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Anthropological Study of Longevity

Jon Methven

Castra campana, or Campbell, is a small town in Upstate New York with a population of 3,700.  This is the biggest event to occur in the town since a murder in 1982, when a transient shot three residents in a botched robbery of the Pump ‘n Pantry.  There are television vans and news reporters from around the state, Syracuse, Albany, Buffalo − even New York City.  The events of the day, however, will put the town on the national radar for the right reasons.  Campbell’s own Albert Wimbley, at 115 years and 117 days, is about to become the world’s oldest living person.  As soon as the woman currently holding the distinction – Malena Croquetaigne, 116 years and 123 days, of Picardy, France – dies.


Retirement Home


Serenus Oakus, or Serenity Oaks, is a 129-bed retirement home located approximately 300 yards west of Interstate 86, first right off the exit then swing a left at the Dairy Queen.  The staff has been anticipating Mr. Wimbley’s coronation for months.  And subsequently, Mme. Croquetaigne’s death.  They have decorated the home’s main social hall, which is two rooms − a cafeteria that feeds into the television room − with streamers and balloons and handmade signs touting Mr. Wimbley’s longevity.  No one admits it aloud, and some do not think it above a subconscious level, but there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what, exactly, they are celebrating, life or death.  The staff is paid modestly to take care of elderly people.  They are surrounded so often by death, this thing that steals their livelihood no matter how well they perform their jobs, that Mr. Wimbley has become critical.  His heartbeat is their drumbeat.  His life is their life’s work, their Mount Everest.  His waking each morning and opening eyes to a new dawn, his sucking in that first breath − it is their validation that they have not wasted their lives in a small town, in a smaller career.  They pray for his life.  And by extension for Mme. Croquetaigne’s death.  They do not know her.  They do not wish to hate her.  But alone with their thoughts, they find themselves hating the living hell out of her, wishing for her suffocation or weak heart, her spirit to be conquered.  Each breath she takes is an insult.  Each second of life she steals the spotlight from them.  She is the villain of their drama, the nemesis of their fable.


Mme. Malena Croquetaigne


Maximus Victus, or the world’s oldest living person, is a sweet old woman even as she lies on her deathbed in the hospital near the town of Picardy, France, where her family resides.  She is surrounded by friends and relatives, a lifetime of relationships she has nourished.  She has called for more grappa, which sends a confusing message to her people: Is she taking a final toast, or is she building strength to climb back out of bed, a false alarm?  It is only a teaspoon, although it is her fourth teaspoon in an afternoon.  Mme. Malena Croquetaigne (Mimsy to those who know her best) has been proud to hold the title of world’s oldest living.  But it has not been her greatest achievement.  It is these, the faces that peer down for her, of which she is most proud.  She will miss these the most.  She has wondered of her successor – man or woman, and what country he or she is from, and what she would have done for a conversation as to how they both managed to live such a ripe life.  Her recipe: Wine and love and prayer and family and walks each day and heavy concentration on being a good listener.  And luck.


Brian Kaestner


Curo Presul, or managing director, has been in charge of the Serenity Oaks Retirement Home since 1989.  A week ago he celebrated his twentieth anniversary there.  He did so alone at the Log Cabin, the town’s sole bar, a pitcher of beer in a silent booth.  That is not technically accurate, the alone part.  He was joined by his secretary who stopped in to the bar and found him alone, and took a seat despite not being asked.  She is chubby, but not in a bad way.  She has lovely breasts, and Brian Kaestner tried not to look at them while they spoke (he looked regularly).  He loves his wife, although he might consider sleeping with his secretary if no one found out.  Despite that he still believes he celebrated alone – not his wife, not any of his other coworkers, not anyone on the board of directors bothered to acknowledge the accomplishment.  But none of that matters.  He does this job because he cares, and because it puts his son Josh through college.  Today is vastly important to Brian Kaestner.  He spent months researching Albert Wimbley, ensuring his age was verified by the International Gerontology Research Group, the governing board that declares who is eligible for the honor.  And it is validation that the retirement home Brian Kaestner manages be in possession of the world’s oldest living person.  Albert Wimbley has a large family scattered across the United States.  They could have chosen any retirement home in which to place him, but they chose Serenity Oaks.  He has been under Brian Kaestner’s charge for seven years, and in that time, Brian Kaestner believes his management, his organization, has permitted the old man extra time in this world.  Brian Kaestner believes the reporters will certainly want to speak with him (not one does), being that he is the managing director.  He might even be invited to address conferences in the coming year on the topic of longevity (he won’t). Most importantly this is something he can put on a resume.  That is significant because Brian Kaestner hears rumors and knows how the business operates, and knows the board of directors could close Serenity Oaks any day.  Who would hire him at his age?  Someone maybe, perhaps if they read how he once had the world’s oldest living person under his care.  But for now, the first breath of the day is critical.  So often they lose folks in the night.  And Brian Kaestner is pacing the building, checking on Albert Wimbley, going over the preparations, visiting the reporters in the parking lot, calling his wife (Diane Kaestner) to see if she is coming down to the home today (she is not), checking on Albert Wimbley some more, exchanging pleasantries with the nurses with whom he wants to be friends but knows he is not – impatient for that first breath.  It would be a disaster to lose it all now that it is so close.


