Chapter 68 – Mrs. Remple’s Bed


Jon made his way to Mrs. Remple’s room. A slow shuffle, neither foot lifting off the floor as he went. He felt old.

He stared straight ahead but only saw images of the past, as if he were walking inside a dream. Harriet in the yard with their infant son, Magnus. Rolling a large orange ball to him as he sat in the thick emerald grass, his eyes sheltered from the sun by the peak of his baby bonnet. Then she was pulling their child, now four or five, in the new wood wagon with the red slats and balloon tires. She was in her flowery spring dress, her hair in waves to her shoulders, bright red lipstick. The boy wanting to exit the wagon so he could pull it. Then there she was, with the child’s hand in hers as she took him to his first day of school, him waffling between fear and reluctance and the thrill of a new adventure.

A chronology spanning so many years he had lost count, many of the images just imagined because he had never actually been present to see them. Where had that time gone. That infant son was more than seventy five years ago, yet seemed like yesterday. Grown through his boyhood into a fine man, married, had his own family, made a productive life and now gone, taken by poison gas while he slept. Such an unbelievable tragedy that it was almost humorous. At least he went with his wife so she didn’t have to suffer the loss of her husband. Perhaps a mercy, perhaps not.

“You shouldn’t have gone before me,” Jon mumbled. “I should have been a better father. Take care of your mother,” Jon whispered to his son.

They hadn’t come yet to collect her belongings. He studied her menagerie of ornaments, stacked neatly on her three tiered corner table. A zoo of little glass figurines. Possessions no longer possessed. Her small black and white television, that she never watched and only kept in her room because her son insisted that she have something to occupy her mind. Her large China Lassie seated faithfully beside her bureau, guarding her empty room. She spoke often how she once owned such a lovely dog, her grief when it passed and how the glass Lassie filled her with happy memories instead of sad thoughts. Her row of perfume bottles, full except for the fragrance that she wore. It smelled like watermelon. Harriet had perfume that smelled just like that. Her lace scarf, peach colored angora shawl and a leather bound journal, her diary that Jon certainly would not look in. Her family photograph with her children and grandchildren and the nice looking gentleman that was obviously her late husband. She was with him now, wherever he was, if they were anywhere at all. He sat on her bed staring at the dark screen of her television set.

“Let’s now take a moment, close our eyes and be mindful of each other and this world in which we exist,” Jon said. His words were barely audible. “I truly hope that you exist somewhere, Mrs. Remple. Maybe the Singularity, even though you were nowhere near a hundred. I don’t mind, really I don’t.”

Jon folded his hands into his lap, his eyes closed, a vail of calm fell over him.

He was there in their house. Lady was sprawled on the kitchen floor next to the stove. The dog was a sluggish lump that morning. Clearly under the weather. She was always spinning and dancing in the morning, eager to go outside for her morning relief, eager to return and have her breakfast, a dog biscuit followed by a mash of chunky nuggets that from time to time might have a fried egg on top. A routine, a ritual. But that morning she was sluggish, under the weather. He remembered that he had rushed her to the vet. But he imagined he spoon fed his pet warm chicken soup until she emerged from her malady and became her bright rambunctious self again. Then he wouldn’t have had to leave with Lady and Harriet wouldn’t have been alone and he wouldn’t have returned to find her dead on the kitchen floor. Their dog would still be alive and he and Harriet would be sitting together on the living room couch watching the children in the school yard.

“It was my fault,” Jon mumbled.

“Of course it wasn’t,” Harriet said. She sat beside him on Mrs. Remple’s bed.

“Maybe I could have taken Lady to Karl. He’s a vet and he’s my friend, I guess. Maybe he could have cured Lady and I could have brought her home and you’d still be alive too. We could have just carried on in our little house and still been happy.”

“You didn’t know Karl then,” Harriet said. “He had his own life, his own troubles. It wouldn’t have made any difference. Life is life and when it’s done it’s done.”

Jon reached over to take her hand in his. “Not anymore.”

She patted his hand. “It will all be okay soon.”

“Poor Mrs. Remple. She was my friend you know. A nice lady. Now she is just one of them. The gone people. Just like Hallveig, just like you.”

“We all have our own time,” she said.

“Yes, but poor Mrs. Remple was healthy. She wasn’t sick or certainly not old like me or some of the others. Someone did her in, must be. Otherwise she’d still be here. We should all still be here, shouldn’t we.”

Jon felt that sensation of speeding down a hill, towards a cliff edge, out of control.

“Mortality,” she said. “An end of all things.”

“But what about the Singularity? It will save us. We can be together again, forever.”

“That sounds like somebody’s version of heaven Jon. And you don’t believe in that.”

“No, it’s different. We get to go there if we reach a hundred.”

“A hundred,” she smiled.

“Don’t we?”

“It is what it is, Jon. Whatever that is.”

“Poor Hallveig. Snorri loved her you know.”

“It was her time, she was suffering. The end was merciful.”

“He was lost without her. Like I am lost without you.”

“They were fortunate. They had each other. Like us.”

“But now you’re gone and I’m here alone. Even our boy is gone.”

“I’m not gone,” she said. Her smile was wide and bright, her eyes twinkled like they did when they were young together.

Jon lay his hand flat on Mrs. Remple’s bed.

“She’s gone,” Jon said.

“She’s not gone,” Harriet said.

“Nurse Shirley said she had trouble sleeping. Maybe she was having a heart attack or something. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t sleep. How is chocolate milk going to fix a heart attack. Old people get them you know.”

“Yes,” she said. “Something will take us all.”

“Hallveig died, Harriet. Just like you died. And poor Mrs. Remple died.” Jon spoke loud into the empty room. His voice was strong and clear, even though it had been weak only moments before.

“Our bodies don’t last forever Jon.”

In the next moment Jon stood next to Snorri, looking at Hallveig Ormsdottir, the sheep’s wool blanket pulled to her shoulders as she lay flat, unmoving in her bed. Her cheeks sunken and hollow, eyes receded deep into their sockets, her lips nearly as white as her skin. She opened her mouth to speak but no words came. He felt Snorri’s anguish, thick in the air, he imagined the ancient man clawing desperately into the dim candlelight to hold the essence of his departing love. Helpless, hopeless, as the light left her life and his body sagged as if he were made from straw.

Jon opened his eyes. He stood beside Mrs. Remple’s bed, looking down at the empty space where she would have slept. He was alone.

“She wasn’t sick or injured. She was a perfectly fine healthy lady and we were friends. You would have liked her and been best friends too, I think. All this suffering. It makes me wonder what the point of it all is. Can’t we just live without the pain of loss. Snorri suffered. The sky over his Iceland was grey with thick cloud from the day of Hallveig’s death, until his own. His will was weak, like mine after you departed from me, Harriet. At least you had our Lady to make your journey with. I had nothing but my grief, though in the strangest way, it was my comfort. Had I not had my grief, I would have had nothing at all.”

He was alone in Mrs. Remple’s room, standing in his fleece lined slippers, sagging pajama bottoms and plaid housecoat. Harriet was not there with him.

“Something is killing us,” Jon said.

“Yes.” It was Harriet’s voice but she was not there. Assembled behind him was the host of residents now gone. John Blount, Sheldon Lipton, Mable Bleakhouse, Mrs. Kyvonis, Greta Lundberg, Mr. Z, Peter van der Groot and even Mrs. Branbury, though she appeared much younger, only eighty, if a day. Even Mrs. Remple was there, silently pointing at her bed. Jon was not afraid of their presence. He was among a host of friends, even though many of them he barely knew. Some he’d never known. Mrs. Chin was not among the gathered crowd. None spoke.

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