by Tamara Wilhite
I stared in the bathroom mirror at
a face that hadn’t changed in too long. Only my eyes, those windows to the soul, had changed. "Laura, are you ready
to go?" Sandra asked me as she washed her hands next to me.
I pushed back a stray wisp of hair.
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.
"Laura, I can tell something's bothering you. Want to talk about it?"
"No." The coworker looked crestfallen.
She was silent the rest of the way home.
“Do you want to talk about
it inside, where it’s more private?”
Sandra stood there for a long minute.
She knew there were things I didn’t talk about: my past, my family, anything personal at all. For all the activities
we shared, she had never scratched the surface of who I was. And suddenly realized that she never would.
She did wave goodbye as I entered
my apartment building. I did not bother to turn on my lights, allowing memory to guide my steps. My toe hit something. It
was the photo album I'd kept, the only solid reminder of all this time ... someone had put it on the floor directly in the
path I would have taken. And I knew who.
"Surely you've figured it out by
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? Lisa?"
"Laura 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 -
"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 to him. His face rested comfortably in my hair. "Relax. We're still
married.” I didn’t respond. “And there’s no one else in your life right now."
"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! You destroyed that life, and she’s ceased to exist! Jen - Don’t you dare -” He
silenced the tirade. 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 me. He also knew that
the body could remember what the mind sought to forget.
I kissed him hard in return, trying
to forget the lifetimes of memories he brought with him. The past was as painful as the endless and increasingly dangerous
Exhaustion from the reunion brought
deep sleep. With it came dreams. 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. 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. The rest was a blur through 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 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, as if to silence me, but I was
too weak to speak. "Trust me." He put the monitoring equipment on himself as the drugs flowed into my bloodstream. He started
chanting in his native language.
It felt as though I was lighter than
air. 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 peaceful end on
To my surprise, I woke up. Jen disconnected
the monitors from himself and let them dangle. Within an hour, Jen was having me discharged over the staff's protests. Nor
would he permit an exam. As my husband in an overworked hospital, they couldn’t reasonably protest. 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.
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, 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 while performing
a blood sharing ritual. He took a second potion to build up his strength before the ritual, so he could be ready to defend
his people, though the combination of herbs was forbidden. They also failed to protect him.
The enemy was successful in killing
him during the attack. He awoke later, with no idea of what had actually happened except assuming he’d been injured
and healed. As years passed, the remnants of his tribe saw that he no longer aged and drove him out.
He began to wander. 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. 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
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.
"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. 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 -
Had it really been a century and
a half? Yes. We always sought each other out every decade or two. If it hadn’t been for electromagnetic pulse weapons
attack shortly after my first death and the occasional nuclear war, there would have been no hiding places for us in the world.
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. I hated the endless travel. But he’d taught me the game from
centuries of practice. And if he taught me himself, he’d know my patterns so he could find me if he chose.
Sometimes we would talk before parting
after a single night. Sometimes we would stay together for a time, pretending that we could be as we were. I still paired
off sometimes, not quite giving up on a normal life. 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 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.
Copyright Tamara Wilhite