Wednesday – dining hall
Rudy Wernbacher graduated from a wheelchair to a walker. He continued to wince with each step of his right foot. He sat with Jon.
“Our poor old Lady. She got the cancer in her belly and we knew it was just a matter of time. She was suffering, but was stoic and silent in her malady. I took her in a taxicab because I knew I wouldn’t be able to drive my car and I just wanted to hold her in my arms and give whatever comfort was possible in what might be her final moments. I am a good driver though. It was an awful thing. Heart breaking. There were doors off the waiting room. One was the bathroom, three or four were the exam rooms and there was the one where your loved one passed through to be put out of their misery. They all go through that door sooner or later, just like us; sooner or later. Life hacked away like the amputation of an infected limb.” Jon rubbed away tears that had begun to well in his eyes. His head hung over his chest; his body slumped.
Rudy nodded his head in silent sympathy, as he reached across the table to pat Jon’s arm.
“I was there with her, at the end. It’s silly, I tried not to show that I was weeping, but at our age what does it matter.” Jon searched his pocket for a Kleenex. “She looked at me with her big trusting eyes, believing that I would save her.” His voice cracked.
“Time ends for all things,” Rudy said. “For me, for you, for all of us. It’s a strange thing, if you think about it, you’re here and then all of a sudden you’re not.”
“Strange is an understatement. It was the worst day of my whole life. Nearly twenty years from the time she was a puppy until the day I had to take her through that door. I felt like I was her executioner.”
“The worst day,” Rudy agreed.
Jon let out a long sigh and slumped further forward. “Yes worst, but not just because of poor Lady.”
They sat in silence. The dining hall was empty, like a restaurant closed at the end of the days business with a pair of left-over patrons hiding against the wall. It was a large room that could seat a couple hundred people. Tables were set far apart, with plenty of room for wheelchairs to pass through. Many of the tables had only a couple of chairs, some had no chairs at all.
“I was very young when I first learned about mortality, that we don’t just live forever,” Jon broke the silence. “Death makes me think about my father and grandfather and all those threads into the past. I guess I needed to know where I came from so I might have some clue as to where I am going. I guess I became an addict to my own ancestry, living through the past.”
“What does that have to do with your dog?”
“Nothing really, just the passing from this life to,” he paused. “to what? It’s just that it is always such a shock when someone close to you dies, just like that. Here one moment then gone. You don’t expect it, even if you should.”
Karl Homesman shuffled quickly down the hallway outside the dining hall, catching Jon’s eye.
“I liked your story about the Iceland guy, very interesting. You are quite an expert. Will you tell some more soon,” Rudy asked.
Jon’s focus shifted immediately back to Rudy. The story was everything, his life’s work and he couldn’t help talking about it the instant someone mentioned it, despite this sad memory. He placed his hand atop his book resting on the table in front of him.
“It’s all in here,” Jon said, as thoughts of Lady slipped away. “I was younger then when I realized I had my father’s blood in me, and grandfathers and his too,” he repeated. “A fascinating thing to think about, our lineage, our ancestry. But most of all I learned that all of us must be related to each other, even if it is distant. There is genetic stuff that links us all together. We are all cousins to each other, even you and me.”
Rudy nodded his head. “You’d think we’d be nicer to each other then, wouldn’t you.”
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