“Nurse Clara.” A man’s voice called down the long hallway. The sound of her name carried like an echo in a cavern. “Nurse Clara, you better come quick, it’s Rudy, old man Wernbacher. He’s going quick, Better hurry.”
It was Karl calling.
Nurse Clara poked her head out of the Sunroom door to see Karl Homesman calling to her from halfway down the west corridor.
“Mr. Homesman, Karl, what’s going on?”
“It’s Rudy the Kraut, he’s taking a fit or something. Choking or puking. Better come quick.”
Walden looked down the long corridor from Jon’s room near the end of the east wing to the silhouette of a man halfway down the west wing, looking more like a shadow puppet than a man.
Nurse Clara made her way quickly towards the silhouette.
“What’s going on out there?” Jon called from his bathroom.
“Something,” Walden said. “I’m not sure.
“What’s all the commotion?”
“Someone might be having a heart attack or something. A seizure maybe.”
“Is there a light flashing over a doorway?”
“Is there a man there? Dressed in a lab coat? Pretending he’s a doctor?”
“I think so. Looks like he could be a doctor.”
The bathroom door opened. Jon was struggling to do up his pants.
“Help me with this.”
Jon’s casual pants were hanging loose, still half down.
“It’s that Karl, I know it is. For gawd’s sake, he’s on a killing spree. People dead and it’s not even supper time yet. I just got here Wal; I won’t even make it through the weekend.”
“I don’t know if there is someone dead, he just seems to be calling for help or something.”
Jon tucked his shirt, careful to smooth his clothing.
“We can’t let him get away with this.”
“He’s butchering us as if we’re all trapped in the longhouse.”
“We’ve got to stop him before he sets fire to the place and burns us all to cinders.”
Jon had removed his shoes. His feet were bare.
“I need clean socks. I’ll put some on, you flush,” he ordered Walden to his bathroom.
“Did you wash your hands? Did you remember to wipe?” Walden grimaced.
Karl scurried past Clara as she quickened her pace to Rudy Wernbacher’s room. He avoided looking at the nurse as she passed, quickened his own pace as he passed Walden and Jon. Jon clucked.
“Not many of us make it to a hundred,” Jon peeked through the doorway at Rudy Wernbacher.
Rudy lay unmoving on his bed, oxygen pumping rhythmically through a clear plastic mask into his frail body. He wheezed in and out, sucking hard as if no air was getting through the mask into his lungs.
“He’s one that could make it. Skinny guys have a better chance. But now, look at him, he’s going to come up short. Look at him, trying to suck in his last breaths of air. It’s heartbreaking to watch. Maybe someone should just pull the plug on that damn machine and let him go.”
Walden placed a hand on his grandfather’s arm and shook his head.
“I wish I had been skinny, so I could get in and out of tight places easily. Instead I am a great hulking slime covered giant multi-limbed swamp creature of life. Like a big fat thing, unable to move freely about, stuck in doorways and in between thoughts,” Jon mumbled.
“What?” Walden looked quizzically at his grandfather.
“Look at him there. Murdered, even though he is clinging to his last sacred breaths. Will he go to a better place? What the hell is that about anyway? Who made that shit up. It keeps people from making the best of their lives, thinking there is a better place afterwards. I don’t worry about the afterwards because when I’m dead, I won’t know it, because I’ll be dead. The only afterwards I can look forward to is this stuff I’m leaving for you and it is up to you to add to it and pass it on. That’s the only afterwards there is. It will keep me alive in someone’s memory for as long as it exists. After that, what does it matter anyway.” Jon paused in thought. “But then again, if I can just make it to my birthday.”
The oxygen machine clicked on and off, pumping new air into Rudy Wernbacher like a mechanical lung. It seemed like he was too near his end to be able to draw breaths on his own.
“What the hell is the point of that, pull the damn plug and go find that damn Karl. He did something to him.”
“We should go,” Walden tugged at his grandfather’s sleeve.
“I could have been a king,” Jon mumbled.
Nurse Clara came to the doorway encouraging Jon and Walden to move on.
“He needs to rest,” Clara said. “Let’s let him rest.”
“Are you sure he’d want to be alone like this?” Jon said. “Shouldn’t we at least be with him at the end, to watch him go? That Crazy Karl did something to him.”
Nurse Clara touched Jon’s shoulder.
“Mr. Wernbacher’s family have been called. And Doctor Hauptman is on his way up.”
Walden tugged on his grandfather’s sleeve again.
“He’s got some breathing and fainting issues. We may send Mr. Wernbacher over to the hospital if he has trouble. Dr. Hauptman will decide. He’s really only been having problems with his gout until now.”
“The light just goes out. It’s like Harriet all over again, every time. It’s like Hallveig. It crushed us; they were supposed to outlive us, so we didn’t have to be around, suffering at the site of them going before us.”
“Hallveig?” Nurse Clara asked.
“There is nothing brilliant or profound we can say about dying,” Jon said. “Murder. It even happened to Snorri. No long goodbye, just hacking and chopping until your last breath leaves you. Like an axe slinging down on your head, blow after blow, like that pointless air machine.”
Walden pulled his grandfather by the arm as they made their way back down the long hallway towards the old man’s room. It seemed like it was darker now.
“We can’t let him get away with it,” Jon mumbled, “He’s not even supposed to be on this floor. They should keep him on two with the rest of the looney tunes.”
“It’s just a ventilator Afi, to help him catch his breath,” Walden said.
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