She was in a bag, long thick black polyurethane with a monstrous zipper the full length of it. Such a cold thing. It was unlike the bodies of the other residents, their neighbors who were taken on a gurney with a tented white sheet to hide them from view, as if there might be some other secret beneath the tent. It was always a dead person; what else could it be. Of course it was always ‘one of them’, the next one. Almost never a secret who would be next, by way of their age or infirmity. But lately it seemed a bit more random and certainly in greater number. It was always disturbing to see, whether you were doing yoga from a chair or playing soccer from your walker or just sitting quietly in the Sunroom listening to Jon tell stories of Snorri Sturluson from his big red covered book. A reminder that your turn would come soon too and that you would be thankful that your friends shouldn’t look upon your dead body, in all the humiliation of death, exposed as if you were bare naked in front of them. At least that is the thought that went through Jon Magnusson’s mind.
‘This is our last stand,’ Jon thought. ‘This place is where we all face the end stage of life. Nowhere to go after this. Not in this life. Poor Greta, even though she was a wing nut she didn’t deserve to go with her head smashed in.’
Each tick of the clock drew him closer and closer, inevitably to the end of life as he had known it for a hundred years.
As the black body bag was wheeled past the hallway windows that were open into the Sunroom, like a glass wall, a cold sweat trickled down Jon’s chest. He did not want to be wheeled away in a black bag, nor did he want to be wheeled away under a white sheet when his turn came. There must be a way to prevent such a calamity, such an inevitable shame.
Karl slouched in the chair where Greta last sat. Warm light covered him like a soft yellow blanket. He snored quietly; a snort periodically erupted from him. Underneath the chair where Karl sat were Greta Lundberg’s flip flops, her white socks rolled into a ball and stuffed into one of the sandals. In the other was a wadded up plastic sandwich bag with various colored small shapes, that could have been candies or breath mints. They were pills. Tablets and capsules and a bundle of small syringes bound tightly by an elastic band.
Jon squinted from his seat across the room, trying to make out more detail of the unusual contents inside the sandwich bag. At first he was sure it was a stash of Greta Lundberg’s hoarded confections. He stood; his book fell from his lap onto the floor. He walked over to the sleeping Karl, bent over slowly, careful not to fall into Karl’s lap, and reached under the chair to retrieve the bag. It was stuffed full of medication and a pair of small liquid filled vials.
“What is this?” Jon yelled and shook the bag clenched tightly in his fist.
Karl gave another snort, his eyes popping open, startled.
“What is this Karl? These pills and Greta’s shoes. What are you doing with this stuff?”
“What?” Karl shook his head to throw off the cobwebs of sleep. He wasn’t sure yet if he was awake or still asleep. “What? What the hell.”
“This shit here. You’ve got a bag full of pills and dead Greta’s shoes. What the hell is going on?”
Karl slunk back in his chair, raising his arms across his face to defend himself against a possible blow. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Greta just got wheeled away in a body bag and here you sit with her shoes and pills.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Don’t be a crazy old man for crying out loud. You scared the crap out of me. Could have given me a heart attack.”
Jon straightened slowly. He opened the zip lock on the sandwich bag and examined the contents, careful not to touch anything inside.
“What is this stuff?” Jon said. “Did you steal this from Greta?” He shoved the open sandwich bag in Karl’s face.
“It’s a bunch of pills of course. Anybody can see that. Take that out of my face.”
Jon closed the zip lock. “This was there under your chair with Greta’s shoes. You were hiding them.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not hiding anything.”
“This,” Jon held the sandwich bag out, “and those,” he pointed to Greta’s flip flops.
Karl bent over and looked under his chair. He looked up at Jon and shrugged.
Jon huffed through his nose. “I’ll show this to that cop, when he comes around.”
Karl shrugged again.
Jon managed to pick his book up off the floor and sit back in his chair. He stuffed the sandwich bag into his sweater pocket.
Mrs. Remple pushed Mrs. Krantz into the Sunroom in a new wheelchair with special wheels and new bearings so that it glided like a cloud, almost moving on its own.
“We came for story time,” Mrs. Remple said with a smile.
Mrs. Krantz sneered, then turned her nose up, a scowl on her face.
Jon pondered whether he should begin reading to them or see if that policeman was anywhere around still, or if he should make a bathroom visit first.
“They’re taking Miss Lundberg straight away,” Mrs. Remple said. “Not even down to Dr. Hauptman first.”
“I don’t want them taking me down to that midget when I go,” Mrs. Krantz said. “He’ll be all over my naked body having his way with me.”
“Hilda don’t talk like that,” Mrs. Remple clucked.
“Of course he will,” Mrs. Krantz said. “He’s always got that goofy grin on his face, like he’s thinking about getting up to something.”
Mrs. Krantz pointed towards the Queen’s chair but did not say another word.
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