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of life and death

I stood outside Markus’s door, shivering in the wind, contemplating why on Earth I decided to wear a skirt in October, if my breath smelled like the onion bagel I ate on the way and whether or not I would run screaming from his house in the next hour.

I had never been to a boy’s house before. I was forbidden to, actually. But there was something in the tremor of his voice that told me I had to.

“It’s a matter of life and death.”

Now this was a phrase I liked to avoid. The extreme complexity of the idea was too absurd and too overused. And considering I am a girl who gets upset with the choice of waffles or cereal for breakfast, I was more than freaked by this statement. Having to choose between two natural phases of existence was the last place I would want to find myself. I rather liked the spot in between.

Nevertheless, I ventured out to Markus’s home, in a part of town I had no idea existed. Every tree I passed, corner I turned seemed to push me further and further from reality. The autumnal aura that sparkled through the sky tempted me with pictures of an enchanted castle, equipped with a moat and drawbridge. Instead, I was relieved to find an austere, alabaster home covered with vines…Lovely.

When he finally opened the door, all my fear subsided. His glossy curls and deep brown eyes were enough to unravel any tight knot-they were that calming.

“I’m so glad you came,” he said, kissing my cheek. I would never get used to the greeting; it was both amusing and startling. He grabbed my hand and led me over the threshold.

We turned passed a large aquarium of sandcastles and golden fish and a tall, waterfall sculpture cascading over revolving spheres. A spiral staircase unfolded in front of us, leading up to another floor of antique and modern décor.

“Your house is amazing,” I gushed in a most childish fashion. I felt like a tacky tourist.

Markus laughed.

“ I was afraid it wouldn’t be decent for you. I’m quite the slob really. Not so good at cleaning myself.”

“You clean your house all by yourself? Wow, I need to meet your mother,” I said teasingly.

Suddenly, we stopped in front of a door and his eyes met mine.

“About that…Andrea, I need to-I want to tell you something. That’s why I called you. You might be angry or confused, but I don’t care. I haven’t felt this sure in a long time, but I do now.”

I frowned.

“Markus, are you okay? I just want you to know up front that I have vowed to remain abstinent until marriage, not because of my parents but because education is the most important thing in my life and—“

He pulled out a key and opened the door.

“Please come in. It’s much easier to understand.”

I narrowed my eyes and put myself on guard as I stepped into the room. As soon as I was in, a chill ran down my spine. I felt as if all life had turned around and ran out. A dampness clung to my shirt and a weak light pored through the window onto dusty tables and chairs. Picture frames lined the wall and a lonely rocking chair sat in the corner.

“ I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand,” I said.

“It’s my memory room,” he said, appearing by my side. “I come here when I can’t get away from past. To be close to what my life used to be like.”

“But everything is so…old,” I said.

“Exactly. That’s generally what the past is like,” Markus replied with a smile.

I rolled my eyes.

“Andrea, do you ever think about what it would be like to live forever? To make history be not only your past, but your present? To wake up everyday and know you’ll not worry about what’s to come, because you will always, without a doubt, make it your future?”

Well, I was not expecting a philosophical chat, but what else did an intellectual do in his spare time? I did meet him first in a bookstore browsing Aristotle’s teachings. I had been there for less nobler intentions, grabbing coffee and buying dreary textbooks.

“Uh, I guess. Being immortal means you never die, so you can spend your life doing whatever you want and you’ll never run out of time. If you make the wrong decision or if you can’t make one, for that matter, you’ll always be able to choose both.. But is that why you brought me here? To talk about my indecisiveness? ‘Cause I’m working on it, I really am,” I blurted.

Markus shook his head and picked up a small picture frame. He looked at it longingly and then handed it to me. I found myself staring a sepia colored portrait of a family of five: a delicate, titian-haired mother, handlebar mustached father and three mischievous boys. The middle one’s grin looked strangely familiar.

“Wait, is that you?”

He leaned over.

