at Walden.
“This guy, Blount, finally kicked it,” Jon said. “They hauled his body away right in front of us, at breakfast for Christ sakes.”
Mrs. Branbury smiled at Jon but did not speak.
“And this woman, Mrs. Bleakhouse. Something strange there. She wasn’t sick or anything and apparently she wasn’t even really old, Karl told me.”
“People pass away,” Walden said. “Time will come for all of us.”
“Nope.” Jon shook his head but stopped when he felt the beginning of a crick in his neck. “Not Mrs. Bleakhouse. Someone did her in. I knew something was up when that Karl guy said she wasn’t at breakfast.”
“Maybe she had a heart attack or a stroke. That happens all the time.”
“I think this guy, Crazy Karl, did it. I saw him coming out of the dead woman’s room. He was in there with her.” Jon shielded his mouth from Mrs. Branbury, whispering into Walden’s ear, “he has this syringe.”
“Sometimes people can be a little odd but they don’t go around killing people.”
“He said he’s the one that pushed the button to call the nurse, but what was he doing in her room to begin with. I bet it’s that Karl, up to something murderous. He shouldn’t even be on this floor. I’m going to get to the bottom of this, sooner or later he’ll come after me. Says he was a veterinarian. Probably spent his youth killing animals he found on the street.”
“I’m sure he’s not a killer. You should just let it go Afi. You just got here; you don’t want to cause trouble. It’s sad but I’m sure it was just Mrs. Bleakhouse’s time.”
Jon pushed himself up from his chair slowly. His joints crackled and popped as he rose. Walden offered to help him stand but Jon waved him off.
“I’m going to do my business now, you go find something to do, I might be a while.”
Jon made his way slowly down the long corridor towards his room at the far end of the hall. The heels of Jon’s loafers clacked off the hard shiny floor. Walden followed behind his grandfather.
There was a single bed in Jon’s room, not yet equipped with side rails, those could easily be slipped into place later if needed. On the nightstand beside the bed was a photograph of Jon’s late wife Harriet, Walden’s grandmother. Her urn sat on the corner of his dresser. His window was large, facing north, to the field where Jon had seen the boy and his dog. The curtains were left open to allow sun and moon light to enter. Across from his bed was a small desk with Jon’s laptop computer. Beside that was his six drawer dresser with Jon’s flat screen television and the urn. Inside his entryway two doors faced each other. One opened into a small closet, the other to Jon’s bathroom. There was no tub to bath in, just a curtained off corner of the room, beneath a shower head where a bath chair could be placed.
Jon pushed the bathroom door closed behind him.
“Go find something to do,” he repeated. “I can still manage this by myself.”
Walden tapped on the bathroom door.
“You sure you’ll be alright in there?”
“Jesus, can I take a dump in peace. Go sit down. I’m one of the lucky ones that can still do this by myself.”
“Let me know if you need some help.”
“Go find some decent toilet paper.”
“Are you out?”
“All they have in here is the scratchy stuff, so thin you can see through it.”
“Okay, I’ll go see if they have something better. I’ll be right back.”
“I’m not going anywhere. If I’m dead when you get back, wipe my backside and pull my pants up before you tell them.”
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