Kella Costello


Novus opinionus, or news reporter for the Today show, thinks this is a pitiful crock of bullshit.  Kella Costello, 26, is a serious journalist.  She thinks she got the job as an assignment reporter because of how hard she works (she does) and how much she wants it.  Truth is the producers hired her for her looks (stunning).  And she’s good, no doubt, but she is cheap and young and she will never quit this job, no matter what assignments they give her.  That is why they can send her to Campbell, N.Y., for a deathwatch.  Four hours in the van with Morley Craven, who smells like cigars and who she suspects wants to sleep with her.  Although she would never sleep with someone like that in Manhattan, out here in Podunk it seems arbitrary and careless and a bit erotic.  If only she could get drunk enough to convince herself he would not blab it all over the newsroom.  They have been staying at a Holiday Inn for three nights, in a town called Painted Post, and this French bitch will not die.  Kella Costello cannot leave until she dies.  She could do her segment – stand out front of the retirement home, have Marley snap a few shots, smile and flash her white teeth and rave about the old man – but the producers say she will wait.  All for a 37-second slot.  All this travel, all these nights out of town, and the segment on the world’s oldest living man will run only 37 seconds.  They have already planned it – just after Al Roker reads the weather, just before they cut to commercial, Kella will peer out at America and announce that one of their own holds the title.  Until that happens, she will stand in the parking lot with the other reporters and cameramen and a mysterious marching band roaming the fields.  She should be investigating wars and conspiracies and masters of the world (one day she will).  But for now a 91-pound French woman dying 4,000 miles away is still breathing, keeping Kella Costello in Campbell along with mediocrity and Morley and time.


Calvin Wimbley


Minimus Filius, or the youngest son, believes he is the next of kin (Tuncus Semen) and will inherit the majority of his father’s estate (he won’t).  He believes this for a number of reasons: 1) He is the favorite son; 2) He pays the bills at Serenity Oaks; and 3) His daughter, Jessica, is his father’s favorite grandchild.  For these reasons he has packed his wife and daughter into the car, and driven from Twinsburg, Ohio, where he is the floor manager of a cat food plant.  He took a week’s vacation to come out here and stay at the Holiday Inn down the road.  If the French woman does not die by the end of the week, he will have to head back.  His three brothers and sister are retired, all in their seventies and eighties now, so they have no work obligations.  His siblings, along with his nephews and nieces and relatives, stay out in the parking lot all day drinking beer.  They do not like him – he knows this.  He is their brother from their father’s second marriage, and they hold it against their stepmother (his mother, Doris) for their own parents’ divorce.  Doris died last January of throat cancer (a smoker), but none of his siblings attended the funeral.  Calvin Wimbley, 60, is dressed in a suit and tie.  His wife has gone shopping in one of the nearby towns.  But he and Jessica, 35, will be inside the home each day, all day, letting dad know they are there for him.  And that’s what really matters.  Family.


Beverly Kibler


Alumno Subcriptio, or registered nurse, is Albert Wimbley’s closest friend at Serenity Oaks.  She has been caring for him for seven years, ever since he arrived.  She knows his secrets and dreams, his tedious ailments, the names of his five children and why he is closest to his youngest – because he loved his second wife more than his first, and that made him a better father.  She tries not to get too close to her assignments since they always go out the same way.  But Albert is 116 years old, and he listens when she speaks, and although he is lately sullen and quiet and deliberate in his thoughts, he has the tendency to reel off a wisdom that bends her mind.  Like two summers ago when he muttered “Coincidence” and she said “What now, Al?” and he said, “There are none.  You and me might have been soul mates if I were sixty years younger,” and she said, “You say that to all the nurses.”  And he said, “You find people in life.  You matriculate toward people you need and who need you.  That’s why you’re taking care of me, so I suppose you need something from me.  So here goes: Leave that sonofabitch.  Soon as you leave him, you’ll open up to finding someone good to you.”  It took 11 months but she did leave Clete, and then she found Ray Glover (a mechanic).  It reinforced her belief that there are good men in the world, decent men like Ray Glover and Albert Wimbley, and none of their lives are coincidental.  She is at Albert Wimbley’s bedside each morning, impatient for him to wake, to know he came out of the night.  Beverly Kibler cares too much.  She feels a tenderness for Albert Wimbley that is unprofessional.  She has to remind herself that this is the job, he is the assignment, that his old age pays her salary, that one day he will die and another will take his place and she keeps telling herself there is something goddamned natural and beautiful about that.  She does not believe it so well lately.


Fred Hicks


Persona non grata, or persona non grata, will die today.  It’s just as well.  He has no idea what goes on around him, no idea his peer Albert Wimbley is due for an honor.  He has been a resident of Serenity Oaks for 13 years.  He has no living family members (there is an illegitimate son he does not know about).  He fought in WWII and won the Purple Heart that sits in his drawer.  He has Alzheimer’s and no one here likes him because he’s a burden and he senses he’s a burden and he wishes he could do something about it.  The only good part of his week is when the young girl comes in, closes the door, takes off her shirt and lets him stare at her breasts.  It always lasts just a minute, then she dresses and leaves.  Other than that, there are meals and activities, but he mostly sits.  And waits.


