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“So. Immortality. Thoughts?”
He looked up from the wine glass he had been staring at, realizing that it was now empty. His eyes fell on the woman seated in front of him beaming a smile that showed too much of her teeth, her candy apple red nails twiddling with her permed brown curls. It dawned on him that he hadn’t been daydreaming, the nightmare date was still going on.
“What did you say?”
The woman smiled again. “I asked for your thought on immortality, since you were talking about Aronofsky’s The Fountain and said it was a brilliant film.”
“I said that? I’m sorry. I haven’t had a drink in two years. I’m sorry that this date sucks. My bad. Shouldn’t have been on Tinder. It was all Jeremy’s stupid bet.”
“A bet on the line, that’s interesting, I would love to actually have another bottle and know more. And don’t worry, this date hasn’t sucked, not for me, not until now that you’ve outlined it like that.” Her words betrayed no injury from his bruising. “Anyways we still have dessert coming so until then you have a bit of time to think of an answer to my question.”
“Immortality is overrated.” He held out his hand, declining the waiter’s offer of more wine. “Who the fuck wants to live forever?”
Her thumb and forefinger caught hold of the faint mark on his ring finger. “How long were you married for?”
“Five years.” He pulled his hand away and motioned for the waiter to bring the bottle back around.
“Well most people want to live forever, from the ancients to the moderns it’s been a timeless quest that’s survived religions, war, politics. It’s the last frontier for science, not just prolonging life but conquering death permanently.”
“Prolonged life is one thing. Immortality is another. A stupid thing.” He watched the walls of his glass gurgling with the rising red flood. “Living forever is suffering forever. Who wants that?”
“We might discover a way to eliminate physical suffering--technology and science would, with all those thousands of years to progress-- and we might even figure out how to be rid of all disease permanently, or even get rid of other forms of suffering like inequality, injustice—”
“Free will. Let’s give it all up. Become automated gods.”
She giggled, a soft stream of laughter that went too high and lasted too long. Her painted eyelashes flickered as she leaned forward, her index finger caressed the tongue of her stained glass. “Well actually the Greek and Roman gods were immortal and they seemed to have plenty of life to live, they had families and children and passionate lovers and powers and they never seemed to lose their vital spark of personality and individuality.”
“They also had mortals to look after and who worshiped them. That’s what gave them purpose. Gods don’t exist without their creation.”
“Work with me here, okay, I’m trying to sell the appeal, just think about it emotionally. Think about something-someone-you’ve lost and then imagine never having lost them in the first place and never having to worry about losing them again and tell me that doesn’t resonate with you in some deep way.”
“It doesn’t. Humans can’t live like that. We would go insane. Look--even ‘Til death do us part.’--we make promises that have conclusions. Everything needs to come to an end. TV shows. Book Series. Football Season. Marriage. Life.”
“Maybe that’s just because we’re conditioned to think that way, due to the confines of our mortal mindset, but what if immortality was the norm, was our reality?” Her legs slid forward, the toe of her heels touching the back of his shoes. He shifted his knees slightly to keep them from pressing against her bare ones. “If we were always immortal our brains would have evolved to accommodate that and we would adapt our expectations to fit in a world without end.”
“A world of tyrants. And monsters. Nothing would matter. Life has value in it’s limit.”
The waiter paused by their table, setting down a wide pearl-white plate carrying a single chocolate eclair in the center of it’s porcelain womb.
“You only ordered one? Well I guess we’re going to have to share, scoot over and give me some room.”
“I don’t-” He didn’t bother to finish, he was newly preoccupied by the fact that she had already stood up and relocated to sit beside him, the hem of her beige skin teasing against his pant leg.
She twirled the spoon in the plate, licking it through the creamy sauce before dancing the dripping spoon into her lips. “You want a bite?”
“ No.” He shoved the plate to her side. “I’m allergic.”
“To good things.” The glass appeared empty in his hand and he reached for the bottle again.
“Don’t pretend that it doesn’t tempt you, even just a little.” She kissed the smudged corner of her mouth with the satin napkin, folding it slowly between her long nails. “Imagine never having to worry about traffic accidents or cancer or alcohol damaging your liver—”
“I’m not an alcoholic.”
