“You and I came from him. Came from many others too, thousands. Who really knows how many. But him. Snorri. He is the main one. I studied him my whole life. Taught him to my students, and others that were interested. He was a great man, but such a scoundrel.” Jon bent forward. “I see him in myself.”
“I know Afi,” Walden said. He had heard about Snorri Sturluson so often he felt as though he knew enough to give a lesson on the ancient man. “Do you want to go downstairs for the service? I’d be happy to wheel you down there, to the chapel.”
“I can walk, I’m not a cripple, not yet.”
“Of course you can. I just thought this would be faster. The service starts in about five minutes.”
Jon clucked and sat in the wheelchair.
“Leave this outside the door when we get there. I don’t want to make a fuss.”
Mrs. Kyvonis would not be there, nor would her family, just the same the Chaplain offered to give a short homily and say a few words for her friends and companions at The Lodge.
A small multi-denominational chapel on the main floor next to the gift shop was made available for contemplation and little services, if families chose to use it. Most didn’t because it wasn’t large enough and there was not a place to hold a luncheon afterwards. Some didn’t use it because it was multi-denominational and you never knew what person of a different faith might be lurking there, praying to whatever god they were obligated to. Jon agreed that Walden could take him there. Perhaps Mrs. Chin’s family would be praying for her there as well, praying or giving condolence even though Mrs. Chin had revealed to Jon the estrangement between she and her children.
“They should call in the police,” Jon whispered. “There should be an investigation, autopsies, forensics, crime scene stuff. He probably killed poor Mrs. Kyvonis as well. And that Lipton guy, the one whose room I got. He was there, in the meat locker, frosty as a block of ice, nobody to claim his cold dead body and put it away somewhere. Bet your bottom dollar if there are such things as ghosts I will be living with his.”
“You don’t believe in ghosts, do you Afi?” Walden pressed the elevator door button. It opened instantly, as if the elevator had been waiting for them.
“Wait,” Jon said. He examined the empty space. “You have to be careful with elevators. Okay, go.”
The small elevator creaked and moaned its way downward. Jon held his breath; he trembled, clenching his body tight. The elevator gave a small bounce, stopped on the second floor and the door slipped open again. It was Karl, of course, who else, waiting to board. He stood stern faced, hands clasped behind his back, his lips curled down, his nose pinched in a grimace. He was shaved clean, his hair combed straight back over his head, slicked down with hair cream, polished black shoes, pressed trousers, a crisp white shirt, dark blue tie with a perfect double Windsor knot. Over top he wore a bleached starched blazing white lab coat, which made him indistinguishable from any of the doctors that came to The Lodge. A wisp of sea breeze cologne preceded him into the elevator.
Jon’s hands clenched the arms of the wheelchair, his breath stopped, his heart gave a sudden pound on his chest wall, he wanted to flee, like a monkey might instinctively flee from a lion or a dog might flee from a loud noise. With no avenue of escape, Jon’s brain told him to prepare to fight. He wanted to rise out of his defenseless position in the wheelchair and confront the assassin. He was vulnerable, Homesman would view him as old and weak, using the wheelchair as a shield, like a helpless invalid.
“Going down there?” Karl asked.
“We’re going to the service for Mrs. Kyvonis,” Walden said. “Come in.”
Karl stepped into the elevator. He pushed on the big M button then pushed it again and then again. The door inched closed and now Jon was trapped in his tomb with his mortal enemy as well as the ever smothering small space.
“Something fishy,” Karl said.
“Yes,” Walden said. “This elevator could use some servicing.”
Jon stared hard at Karl as if he was trying to burn a hole in him.
“No, I mean the old lady. Kyvonis. Something fishy. One day she was right as rain and the next day, boom, just like that. Something fishy. I used to see that all the time in my practice.”
“You were a physician?” Walden asked.
“Vet. A veterinarian. I should still be working.”
The elevator door opened at the main floor foyer. Karl went ahead. Jon quickly pushed himself up, out of the wheelchair.
“I’ll walk,” Jon insisted.
Karl hurried down the hall to arrive at the chapel door ahead of Mrs. Remple and Mrs. Krantz, the tablemates of the now deceased Mrs. Kyvonis. Karl smiled, bowed his head and held the door open as they entered the small chapel. Mrs. Remple smiled back; Mrs. Krantz scowled. Karl was about to enter behind them but was forced to remain the doorman for Mr. Z., the tall Peter van der Groot, Greta Lundberg, who talked with an invisible companion, Mrs. Branbury, wheeled in by her attendant; all had been waiting outside the chapel. Jon followed with Walden arriving behind him with the empty wheel chair.
Karl entered, closing the door quietly behind him. The small room was full, except for space on the end of the last pew, closest to the door. Just enough room for two. Walden offered to stand at the back so Jon and Karl could occupy the space, beside each other. Oddur Gunnerson and Rudy Wernbacher were already seated, beside each other, in the middle of the last row. It annoyed Jon and Karl that their companions seemed to be in friendly conversation with each other.
Jon motioned gruffly for Karl to enter the pew and sit; he would take the position on the end. They sat; both crossed their arms. Mrs. Branbury was wheeled to the very front, facing the dais. Her attendant tapped her shoulder gently, to wake her. Walden stood against the closed door. Somber background funeral music played through a scratchy speaker behind a red velvet curtain.