Gerry O’Donnell


Urbs Mayorus, or the town mayor, is not Irish.  He is German.  His mother remarried an Irish when he was an infant and he has carried the surname since.  Not that it matters (it doesn’t).  But people always associate him with Irish and St. Patrick’s Day and green beer because of the name.  He has been the mayor of Campbell for six years.  The way small town politics work, he has a lot riding on today.  Everything needs to be perfect – from the marching band, to the parade route, to the weather.  Residents will forgive him his Irish and his halitosis and that he does not drink beer, a reality that fucks with their concept of life.  But what they will not forgive is an increase in property taxes or a faulty parade.  Campbellians love a good parade the most.  It does not matter the occasion − tell them there’s a parade and they’ll set out their arm chairs and coolers hours in advance, and sit in the hot sun and drink cold beer and gossip and reminisce about parades past and wait.  And then back on their porches, in smallish groups, they will critique the parade deep into the night and look for someone to blame and settle on him.  Of course, the parade has to happen on the exact day Albert Wimbley is crowned world’s oldest living.  A day later would be nonsense, like the year there was lightning and they backed up the parade a day, and celebrated the Fifth of July instead.  Two days later would be political suicide (someone might hurl a bag of dog shit at his front door, that’s how politics work in Campbell).  But what residents do not take into account is how difficult it is – organizing the flatbed truck and marching band, the fire trucks and police cars – and keeping them on hold all week, waiting until the French woman dies.


Edward Bailey III


Presertim Executor, or chief executive officer of Glycor Healthcare, will be sentenced for fraud as soon as someone finds out.  “Cooked the books” is what the investigators will say, slang for doing what he thought was right.  Glycor Healthcare manages 14 retirement homes in New York State and administers to thousands of elderly customers, although they file for Medicare benefits for many more than that.  It began with one or two fraudulent claims, then turned into dozens, then hundreds.  He has no idea how far the fraud runs at this point, but he is in too deep to turn back.  The newspapers will call him a criminal.  They will point to his annual salary of $450,000 and say he robbed old people to live a lavish lifestyle, which is not accurate.  He works long hours to earn his salary that takes care of his family, that puts Edward Bailey IV through college (Bucknell University).  The fraud only keeps the retirement homes functioning.  As it is, they will have to close one site this year (likely Serenity Oaks).  Edward Bailey III is at Serenity Oaks today to celebrate Albert Wimbley, who is part of the problem.  People live so much longer and the healthcare system is so disoriented, it is nearly impossible to provide adequate care.  And that’s what Edward Bailey III wants – to take care of people, and to earn a living doing so.  He will smile and slap backs and pose for a picture with Albert Wimbley, State Senator H. Todd Smith and others.  Although privately he lives everyday horrified of being found out, petrified of prison, under the conviction that Albert Wimbley should get on with the dying by now.


Travis Kirchner


Irrelevantus retineo, or irrelevant detail, is serving a life sentence in Elmira Correctional Facility.  He was the man responsible for the triple homicide in Campbell in 1982.  A lifetime criminal, the murders were the thirty-second time he had been arrested in his life.  The morning after, he awoke in the Steuben County Jail drunk tank, where he had no recollection of the prior night’s murders.  He regrets them.  Although silently he maintains it is difficult to regret something he cannot recall.  Twenty-seven years later, that is the thing he thinks about each morning as soon as he wakes – that he wish he knew his motives, that those people must have done something to provoke him (they laughed at him).  Travis Kirchner does not realize it, but his actions that day put a spell of bad karma over the town.  As soon as Mme. Croquetaigne dies and Albert Wimbley is crowned, the town will no longer be known for those murders, and the spell will lift, and things will go on in Campbell pretty much the way they have always been.


The Wimbleys


Miscellaneous parentes, or miscellaneous relatives, have decided to send someone to the Pump ‘n Pantry for more beer.  They are having a goddamned kegger in the parking lot of their father’s retirement home because the French lady will not die.  The marching band keeps playing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” over and over, and they are quite bad, and the Wimbleys are laughing and hooting and hollering other requests at the band leader.  There is a man in a car who has been watching all day, and if he does not move along soon, the younger members of their tribe will drag him from the car for sport.  They have come from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, even Albuquerque because their baby brother, Calvin, insisted this was important.  The big shot cat food plant manager who their father loves the most called them all to guilt them into making the trip.  It’s okay though, they have not all been together like this in years, and the weather is pleasant, and the older brother (Albert) has a Winnebago, and the cold beer makes time go faster.  They are a rough crowd and they have put in a good session in the parking lot the past three days.  Each afternoon they head back to the Holiday Inn to swim and rest.  Then they eat dinner and head off to the Log Cabin or the hotel bar for a nightcap, but at their age most will not last much longer than nine o’clock.  There are 23 Wimbleys in the parking lot, ranging in age from 17 to 88.  Their father or grandfather is 116 years old, and none of them know him.  How can that be?  He was not the best father but he certainly was not the worst, and they care enough to travel to Campbell, N.Y., to watch his parade.  But he does not matter so much in their lives, and whatever inheritance he has will probably go to Calvin, and it has been three long days of this nonsense already.  Keystone.  They prefer Labatt’s or Schlitz, but Keystone 30-packs are on sale at the Pump ‘n Pantry, and those are the cans slowly piling up in the Serenity Oaks parking lot.


