Chapter 72 – Gone

September 23rd, 8:03am

Karl and Rudy wore a pair of downcast faces as they slouched their way to the Nurses Hub.

“He’s gone,” Karl said, his voice barely audible.

“Mr. Homesman, Mr. Wernbacher, you should dress for breakfast. You shouldn’t be wandering around in your bed clothes. It’s breakfast time. Do you need help dressing?” Nurse Shirley scolded.

***

The small Chinese woman came straight from the elevator to the Nurses Hub. Her large red silk purse, multicolored flowers embroidered on the front, dangled nearly to her knees. She wore a deep red silk oriental dress, her black hair perfectly coiffed, bright red lipstick against her near snow white face. She brought a gift, a teak walking stick with a dragon’s head handle.

“I come for party,” she said, as she smiled at Karl and Rudy, showing a blue colored tooth nestled among her otherwise perfect pearl white ones.

Nurse Shirley looked up from her night charting. Her eyes were bloodshot, purple bags pillowed beneath them. She looked as though she hadn’t slept for a very long time.

“What party?”

The small Chinese woman sneered at the sight of the disheveled nurse. “My friend. Today he becomes Yībǎi suì. A very great honor. I have brought this dragon to celebrate him.”

Nurse Clara emerged from the cloak room, pinning her starched white nurses cap into her hair. A bit of nostalgia from the ‘old days’.

“Mrs. Chin. What a surprise to see you,” Nurse Clara said. “How are you dear?”

“I come for party. For Yībǎi suì, Mr. Jon Magnusson, my friend.”

“You’re a bit early I’m afraid. People are just getting up. We’re having his celebration after breakfast,” Clara’ frowned with concern. “Mr. Magnusson is probably just dressing.”

“He’s gone,” Karl repeated. He recognized the small Chinese woman. “I thought you were dead. Your room has been empty. We all thought you were toes up.”

Nurse Shirley closed the file folder and tucked it into the slot with the other night charts.

“I wasn’t invited to a party,” Nurse Shirley said.

“No, we assumed you’d be gone home,” Nurse Clara said.

“Today is Yībǎi suì,” Mrs. Chin repeated, refreshing her blue toothed smile.

“We thought you were dead,” Karl repeated. “Like everyone else around here.”

Rudy took a half step away from the elderly Chinese woman.

“Not dead,” Mrs. Chin said. “I go home. Come for party, for Yībǎi suì of Jon Magnusson, my good friend.”

“He’s gone,” Karl repeated once again. “We just left him. Watched him take his last breath. We stayed with him all night waiting for him to take another breath but he never did. I thought you didn’t speak English.”

“Good Lord, Mr. Homesman, did something happen to Mr. Magnusson? You should have called for help.” Nurse Clara rushed down the hall to Jon’s room. Karl, Rudy, and Mrs. Chin followed.

“Today is Yībǎi suì,” Mrs. Chin repeated in fast breaths as she made her way quickly. “My friend Jon Magnusson to be one hundred years today. Happy party. I wait if not until later. I visit with all my friends.”

Nurse Shirley followed behind them.

“His party isn’t until later,” Shirley growled. “I wasn’t invited.”

Mrs. Chin gasped as she turned, looking towards the Night Nurse.

“Gui po,” she whispered.

Mrs. Chin had seen Nurse Shirley often during her stay at The Lodge. Today the nurse looked different. The early morning light rippled around Nurse Shirley; her eyes were red around the rims, her lips seemed to curl back, showing off sharp teeth, like short pointy fangs, her skin a greenish hue.

“What are you looking at?” Nurse Shirley asked. “Do I have something on my face? Is it my hair? You look like you’ve seen a ghost Mrs. Chin. So nice of you to come for Mr. Magnusson’s party, but it’s not until later. I could have stayed around to join the festivity. We don’t get many centenarians. I should have been invited. Do you need to sit down Mrs. Chin?”

They stood in the hall outside Jon’s room. Nurse Clara entered alone.

“I come for party,” Mrs. Chin said, taking a step away from Nurse Shirley. “Gui po swallows heaven.”

Karl and Rudy had stayed with him all night until he passed. They stayed by his side hours afterwards. Jon had lived past the tick of the clock to breathe the air of his hundredth year. It was his birthday. A centenarian, he had made it, achieved the goal that had consumed his thoughts in his last years. The prize was his.

“He’s not going to be coming to his party,” Karl said.

“He’s still there in his bed, where we left him. By this morning he was cold as stone,” Rudy mumbled.

“Dead, like a door nail,” Karl shook his head. “For Christ sakes, why couldn’t he let him go one more day so he could have his birthday party.” Karl pointed upwards.

“Pardon me,” Nurse Clara emerged from Jon’s room and walked quickly back to the Nurses Hub.

“He’s not with us anymore,” Karl repeated. “Is he?”

“What a shame to be so close and not make it,” Nurse Shirley said.

She was the last one with Jon before Karl and Rudy arrived. She hadn’t wanted them there, tried to shoo them away.

“He did make it,” Karl said. “We were there with him. He lived well past the stroke of midnight. Jon Magnusson was one hundred years old. He made it, he earned whatever that thing was that he wanted so bad by making it to his hundredth birthday. Seems kind of wacko but gave him some kind of goal to shoot for, I guess. Maybe he still exists somewhere, who’s to say.”

“He exists, like we all will, as long as there is something, someone to remember him,” Rudy said.

“Well he…” Nurse Shirley began.

“Don’t say that ‘he had a good life’. There is no consolation in that and it is only an excuse for not feeling too bad about his death. He’s gone, at least from this place.”

“Mr. Magnusson was an atheist. It doesn’t make sense that he also believed he could have some kind of immortality simply by living to his hundredth birthday.” Nurse Shirley turned to make her way back to the Nurses Hub.

“That is no simple thing, living to a hundred. You try it,” Karl said as he looked down at the Night Nurse with her short obese body, and thought she would be lucky to make it to sixty. “We all should be so fortunate. And he was still in pretty decent shape for a guy that old.”

“Poor Mr. Magnusson. To be so close. Did he have any last words?” Nurse Shirley asked.

“He said his finger hurt,” Rudy said.

They waited for Nurse Clara to confirm what they already knew; Jon had passed. Her head was down.

“I’m afraid he’s gone,” Nurse Clara sighed. “I’ve called Dr. Hauptman up. I’m very sorry about your friend.”

Karl shrugged.

“He must have had trouble sleeping. Excited I guess, maybe about his big day. That nurse gave him a night cap to help him sleep,” Rudy said. “He wasn’t dead when we first saw him last night. Like he waited for us so he wouldn’t have to go alone.”

“You two were the last to see him still alive,” Nurse Shirley said.

“Gui po,” Mrs. Chin lifted the dragon’s head walking stick as if she was about to strike Nurse Shirley with it.

The empty cup of chocolate milk was left on Jon’s nightstand.

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