My name is Ellis Jackson. I’m 2038 years old. I didn’t meet the love of my life until I turned 578. Her name is Evaline. She has pale skin and collagen injected lips. Like everyone else that lives forever, most of her body is fake.
I love Evaline even though I barely remember why. I just know that I do. I’m relying on the fact that I’ve said it so many times that there must have once been a reason for my love.
But isn’t that how we always go through life? Relying on our words to justify our actions? Whatever happened to justifying our words with our actions?
‘I’m going to die.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘It means I’m going to die.’
‘You mean you’re going to kill yourself?’
‘No, I’m dying.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I’m going to die.’
‘Within the next fifty years…’
A pause. A breath. A nervous twisting of nervous fingers. This is how the moment goes. This is how my wife tells me that she’s going to die. I’m incapable of processing this information.
‘I’m not sure how I should react to this.’
And then it’s silence.
Silence like you see in the movies. The silence you get after a crucial plot point is revealed. The silence that allows the viewing audience to breathe and digest the emotions that they’re being fed.
A pause. A breath. A nervous twisting of nervous fingers.
Evaline looks into my eyes. She says that I’m the chorus to her verse. Me. Ellis Jackson. A 2038 year old narcissist who still jerks off into the toilet because he can’t get any action from the verse to his chorus.
She’s going to die.
Death is not a part of my reality.
We were supposed to live forever.
We were supposed to coast along, stuck in our ancient routines. Because when natural death stops existing, when the only way that we can die is from the unexpected, from a suicide or from an accident, there’s not a lot that motivates us to stay away from routine.
And so we do this little dance where we have no motivation, where human achievement becomes a thing of the past. We have forever to get things done; why rush?
But now Evaline is going to die.
Now Evaline is going to die and all that I can wonder is what this means for me.
Is a song still a song if there aren’t any verses?
I’m biting my lip. I’m furrowing my brow. I’m trying to wrap my brain around that which does not exist within my already established reality.
So she asks me what we should do.
‘I don’t know. Fix dinner I suppose.’
The only constant thread throughout the history of humanity is how we stick to routine. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just how we survive. Like wolves that stay in packs, like bears that sleep all winter, our routines are what keep up safe and warm.
So it’s evening and I’m watching television with Evaline and she’s smiling and laughing along with the beats of the show and everything is happy and normal except for the fact that she’s going to die.
But I still don’t know what that means.
So I laugh along with her.
I hold her hand.
Our fingers tangle.
I rub my thumb on her wedding ring. I was once told that the band is supposed to symbolize infinity.
What did people do before forever?
She looks at me and I can feel her eyes running up my skin. It’s a good feeling.
And this is how our nights go.
We’ve got our routine carefully plotted; an intricate storyline where there’s forgotten meaning to the actions we repeat.
It all makes sense.
I love her.
I love her because I tell myself that I love her.
She rests her head on my shoulder.
It feels heavier than before. It weights me and pushes me until I feel as if I’ll never be able to get up. I’m not even sure if I want to.
And I don’t know how to conceptualize fifty years. It’s a meaningless number. There is no context. The measurement of time through years has essentially been forgotten.
These are the things I never think about.
These are the things that I take for granted.
The only reason I’m still alive is because I don’t know what death is. Only people in third world countries die. Only poor people that can’t afford first world luxuries have to face death.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Here, in my reality, people don’t age, people don’t die, and people don’t get sick.
No one has kids.
No one truly grows.
We’re complacent in the fact that the world has marketed, packaged and sold us on eternal life.
I was born in the second generation of the undead. Born to parents who once knew what death was, born to parents who had felt the presence of death in their lives. Born before the government outlawed children as a means to keep the population under control.
During the initial movement of the undead. When it was just emerging, when genes that stopped the aging process were first being isolated, before the endless chemical peels and face lifts that kept our skin from rotting, some people actually wanted to die. They said that it wasn’t natural to live forever. They said they wanted to pass on to a greater place. To a heaven. To a nirvana. To a new life.
They couldn’t have children because of the new laws.
Without new generations wanting to die, the idea of death eventually just… fizzled
No one dies.
Accidents are rare.
Suicide is even rarer. Most people don’t even remember what suicide is.