Annie Prath


Extrarius Contactus, or the foreign contact, is baffled by the American obsession with Mme. Croquetaigne.  A young girl from a placed called Campbell phones every day to inquire into the state of Mme. Croquetaigne.  Annie Prath is a secretary at the hospital.  She has never met Mme. Croquetaigne but she is aware of her fame.  She has promised the American girl she will phone as soon as she has an update.  Nevertheless, several times a day, the American phones.  It is almost as if the town has planned a parade, Annie Prath assumes – that is how impatient they seem for news of the death.  She does not know it now.  But this experience will forever cement Annie Prath’s opinion of Americans and foreigners in general.  That they are crass and pushy and simple and cruel.  This opinion will cause her to form a shell and she will never leave her country or learn about other cultures.  She will marry someone just like her (Mayne Renard) and the basis of their marriage will be an opposition to everything crass and pushy and simple and cruel, and all of their friends will find Annie and Mayne Renard to be snobs.


Morley Craven


Venit Vir, or the cameraman for the Today show, intends to sleep with Kella Costello before their assignment ends.  He secretly hopes the French woman never dies – he’s enjoying their stay in Upstate New York that much.  The Holiday Inn has a nice pool and an acceptable Continental breakfast, and he enjoys drinking with Kella Costello at the Log Cabin each afternoon and into the evenings.  They have been drinking more than they should while on assignment, but there is little else to do but drink, and wait, and tease and laugh at how the locals dress and behave.  Morley Craven can tell Kella Costello looks down on him.  At 46, he is older than her, and he is not the best looking man, and he holds the camera for the talent.  But he can also tell she might be up for it, a wild fling in the wilderness with an older man, if he can convince her he will not blab it all over the newsroom.  And if he can get her drunk.  But not a sloppy drunk.  The right kind of drunk.  The feeling good type of drunk.  Morley Craven is not particularly attracted to Kella Costello.  She is beautiful, yes.  But her intensity is a turnoff (it intimidates him).  He knows she will be famous someday – she is that ambitious and talented.  And he wants to be able to say he fucked her doggy style in a Holiday Inn in some hokey town while they were on a deathwatch.  He’ll record it, of course.  And depending on how nice she is to him over the years, whether she forgets the little people when she makes it big, he might choose to use the recording to blackmail her.  Call it a retirement fund, who knows?


Stephen King


Urbs Excolo, or town police, has hit the mother load.  The only thing that happens in Campbell is drunk driving, which is everyone who leaves the Log Cabin, and he typically lets them go if they keep it under 25 mph; otherwise, the town’s two jail cells would be filled each night.  This week he has noticed several out-of-state license plates, and he has been staking out the Holiday Inn and the Serenity Oaks parking lot in his spare time, keeping an eye on a band of hoodlums (the Wimbleys) who seem to be up to no good.  They have not broken any laws, for the most part.  But they are hooting and hollering and screaming country music titles, and he is fairly certain he smelled marijuana (he did) during his undercover stakeout.  Officer Stephen King has a vivid imagination.  He is paid a base salary of $27,000 to serve as a town police officer, but there is no overtime.  He is not compensated for these stakeouts when he is not on duty, but it makes his life exciting to tail strangers and contrive drama, and pretend the town is a nest of crime and he the sole superhero standing between peace and anarchy.  He is not lonely because of this; he is content in his job, and he enjoys his boss (Sergeant Marcus Dalbert) and his fellow officers (Richard Swan and Tammy Dalbert).  Sergeant Marcus Dalbert was a rookie on the force in 1982 during the shootings (he is secretly pleased the killer fell asleep and that he did not have to shoot him dead).  He does not talk about it much, although that infamous day is the reason Campbell residents hold the police in high esteem, to protect them from the other killers waiting to murder them in cold blood in the Pump ‘n Pantry.  Officer Stephen King enjoys that reputation, enjoys knowing what each day will offer, and he has taken the squad car through Jake’s Car Wash so it is spotless and brilliant and will catch the sun during the parade.  He probably will not arrest any of the folks drinking in the parking lot.  But he daydreams about arresting them and how it might go down, and then he sits in his undercover Toyota and watches and lurks and waits.


Nora Faulisi


Effectus Suffragium, or executive assistant, has a secret.  Her official role is secretary.  That’s what Mr. Kaestner hired her as anyway.  But she does enough to warrant the title of executive assistant.  She does the little things at Serenity Oaks that no one is responsible for, the glue that holds the place together.  It is she who thought to track down the hospital in France where Mme. Croquetaigne is dying.  It is she who phones several times a day to learn if the old woman has passed, although her French is not so good and her contact’s English not so good, so it has been a struggle.  It is she who listens to the nurses’ gossip and uses the information to keep everyone in cohesion.  That was how she learned Mr. Kaestner was celebrating his twentieth anniversary alone.  That was why she pretended to happen upon him in the Log Cabin that evening.  Her intent was to sleep with him if he tried.  She’s not in love with her boss.  She feels sorry for him, and knows his wife is having an affair, and knows his employees gossip behind his back.  But he is a good person and a pleasant boss, and she thought – what better way to make a 50-year-old man feel more positive about life than to sleep with a 22-year-old girl.  She is chubby (loves ice cream and pizza), but she has a curvy body and terrific breasts.  The breasts are the secret.  She began doing it because she thought the geriatric men would appreciate it, but she soon realized she enjoyed it.  Exhibitionist – that’s what she is, she supposes.  Each day when the nurses go on break, she wanders into a resident’s room, closes the door and takes off her shirt.  No one says anything.  There has never been an occasion of fondling.  It is a symbiotic relationship, thrilling to her, the most unique part of their day.  She has never discussed it with them, but the old men seem to understand this is their special secret.  One of the orderlies saw her once, but he told no one.  She knows she would be fired if she was ever caught, but it is too late to cease.  At this point, it is part of the routine, like the medication, or “The Price is Right” each day before lunch.


