“We will all die soon. Some of you, very soon. One or two of you today, maybe. These are not natural deaths.” Jon looked at Karl. “You were the one that told us to go there, to his room.”
“Well only after Peter told us about his constipation and after we heard the ruckus,” Karl said.
“He was fine and then he was gone, just like that,” Peter van der Groot moaned. “There’s something not right here and I will get to the bottom of it. I used to be a policeman you know. I know how to find out about these things. Investigate.”
“We’re already doing that,” Karl said as he flipped a thumb towards Jon. “That cop Klugman, he’s about as useful as tits on a bull.”
“But I used to be a policeman,” van der Groot repeated with a hint of resentment.
Jon sat in his same chair. Nobody occupied Mrs. Branbury’s Queen’s Chair since her birthday passing. It remained vacant; an unused receptacle now haunted by the specter of inevitability. The faint odor of her inexpensive perfume lingered. Noise in the room grew from a buzz to a murmur and then a cacophony of jibber jabber as more of the residents arrived in the Sunroom. Some new, some old, they came to hear the words of their famous ‘almost centenarian’ resident read from his book about the long dead ancient man that changed the history of Iceland. Many took the tales to be true recounts of history, some doubted but found the stories entertaining and something to fill time. Better than just waiting.
Jon watched them assemble. There were more old women than old men, perhaps three or four to one. Every one of them brittle. Some frail in body, some in mind. The air filled with the odor of a moldy dank basement.
‘They smell like that when they’re close,’ Jon thought. As if their life force was dissolving, evaporating into the air in a green steam of rot. He imagined Dylan Thomas hovering over his dying father’s bed exhorting him with words from his villanelle, ‘do not go gentle into that good night’. Jon committed himself to ‘rage against the dying of the light’.
He found each reading more difficult. His voice was weakening despite his attempts to yell out the words. It maddened him, saddened him, but he continued.
“There are more than seven billion people alive today and the Population Bureau estimates that over 107 billion people have ever lived on this earth. This means that we are nowhere near close to having more alive than dead. In fact, there are 15 dead people for every person living. Imagine I’m standing here in front of you and there are fifteen dead bodies scattered around my feet. Well let me tell you about one of them. A guy I happen to know something about. I know it because I studied him and taught about him, and many others too. He was a great man, perhaps the greatest that ever lived….in Iceland.” Jon coughed.
He told this for the benefit of the new residents, the ones that had not yet heard any of the story of Snorri Sturluson. Some listened intently, some let their gaze flit to the ceiling and about the Sunroom as if they weren’t listening or couldn’t hear anyway, some strained to hear, some dozed in the warm sun. The room was packed.
When his voice began to stress and leave him, he had Rudy Wernbacher read from the Red Book.
“You want to know something else,” Rudy said. “This man is an actual descendant of this Snorri fellow. Twenty-third or fourth generation. Imagine that.”
“Nineteenth,” Jon managed to say.
Mrs. Remple was knitting, a long pink scarf taking shape from a carefully wound ball of yarn in a wicker basket on the floor beside her foot. She smiled and winked at Jon. Mrs. Krantz pretended to be reading from a travel magazine. The very tall Peter van der Groot sat leaning forward, elbows on his knees, his head hanging in defeat.
“We already know that,” Odd Gunnerson said. “We already heard that story.”
Rudy rolled his eyes. “These new people haven’t heard it.”
‘Would this part of the story just be repeated over and over,’ Jon wondered. ‘The first few chapters repeated for each new cohort that arrived to occupy this place. Will we never get to the meat of the story, to the body of the work, or will it just be beginnings over and over again? Is this the wasting of my legacy?’
Several drifted into restful repose against the steady hum and white noise of the HVAC, the warmth of the air like a soft woolen blanket, Rudy Wernbacher’s steady calming voice as he read from The Life and Times of Snorri Sturluson. Jon drifted as well.
He was talking to himself. There was no sound of his voice heard by the residents. He was animated and vociferous but nobody looked towards him to hear his words. He could see himself, arms in motion as he gestured to enhance his conversation, signal his commitment to his words as if he was an evangelical preacher. In the back of his mind he could hear Rudy Wernbacher continue to read aloud.
Jon was talking too, his voice no longer strained. He spoke as he had when he was Professor Magnusson, attention captured, his audience listening intently. But this audience was not listening to him, they listened to Rudy reading, speaking.
Karl was bored, but there was nothing else to do so he remained in the Sunroom. Mrs. Remple reminded him of a Yorkshire Terrier he had treated for ear mites and Mrs. Krantz resembled a small bug eyed chihuahua once brought to him by a homeless woman. The dog appeared to have passed, carried limp in her arms, tongue hanging loosely, flapping from an open mouth, eyes open in the death stare. The homeless woman was distraught beyond consolation. He revived the tiny dead chihuahua, surprising even himself. ‘A miracle from God,’ the homeless woman said and blessed him, then returned with her faithful companion to her shelter under the bridge, a place of cardboard and plastic tarpaulin. She had no money to pay for his service, of course, but Karl Homesman felt rewarded just the same. Those times were long past but the inexplicable feeling of exhilaration he felt from saving a life that was lost, lingered inside him, longing to be revived. ‘To save another life before its time, what better thing could there be than that?’
Karl looked around the room slowly until his eyes came to Jon, who appeared fixed, trance-like, a statue sitting frozen like an obedient dog, in the chair next to the big empty Queen’s chair, that nobody was allowed to sit in until a respectable amount of time had passed.
‘He looks like a zombie, sitting there like that,’ Karl thought.
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