Chapter 27 – Wives


Sunroom – Thursday afternoon

“It makes me sad that I didn’t fill my life with more. I shouldn’t complain, but I’m an old, old man now and all I have left are my complaints.” Jon said to Mrs. Branbury. She appeared to not be breathing, then a sudden snort erupted from her tiny face startling Jon, sending him to the back of his seat.

“Nothing else has any meaning anymore,” Jon said.

‘One hundred. That will be my final accomplishment. How many can say they made it to that milestone. Well, not many I suppose, though you must be commended for your outstanding achievement Mrs. Branbury. I sense magic in your number. Does having one hundred years under your belt earn immortality? I know that is a silly thought, but it is mine. Legacy. I know too well about the lives that came before me. As much as can be known. I am from them, their spawn, as are thousands and thousands of others. My cousins around the world, yours too. But what about my legacy? I know those that are alive around me now but what about their children and their children after them and after them for the next thousand generations. I will be in them, but I will never know them. That makes me sad. I feel Snorri is in me, though I am not like him. He was brilliant but such a selfish man.’

“His poor wife Herdis,” Jon said.

Mrs. Branbury rubbed a thin line of spittle that had leaked out of the corner of her mouth during her brief nap. Her eyes squinted, nearly closed, they were almond shaped when narrowed, looking almost Chinese, like Mrs. Chin. But Mrs. Branbury’s eyes had a blue grey ring around the cornea, common for many elderly. Jon wondered if she could even see him. Mrs. Chin didn’t have that ring in her eye, nor did Jon.

Several residents made their way to the Sunroom, gathering around Jon, like moths around a light in the dead of night. They took their usual places; all had their spots claimed by seniority at the Lodge. Special nooks for the wheelchaired, turn around areas for the walkers, even a special umbrella holder with a zebra design next to Mr. Z’s chair, for his cane. Jon used it as well.

“It’s all relative,” Mrs. Branbury said, her voice barely audible. “I’ve been in the last stages of my life for the past twenty-five years. They don’t have any idea. Our time comes when it comes, one way or the other.”

Jon opened his book and flipped through pages until he came to the right chapter, ‘The Wives of Snorri Sturluson’. It was the link of genes that fascinated him, like a chain connecting generations across the millennia. He had in his mind that when a person was taken prematurely from their chain, they were an extracted link and their chain was forever broken. Age made no difference if the person was taken by unnatural means.

‘Homesman is doing just that,’ Jon thought. ‘Extracting people from their chain; he must be stopped. He doesn’t get it, because he never married, he has no progeny and he will have no legacy, his chain ends here so he doesn’t care about anyone else. If he would have only married and had children and grandchildren then he would know.’

“Wives,” Jon said as he looked into his book. “First wives, that’s where it starts. Snorri had Herdis,” he pointed to her name on the page. “Herdis Bersidottir, daughter of Bersi Vermundarson. It was an arranged marriage, as they were back then.”

More residents gathered around, some sitting in hard uncomfortable chairs. Some pretended not to be listening but then asked Jon to speak up.

“Wives. Husbands too I guess. Those were all arranged though there was a time when we used to marry for love. Now people just marry for sex or convenience. Too much trouble to be courting to see if there is a spark. Now you can pick your partner from the internet. Try them out and just pick another if they don’t work out. Not like the old days, my days and yours too Mrs. Branbury. There used to be a purpose. Like Snorri’s first wife, Herdis……”

Karl slunk into the Sunroom and positioned himself in a dark corner. He too was a moth.

“Not everyone lives to be a miserable old person,” Jon said. “Many of us have enjoyed happy fulfilling lives. Some of us here enjoyed decades with a loving partner. Some suffered the agony of loss, some early in their life, some later.”

Jon returned to his book.

“Some of you may have had nothing but a cranky old mother to boss all the days of your life. Not like Snorri, not a man to hide his want of pleasures.” Jon winked at Mrs. Branbury. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have done that; perhaps we should have been satisfied.”

“Never mind talking about my mother,” Karl grumbled from his corner. “She is none of your business.”

“Herdis was young and naïve. But where Herdis supplicated herself to Snorri and to her father, Hallveig was a firebrand, she had spark.“ Jon placed a hand on the open pages of his book. “We weren’t alike at all and that is probably why we were drawn to each other, Harriet and me. I was a boring nerdy academic and she was an outspoken upstart with a quick wit and sharp tongue. I don’t know why she ever agreed to marry me but it still makes me smile that she showed me what true passion was. Yet in some ways we were like strangers passing in the dark that weren’t truly meant to be together. She was a fire that blazed bright for all those years we were together and then was gone, just like that. I wasn’t even there with her at her end.”

Mrs. Branbury reached out and patted Jon’s arm.

“I was a lucky man that Harriet came along. I don’t know what would have become of me. I could have become a tight assed spinster man. Who else would have me?”

Jon had gone through the motions of mourning when Harriet died, received the sympathies of friends and fellows from his long past university life, but was strangely disconnected. He was sad of course, depressed in a manner, and lived these past ten years in his small house with guilt as his only companion.

“I never treated my Harriet the way Snorri treated Herdis. Harriet was more like Hallveig, in that way, though I admit there were times when she was just a shadow, a ghost, moving in and around my life. Especially in the early days when I was first teaching. I was obsessed with my work, learning, devouring all I could and the teaching of it embedded the knowledge deep into me. The more I learned about my genealogy and history the more obsessed I became, the more expert I grew and the more I ignored Harriet, I suppose. I guess she was happy to let me be and have my success. I should have paid more attention to hers.”

Jon’s voice faded into a squeaky whisper by the time he finished his speech.

Odd Gunnerson found a TV remote control in the crease of the chair he was seated in. He stood a few feet in front of the big flat screen TV, pointed the remote at it like a gun, pressing and holding this button, then that, then another. The TV remained dark. Peter van der Groot, the tall Dutchman, stood over Odd, towering like a tree over a stump, took the remote from him with a scowl and told the new 3rd floor resident to sit.

“How many years went by when I didn’t even realize she was there?”

“Your Snorri fellow sounds like a bit of a jackanapes,” Mrs. Branbury said.

Jon nodded in agreement. “He was a bit of a rascal, we could have done better, been a better man, that’s for certain.”

Jon flopped back in his chair, his eyes in a daze as his mind wandered imagining Snorri at Reykholt, in his final year, sitting at the hearth fire in the evening, a bowl of wine shared with Hallveig. Life was good, neither knowing that both of them would soon come to their end. They talked relaxed and open, as companions do. They would have talked about the ambitious young King Hakon and his conflicts with Earl Skuli. How the Chieftains would never allow themselves to be subjects of Norway and how Gissur had become a sycophant to Hakon. Hallveig would have coughed; Snorri would have thought she swallowed her wine poorly, but it was not the wine that made her cough.

“It is uncanny how you have escaped the decrepitude that has befallen the rest of us,” Mrs. Branbury said. “At your age, how is that Mr. Magnusson?”

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