The elevator creaked its way to the ground floor where Jon and Walden and a few others waited by its door. It was small inside, barely enough room for those waiting in front of Jon to board. When Jon and Walden had made the trip down from the 3rd floor it had not been a problem, with just the two of them squeezing into the tiny box. Jon had closed his eyes and tried holding his breath while they descended in the coffin-like closet. He couldn’t hold his breath that long, the descent was slow, took too long and his lungs weren’t like they used to be. By the time they reached the ground floor the sweat had started to bead on Jon’s forehead and his hands were white knuckled onto the arms of the wheelchair. Now, on their return to the 3rd floor, they weren’t alone.
A few passengers stepped into the small cubicle of the elevator and squeezed together to make room for Jon’s wheelchair. Walden was not sure there would be room for him as well. Jon clutched the arms of his wheelchair, his eyes bulged into large orbs and his breath was stuck somewhere between his lungs and throat. Walden was about to push the wheelchair into the small space when Karl bulled his way past the waiting Jon and filled the space. He quickly pressed the button and the door closed.
“Bastard,” Jon muttered as he let out a sigh of relief. “I’m the oldest one here, don’t they know that my time passes more quickly than theirs. I can least afford to be the one waiting for a bloody elevator. Bastards. Push me there, right up to the door. I’ll make sure I’m the next one on. And don’t let anyone else in, they’ll suck up all the oxygen.”
There was no room left at the elevator door once Jon was in position. Nobody would be getting on or off without bypassing him. The hydraulic piston that raised and lowered the small box of the elevator creaked and moaned, eking out little metallic screams as it went about the monotonous task of transporting its victims to and from their floors. Jon imagined the thing finally giving up the ghost with him trapped inside, condemning him to live out his last remaining days riding up and down the elevator shaft of The Lodge in a readymade coffin. Bad enough to be trapped inside with a hoard of cronies sucking up all the oxygen.
“Maybe we should take the stairs,” Jon said.
Walden shook his head. “That’s not a good idea Afi.”
“I wish I’d been better,” Jon’s chin sank slowly to his chest. “I wish I’d done better, done more, been nicer.”
“You’re nice,” Walden said. “You’ve done lots.”
Greta Lundberg shuffled up the vestibule and placed herself in the queue behind Jon. Mr. Z followed, his heavy blanket folded neatly in his arm. Peter van der Groot sidled up beside Walden, not wanting to scare Greta again.
“I thought I was doing good, but really I was selfish,” Jon mumbled, more to himself than to those around him.
Walden patted his grandfather’s shoulder. “You have a great legacy, you’ve done good. All those students you’ve taught, shared your knowledge with. Your books, your speeches.”
“Ah, the Heimskringla. Stories already told for hundreds of years. I just wrote them down.”
Walden well knew the Heimskringla, the History of the Kings of Norway, had been authored by the great Snorri Sturluson, eight hundred years past, not by his grandfather.
The elevator door opened. Jon motioned for Walden to quickly push him inside.
“The rest of you will have to wait, there’s no room,” Jon ordered.
“Afi, there’s room,” Walden said.
But his fellow Lodge residents waited.
“I spent days looking for my lost eye. Kept on living despite being beyond repair. The only sound I could hear was the shuffling of feet in the dark.”
“Odin. There are so many things I wish I’d done differently, or things that might have happened differently or not happened at all. But all in all I guess things turned out alright. I got to do what I most wanted to do. In a way I found myself, in the life I had; found out where I came from.” Jon sighed. “I gave my eye for knowledge.”
“And where you belong,” Greta Lundberg edged up beside Jon in the small elevator. She was not bent and old and though her face was plain it was still remarkably pretty. Her short, cropped hair gave her a boyish appearance. She smiled.
“They said I’m moving downstairs to the 2nd floor,” Greta said to Jon. “I’ll be closer to the garden and get the green pills. I don’t like that man,” she motioned to Peter van der Groot. “He’s too tall.”
“You were supposed to wait for the next elevator,” Jon whined.
The others followed them in, filling the small box.
“Oh gawd.” Jon began holding his breath again, his fingers formed into claws on the wheelchair arms.
A gush and a long humming moan came from the floor beneath them as the aging hydraulic piston pushed the small elevator on its upward climb. Mr. Z., Peter and Oddar had squeezed in around Jon, packed uniformly, like sardines in a can. Walden was last in, he stood like a sentinel at the closed door.
“It’s like we’re all crammed in together in a communal coffin,” Jon said.