And so we go on living.
Because that’s what we know how to do.
We go to our jobs that never end.
We make money to spend on gene therapy and plastic surgery.
It’s a simple formula. It’s basic math. It’s a testament to humanity’s ability to oversimplify. Without death we don’t fear, without fear we don’t change, without change we simply dig a niche of routine so deeply that we’ll never be able to get out of it. And perhaps that’s how things have always been.
But I wouldn’t know.
You’d think that eternal life would equate to a search for greater meaning.
A need to perfect things simply because we finally had the time.
You’d think we would accumulate knowledge, ideas, experience.
Of course we don’t. Those things may have been novel for the first 200 years, but they got old.
Like a river carving out a path, adventure always gives way to complacency.
And when I was younger, before I’d found my routine, before I’d found a rhythm to base my life around, I’d always assumed that the love of my life would be someone who I would spend eternity caring for, someone that I’d never stop being passionate about. I had assumed that it’d be like in the books I once read. I had assumed that I’d spend years molding every aspect, like the perfect poem, each line painstakingly tended to.
But love isn’t about romance.
The words love and routine, they’re interchangeable in my world.
And so now I’m living this life. Spending my days with Evaline. We wake. We kiss. We leave. We work. We eat. We watch television. We go to bed. It’s natural. Without it we’d be lost.
Right now I’m at work. In the middle of another meeting for another product that’s exactly the same as the last.
I’ve got my tie on. I’ve got my freshly shaved face and cologne. I’ve got my hair gelled and I’m flashing my white teeth every time I speak.
I’ve had this job for longer than I can remember.
When something becomes easy I tend to stick with it.
With simplicity comes complacency comes the comfort of routine.
I keep thinking of Evaline.
She is the love of my life.
She’s going to die.
The words still have no meaning to me.
Franklin, my co-worker, my pal, the person that I talk about sports with, he comes up to me.
‘You look lost.’
‘Evaline is going to die.’
‘Is she going to kill herself?’
And he’s not meaning to sound cold or callous or anything at all. He simply doesn’t understand what it means.
It’s like trying to comprehend God when all you’ve got is a bible.
So I reply: ‘Yeah, I know.’
I keep typing on my computer. Writing memo’s. Preparing time sensitive documents. Doing all the things that are now second nature to me.
‘Did you want to go get something to drink after work today?’
‘Nah, I’m good. Thanks though.’
‘I should probably spend some time with my wife.’
‘Whatever you gotta do.’
And of course I agree to go to the bar. Because it’s Tuesday and that’s what we do on Tuesday. Me and Franklin and Doug from the copy room. We all go to the bar. We all drink. We all drive home drunk. We all try and fuck our wives. We all get shot down. We all jerk off into our respective toilets. We all go to bed smelling like booze and sweat.
It’s nice in a way.
And so after work I call my wife.
‘I’m going to the bar with Franklin.’
‘Can’t you spend the evening with me?’
‘I already said that I’d go.’
‘We’ll hang out tomorrow.’
And this is how it is.
Everything gets put off. Everything gets put off because we have forever to get things done.
‘Did you hear!?!’ This is Franklin. ‘Ellis’s wife is gonna die!’
There’s a broken moment of confusion where everyone at the table seems puzzled. We’ve all got beers in our hands; we’ve all got red eyes.
Doug (who we don’t really care about, but we allow him to join us on occasion).
Kevin the bartender.
‘Is she joining one of those death cults down south?’ This is Kevin.
‘Yeah, you know, I hear that they have them down in Mexico and stuff. People who kill themselves just because they want to try something new.’
‘So she’s not killing herself?’
‘Not killing herself.’
‘Then how’s she gonna die?’
This is a question I hadn’t thought to ask. Maybe I didn’t care, maybe I didn’t think to care. How is she going to die? Why is she going to die?
When life is endless, the bigger questions seem that much smaller.
‘I don’t know.’
We all down a shot. We all cheer. We’re all like rowdy frat guys that just burst into our friends room with a video camera while he was having anal sex with a virgin.
It’s a good time. I think.
