Prometheus

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Volume 24, Number 2, Winter, 2006

Fiction

The Pain of Interminable Living

By Tamara Wilhite
“From boredom even the gods must struggle to escape.”
—Nietzsche

“Leila, are you ready to go?”

“One moment.” I turned off my computer and watched the holographic display flicker before disappearing. “Ready.”

We were only stopped twice for routine identification checks. Each time, I inwardly held my breath and prayed; each time, I outwardly maintained a blase air of the annoyed professional. After the last checkpoint guard had given us the cards back and a final glance, Sandra pulled me aside. “Leila, I can tell something’s bothering you. Want to talk about it?”

“No.” The coworker who was the closest thing I had to a best friend looked crestfallen. She was silent the rest of the way home.

“Do you want to talk about it inside, where it’s more private?”

“No.”

Sandra stood there for a long minute. She knew there were things I didn’t talk about: my past, my family, and my personal interests. It occurred to her that I rarely shared my emotions either. For all I did to help and all the activities we shared, she had never scratched the surface of who I was. And realized that she never would.

She did not even wave as I entered my code and walked into my apartment building. I did not bother to turn on my lights, allowing a perfect memory to guide my steps. My toe hit something. It was the photo album I’d kept all this time ... And I’d kept it on the shelf ... someone had put it on the floor directly in the path I would have taken. I knew who.

A floor board squeaked. A footstep. “Surely you’ve figured it out by now.”

That voice was so familiar .... Did I still hate him? Did I still love him? “Jenadar.”

“Why not ‘Jen’? That’s what you used to call me. It’s on my ID card now. And who are you now? Lynn Martinez? Lisa Clark?”

“Leila Simmons now.”

“How long has it been?”

“You’re memory is as good as mine.”

“Eleven years, three months, sixteen days.” A pause. “Are you with someone now?”

“Not right now.”

“Did you tell that last fellow—Jared?”

“The riots 10 years ago killed him ...”

“I know about them. I barely survived one.” He put an arm around my waist and pulled me close. “Relax. We’re still married. And there’s no one else in your life.”

“We aren’t married anymore.”

“We never divorced.”

“Marriage ends at death.”

“That old argument. Cara ...”

“Don’t call me that! She died because of you! I’m not her! Not anymore. Don’t you dare—” He silenced the tirade with a kiss. His body language said he’d been alone since our last encounter. When he chose that path, that hunger and need made the reunions over the decades more intense than anything anyone else could give. He knew that the body could remember what the mind sought to forget.

I kissed him hard, trying to forget the lifetimes of memories he brought with him.

Exhaustion from the reunion brought deep sleep. With it came dreams of the Canadian Rockies. A cabin in the middle of nowhere, beautiful scenery breath-taking to an American girl. He was mysterious, quiet, distant, and handsome. A pure blooded Native American of a nondescript tribe, yet totally accustomed to civilized life as he was to the wilderness. As an ecologist, the land was a common passion for us. He slowly won me over to loving him. Despite the political correctness crowd telling him he should find someone of his own people, we were married for four wonderful years —

Someone broke in. They found me first. Jen found us fighting and tried to get the gun away from the burglar. I fell, left with a gaping hole where part of my abdomen should have been. I thought Jen wasn’t injured; he was at my side too quickly after the murderer got away. The rest was a blur of the snowmobile ride to a hospital before blacking out.

There was nothing they could do, not here; it would be a several hour flight to a hospital with the necessary facilities. Jen was a whiz at first aid, his care had kept me alive to that point when others would have died. Despite that, I still might not make it to the major hospital. Jen hated hospitals as much as he hated governments and bureaucracies and records. He would have lived alone in the wilderness oblivious to the outside world if not for the loneliness.

Jen asked to be alone with me. I watched him check the vital signs and the IV. He pulled a small ceramic vial out of his coat pocket and poured it into the IV. He pressed a finger to my lips, “Don’t try to talk, it’ll help.” He kissed my forehead. “Trust me.” He put the monitoring equipment on himself as the drugs flowed into my bloodstream. The monitors hardly noticed the transition.

It felt as though I was lighter than air, half-dreams flowing through my mind. He asked, “Do you feel the effects yet? As though you’re floating? Just nod.” I nodded yes. He smiled, then said, as he poured a different solution down the IV, “Don’t worry. You’ll wake up soon.” He knew herbs. Was this a final gift? A peaceful end on his terms? A loving act to let me die while he was here?

To my surprise, I did wake up. Jen disconnected the monitors from himself and let them dangle. Within thirty minutes, Jen was having me discharged over the staff’s protests. Nor would he permit an exam. He tried to keep them from seeing my condition. We went home, ostensibly so I could die. He never told me if they’d filed a death certificate in my name or if he’d done it himself.


