Chapter 25 – Three Ladies

Three Ladies

Thursday morning

There were only three ladies at the table, a fourth chair conspicuously empty. They sat solemn faced and silent. Jon sat near the window, now with the continuous company of his new friend Rudy Wernbacher. Oddar Gunnerson sat at a nearby table, alone until Karl Homesman made his way back from the second floor. Karl came with a fresh starched white lab coat.

“What the hell,” Jon said as he gave Karl the stink eye.

Karl winked at Jon then sat with Oddar. He tipped his head toward the table with the three quiet ladies. Their breakfast had not yet been brought to them. He spoke to Odd but Jon could not hear what he said. Karl took what appeared to be the tube and plunger part of a syringe, minus the business end, from the breast pocket of his lab coat. He swung his cocked arm up and down in a stabbing motion onto the tabletop between himself and Odd, then sniggered. Odd replied with an uncomfortable grin. Karl held the implement out towards Jon, as if offering it to him.

“Look at that fool,” Jon said to Rudy. “Showing off that needle. Where the hell did he get something like that, and he’s stolen that lab coat from somewhere too.”

Karl had been to the cold room too.

“What are you looking at?” Karl turned to Jon’s table. He stroked the chest of his lab coat. “Protection against all the germs in this place. You’ve got to stay clean you know.” He tugged at the lapels. “I used to keep a fresh supply of these at my work. Bleached and starched as hard as cardboard, pressed and folded. You never know when someone might cough on you or an old codger put a diseased hand on your arm.” Karl looked over at the three lady table and grinned.

A young woman wheeled a cart to the three ladies table with their breakfast.

“I’ve moved in,” Oddar said. “Got promoted so I’m up here now. Clean bill of health, so to speak,” he tapped his head. “Just a bit of a cough now. Giving up the cigarettes.”

A lifelong smoker, unbeknownst to him, Oddar Gunnerson now carried the burden of a slow moving lung cancer. He was the youngest resident on the floor, though he looked eighty-five.

‘You’ll be dead long before me,’ Jon thought.

“Lost your friend,” Karl said to the three ladies. “Now that you’ve got a spare chair I might have to join you, I’d make a great table mate, could teach you how to play chess, maybe you could teach me mahjong,” he looked at Mrs. Chin.

Mrs. Chin scowled. “I go home soon,” she admonished Karl.

“Yes you will,” Karl said. “Sooner than you think.” He tapped his breast pocket with the partial syringe. “I’ve got protection.”

“Leave them alone you old fool. Can’t you see they’re mourning a friend.”

Mrs. Remple smiled at Jon.

Karl raised his hands defensively.

Mrs. Krantz clucked at Karl.

“Hey, just saying. We’re all going to go sooner or later. Sooner for some of you. None of us are getting out of this place alive. But I’ll be up here permanently before you know it. Your friend had a nice room, though I’d prefer the other side of the hall. Better light.”

“You need to stay down in that psych ward with the other nut jobs,” Jon shook a finger at Karl.

Karl waved Jon off. “It was her time anyway, so what. It will even happen to you, you’ll never make it to that hundredth birthday, old fool. Look at you.”

Karl pushed himself back from the table, rose with a mocking laugh, “if you live long enough, everybody gets the cancer. Your body eats itself. Protection,” Karl tapped the syringe pocket again, then pointed at Jon. “Never mind, I’ve seen you poking the old ladies with that cane of yours. Looking for a bit of sport, are you.”

Jon turned his head away, embarrassed as the three ladies turned to look at him.

“It’s a walking stick,” Jon mumbled.

“It’s true,” Mrs. Remple admitted to her tablemates. “But he doesn’t poke hard at all,” she smiled at Jon again.

Jon was exposed, he felt like he was sitting naked in the dining hall in the midst of strangers. He huddled himself then burst out, “for gawd sakes I’m just checking to make sure you’re still alive. I could call for help if you’re in need,” he pointed at Karl, “or if someone had injected you with something, someone with a syringe. So don’t look at me like I’m an old pervert.”

Karl pretended to laugh. “What does it matter. Could be a blessing to get put out of their misery.”

But Karl Homesman feared for his own mortality. He boasted, pretended he wasn’t afraid of his own aging but his secret was obvious to Jon.

“I’ve moved into my own room,” Oddar interrupted.

“We know that. It’s only because old lady Bleakhouse finally croaked and made space, it should have been me that got the next room. Do you know how long I waited for old man Blount to kick the bucket, only to be passed over. Now you get that old biddy’s room instead of me. We’ll see who gets your friend’s room,” Karl glared at the three ladies.

“I’m having eggs today, for a change. Tired of that boiled mush,” Rudy said. “There are always rooms coming available, seems like more quickly these days.”

“Maybe someone is bumping them off,” Karl said.

Mrs. Chin shook her finger at Karl, scolding him and said, “I go home soon.”

“Yes you will,” Karl grinned.

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