By the end of the night I’m feeling dizzy. Drunker than usual. My head’s buzzing. My eyes are half shot. The world around me is fading in and out. I know that I’m holding conversations. Trying to articulate myself like most drunk people do. Trying to sound smarter than I really am.
I start talking about death with Franklin. The words are strange. Odd. I’ve rarely ever spoken about death.
And so we ramble on.
The conversation comes out in pieces.
‘I had a dog that got hit by a car once.’
‘Nothing lasts forever.’
‘I heard a rumor about people dying on the East coast.’
‘It could be worse.’
‘Fifty years is nothing.’
‘It could be you.’
‘Coughing up blood…’
‘Is she still putting out?’
Fragments. Non-linear, nonsensical. A mish mash of drunken philosophizing.
And then I’m home. I don’t know how. There’s no recollection of driving. I stumble up the stairs. To my bedroom. To our bedroom.
My body hits the bed.
My arm reaches for Evaline.
She’s not there.
‘She left me a note.’
I’m talking to Franklin. We’re at work. I’m tapping my foot on the ground in a 5/4 rhythm and I’m wearing a suit jacket that doesn’t quite fit my depressed frame.
Franklin looks distant.
Dead (assuming death were possible).
‘What did it say?’
‘Don’t worry about it. It didn’t say much.’
This is a lie.
I’m biting my lips because I want them to bleed. I’m chewing on my skin because it’s ready to break.
And Evaline is gone.
And Evaline is going to die.
I’m still talking but the words are dreamlike. They keep slipping out of my mouth like water from a faucet, like candy from a vending machine. They keep pouring from me in a cheap and easy fashion.
Franklin stops me.
‘Oh yeah what? ‘
‘I forgot that she was going to die.’
‘I know. It seems weird.’
‘So why are you here?’
‘Because I work here.’
‘But shouldn’t you be spending time with her?’
I look around. The electric lights hum. Office papers shuffle. You can hear the boredom and repetition in the air.
‘I mean, she’s going to die soon, right?’
‘Within the next 50 years.’
‘That just seems weird to me.’
There’s a pause.
My eyes squint. It looks like I’m thinking. It’s more like I’m dreaming.
Franklin is looking around. Searching. He seems nervous. He looks like he needs to be somewhere. He looks as if he wants to get back to work.
I already miss my routine.
‘So yeah. She left a note. She’s gone. I’m sure she’ll be back soon though. It’s not like her to just leave.’
‘Are you sure she didn’t join one of those southern death cults?’
There’s a pause. Because I don’t know anymore. Because when you live this long there are certain things that inevitably feel concrete.
We all breathe.
We don’t die.
Routines stay in place.
When the things that seemed concrete start to fall away…
‘No she didn’t join one of those.’
‘Where would she go then?’
And the air around us. It tastes stale. It’s been processed and filtered and it feels fake.
It feels bitter.
It feels vile and reprehensible and all I really want is to go outside and breathe in something fresh. Even for a second.
‘Where would she go?’
My forehead goes flush.
And the answer is that I don’t know.
Just like I don’t know what Evaline’s favorite food is.
Just like I don’t know who her best friend is.
Just like I don’t know the reason that I started loving her in the first place.
Some things just get lost in the routine.
Some things just take a back seat to the flow of time.
What does she do during the day? Who are her friends? Does she do anything? Does she have a certain place that she likes to shop? Does she make a certain noise after she kisses me?
The obvious answers.
They should be spilling from the tip of my tongue.
She used to be something I knew. She used to be familiar to me. The verse to my chorus. The thing that made me worth singing.
Did I ever even know the answers to these questions?
It seems so long ago.
Too distant to remember.
I close my eyes and struggle.
My body, it keeps on living, even though my memories, the ones that I thought would be cherished forever, they disappear. Memories replaced by something new. Replaced by football stats and investment earnings.
I love Evaline.
I loved her.
Now, the everyday rot of commitment has taken its toll.
‘We should get back to work.’
This is me. I’m done talking.
And Franklin walks off.
Part of me wants to just stay here. Unmoving and unchanging.
My feet start to carry me. Back to my desk.
Electric lights hum.
I’m thinking about what Evaline’s note said. My feet feel weighted.
The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity.
The inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.
Everyone is supposed to hate their job.