“People are always against things,“ Mr. Z. croaked in a gravelly voice. His thick white hair was pushed back straight over his head. The skin of his face a deep rich brown, as if he had just returned from a long vacation in the sun. Thick jowls wobbled like drooping dog ears when he spoke.
‘He looks Jewish,’ Jon thought, ‘though he reminds me of Sturla, with his bulbous nose. Still has good teeth though. They look real enough.’
“I hated you,” Jon said.
All heads turned to him.
“Are you talking to me?” Mr. Z asked.
“For making me go with him, to Oddi. I was just a child, a little kid, I didn’t understand.”
Greta patted Jon’s hand. “Don’t hate,” she said.
“It’s okay though, I forgive you. It all worked out in the end. I never would have been what I became if you hadn’t sent me away. But I felt like you traded me for a sack of coin and forty fat cows.”
Mr. Z looked to his friend Peter and shrugged.
The elevator stopped at the second floor. The door remained closed. The small incandescent light bulb screwed into the ceiling flickered then went out.
The 2nd floor was Oddar Gunnerson’s floor, for now. He backed further into the elevator.
“Oh no. That’s it then,” Oddar whined. “Our end has come. God has condemned us to die together jammed in this little box with no light, no air. Everybody stop breathing, you’ll use up the oxygen. Even though this is the 2nd floor, don’t let them take me back. I’m with you now.” He went limp in resignation. “I didn’t even get a last cigarette.”
“Oh shush, you old fool,” Greta said. “It’s just this old broken down elevator. It goes on the blink all the time. Stop breathing, indeed. Did you leave your brain on the night table this morning.”
Sweat formed on Jon’s forehead at the rim of his cap. His heart thundered rapidly in his chest. “What does it matter anyway,” he said. “Nobody will remember any of this. We are just a blink in time. We’ve been around such a short time; I wonder how long humans will even exist. Look at all the extinction, we will be just another lost species. We are not as smart as we think. We all die. I remember when my father died. I didn’t get to see him. I don’t know if they buried Sturla or burned him in the pyre. All I got was a condolence from Loftsson.”
Perhaps his days would end with him being killed by his phobia. Age weakened his ability to fight it. Jon was near certain this was the end. His heart would burst in his chest from panic and he would perish in the midst of a herd of ignominious souls.
‘Oh gawd, not like this.’
A recollection of Jon’s own father, Magnus, came to him. The weathered old man that Jon had felt obligated to name his own son after. Planted in his pine box; his face painted. He looked as if he was made of plasticine. Then the lifeless face bubbled as if there were small creatures moving beneath the skin. The hair grew white, the brows thickened, the long equine nose blossomed into a thick purple bulb and his dead father Magnus became dead Sturla.
The elevator jerked and resumed its slow upward climb, a loud nasal whine vibrating the floor beneath them.
The door opened on the third floor. The large expanse of the dining hall directly ahead, the Sunroom on one side, the Quiet Room on the other, the place where family inevitably came to receive the news that their decrepit loved one had finally passed. All the riders exited the elevator ahead of Jon and Walden. Cool fresh air filled the space. Jon was still alive.
“Push,” Jon commanded. “Just there. Leave the chair. I’ll walk from here. Give me my walking stick.”
Walden helped his grandfather stand out of the wheelchair, folded it and placed it in a corner beside the closed elevator door.
Jon looked through the glass window of the Quiet Room to see if Rudy Wernbacher’s family was there. The room was empty.
“Should we join your friends and watch something on the television?”
Jon waved and sneered.
“They’re not my friends, just my fellow inmates.”
“They seem to like you,” Walden said. “At least some of them.”
Jon curled his nose, as if the air began to stink.
“They’re not my kind,” Jon said.
Walden looked at the crowd gathered in the Sunroom, some chatting with each other, some waiting with anticipation for the TV to be turned on, some already dozing, some doing nothing at all, just sitting.
“They’re just regular people, like us, Afi. You should hang out with them, get to know them.”
Jon sneered. “They have nothing to offer. I have such little time left I don’t want to waste it on them. Besides, you said you’re getting me out of this place. Sell the damn house and set me free.”
“You might like some of them.”
“I don’t think so; look at them, they’re all useless.”
“You shouldn’t say that, they’re just nice old people.”
Jon looked at his fellow residents and shrugged.
“On the outside I decry these prejudices that I have towards people that make nothing of themselves, but I still harbor biases inside. I have tried to be conscious of them, but so often I just forget, because I’m human, I guess, or I’m just plain old and don’t give a damn.” Jon’s voice dwindled as he forced out the last few words. He coughed again, until mucous rose in his throat and his nose began to leak.
“Don’t make me talk so much,” Jon complained to Walden.
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