Donald Farnsworth


Pax Coegi, or truck driver, thinks this is the easiest money he will ever make.  He is the only guy with a flatbed truck in Campbell, and the town has rented it for the week.  At a hundred bucks a day, he has spent three days sitting in the parking lot of Serenity Oaks listening to the radio, napping, waiting.  At this rate he hopes the French woman lives forever.  The plan is to secure Albert Wimbley’s wheelchair to the flatbed portion of his truck, then Donald Farnsworth will drive it along the parade route at a speed not to exceed 5 mph.  He’s got a magnificent horn on the truck, which he has let rip for the mayor to show him he can get the crowds rolling.  But those in charge feel it might startle Albert Wimbley’s heart, and all they want him to do is keep it a mellow 5 mph.  So he shrugs.  And he sits.  And he waits.  And he occasionally thinks about his old man who died in 2002, and how he wants to die before his wife, Becca, before his son, Robbie.  Because he could never handle a world without them.  And in the parking lot of Serenity Oaks, on the third day of a deathwatch, he finds himself weeping pathetically into the steering console with the magnificent horn, afraid of how much he loves them, how his existence is contingent on their survival.


Gabe Carson


Orchestra domina, or senator’s mistress, is on his knees in the Holiday Inn in a town called Painted Post, a penis in his mouth.  He wears many hats for State Senator H. Todd Smith – speechwriter, travel secretary, media handler.  But lately his main duties have been of the fellatious variety and he does not get around to doing anything else because he is bored with the job, bored with the senator.  It only recently occurred to him he was a mistress.  Can a man be a mistress?  Who knows – the point is he is having relations with H. Todd Smith and the senator’s wife (Judy) knows all about it (he even sleeps at their house on occasion), so his role is somewhat in the nature of mistress.  Gabe Carson is not in love, although H. Todd Smith has told Gabe Carson that he loves him.  In times of passion or inebriation, he has threatened to leave his wife for Gabe Carson, although Gabe Carson does not believe it.  H. Todd Smith is intelligent and ambitious, and he could become a U.S. Senator, and he needs Judy Smith as part of the act.  They are in town today from Albany to give a speech at Serenity Oaks Retirement Home, a meet-and-greet and a speech the senator will give at the home prior to the parade.  Gabe Carson has not written the speech (nor does he intend to).  As mentioned previously, he has a penis in his mouth, and he is still wearing a suit, and he is doing his best to keep things formal.  The senator is on the phone.  He hates that the relation has become so familiar that H. Todd Smith feels comfortable taking a phone call during fellatio.  But such is the nature of the job.  Gabe Carson is employee and lover, speechwriter and mistress.  He hates hotel rooms.


Sully Canale


Urbs historius, or town historian, has not written any of it down.  He is nosing around Serenity Oaks, looking for someone with whom to talk Campbell history.  He would like to have a conversation with Albert Wimbley – someone that old must have stories.  No one invited him there, even though it’s a town function and the biggest thing to happen in Campbell in 27 years.  At 91, Sully Canale considers himself the oldest person in town, a distinction to which many agree.  People living in retirement homes, hooked up to tubes and drips and full of medication – they don’t count.  Sully Canale is out there living it, out there in the fight and the muck mixing it up with other survivors.  He pulled a car out of the ditch with his truck a few weeks ago (he actually saw Don Farnsworth do it, but at Sully’s age he gets confused.)  He had sex with a woman he met at the Log Cabin about a month ago (the town whore, who has sex with everyone).  No one appreciates him or the knowledge he has even if he does have a tendency to talk too long and too loud and occasionally take liberties with history.  Like the flood of ’76 – he claims he pulled three people out of the drink, although time has morphed his history and other people’s history and actual history into a conglomeration of heroic feats, and this is one he shoplifted.  Like the murders of ’82 – he claims he met the killer at a diner earlier in the day, and noticed something suspicious about him, and regrets not saying anything.  He never met Travis Kirchner.  Sully Canale’s wife is dead, and his two sons moved on, and this is all he has – this small town, and its history, and the distinction of being the historian, even though fewer people appreciate the title each day.  As noted, he has not written any of it down.  When he dies, it too.


The Wimbley Estate


Voluntas Quod Voluntas, or last will and testament, is going to surprise a lot of people.  The old man is giving it all to the girl that shows him her breasts each morning.  He likes them curvy.  He loves their ritual.  At his age, his heart beats faster and there is a slight stirring below, and more than anything he likes that she looks him in the eye while she poses.  There is something about the way she watches him watch her that betrays all he thought he knew about women.  Somehow that pleasure has meant more to him these past years than anything else, any idle banter with the nurses, any greeting cards from children or grandchildren.  Something about those round bulks of fat and thick, purplish nipples have conquered the loneliness, thwarted his doom, issued him one final hope as his life slips away.  Sometimes he thinks it’s those tits for which he keeps on living. Those tits, and to know that she will be there again tomorrow.  He has $62,000 in the bank, some land in Campbell.  His children will be disappointed, Calvin especially, but at least Calvin does well at the plant (Calvin Wimbley has debt; he earns a decent salary, but his wife shops too much and they are counting on the inheritance).  He thinks he should tell someone about the inheritance, just in case the children are counting on it.  But it would only end up getting the girl with the breasts fired and Albert Wimbley will not do that.


