“They’ve taken the tape off the stairwell,” Rudy said.
The removal of the yellow tape with the black words ‘Police Line’ was the removal of the last sign that Greta Lundberg had ever been there.
Nobody came for Greta Lundberg’s body. No family member came to the service in the little Lodge chapel on the main floor, though some of the residents made their way down from the third, to show respects, expecting to look at Greta’s now peaceful face in her open casket, before she was hauled away to the undertaker.
‘Undertaker’, Jon thought. ‘What an old fashioned term. A word from the olden days, cowboy times.’ He imagined Greta’s corpse placed in a pine box, propped upright against the livery wall. A horse thief hanged for wrongdoing. But Greta Lundberg was no horse thief. Dead in the stairwell, on the cold concrete, beneath a faint yellow 40 watt bulb and iron handrails. She had no people of her own come to see her off. ‘Off to where? To the down under where the undertaker would send her to? To the Singularity? She wasn’t a hundred.’
“Did she have money?” Odd asked Rudy.
Rudy shrugged, flashed a disdainful look.
“Do you think it is better to be buried in the ground or cremated into dust and ash?” Odd asked.
Rudy rolled his eyes.
“Better to be laid in a Viking ship with your prized possessions, set to sail and flamed so you can make your way to Valhalla,” Jon said. “Or placed in a burial mound, maybe with your favorite horse or prettiest slave girl.”
“Why don’t we ever sing at these things?” Odd asked. “You know, a funeral song like ‘John Brown’s body lies moldering in the grave’.”
“That’s not a funeral song,” Rudy said. “And it has nothing to do with us anyway.”
“Oh,” Odd said. “Sometimes we used to sing a line or two when someone fell off the fishing boat. Sank, cause none of us could swim. Sometimes, if the water was clear you could watch them sinking down into the dark of the deep still alive. Creepy stuff.”
They came from the third floor to see Greta Lundberg off. She was not there. No casket, no urn, no Greta Lundberg, just a memory and the photograph of her that had hung on the wall outside the door to her room. Nobody came for her body but her body was not there for her friends to view in the little chapel. No family came for Greta Lundberg because she was lost to them from a time many years before when a car accident took her husband and a good part of her brain, leaving her alone as a ‘nonsense person’ to meander aimlessly through the rest of life until that too was finally taken from her.
Things had died down but there was still no word if poor Greta Lundberg fell or jumped or was pushed down the cold grey concrete of the stairwell, the escape hatch. No word why the alarm bell didn’t go off like it should have.
Karl had persuaded Jon to pace the hallways of the third floor, after lights out, with the certain prospect of catching the killer. Not always, not every night. Checking with folks, looking in to see if they were still breathing. Two weeks and not a single resident had passed away since Greta Lundberg. Perhaps Jon and Karl’s vigilance had put an end to the killer’s rampage.
Jon made a schedule for story time in the Sunroom. He didn’t want people flitting in and out or always asking when he was going to be talking again. His audience had grown a bit. A couple of new arrivals, a couple that didn’t pay attention because they couldn’t hear anyway. They were all old, though not older than him, just older in mind and body.
‘Why don’t people take better care of themselves?’ Jon wondered.
Karl found an empty liquor bottle hidden in the waste basket beside the TV in the Sunroom. A small bottle, the size you could stash in a back pocket or inside your coat. Just a few transparent drops of liquid remained. It was secreted at the bottom of the bin, beneath the daily flotsam and jetsam of discarded wrappers, newspaper, used Kleenex and unfinished snacks. He had kept an eye on the old codgers to see if any showed up to Jon’s readings in a state of inebriation but it was hard to tell if any were secret drinkers because they all wobbled when they walked and most slurred their words through false teeth or loose jowls anyway. Just the same, they would be pushing their luck to be drinking at their age and what was the point anyway. Karl would never have found the empty bottle had he not been on the search for another spent syringe recklessly discarded.
He picked the empty flask from the bin, held it up to examine the last drops and thought ‘you never see any really old drunks, they’re always long dead before they get to a place like this.’ He tossed the bottle back into the bin. ‘Lemon Gin, who would drink that crap anyway?’
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