He was there in the Sunroom, like he was an owner, like it belonged to him, though he didn’t impose himself on any of the residents. He just sat there, pleased with himself and his circumstance. He wore a tie and shoes, trying to look like he was professional.
‘Is he trying to make them think he’s a doctor?’ Jon wondered, his book resting in his lap; butterflied open at the chapter he would read from today.
Karl changed seats so he could sit next to Jon, who was seated beside Mrs. Branbury in her Queen’s Chair.
“You should move yourself into that room,” Karl said. “The Chinese lady’s room now that she’s gone. It’s way nicer than that corner cube of yours. You’re right there on the edge of the building, gets the wind from two sides and is freezing in the winter. We could be neighbors.”
Jon wanted to turn his back to Karl and pretend he wasn’t there. Mrs. Branbury leaned forward. Looking toward the pages in Jon’s open book, waiting for his story telling to begin. At least she was awake.
“What does it matter what room I’m in,” Jon said. “They’re all the same. Besides, Mrs. Chin was my friend, even though I just met her. You can’t make me move. I am not afraid of you.”
“Nope, they’re not all the same,” Karl said. “You’re by that elevator that groans and moans, metal on metal, squealing like a stuck pig, like it’s dying. How can you stand it? Besides, she was Chinese, how could she have been your friend.”
“Never mind him, “Jon said, pretending to talk with Mrs. Branbury. “I’ve got extra windows.”
“Still,” Karl said. “It would be a lot quieter.”
“What does it matter what room we’re in,” Jon swung back, hissing at Karl. “We’ll all be dead soon.”
Karl’s eyebrows raised into furry arches. “Maybe you’ll be dead soon. Not me. What about you Mrs. Branbury, will you be dead soon?”
She smiled, oblivious. “Tell me about that guy,” she said to Jon. “The one with all the women. He’s such a scamp.”
Greta Lundberg’s hair was parted in the middle, combed severely flat against her head with a pair of long grey braids draped over each ear. She crossed the room quickly, white socks inside her plastic flip flops, and stood in front of Mrs. Branbury.
“Miss Davis, oh my gawd what a surprise to see you here,” Greta said. She turned to Jon. “Have you met my good friend Miss Betty Davis?”
Karl rolled his eyes.
“We go way back. Such a surprise, I haven’t seen you in years. So glad you’ve come. We’re just about to have our story time.” Greta flipped a copy of ‘Cat in the Hat’ into Jon’s lap on top of his Snorri book. She leaned forward and patted Mrs. Branbury’s hand. “Don’t worry how you look dear. A little makeup will fix all that. I won’t let them see you like this.” Greta took a seat by the window, removed her flip flops and white socks. “I’m ready now, you can start.”
“Such a shame,” Karl tutted. “To get that way and have your brain go south on you. Could happen to any of us when you get so old, too old, outlived usefulness and contributed nothing. Story of my life anyway. What about you Mrs. Branbury? Are you too old?”
She smiled at Karl and asked Jon, “did he say something? Was he talking to me?” She tapped her hearing aid.
“No,” Jon said.
Jon tucked The Cat in the Hat under his chair.
“I have studied him in such great detail, onerous and exhausting examination at times. I know him better than I know myself, sometimes I try to imagine what thoughts might have occupied his mind, sometimes I imagine myself as him. Our man Snorri Sturluson received an invite to visit the King in Norway,” he began. “But all was not as it appeared. There was this man Olafr Thordarson.”
The Sunroom was filled with a comfortable warmth. The drone of the television or the monotone of Jon’s speaking voice often lulled many residents into a nap, often following the afternoon tea break. The heat was welcome treat for the cold skin over poorly circulating veins that brought little if any internal warmth. Dozing after tea, falling asleep in your seat in the Sunroom, could mean a stiff neck or backache or even a painful leg cramp. They were all asleep, all of them, as if a cloud of sleeping gas had floated down on them.
Nurse Clara had seen this often. It meant assembling every orderly, nursing aide and even recruiting some kitchen staff to shepherd residents to their rooms. She poked Karl in his shoulder, right in the space between the joint and muscle. The sharp pain caused his legs to bolt straight out; he woke with a shriek. He had been dreaming that a distraught canine patient flinched and bit him in the exact spot where Nurse Clara poked.
“Ow, shit that hurts.”
“So sorry Mr. Homesman,” Nurse Clara apologized. “Would you mind escorting Mr. Magnusson back to his room. I’m all out of aides.”
Karl stood, feigned discontent, tugged the lapels of his lab coat then poked Jon in the same spot he had been poked by Nurse Clara.
Jon groaned, “Ow.”
“Come on old man, time to go.”
“Nap time is done. Time to go to your own room so you can have another nap and be rested for bedtime.”
Jon cleared his eyes. Nurse Clara smiled at him.
“I can’t go with him,” Jon said. “He’s the killer.”
“I’ll help you up,” Nurse Clara said. “Just enough time to freshen up before the dinner bell. Let Mr. Homesman give you a hand, he’s such a helpful man.”
“Look at him there, all smug in his disguise. Don’t let him fool you, he’s no doctor.”
“Veterinarian,” Karl injected. “Retired.”
Jon resisted standing as he explained to Nurse Clara that the sudden death of The Lodge residents could only be attributed to Karl Homesman. He was a bigot and a racist and didn’t like old people. At least people that comported themselves older than him.
Nurse Clara on one arm, Karl Homesman on the other, managed to pull Jon to his feet. He continued to resist as a petulant child might.
“You don’t mind helping us do you Mr. Magnusson. We need to get our people to their rooms so they can rest for dinner. You seem to have done such a good job with your story, like a bedtime story.”
“I’ll be dead before I get there,” Jon complained. “If you make me go with him. He’s a killer. Mrs. Chin.”
“So what if I’m a killer,” Karl said, as he winked at Nurse Clara. “We’ll all be dead soon enough, old man, my friend.”
“Thank you Mr. Homesman,” Nurse Clara said.
Karl gave Jon a sharp glower as they left the Sunroom. Jon slinked.
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