Diane Kaestner


Jadedus Uxor, or jaded wife, is having an affair.  She has been sleeping behind her husband’s back with a man for six years (Sergeant Marcus Dalbert).  She is also sleeping behind that man’s back with a man she recently met at the Log Cabin (Glenn, no last name given).  It’s an affair to the third power.  She does not hate her husband any more than she hates Marcus Dalbert on whom she is cheating.  She just gets bored when things become complacent.  She grew bored of Campbell long ago.  Her husband (Brian Kaestner) is committed to his job at Serenity Oaks and never takes her on vacation, never allows excitement to seep into their lives.  He is obsessed with old people.  He spends more time discussing them and researching their pasts than he spends with her.  He has phoned her constantly this week, urging her to come to the retirement home as soon as the French woman dies.  But Diane Kaestner hates the retirement home.  It reminds her of her own mortality.  To what they have to look forward.  She could divorce him, but they have a son to think about.  And besides, she is getting older.  She is afraid men are interested only in sex, in the excitement of sneaking around with a married woman.  They would not take care for her the way her husband does.  She likes her house and the garden.  And if there were ever a divorce they would have to sell it, and then what?



Tyrese Kitchens


Janitor Capitis, or head janitor, wears a shirt that says “Your Mama Don’t Live Here, Clean Up Your Mess.”  He purchased 10 of them on discount and wears one everyday like a uniform.  Others think it is the same shirt, but because he is black and a janitor, they never mention it.  It’s his post-modern sense of irony that leaves the nurses suspicious of Tyrese Kitchens (many believe he steals drugs from the facility and have circulated a rumor as such).  He has been working at Serenity Oaks for 13 years.  He only took the job because of the drug conviction.  No one would hire a paroled felon, not in this honky town, so he became a janitor.  There are a couple things he will not do.  He will not clean up shit on the floor if one of the residents has an accident; that is not in his job description.  He will not have discussions with the residents because they are bored or lonely; also not his job.  And under no circumstances will he move dead bodies, or cover them in sheets until the coroner arrives.  Tonight he’s got bowling league (207 average) and Mr. Kaestner has said he has to stay until everyone leaves, just in case the place needs tidying.  That means the woman in France needs to get around to dying, so Albert Wimbley can get around to parading, and Tyrese Kitchens can get over to Crystal Lanes by 8 o’clock (his buddies call him Threece).  He supposes he’ll have to clean up the balloons and streamers and signs.  Not in his job description either.


Janice Holden


Fanaticus Expatriate, or French Expatriate, is Albert Wimbley’s sworn enemy.  Also, she’s crazy.  She wants Mme. Croquetaigne to live forever so the goddamned Americans cannot have their parade.  She’s an American.  Although her mind no longer works properly, and she is convinced she was taken against her will from her homeland in France, exiled here in Campbell, never to return to her people.  “Vive la Croquetaigne!” she shouts at random times during the day, although she does not even speak French.  She came to America to attend college (Wells College) as a young girl and fell in love, and she has lived in Campbell most of her life.  She was happily married for 53 years before he passed (lymphoma).  She has six children who love her and visit often, but because of her mind they cannot care for her as well as the staff at Serenity Oaks. “Vive la Croquetaigne!” she screams when she sees her children, and her children smile and pat her knee and say, “That’s right, ma, Vive la Croker.”  The nurses despise Janice Holden because she is mean and cynical and anti-American.  You cannot be both – both pro-Croquetaigne and pro-Wimbley.  You have to choose, one or the other.


Campbell High School Marching Band


Proficiiscor manus, or marching band, has had just about enough of this crap.  Three days they have been marching in the field adjacent to the Serenity Oaks parking lot in the hot sun, trying to learn “Yankee Doodle Dandy” on the fly.  And all because some French lady had to go and die during summer break.  It’s not like they will ever play this song again – it is a one-time thing for the old man’s parade, and they are not very good at it, and the assholes in the Winnebago laugh and throw empty cans and urge them to play some Kenny Chesney.  What’s worse, the band members keep sneaking out into the woods and smoking reefer, which is the only thing keeping them sane for now, and the creepy cop always sneaking around town is lurking in his car.  Then there’s the parade.  It’s not even a true parade.  It’s just an assemblage of emergency vehicles and interesting trucks (even an ice cream truck will be included) heading down Main Street, and they are not permitted to flash their lights or honk the horns because it might send the elderly folks into cardiac arrest.  There is even rumor they intend to strap an old man to a flatbed truck – what kind of shit is that?  For the most part, the band members are fine with it, so long as they do not get busted for the weed and this thing goes down before Friday.  On Friday there is a party at Damian Jekes’ (percussionist) parents’ place on Keuka Lake.  His parents are flying to Miami for a wedding (there is no wedding, they are going to eat and drink and fuck and pretend they are young), and the marching band has the lake house for the weekend.  If they have to spend it waiting around the Serenity Oaks parking lot for the French lady to die, the tethering patience of the marching band will become a significant concern.