“Why are you even here?” Jon sneered at Karl. “Did you even know Mrs. Kyvonis?”
“I know them all,” Karl said. “And now that I am to be your neighbor I thought it fitting that I come and show my respects.”
“What do you mean, neighbor?”
“I’m moving up to three. They finally have seen fit to give me a room. No choice, after all this time.”
“You’re moving upstairs? To Mrs. Kyvonis room? She’s barely cold and you’re moving into her room?”
“No, of course not. I’ve got old lady Bleakhouse’s old place.”
Jon’s mouth hung open. “That is the end of us then,” he finally said.
A large color photo, in an ornate brass frame was placed on a small rosewood table in front of the dais. A head and shoulders portrait of Gladys Kyvonis when she was about twenty five. It was the same picture that had been mounted on the wall beside the door to her room on the third floor. There was no open casket, not even an urn with the dust of Mrs. Kyvonis, just the photograph.
“She didn’t even look like that,” Karl said.
“She did once,” Jon said.
They sat, tilted heads, whispering, visiting, waiting for the chaplain to arrive to give some words of comfort about the departed Gladys Kyvonis.
The scratchy music ended. The whispering stopped as all looked at the side door expecting the chaplain to enter. The door did not open. They waited, silently, some careful not to breathe too loudly. Time passed with only the distant hum of the HVAC, the dimness of the lighting and odor of old stale dust. The silence grew loud, except for the delicate snore sneaking from Mrs. Branbury. The dim lightbulb above the door leading to the small chaplain’s office, off the chapel, flickered and went out.
The crowd watched the door in anticipation that the visiting chaplain would emerge and the brief service could commence. But the door did not open. The light flickered on, then off again, then on and then finally off, to never shine again.
“Well,” Jon said. “That’s it then, isn’t it.”
“What?” Karl said.
“He’s not coming. We could sit here all day like dummies, waiting for a preacher who isn’t going to show. It’s a pointless thing to do.”
Jon rose slowly, his joints creaking like rusty door hinges.
“I’ll do the bloody talking. I’ve done it a million times. No big deal. Someone has to say a few words for the poor woman.”
Jon pushed himself through the small space between Karl’s knees and the pew in front of them. He was bent over, like a tall thin question mark, as he made his way to the dais. He straightened himself as he passed the pew with the remaining tablemates of Mrs. Kyvonis. Jon tilted his head and gave a conciliatory smile, an obligatory gesture recognizing the relationship Mrs. Remple and Mrs. Krantz had with the departed woman, as if they had been relatives.
Jon stood in front of the small gathering and spoke as if he was beginning a lecture to a hall full of undergraduate students. He was confident, casual. Gave a nod, as if welcoming them to his lecture hall. He gave a slight sideways turn and motioned to the portrait of Gladys Kyvonis, when she was twenty five. He began.
“The crisis of this resistance, the ranks which are augmented by the disaffected,” he motioned to the gathering, indicating he meant them, “began at the great sea-fight of Hafrsfjord. That high born king in his fight against Kiovti the Wealthy, came from the west in ships bearing dragons heads and carved beaks, laden with warriors with white shields and western spears and Welsh swords. The Berserks,” he motioned to the back pew where Karl Homesman sat, “yelled with war in their hearts. They battled against the valiant King of the Easterners, who put them to flight.” Jon tapped his chest, indicating he meant himself. “They fled west, never stopping, following in the train of the sorrow smitten Queen Aud,” he motioned toward Mrs. Branbury, “to the western dales of our Iceland.” Jon made his way back to his pew, nodding at Mrs. Branbury, then at Mrs. Remple and Mrs. Krantz. They smiled back.
“What the hell is he talking about,” Karl mumbled to Rudy and Odd.
Jon stopped halfway to his seat, turned and returned to the dais.
“I didn’t really know Mrs. Kyvonis, Gladys,” Jon continued. “And I didn’t know or ever meet any of her family. Maybe some of you did. But even though she isn’t here with us in body, she is somewhere. Maybe. There are people somewhere that feel bad that she is gone and no longer with them. I know you all feel bad but they probably feel worse, because they were family or good friend and you are just someone from down the hall. I know I would feel worse than you. I did when I lost my Harriet. I felt like nothing mattered, I was broken, shattered, like shards of glass had pierced my heart. It’s one thing to lose a friend, a companion, but it is far, far worse to lose your love. We miss Hallveig with all our heart and soul.” Jon shuffled slowly back to his spot in the back pew and sat.
“Who the hell is Hallveig?” Karl asked Rudy and Odd. “Was it his wife?”
Rudy and Odd shrugged in unison.
Greta Lundberg stood in the second pew from the front. She clasped her hands in front of herself and began to sing Jingle Bells. Peter van der Groot was about to stand and join her, thinking this singing may be a part of traditional funeral service in these parts. Mr. Z. placed a hand on his arm to keep him seated. The others remained silent, listening to Greta’s song.
A half hour passed without the arrival of the visiting chaplain. Mrs. Branbury’s attendant wheeled her from the chapel, followed by Mrs. Remple and Mrs. Krantz.
“Thank gawd we can go. I have to pee,” Jon said.
“And it’s time for dinner,” Karl added. “My first dinner as an official resident of the third floor. Finally.”
share this with your FB, Twitter and other friends and follow me on my website