Chapter 29 – Kings


Jon’s Room Thursday evening

The very elderly, like Jon, and like Mrs. Branbury, were regarded with celebrity at The Lodge. Though what difference was there between an eighty-five year old and a person that had made it to ninety-nine. It was all about the state of mind. Body too of course, if one had been savaged by the plagues of living.

‘Keep your mind and body fit,’ was always Jon’s thinking, though he was no fanatic about diet and exercise. He just lived reasonably, sensibly, and always kept his brain going.

Jon sat alone in his room, in the old armchair brought from his house. The green was worn off the arms, frayed to the threads near through at the end, with a small hole where Jon used to dig his finger into absently. The chair was almost not allowed into The Lodge because it was old and might have bugs. The air in his room was thick, as if it contained no oxygen.

He stared blankly out the window onto the open field beyond. A slow steady wind pushed the heavy rolling clouds like giant grey pillows across the sky. Jon couldn’t remember if it was spring or autumn. Perhaps just an overcast summer day. The only thing for certain was that it wasn’t winter yet, there was no snow. He might be a hundred when the snow came. He was in this place and could hardly remember ever being in his old house, except for this old chair. He remembered sitting in this chair looking out the big picture window from his living room.

During much of the year children would be in the school yard across the street playing their recess games. Sometimes Harriet would sit beside him just to watch the children play. Now she was gone ten years. Years that passed like they were all rolled into one, passed so quickly that the passage of time frightened and saddened him. He couldn’t remember much of the last ten years spent alone in his house after she was gone. Now poor Magnus was gone too. Magnus, who was just a little snot nosed boy that grew so quickly before his eyes, married, had his own child, grew old and then that was it for him and Wilma. A wet film covered Jon’s eyes; he blinked it away.

‘Now I’m just passing time all alone, and it is running out, like the final grains of sand in the hourglass.’

“You can’t be breathing poison air,” Jon mumbled to himself.

“What are you up to?”

Karl Homesman’s voice startled Jon out of his daydream. Jon clawed the arms of his chair at the breaking of the silence then turned with a sharp rebuke.

“What do you want?”

“It doesn’t seem fair that you should be so spry, at your age. Look around this place, there are people here twenty years younger than you that are barely clinging to life by a thread. Half of them have no clue where they are, can’t feed themselves, clean themselves. They just sit around with a blank stare, like the one you just had on your face; their brains have probably turned to mush. It is uncanny how you have escaped the decrepitude that has gripped the rest of us. At your age. How is that?”

‘Discipline,’ Jon thought to himself, giving Karl a look of disdain. ‘Discipline rather than indulgence’.

“People smoke and drink or eat themselves into oblivion,” Jon said. “Or they are so consumed by their work that they can’t see life passing by in front of them. I suppose you can’t blame most people because they have no idea the harm they are doing to themselves. Many just worked too hard. Some I suppose were trapped in a life they didn’t find fulfilling but accepted it without complaint. Some had more kids than they could afford. Whatever. I did what I loved and what felt right. How many people spent their life doing work they didn’t like? What do you want?”

“It will end for you too.”

“Nobody gets out alive. This will end, but will ‘I’ end, that’s the question that gets answered at a hundred.”

“Bullshit.” Karl knew that very few at The Lodge had any chance of reaching one hundred years old. His feet were bare. “Have you seen my new slippers?”

“You know the floors aren’t clean,” Jon said. “They look clean and they wash them with disinfectant every day, but they aren’t clean. People drag all kinds of crap in here, on their feet. Could be dog shit and you’re walking right in it.”

“Someone stole my new slippers,” Karl said.

“Probably one of the loonies from your psych ward.”

Fine tufts of dark hair covered Karl’s feet. They reminded Jon of the large hairy feet of the Hobbits he saw in the Lord of the Rings at the picture show. It was the last movie theatre show he saw with Harriet. They both loved Tolkien.

“Barefoot,” Jon said, pointing at Karl’s feet. Jon looked down at the book in his lap. “Magnus Barefoot they called him. Some say it was actually Barelegs not Barefoot. Loftsson was his grandson.”

Jon flipped through the pages of the book to the chapter on Jon Loftsson, grandson to Magnus ‘Barefoot’ Olafsson, King in Norway. To have the royal blood inside you meant that all that came after, from you, had those genes, the blood of power. It meant there was something special in you that wasn’t in others, it meant you too were like a king, you had the privilege and power of the very few.

‘We were envious of this’, Jon thought. ‘Weren’t we’?

“You’re no king,” Jon said. “No son or grandson of a king either.”

“What the hell are you talking about,” Karl looked at Jon like the old man had lost a few marbles. “I’m a vet, a veterinarian. I was one anyway. Never claimed to be a king or a prince or anything stupid like that. Now I’m just a prisoner in this place, like you.”

“You are no Loftsson. You are not even one of us.”

Karl rolled his eyes at Jon’s meaningless words.

They weren’t really kings, like we think of them, more the ilk of chieftains or warlords or village strongmen. But they had power and wealth over many others. Jon resented that Karl might think he had power over him. He had nothing, he was a murderer of old defenseless people and Jon would expose him. He tried to convince himself that he was not afraid of Karl Homesman but the psycho might sneak in on him one night while he was sleeping and do him in. Snuff him before he could reach his magic century. Crazy people are unpredictable.

“I,” Jon mumbled, looking downward. “I’m not afraid of you.”

Karl stood with his mouth open, a quizzical look on his face.

“Why would you be afraid of me?”

The service elevator began to hum on the other side of the wall. Jon was unnerved by its mechanical moaning, doors opening like a giant metal maw, right next to his room. Though he had a room with the luxury of windows on two sides, a corner suite, as it were, it was no bonus to have the metal lung of that elevator grinding and squealing, reminding him that it might be another deceased resident making their journey down to the cold room in the basement, to be stashed away like a carcass in a meat locker. A mechanical monster that rose and descended from the depths, from that cold dark place in the sub-basement with its giant toothless mouth gnashing and swallowing the bodies of neighbors, consuming them, stealing them down there, to that place itself cold as death. Their only reprieve, the final friendly goodbye from Dr. Hauptman as he sent them off to their eternal grave, be it a hole in the ground or the pyre at the crematorium. Jon hated that elevator. He hated all elevators. Coffins nailed shut.

“I heard another one of the old fogies has kicked the bucket,” Karl said as he left the room, barefoot.

There was shouting from down the hallway. Not particularly loud or shrill. Jon couldn’t tell if it had come from an old man or woman. ‘Woman’ he decided, though the sound of it was hoarse and deep and could have come from an eighty year smoker. He planted his feet firmly on the floor and stood. He wobbled, tilted sideways a bit and braced himself on the arm of his green chair until his wobble stopped.

‘Bloody dangerous’, he thought. ‘Any other old man would surely fall flat on their face just trying to get up to go for a piss. Not me though’, he was determined.

He hoped something hadn’t happened to his new friend Rudy. ‘Friends are hard to come by in this place’. He made his way into the hall, saw the small crowd gathered and he ambled towards them. The dead man was only seventy three. The same age as Jon Loftsson when he died. But Loftsson would have seemed much older back then. ‘Seventy three is way too young.’

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