Desmond Morris


Alumno suffragium, or nursing assistant, has killed 32 people.  Thirty-three once he euthanizes Fred Hicks before the afternoon nap.  He has been employed at seven nursing homes throughout the state, and he has spread out the mercy killings over a span of nine years.  He does not kill them for power, or because he enjoys it.  He kills them because he loves them, because he respects them.  He is smart about it.  If you know how the drugs work, you can manipulate an appropriate overdose without anyone knowing.  Some Donepezil crushed and sprinkled in the applesauce.  The right combination of Clomipramine and Paroxetine stirred into the orange sorbet.  The heart medication Candesartan is Desmond Morris’ drug of choice – that minus the daily dose of ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and vasodilators will do the trick without even the most experienced nurse knowing.  Outside of the secretary, Desmond Morris is Fred Hicks’ only ally here.  Desmond Morris has seen the young girl bare her breasts for the residents, and he is incredibly touched by the gesture (not in a sexual way).  The nurses have grown tired of his dementia, all his people dead and gone, and the simple act by the secretary does more for Fred Hicks than all the other care combined.  His body no longer functions properly and he is here on his own, not even his mind to keep him company.  The staff is so busy celebrating Mme. Croquetaigne’s death, and Albert Wimbley’s life, that no one will notice when Desmond Morris serves Fred Hicks his last lunch, and the old man takes his afternoon nap that will become permanent.  But that is still a few hours off so now Desmond Morris talks with Fred Hicks, and listens to the marching band’s music ache dully through the windows, and they wait.


Marcia Olmes


Alumno Capitis, or head nurse, is a gossip.  She feels fortunate to have heard the news first.  She is the person who answered the phone when the French woman phoned to say that Mme. Croquetaigne had perished.  It brought an exuberant smile to her face, eager to share with the other staff members, especially with Mr. Kaestner.  It is her news to share.  There is nothing better to Marcia Olmes than a juicy morsel of gossip, something she can tell others and use to befriend them.  It makes them confide in her, to trust her – to know that she shared something of such importance.  That is how she became the head nurse at Serenity Oaks – she takes everyone into her confidence and gossips behind everyone else’s back.  Juicy news is her lifeline.  Like the time she learned about Tyrese Kitchens’ drug conviction and spread the rumor he might be working there as a ruse to steal drugs so the other nurses would be on the lookout.  Like the time her friend Natasha heard from her sister Doris that her brother Marcus was sleeping with Diane Kaestner, Marcia Olmes’ boss’s wife.  It was such delectable gossip that she could not help to take each of the nurses aside and confide in them.  The news about Mme. Croquetaigne is the most coveted tidbit at Serenity Oaks, what everyone discusses.  It means she will be afforded the minor celebrity of telling everyone.  Despite the anticipation, the marching band, the flatbed truck, the residents of Campbell on standby with word of a parade – she sits on the news for a moment.  She relishes knowing it, having it all to herself, while everyone else waits.


Vonda Maples


Urbs Meretricis, or town whore, has been up for three days snorting crank and drinking Chablis (Carlo Rossi, $8.99 a jug).  And now she has a predicament.  She desperately needs more crank and Chablis, which means she has to earn money.  But because she has ingested so much crank and Chablis, she looks horrible and smells worse, and none of the truck drivers passing through Campbell will have anything to do with her.  To make matters worse, she wandered out the back of the woods from the rest stop where she does her business, to the Serenity Oaks parking lot where the goddamnedest thing is happening – Winnebagos and television vans and Officer Stephen King hunched down in his Toyota and marching bands and people having a party in the lot.  Vonda Maples, out of her mind on methamphetamine and wine and no sleep, cannot discern if this is really happening, or if she is hallucinating it all.  As far as hallucinations go, this one is a doozy.  And she knows from experience that you cannot turn tricks with your hallucinations since they never end up paying.  So she sits.  And she waits.


Jessica Wimbley


Ventus grandchild, or favorite grandchild, is alone and petrified and sad despite the festive day.  At 35, she wishes she had a husband and children.  She does not even have a boyfriend.  She smiles at her granddad and holds his hand while he eats his morning breakfast, happy for him, amazed to touch the skin of the oldest living human on the planet.  She reminisces of a childhood spent just like this – being amazed at the things he knew and understood.  Her other cousins look at their grandfather like he’s an eccentric stranger.  He was unhappy when they knew him and different, and they will never understand him the way she does.  She remembers their fishing trips, when Grandpa Al and she spent the day in the boat, drinking grape soda and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and swapping tales about what kind of fish they intended to catch.  At 11, she was always after dolphin.  Grandpa Al wanted to catch a clownfish that he insisted would be a real miniature clown juggling balls and riding tricycles, a tail like a mermaid.  And each time they caught a fish he would inspect it, then feign disappointment, and she would laugh until her belly hurt.  There is a certain disappointment surrounding Jessica.  An odor of treason, an aura of failure.  Her granddad can sense it even if he does not say so, and this is what makes her unpleasant to be near.  He is 116 years old and has accomplished something to which no one else on the planet can attest.  But in Jessica’s eyes he is not living as much as he is dying.  It is a subtle distinction in thought, but one that makes all the difference.  And to Jessica, they all are dying.  Soon the newspapers will interview him, the television crews, even a reporter from the Today show.  Then they will put grandpa on the back of a truck and parade him through town, and after that everyone will settle back into their own lives.  And granddad will go about being the world’s oldest living person, and she will go back to being alone, and they will all tirelessly matriculate toward what they’ve got coming, mortalitas, death.  Jessica Wimbley does not want to live this long.