Everyone is supposed to despise their boss.
Everyone puts a cap on their human experience.
Everyone enjoys assuming that they are at the penultimate stage of human evolution.
We’ve seen all the colors that there are to be seen. We’ve thought of all the ideas. We’ve written all the melodies. We’ve danced all the dances and we’ve heard all the secrets.
There is nothing we haven’t experienced.
The comedy is that we’ve only perceived and imagined the smallest fraction of that which is out there.
The tragedy is that when we live forever, we come to the point where we don’t care if there is anything else to life. We don’t care if there are new things to experience and new perceptions to realize.
I believe there are emotions that no one has felt.
I believe that there are perceptions of time and space that we simply haven’t understood yet.
I believe that we are all ignorant of our own stupidity. Like the barking dog that assumes it is a genius.
At least I think I believe these things.
I just never seem to realize or remember them.
They keep getting lost in the day to day.
My hand is on a table. Clenching the wood grain. I can feel the bumps and grooves and imperfections. They feel perfect and real. My thoughts feels damp with exhaustion. Drowned and pained and labored to the point of disappearance.
I’m at home.
Looking at the wall.
How is it that I’ve done nothing with my life in the last two thousand years?
I fell in love.
I forgot about love.
I got a job.
I fell into routine.
Part of me remembers an echo of a dream that used to exist in my head. Thoughts of changing the world. Thoughts of revolution. Important ideas. Ideas that moved me forward in life.
I haven’t moved forward in centuries.
Perhaps the concept of relativity is right.
Perhaps we all move in a relative stance to the time in which we exist.
Perhaps human beings are fated to only experience so much before they die. Maybe we’ve just stretched and torn the boundaries so badly that eighty years of experience is now stretched out into infinity. Maybe when you’ve experienced all that you can, maybe everything just starts to repeat.
I look at Evaline’s note.
Maybe she’s right.
With her scrawled out handwriting.
Scratched onto the paper in a fit of passion. Her handwriting is alive more than anything else in this house.
Crinkled and pulled back to the brink by a second thought and a shaking hand.
There are only a few words, but they make more sense than anything else in my life. An indictment of my routine. An indictment of my complacency. Now I wonder if these words will change me.
Can I change the course of a river that has dug its bed for the last 2000 years?
Every day I would wake up with Evaline’s hand on my chest. She would make a low grunting noise when my alarm went off. I’d be gone to work before she even got out of bed. I’d kiss her forehead as I left.
After work it was back to home. Evaline would sit in her chair directly to my right, we would watch TV. We would fix dinner. We would talk about nothing in particular. We’d already talked about everything there was to talk about, at least it was assumed that we had.
Occasionally I’d try and kiss Evaline.
She was bored with sex.
I’d take care of my business elsewhere.
After that we’d both go to bed.
I don’t remember ever doing anything else in life. My past is a blur.
There’s a dull ache in my chest where she’s missed, it’s under my ribs and to the left of my lungs. I miss kissing her forehead when I leave to work. Her pouting lips and conversations about nothing, there’s a strange emotion where these things once were.
I try calling her cell phone.
It goes straight to her voicemail.
This is only the third time I’ve tried calling her in the last two days that she’s been gone.
‘Evaline, it’s Ellis, please call me and let me know that you’re ok.’
I have no clue if she’s getting these messages. If she even knows that I’ve been calling. Does the fact that I’ve been calling her prove that I love her?
Routine and love. Were they ever separate? I’m told that it takes us a while to experience romantic love, we have to build up a neurotransmitter in our head called oxytocin. It allows us to long for someone in a way that transcends lust.
It takes several years for us to build this chemical up in our head.
Most people just assume that lust is love.
Some people simply do not have oxytocin neurotransmitters.
Some people take drugs that replace the oxytocin. Drugs so that they can feel ’True Love’.
Perhaps I was just never meant to love.
Perhaps love is unnatural.
Perhaps love is illogical.
Perhaps love is like driving or watching television; conveniences created by modern society, just another vice to keep us in check, to keep us from getting too bored.
My phone rings.
The caller I.D. says that it’s Evaline.
I hold my breath.
There’s a gentle sobbing on the other end of the line.