Several days passed before I noticed the full effects. Underneath the bandage, my skin was perfectly smooth. No scar, not even a wound. I showed Jen, surprised and confused. He was neither. He murmured something in his native tribal language, black eyes seeming darker somehow. I asked to go into town to check messages. He refused me that right. “Stay here. Recover.”

“I feel fine.”

“You’re not ready yet.”

Days passed. I found the second set of blood stains on the wooden floor. His blood. He’d been shot too. Doubts arose, ones which could not be silenced this time. The medicine cabinet that had always been empty before I came. His never having been sick. His inability to remember his birthday. His lack of family, close friends, a nameable tribe, or a past.

One day, he said he was going to explain everything. Then he pulled out a gun. Oh, God, he’s going to kill me! He fired it into his chest. I screamed and ran to him, heedless of the blood or gore. He looked at me, eyes showing no fear and a lot of pain before closing. His heart and breathing stopped. Then started again. He sat up slowly, then pulled his shirt open, revealing a healing wound. He began talking.

His tribe had died out so long ago, though he had no idea of how long. He had been in trance using the drug he had used on me when the enemy attacked. He took a second potion to build up his strength before seeking to defend his people. The enemy was successful in killing him. He awoke later, no idea of what had actually happened. As years passed, the remnants of his tribe saw that he no longer aged and drove him out.

He began to wander. He had seen the Anasazi at their height. He’d seen the Inca cities and the Maya before their fall. Had seen the Cahokia mounds as they were built. Had lived with Alaskan Inuit, seen the first Russians land there. Had seen the small pox epidemics as they ravaged Eastern tribes. Had once gone to Tierra del Fuego and had seen the Arctic Circle, eager to see a land he had not seen before. Had hunted buffalo with Plains tribes and had been enslaved by Spanish missionaries when they came to California. After travel with Europe began, he went there for a few decades before coming back. That was when he’d learned the European languages and cultures. When technology arose that could track and trace him, he came home to the wilderness to hide from the prying eyes.

Over the centuries, he’d had friends and loves he’d tried to save. And learned from terrible trials and errors that of the two dozen ingredients, a few had long been extinct, and several of the plants used nearly were. By the time he had discovered what would work and dried caches in ancestral storage locations of the extinct ingredients, he had decided to never get close to anyone again. He could save someone or perhaps two, but he had already died inside. He’d never get close enough to bother trying.

I had broken through his barriers. I’d been an experiment. Could he still attach to others? Could he live with someone of the modern age? When I had been injured, he decided to save me. We’d managed four years; why not forever?

He sat in silence for a moment, then asked me to forgive him.

“For what?”

“You’ll have to learn to live with this. You won’t age anymore. You’ll have to move every few years, learn how to change identities at the first sign of danger. You are no longer able to have children - I know that from personal experience. You won’t be able to see your family again. Cara, I’ll teach you what I can…I did it to save you, but what I’ve taken away…I lost my family when I gained immortality. I didn’t even realize what I’d taken from you until after I’d done it.”

We stayed together for another year before going our separate ways. He’d had to change identities because of suspicious government official. I did not want to travel to Asia; the thought of going so far from my family—though I’d never see them after a year or two more - was unbearable. Two years later, I forged the identity of Lisa Martinez and moved to South America for a decade. The turmoil on that continent made it the only place where I could safely build a new identity. It was the first such change and far from the last—

I could hear him breathing lightly in my ear, sleeping. Had it really been a century and a half? Yes. We always ran into one another or sought each other out every decade or two. If it hadn’t been for electromagnetic pulse weapons and the occasional nuclear war, there would have been no hiding places for us now. Even with experience, it was still a hard shell game to maintain. But the wilderness did not provide the shelter and anonymity it once did. Only the cities and constant migration did. But he’d taught me the game; he could find me if he chose.

Sometimes we would talk an hour before parting. Sometimes we would stay together for a time. I still paired off sometimes. Married twice; widowed once by war and once by terrorism. He’d given up on anything long term except with me. If there were one night stands on his part, he never said. Perhaps this un-routine routine would keep us going for another few centuries.

I looked out the window, watching the sunrise over the cityscape, wondering. Who was I going to be next year? How long we would stay together this time? After losing two men I’d loved, did I really want to try again? Was I going cold inside? What I had yet not done or seen in the world? Fads and fashions were all repeats upon themselves, and the novelty of seeking out novelty was wearing thin. The man beside me had long since died inside, living on habit and automatic.

The fear that I was becoming the same was still sharp, but it was bitterly familiar. And the hatred welling back up was worn beyond interest. The salty tears refused to come as the grief for what I’d lost consumed me. There had been too many tears already.

Tamara Wilhite is a professional technical writer and free lance fiction writer. Her first book, Humanity’s Edge, a collection of 13 new short stories, is available on Amazon.com December, 2005.

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