Albert Wimbley


Maximus Victus, or the world’s oldest living person, has little understanding of what is happening.  He is surrounded by his sons and daughter, his grandchildren, his nurses and Mr. Kaestner – even State Senator H. Todd Smith shakes his hand, although Albert would not have voted for him back when he followed politics.  He is told there will be cake on his account.  As best he can understand, all because he is fortunate enough to be alive at 116.  He is not 116.  He does not remember how old he is (114 years, 72 days, making him the world’s fourth-oldest person).  He has only a brief recollection of doctoring his birth records in 1911 to show he was 18 instead of 16 so that he could join the army and see the world, anything to get out of Scranton, Pennsylvania.  And now a century later, the United States Government says he is 116, so there it is.  Besides, anything after 100 is the same thing.  Albert Wimbley is skeptical that the Earth always spins at the exact same speed, something so large and confusing, which would mean people are older or younger than their birth records say, although he is no scientist.  But 116 or 114 or 89, he would trade it all tomorrow if he could be 20 again.  He would do a lot of things if he were 20.  He would spend more time thinking if his mind were clear, if his body were not broken.  He would be kinder and different to his children who he no longer knows.  He would understand his grandchildren with their colored hair and face piercings, the odd mode of dress and how they watch him.  He would go for runs each morning.  Despite his old knees and shortness of breath, he wakes each morning with an impassioned need to run up a hill, toward where the sun rises and day breaks and he wants to beat it up the hill, something he cannot understand.  He would buy a fast car and head west and be decent to strangers and eat different types of food he never bothered trying and take more photographs and keep them in a shoebox to revisit often and not save money for a rainy day and strive to be happier and nuzzle the breasts of the young, curvy secretary with whom he has fallen into a certain type of love.  Soon breakfast will end.  Soon his medication will arrive in a tiny, white cup and then there will be a nap.  Then he has been told he will participate in a parade.  He assumes someone will ask him the secret to longevity, a question to which he has no firm answer.  The best he has come up with is this: Be good.  And try.  And do not settle.  And always forgive.  And never cheat, even when no one watches.  And sample something new each day, even if it is only an idea.  That’s the recipe, he supposes.  That.  And then luck.


H. Todd Smith


Civitas Orchestra, or state senator, has been married 13 years and has never made love to his wife, Judy.  His marriage is better than many.  They care for one another.  They respect one another.  They kiss and hold hands in public, and H. Todd Smith confides in his wife, enjoys when she confides in him.  They share a mutual goal of one day leaving the New York State Senate and moving on to Washington, D.C.  H. Todd Smith does not love Gabe Carson, although he says it to make the affair more intersting.  He will never leave Judy and she will never leave him.  Their marriage is not traditional, but it is solid and they are together in this, and in many ways they are in love.  H. Todd Smith has no idea what to say today.  Gabe Carson is in charge of writing his speeches, but their relations have become familiar to the point that Gabe Carson never lifts a finger.  H. Todd Smith traveled from Albany to be here today.  It is a long drive (231 miles) to give a speech, but Serenity Oaks is in his district and it is an excellent opportunity to make an appearance.  But what is the point of a speech?  Hurray life?  Hurray longevity?  Hurray death for the old French woman?  Americans, and New Yorkers, and Campbellians in particular are clearly some of the healthiest people on the planet?  To hell with it.  He’ll wing it.  He will tell the story about the time he and his grandfather went to the ballgame or county fair or insert hokey event between old and young – and how much it meant to him, this camaraderie, and what a wonderful life Albert Wimbley has enjoyed.  Or some such bullshit.  After the speech he will head back to the Holiday Inn for one last blowjob from Gabe Carson.  Then he will meet his wife for dinner in Albany and they will split a bottle of wine (1998 Santa Monica Cabernet Sauvignon), and they will plot how to rid themselves of Gabe Carson without hurt feelings or threats or skeletons that fall out of the closet at a later time.


Rachita Kumawagra


Maximus Secundus, or the world’s second oldest living person, at 115 years and 11 days is in her home in Bangalore, India, waiting for the American to die.  What a gift that would be – to become the oldest human being on the planet.  She believes in reincarnation and has never been afraid of death.  But now that this honor is so close, life feels more fragile, delicate even, like the smallest misstep and it will be snatched from her, from her family, all of them wanting this so much.  They do not know this American Albert Wimbley, but they find themselves hoping for his death.  Hoping for one, giant sigh.  And then expiration.  So they sit.  And they wait.





Jon Methven is a failed auto mechanic out of Corning, NY, living as a writer out of New York City, living as a Chocolate Labrador avatar in the virtual world Second Life, where he blogs about real estate. He can be reached at

A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning or evening without their colors, or the heavens without their azure. - Henry David Thoreau


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