I look at Evaline’s note. I listen to her soft weeping.
Her note: ‘You forgot how to love me.’
And then there’s a dial tone.
I sit alone at home.
Things feel empty.
I can still smell her perfume.
A few stray hairs are still lying in the bed.
It’s Thursday night.
We used to go dancing on Thursday nights.
‘She called you?’
Franklin looks curious. Intrigued. He’s getting sucked into the drama.
‘What’d she say?’
I’m hesitant to tell him. My lip pulls between my teeth in a sort of nervous tick. My fingers are tapping my desk. My feet are tapping the floor. There is no discernible rhythm, but it’s not for lack of trying.
My only response is ’Don’t worry about it.’
‘Why’d you tell me about this if you don’t want me to worry?’
There’s no real answer. Why does any human being spill emotions out into the open air? Perhaps it’s just a basic cleansing ritual; perhaps it’s just habit and routine. Perhaps it’s biologically imperative that we feel understood by those around us.
My stomach has a dull ache. A sort of ache that I’m not familiar with. It pulls at me.
‘Ok, you can worry about it. Just, fuck, I don’t know. I’m sorry.’
And so Franklin goes back to work. I sit at my desk. From the corner of my eye I’m watching him walk away. He seems frustrated. Agitated. Perhaps it’s because I’m not telling him everything. Perhaps it’s because he genuinely cares about me.
That’s what friends do.
Work moves on. I catch snippets of conversation. None of it seems interesting. Every conversation seems to blur together. Every conversation seems the same. Maybe it’s because I’ve heard them all.
People are still talking about the same things they talked about 2000 years ago.
There has been no real progress in the art of talking.
My boss stops by my desk. He’s smiling. He’s wearing a tweed jacket. He looks the same age as me, he could be my father. This isn’t something I consciously think about. Everyone looks the same age. We all might as well be the same age.
‘Did you hear?’
‘We’re having a meeting at the end of the day. It’s mandatory.’
We never have meetings.
Everything runs smoothly.
There is no need for meetings and pep talks when everyone that works here is considered a senior employee. We’ve all danced the same dance in this office for longer than we can truly remember.
We’ve all settled.
We’ve all moved past the inherent boredom.
We’ve all accepted our fate.
And so we work.
Day in and day out.
Getting lost in your job is the easiest thing in the world when you don’t actually think about it. Eventually when people ask what you do in life, all you have to do is answer with what you do for a living.
The lines get blurred.
We become our jobs.
We are efficient.
No one quits because no one cares to change. We have forever to change, why worry about finding a new job just yet?
That vacation to Hawaii? It can wait another ten years. Maybe one hundred. Maybe one thousand.
It’ll happen eventually.
My boss leaves after spending a moment hovering over me.
My fingers feel awkward.
I finish typing a memo.
My back feels rigid.
I’m slumping in my chair.
Something is off.
And so the day continues to pass. Electric lights and phones ringing. The faint sound of typing. I think about Evaline. I’m not thinking about her enough. It’s become a vague pulling. Complacency has settled in like it so frequently does. Why worry when everything works out?
Evaline, Her picture isn’t even on my desk.
On my desk are meaningless trinkets.
The day nears an end. The shadows in the office stay the same; outside they’re growing longer. It’s Friday. A weekend. Fifteen minutes before the day ends and everyone’s jamming into a conference room. We’re sweating. We’re confused. We’re not used to this interruption in our tightly scheduled lives.
Someone whispers a joke to someone else.
It’s because we’re nervous.
The management team walks into the office. Tweed jackets. Stern faces. It’s an awkward sensation, and my already pained stomach tightens even more. My body is acting strangely. The walls pulsate and my head throbs.
‘As you may or may not know by now, the company has been bought out.’
There’s a rustle. Gasping. People are realizing what’s happening. The whole room vaguely resembles cattle on the slaughterhouse floor.
‘And so effective today, you are all terminated. I’m sure you will find the severance packages more than generous. We thank you for your years of hard work, and wish you all well in the future.’
Someone throws up.
Someone starts crying.
Someone falls to the ground.
This is as close to death as things come.
At the bar with Franklin.
We’re both drunk.
We’re both depressed.
