The Last Veteran

How long is this corridor, I ask myself? It carries the length of a hundred mortal coils. It is heavy with the departed. My time will come, when I will leave my body and ride the light. The floor here has a polished, yet used look about it. The smell is sharp and abrasive to the senses.
+++++A nurse passes by, her face a snapshot in time. It has no trace of compassion; granite features which hold only purpose. She offers me a split-second glance and walks on, with a quick check of her watch.
+++++The anteroom is occupied with the near dead. I have to look carefully to make them out. They only appear when I look closer, they’ve folded themselves into the chairs. I am the subject of both the curious and the furious.
+++++“Daniel? It’s you, isn’t it?”
+++++This accusation is directed at me by a woman approaching with a zimmer frame. Her lips are still moving and she focuses on me.
+++++“Make sure Tiger’s had a wash by the time I get back in.”
+++++Her voice has a formal tone and I can tell she’s been in a privileged position. Who was she talking to? Her grandson; her son? A servant, perhaps? Maybe the dead.
+++++“Get out! You have no place here. You don’t belong here.”
+++++A walking stick is pointed in my direction. I feel like the target of a witch doctor’s curse. This place is no different to a psychiatric ward. I feel trapped and leave the room, going towards my great grandfather’s.
+++++I pass another room, where the bed’s being changed. This room is being prepared for a new occupant. How many people have passed away on that mattress? Is there a residue left behind, a faint resonance of the person perhaps? When the person passes there is a change in body mass. Something does leave, though in micrograms; it can float on air.
+++++I reach the end of the conduit to my great grandfather’s room. He normally sits at his desk and ponders over black and white photographs. Some of them are over a century old and offer him comfort in his last days. How can a man live that long and not go insane? He’s buried all his sons, a grandson and two wives. The man is cursed, I’m sure of it. He says there is purpose and reason in everyone’s life.
+++++I push open the door and find him not at his desk but in his bed. He’s awake and he’s been expecting me.
+++++“Close the door.” He gently breathes the request.
+++++“Granpa. How are you this fine morning?” I ask. I ask this every morning.
+++++“I’ve felt better. I feel like I’ve just done a…” He wheezes and coughs. “Marathon.”
+++++“You need to stay where you are. Don’t get out of bed.”
+++++“How are the others?”
+++++He’s referring to the other residents.
+++++“Still crazy.”
+++++He smiles. “I’m gonna go now. I’ve been around for…” He quizzes himself for a second. “Oh. Must be coming up to 114 years now. Fought in the Great War, lived through the Blitz and brought over fifty children into the world. Do you think our descendants will make it to the stars?”
+++++“With fifty kids bearing your name? I’d say yes. Anyway what are you talking about? Going away? You’re not fit enough to go anywhere.”
+++++He smiles at me. It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile like that. It’s like a child’s smile.
+++++“I’m going on a journey, son. You’ll have to take it when it’s your time.”
+++++The focal point of his gaze is behind me. Then it’s on me. Don’t do this to me, gramps. He looks serious for a second.
+++++“Granpa?”
+++++There it is. That long exhalation of air as it finally leaves his body. He’s gone. The only thing I have here now is a bit of flesh and bone. Light plays tricks on me at times and it did just now.
+++++Dappled flashes played on the bed between the shadows of boughs. Dust rises from the windowsill, something displaces it.
+++++I kiss him and close his eyes. Walking down the corridor, I feel a pull to the main doors. ‘Do you think our descendants will make it to the stars?’ Good question, gramps.
+++++The woman at reception only has to look at me for one moment before she’s calling for the nurses. I have the look she recognises. I realise I haven’t cried. Why haven’t I cried? The nurses are flying down the corridor like angels running to the light.
+++++The last Great War veteran just died. It’ll make the headlines. Their generation saw the bloodiest century through. He’d taken part and survived the massacres of the trenches. He was the last of his kind.