“--and having all eternity to find and live with the love of your life—”
“I was married to her.”
“Well.” The napkin knot itself itself into a ribbon in her hands. “Isn’t it possible to have more than one love, perhaps a second love that you find yourself loving as much or more than you did the first?”
“Yeah. Maybe.” He detected a budding spark of light glowing in her eyes and he couldn’t resist blowing the candle out. “I was thinking about my daughter.”
“ Oh, wow, I did not know that you have a kid, I love kids, kids of all ages. How old is your little girl--or maybe she’s a big girl, I don’t know.”
“She’s dead,” he replied absently, eyes still fixed on the rosy reflection in the glass. The sound of a stifled gasp followed by the soft thud of the balled-up napkin hitting the floor brought him back to the moment he had just split wide open. There was no point in stopping now, he figured; the earth never just closed up after city-splitting earthquake.
“Yes. She died the day she was born. Was she ever alive then? I don’t know. Don’t you have to live before you can die?” His hand moved back and forth, swishing the wine in the bottom of his glass in repeated circles. “My wife died a year later. Drunk driver.” The glass stopped swaying. “But even if they were immortal. I wouldn’t be able to make them happy. Forever. They probably would leave me anyways. Eventually.”
He waited for the satisfying scrape of a chair being pushed back, the hurriedly mumbled excuse about going to the bathroom or a phone call or a text emergency from a grandmother that’s probably not even around anymore. The befuddled apologies, the backing away without looking back, the awkward shuffle of feet. Nothing made people more uncomfortable than abject misery wearing a human skin.
When no sound of leaving heralded his triumphant return to solitude he looked up angrily to see her still sitting beside him, eyes lowered and hands folded in her lap. “My fiance killed himself last summer, so I guess he wasn’t sold on the whole ‘immortality’ shtick either.”
His throat loosened, the taste of sorrow resurfacing on his tongue as he bit down hard on it.
“And well, my sister--she’s always worrying about me, even though she sent me to rehab already.” She stared at the lipstick-stained rim of her class, her painted lashes holding back the drops forming under her eyelid. “I know I wasn’t myself before, but I’ve been clean since I got out in May. But she’s still on my case, always trying to get me to out and if I find someone she’ll give me—”
“Five hundred dollars?”
“Close. She’s offering me a fully paid spa weekend if I have evidence of a night well-spent in ‘therapeutic sex’ as she calls it, which you might think would be easy enough but I…I actually haven’t really been able to follow through with anyone. And she gave me two weeks and I’ve only got a few days left now.” She affected a laugh, shaking her head and brushing a hand across her eyes. “This probably sounds so stupid to you, I’m sorry for rambling like this. You must think why don’t I just pay for my own trip to the-”
“I’ll text you tomorrow morning.” He looked up at her. “Say how good last night was. Cash that in with your sister. Go to that spa weekend. Meet a nice guy.”
“You would do that? And what do you want me to text you so you can win your bet?”
“Just a second date invite. Make the text sound convincing. Jeremy has low expectations of me.”
Silence swam in the space between them, refilling their glasses and dimming the glare of the neon lights above them.
“What was she like?”
He closed his eyes, just for a moment so it would hurt less when she surfaced to mind. “Everything. What was he like?”
“Happy. Always telling the corniest jokes and making me laugh, and he was a beautiful man, body, soul, and mind. Also he had a divine smile, one that would put Mona Lisa to shame.”
The chocolate dried into crusty edges along the pool in the bottom of the plate, the last of the wine humming in their untouched glasses.
“Do you feel like dying right now?”
“Neither do I.” She looked up at him, the twinkle back in her eyes. “You know, I think I could live in this moment forever.”
His face moved, his jaw shifting into a position he hadn’t felt for days. Weeks. Before he could stop himself his lips had turned up into a smile.
Elena Sichrovsky is 24 years old and currently living in Shanghai, China. She’s at student at SUES there and a member of The Shanghai Writing Workshop. She’s been writing since she was fifteen and has had several short stories published. You can follow her work on Instagram @elenitasich