We’re both in shock and jobless and wondering what the future means when you can no longer define it.
Things are supposed to remain static. It’s why we bothered to live forever in the first place.
The guarantee that we’d always be comfortable.
It’s the reason for all these botox injections and chemical peels and endless trips to the doctors where we get fed pills with names we can’t even pronounce.
‘What am I going to do?’ Franklin is worried and sweating.
Franklin’s face is red.
Franklin’s face isn’t red because he’s drunk.
‘What am I going to do?’ My lips feel chapped.
And then it’s a shot chased by a beer chased by a wandering eye chased by a furrowed sense of desperation chased by a lusty dick. In the end all we want is to escape from something.
We all want to get away from something.
Tonight it’s from everything.
I’m still feeling sick. Still feeling the odd weight in my gut that just won’t leave. The pain in my gut that reminds me of Evaline.
The alcohol isn’t helping.
I’m aching worse than before. With a hint of nausea and an overwhelming sense of confusion. This is me without anything at all. This is me without a love and without a sense of security and without a job and without a smile.
Franklin is mumbling.
‘Who am I without my job?’
‘Who am I without Evaline?’
Cue the dramatic music.
Cue the desperation.
Franklin has been my friend since I started this job. We’ve rambled our way through the last millennia. I’ve never seen him cry. He’s never seen me cry.
It’s an odd thing. The way that we befriend co-workers. The way that a shared experience can bring together two radically different people. The way that shared time tends to define a relationship more than anything else.
And Franklin is rocking back and forth.
Like ivy on a fence, given enough time two things will become so entangled that you cannot see the ending of one and the beginning of another.
We rely on comfort with the hope that we will not have to deal with anything earth shattering. Comfort becomes real. Destruction, rebirth, reality, they scream from a distance and hover right beneath our noses.
People don’t think of the future because they can’t comprehend it.
We pay attention to the pavement under our feet and the food in front of us.
Tomorrow is a cable news broadcast.
Tomorrow is a screaming alarm clock.
Tomorrow is work in the office.
The smaller our vision, the bigger the world. The bigger the world, the more scared we become. The more scared we become, the less we look around.
My fist is shaking and my teeth are grinding.
‘Franklin, what are we?’ From tongue to teeth to lips to air, my words are as nebulous as they are real, spoken like a drunken asshole.
‘We’re nothing. We’re simply existing.’
There’s a pause. Music plays in the background. People chatter. Someone laughs. A light flickers. A beer is poured. A shot is taken.
Franklin looks ready to pass out.
I’m sure I look just as bad as Franklin.
We’re in our own little world of drunken idealism.
Rambling with a nihilistic sense of self-satisfaction.
‘I don’t even dream of the future. I don’t dream of anything and nothing ever happens. I’ve simply existed day to day for the last two thousand years. I’m not sure if I appreciate anything. I’m not sure if I even care about anything.’
Franklin perks up.
His ears are red.
‘We all have.’
Then the night gets fuzzy.
Things come in flashes.
We’re kicked out of the bar.
There’s an undeniable adrenaline, like falling with no end in sight.
A broken window.
A broken bottle.
A thrown fist.
An aching jaw.
Then I wake up in a field.
I walk a few miles until my nose starts to bleed and my feet start to ache. The air is fresh and feels good so I sit on a tree stump.
I try to recall how I got here.
I keep walking.
Logic dictates that if I walk long enough I will get somewhere.
My mouth is dry.
My gut is aching.
Birds are flying overhead.
The grass, the trees, the fresh air. I forgot that they existed. I haven’t been out of the city in two hundred years.
A car drives by.
I’m waving and yelling. They don’t slow down.
Eventually I come to a run-down shack of a house at the end of a driveway. The windows are opaque with mold and my hands are aching for reasons that I can’t explain.
No one seems to be home.
I knock on the door.
All I want is water.
All I want is food.
All I want is the easiest path back to the way things used to be.
Around to the back of the house. There’s no one, only an open field. Only two cars that are so old they may actually still run on gasoline.
My voice barely registers as a yell. My throat is aching. My teeth are grinding and causing my gums to bleed.
