Jon wasn’t ready to let the day go, wasn’t ready for his grandson to leave. He held his walking stick like a scepter instead of a crutch, striding slowly in lock step as if the two of them were paired, though Jon was slightly hunched over.
“We’ll go there,” Jon pointed his walking stick to the Sunroom.
Walden bore a strong resemblance to his late father and for the briefest moment Jon thought he was walking with his son Magnus. The likeness was there in the shape of Walden’s head, his nose, the curve of the jaw line, patches of balding head, eyebrows that arched like tangled nests over pale blue eyes. The same eyes that Jon’s own father, Walden’s great grandfather had and the same bushy eyebrows that Jon remembered crowning his own grandfather’s eyes. Relics left of the old man remained in a few very old photographs, faded, bent and wrinkled, black and white and sepia etchings and the faded yellow newspaper clipping of his obituary, memories now stored in an old tobacco tin in Jon’s bottom dresser drawer.
Jon was a small boy when those photos were taken and the times they were together in person were few. The faint odor of tobacco smoke touched his nose as he remembered the old man, sunk into a big red armchair in the front room of a small farmhouse, smoking a fat stub of a hand rolled cigarette through a pair of thin yellow stained fingers.
‘We’re all the same,’ Jon thought. ‘We all have Snorri’s blood in us. We all must have the look of him in us.’
Jon closed his eyes, imagining he was Snorri, imagining what thoughts would be flowing through Snorri’s brain if he had been there in that place at that moment, trapped in an old folk’s home, as if he were entombed alive in a coffin, banging on the lid for it to open and set him free. They made their way into the Sunroom. The TV was on but the sound was off.
“We are old but we are new,” Jon said.
Walden turned to Jon. “What does that mean?”
They sat. Walden placed a cribbage board onto the corner table between them.
A few residents had gathered to watch hockey while their dinner settled and they fended off the inevitable march to bed. They were all younger than Jon, none older than eighty.
Walden shuffled the cards. ‘My Afi looks younger than all of them,’ he thought. ‘Kept himself in better shape. He will make it to a hundred, there’ll be a party with cake and balloons, pointy party hats and confetti.’ A smile came to his face. ‘Good for him.’
“They don’t want to go to bed because they’re afraid it will be their turn to not wake up in the morning,” Karl said as he sat on the couch next to Jon. “I love cribbage. Used to be really good at it. You can play with three people you know.”
He had changed the TV channel from the hockey game to a CSI show then walked away.
“It’s not your TV,” Mr. Z said. “We’re watching hockey.”
“That’s too much excitement for you before bed. You’re better off watching about dead things.” Karl turned back to Jon and Walden. “Can I play?”
“You are a fuck person,” Mr. Z chortled through a gravelly voice, shaking a boney fist towards Karl. “Turn it back, that’s my team.”
“Bastard man,” Greta Lundberg made a squeaky swear at Karl, nodding her alliance with Mr. Z.
Karl waved Mr. Z off. “You’ll be dead by morning anyway, what does it matter.”
Nurse Shirley arrived in time to hear the protest. She turned the channel back to the hockey game.
“Leave these poor people alone. It’s time for you to go back downstairs and get tucked in,” she ordered Karl.
“You are not the boss of me.”
“I am if you’re on this floor and it’s my shift,” she gave him the hitchhiker’s thumb, glaring at Karl hard, as if her stare would lift him out of his seat and out the door, or set him on fire.
“You think you’re so smart, but you’ll see,” Karl huffed.
Nurse Shirley was a stout stub of a woman, with one eye that turned a bit sideways so you couldn’t really tell if she was looking at you. Her other eye looked like it was made of glass, though it was real enough. Her voice wavered between a cackle and a man’s voice. She reminded Karl a great deal of his dead mother.
‘She is the priest’s wife’, Jon thought. ‘Perhaps she’ll pull a cooking knife from her sleeve and threaten to take Homesman’s eye out’.
Nurse Shirley smiled at Walden. “So nice for you to come for a visit. It’s bedtime soon though.”
“Just a quick game of crib before bed,” Walden said. “I need to be on my way soon.”
“No rush,” Nurse Shirley said as she looked at her wristwatch. “I’ll be a while getting folks herded into their rooms. It’s good to play cards, it keeps their minds working.”
“I don’t like her,” Jon whispered. “She reminds me of Thorbjörg, the priest’s wife. She could pull a knife on us at any moment.”
“She seems nice to me,” Walden said.
“Things aren’t always what they seem.”
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