Chapter 9 – Walden Returns

Walden Returns


Walden brought a wheelchair for Jon to sit in. Jon complained of course, that he could walk on his own, though his pace was slow. It would take a long time for them to make their way from the third floor of The Lodge down to the garden outside and the fresh air, so Jon relented.

“That Karl is a vile murdering bastard,” Jon said. “He shouldn’t even be on our floor, skulking around, sniffing here and sniffing there, like a jackal searching for fresh meat. He belongs on two, with those other crazies, those nut jobs and loonie tunes. They shouldn’t be letting him wander all over the building, everybody must have their place and his is on the second floor.”

“Afi I think those poor people are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia or they have some other psychiatric condition. They need specialized care. I doubt any of them are dangerous.”

If you were on the third floor, the upper most at The Lodge, with nowhere further up to go, and because of your elderly privilege, it was lunacy to have someone like Karl Homesman lurking amongst them, stealing their final days or hours.

A thick antiseptic smell rose like a cloud from the wheelchair, strong enough that it made Walden wince. Jon seemed not to notice at first.

‘This has the smell of death’, he imagined, as he pushed his grandfather down the hall on their way toward the Lodge garden. ‘Someone must have died in this wheelchair and they have scrubbed it with Lysol, to wash away the contamination of death.’ This made him wonder how close his poor old grandfather was to his own end.

But Jon Magnusson was not like the very few that survived to his age. He was something of a remarkable specimen. He saw himself as mostly capable of living on his own, with a little help. He did not deserve to be housed among this gaggle of decrepit souls, in their final stages of life, though at his age he was certainly in his. He felt he should have been allowed the dignity of living out his remaining days in his own house. But though he was still spry for his age, at ninety-nine years old he bore the frailties that come with such a long life. Who could care for him fully, where could he still have a good quality of life other than a place that was made for this purpose.

‘That elevator is a death chamber’. Jon grasped the arms of his wheelchair until his knuckles turned white. His heart pounded nearly hard enough to be seen through his Icelandic sweater. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. ‘A coffin box. There must be a better way to go up and down. Why don’t they have big elevators in this place.’

The door opened, Walden wheel Jon inside. It was a slow ride down. Jon held his breath so long he thought he might pass out.

Jon’s head tilted forward, chin on chest, as Walden wheeled his grandfather out the door and down the winding path that led to The Lodge garden.

“I was stolen to Oddi,” Jon mumbled. “Sturla thought he was so smart, thought he had tricked Loftsson to foster me, showed the great Chieftain to be lesser than him. But it was a great piece of good fortune for me to have that fate. Otherwise I would have had little when Sturla died; Thordur and Sighvat would have gotten most. My mother would have squandered my inheritance, as she did anyway, and I would have been left with nothing, not education, not acquaintance to the rich and powerful, no political instruction. I certainly would not have learned the art of writing nor learned the deep accomplishment of creating stories or capturing the histories in our great sagas. I would have been less off than my own father and of course would never have been the Lawspeaker.” Jon felt the strain in his throat from making such a long speech.

“Is that from one of your lectures, Afi?” Walden asked.

“What?” Jon said sleepily.

“Is that something you taught at the University?”

“I was imagining young Snorri,” Jon said as he turned his face away from Walden.

The warm breeze in the garden caressed them, carrying a potpourri of flower scents. The thick groves of tall hedges encircling the garden sheltered them from the city noise, building a wall of calm. Jon wore his oversized sunglasses, flat cap, and long sleeves, to guard his thin delicate skin from the high sun of August.

‘He’s too thin,’ Walden thought.

“You’ve lost weight. Better be careful, you don’t have enough meat on your bones already, you can’t afford to lose anymore. Are you getting enough to eat?”

“It’s just crap they feed you here. Thin soup and gruel. Who feels like eating anyway, it’s too much trouble and takes too long.”

A butterfly landed on Jon’s hand resting on the arm of the wheelchair. Walden reached down to brush away the insect but Jon waved him off. The wings were dark brown with a thin beige stripe bordering the tips perfectly, as if they had been painted there. The long antennae were a pair of thick black silken brushes, gently stroking the air, the creature’s eyes holding fast to Jon’s, as if communicating through thought. It stayed steady, unmoving, unafraid of the giant humans. The air filled with the mild fruity aroma of the primrose, as if an aura of scent formed around the butterfly. The Lily of the Valley, growing low beside the path, seemed to tinkle a gentle wind chime song.

“If I believed in heaven, it would be like this,” Jon said.


Jon pursed his lips tight then said, “we all have our endings.”

“Even that moth,” Walden said.

“Not a moth. When at rest, wings folded high is a butterfly, a moths wings fold down, over its body, as if it is hiding, not wanting to be seen. Something this beautiful is meant to be seen.”

“It’s a nice place, isn’t it Afi?”

“I’d rather be in my house.”

“I know.” Walden came around the wheelchair to face Jon. “But losing mom and dad, there really isn’t a way for us to take care of you in the house. I’m sorry to move you here. We’ll find a nicer place once your house sells and there is money. I’ll get the real estate guy on that right away. I have to wind up mom and dad’s affairs too, do their funeral and all that. And I still have to go to work. You’ll get much better care here.”

“What about your wife?” Jon asked. “Wouldn’t kill her to help out a little.”

“Sure Afi. I could ask her to swing by and give you a sponge bath now and then.”

“Never mind,” Jon said. “Your dad, my own son, didn’t do any of my looking after. It was your mom. Wilma, such a lovely girl, hard worker too. She looked after Magnus too. He probably couldn’t wipe his own nose without her help. He should have fixed that damn smoke alarm and they’d still be alive.”

“It was their carbon monoxide detector Afi. You have to replace them every now and then. And their furnace was old. I should have been the one to check it out and tell them to get it serviced. Dad was no spring chicken either. Seventy-five. What did he know about carbon monoxide.”

“Never mind, it’s not your fault. You can’t look after the whole world. But you need to do something about this place. I can’t stay here. These people are all on their last legs, it’s bloody depressing.”

Other residents were making their way into The Lodge garden.

“We’ll see what can be done. Things are busy right now. It will take time; you’ll need to be patient.”

“Well I guess I’m not going anywhere in the meantime. I’m stuck here putting up with these hopeless old people. Just look at them. Useless.”

Half a dozen folks from the third floor had made their way to the garden, some aided by staff or in close company with a friend or companion from the floor. They mingled, sat on benches, walked along the hedges, sniffed the flowers, tilted heads back to enjoy the sun on their face, breathed in the fresh air. The antique fountain at the garden’s center bubbled and gurgled a font of water half-heartedly. It was pleasant just the same.

“We’ll make arrangements for you to come to the funeral.” Walden’s eyes dropped, his face sad and sunken. “They have been called home to God,” he lamented.

Jon turned his head so quickly his neck made a snapping sound.

“That is such bullshit,” Jon scoffed. “There’s no such thing as heaven. They weren’t even a hundred.”

‘There is just the Singularity,’ Jon thought to himself.

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