Around the house is nothing. Fields. Empty fields where animals used to graze. Empty fields where children used to play and people used to harvest. Now there is nothing but overgrown foliage. Wheat that has grown past its prime. Weeds that have long since taken over.
The air. The grass. The pollen.
Another sneeze and it turns into a fit and my eyes get red and my throat starts to itch.
Still itching, I knock on the door again, pound, plead, yell. Nothing. No one is going to answer.
Maybe there’s a phone inside.
I turn the knob. It’s unlocked.
Inside the house is a thick layer of dust. Cobwebs. This house is old. It’s been a long time since anyone has lived here.
The floor creaks beneath my feet.
Evaline and I used to watch ancient scary movies. The kinds with ghosts and cobwebs and special effects that seem scary when you don’t think about them at all.
My heart tumbles as I take another step.
Another creaking sound.
On the table is a picture of a family. It’s old and there’s dust so thick that I can barely even tell it’s a picture at first.
In my hands and after I’ve blown the dust off of the picture, the family is smiling and looking happy. Four people. Two girls and two boys. They all have brown hair and big smiles and tan skin and they all look vaguely the same age. It’s a family.
You can’t tell they’re family by looking at them, because everyone has the same sort of surgical glow to them. You can’t tell they’re family, so I’m just assuming that they are.
I’m studying who I assume to be the parents. They’re holding hands, they’re smiling. They look ideal. They look like the map that’s in my head, the map that tells me what a happy relationship is.
Pictures only say what you want them to say.
I think back to all of my pictures. Evaline and me, the same pose with the same smiles. The only thing that changes is our clothes.
I put the picture of this family down and keep walking.
A nauseous feeling in my gut.
The draining of blood from my face.
I’m stumbling and stammering with no one to stumble and stammer to.
My knuckles would clench if I had the strength.
Instead I feel like I’ve been hit in the face with a brick.
In front of me.
In the living room.
A dead body.
But that’s not what bothers me the most, what bothers me is the feeling in my gut that says my being here isn’t an accident.
You never forget the first time you see a dead body.
Especially if you’re over 2000 years old.
And sure the body was nothing more than a dusty skeleton, collapsed on the floor and gnawed on by the weight of time, but it’s stuck in my head like some sort of disease. Burned into the back of my eyelids. Slowly making an intangible fantasy into a tangible reality.
Death: A symbol for a lesson we keep forgetting to learn.
If only I knew what the lesson was.
Franklin has two black eyes.
We’re sitting in his living room.
I’m describing my adventure. The drunken night that neither of us remember. The field. The walking. The house. The body.
My face is flush. My mouth is shut. I’m waiting for something to happen. I’ve been waiting the last thousand years. Because that’s what life is; going through the motions with the expectation that something will happen.
The expectation that things will move themselves.
We’re way past the point of accountability.
The conversation strays quickly.
To Franklin. To the girl he fucked. To the perfect tits and the perfect lips and the shapely ass. He’s making motions with his hands. He tells the story and grows more and more excited with each sentence he shares.
‘I don’t care.’
I’m an asshole.
Franklin looks at me. It’s my duty to care. As a friend. As a co-worker.
In his eyes there’s a palpable stinging where his ego has just been bruised. He looks like a beaten dog.
I’m usually more affable.
Or maybe we’re all just too sensitive.
‘I don’t know, I just feel like I’ve got bigger things to worry about than whether or not the latest conquest in your ongoing marital infidelity has a bleached asshole.’
A pause, a breath, a nervous twisting of nervous fingers.
‘So what do you worry about?’
‘Eh, things will turn out fine.’
My brow is furrowed as I run my hand along a wooden table in Franklin’s living room. I’m older than the tree this table was made from.
I pull my hand back and lean into Franklin’s leather couch. I look him in the eyes.
I used to have more friends.
I used to have dozens of friends.
People I could count on and laugh with and get drunk with and not care with.
They got lost along the way.
It was a slow drift, just like everything in my life.
And in my stomach, there’s a pit.
I excuse myself to the bathroom. Navigating the hall, I look at pictures along the way. There is one picture of Franklin and his wife in the entire house.
There only needs to be one picture.
They’re not going to age. They’re not going to divorce. No one is going to die and the changing of fashions and trends died with youth. There is no need for anything more.
But when have we ever been satisfied with only having what we need?
And so I go to the bathroom.
When I’m done Franklin asks if I want to go get coffee with him.
We end up at the same coffee shop we always go to. The same coffee shop where we see the same people that we always see.
We’ve been going here for centuries. We still don’t know the names of the other familiar faces.
Across the coffee shop is a new face. He’s staring at me.
I make eye contact. He looks away.
I order my drink, go sit down with Franklin, we start to talk. Out of the corner of my eye I can see this guy listening to us.
The conversation carries on.
About the past.
‘I’m not too sure where I’m going to work now, I’ve got some money saved up, so I don’t have to work for the next hundred years or so, but I’d like to get back out there sooner than later.’
When death ended, so did retirement.
I’m not even thinking about working. I feel as if I’m in a state of perpetual fog. Something’s missing but I don’t know what.
‘I’ll get a job when I can get myself together.’
Franklin nods. Sips his drink. Looks at the ceiling and the floor.
‘Hey, Franklin,’ I’m whispering, ‘someone’s listening to us.’ I gesture towards the man that had been staring at me. The new face with curly brown hair and a lanky body.
Franklin glances over and looks back at me.
‘I think you’re just seeing things.’
The stranger, the listening man, he starts to shift in his seat.
I get up and walk over to him. This is completely out of character for me, but so is being spied on.
I look down at him.
He stands up. Looks me in the eyes for a brief pause, and then walks away. Out the doors and down the street.
I wake up to the alarm clock. I roll over to put my arm around Evaline.
Her side of the bed is cold. I let out a sigh. I stand up. Walk to the bathroom. My head is still full of morning fog. I feel like I’m dancing while drunk.
I brush my teeth. I get in the shower. The hot water isn’t waking me up. I put on the cold water and start to shiver. I get out. Dry off. Comb my hair. Put on clothes.
I make breakfast and look out my kitchen window.
Cars are driving past.
The sun is starting to come up.
I put on the television.
Watch the news.
It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.
I sit down to eat.
The food doesn’t quite taste right.
I throw it away without finishing.
I grab my keys, go outside, stand at my car. I have nowhere to go.
I turn around and walk back inside.
The air in my house is still.
I miss the sound of Evaline.
I take off my shoes, socks, pants. Get back into bed. I would watch the sun come up but I’m not in the mood.
I close my eyes.
‘How did you know you loved Dad?’
I’m at my parent’s house.
My mom is drinking tea.
She looks the same age as Evaline. She looks the same age as everyone in this country.
Her hair is pulled back as tightly as her face and she’s wearing cherry red lipstick that makes her look paler than she really is.
Her eyes are swimming around, they flick back and forth.
Clicks her nails on the table.
Her mouth opens and shuts.
It’s a fresh coat of lipstick.
Her throat clears.
A pause. A breath. A nervous twisting of nervous fingers.
In the backyard gazebo with the wood base that splits at the edges. The two hundred year old gazebo that looks new because my father paints it every other year.
One hundred coats of paint, but underneath it all, this gazebo, it’s a mess.
The sun shines.
My mom, she finally gets around to answering me with an ‘I don’t know.’
This is the answer I expected. This is the same answer Franklin had when I asked him. This is the same answer I had when I asked myself.
No one seems to remember the reason that they love someone. They just accept it as is. They just take it for granted because they never have to worry about it.
I’m slowly starting to worry.
And who knows, maybe I shouldn’t worry, maybe the answer doesn’t truly matter. Maybe we just have to learn to accept some things in life. Maybe we never truly realize why we love someone.
I soak in the sun.
My pale skin feels like it’s on fire. The sun is burrowing into my bones.
And in the house my dad yells something that neither my mom nor I can understand. We ignore it. He yells again. We get up. We go to the living room where he’s sitting. We stare at the television.
We’re entranced by the glow.
We’re stupefied by the images.
My skin is crawling.
On TV there’s a building on fire. In the bottom corner of the screen are two grainy faces captured in a security video.
One is familiar in a distant way.
Curly hair and a skinny frame. The guy from the coffee shop.
The other face…
A pause. A breath. A nervous twisting of nervous fingers.