“Yep. My mother was so excited to get our picture taken. The Naufels had theirs done first and were showing the shots off to the whole neighborhood. So naturally, we had to go in ourselves. She hated being outdone.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have been so happy. The studio made you look like you’re from 100 years ago,” I said, running my finger across the faces.

“80,” Markus said,firmly.

I looked up.

“Come on Markus. You mean you took a picture to look like it was 80 years ago? Like vintage, it’s cool.”

“No, it really was 80 years ago. I was 12 there, my brothers, 10 and 15. It was March 1929.”

I set the picture back on the table. Markus was always the smarter one, talking about concepts and figures I would never be able to understand, the string theory, time travel and objectivism, but this was too much. I wasn’t going to be fooled into thinking he was 92 years old. 20, maybe, but we had just celebrated his 18th birthday.

“I outlived my entire family. My mother died at 77, my father at 45 from lung cancer and my brothers from mine accidents in their 50’s. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true,” Markus said in a low voice, coming closer.

“I-I,” No intelligible words would come out of my mouth.
Then he withdrew a glass vial from his pocket. A gold liquid swirled fluidly inside. I reached out to touch it with one finger, a sharp cold stung me. I yanked my hand back in surprise.

“Careful!” he shouted, grasping it with both hands.

“What the hell?” I said, rubbing my finger. “What is that?”

“ I worked for a telegram company after school for extra pocket money, when I got this strange potion. I still remember his face,” Markus said, walking to the windowsill.

“It was customary to be tipped by each customer for my delivery of their message. But one old man claimed he had no money on him. Angered, I almost left, but then he held my arm and said he could give me something worth more than what I’d make for the rest of my life. He gave me this. A potion that make you immortal from just one drop.” He said the last word with such grief.

“ So you drank it? You trusted him?”

I couldn’t imagine the wise Markus falling for such a fantasy.

“Of course not,” he said, turning to face me. “I didn’t believe it all. I took it out of respect, but truthfully I was mad he wasted my time. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to. I had an argument with my father about, well about everything. I wanted to be a writer, he wanted me to be a doctor…we couldn’t agree on anything.”

“The answer to all my problems was in this vial. The sweet juice coated my throat and every inch of me and for a moment, I felt lost in the wind and away from myself. And then the feeling was gone and all was normal. I seemed unchanged.”

The intensity in his voice, the deep concentration as if he was straining to remember a painful experience- every doubt I had vanished. But there was a part of that didn’t want hear the end of his tale.

“What happened to the man?” I asked.

“Then it got stranger. I went back to his house to find him and ask him what had happened to me. But he was gone, the house abandoned. I began to think I had dreamed him up or else I had met a demon. Andrea, are you all right?” Markus said, his voice rising.

“What?” I breathed. “I’m just-I can’t handle this. Not now, not like this.”

I felt like falling over. I wasn’t sure the correct position for fainting to avoid broken bones, so I hung in midair, my body pulsing.

“Why don’t I take you outside? Get some fresh air?”

He took my hand and we went down a flight of stairs and in a blur, we were in a courtyard garden. He sat me down on a wicker chair next to a rosebush.

“Is there anything I can get you? Water? Tea?”

I smiled.

“ Why? Markus, why are you telling me this now? I’ve known you for months now and you never bothered to mention it. What kind of friend does that? That’s like me failing to tell you I’m going to Duke and not Brown.-“

“You’re chose Duke?” he asked.

“No, it’s hypothetical. I haven’t decided yet of course and the deadline is weeks away, but anyway what I’m saying is how am I supposed to trust you? What do you want from me?” I said.

“I want you to drink this potion and live forever. With me. And you’re just going to have to trust me,” he said, biting his lip.

Oh, Markus. Markus, Markus, Markus. If he’d asked me to go skydiving, I would have said yes. If he’d asked me to go hiking in the Grand Canyon, I would have said yes. Hell, if he’d asked me to skydive into the Grand Canyon, I would have said yes. Anything before saying yes to becoming immortal.

“I know you’re thinking I’m crazy and that this is a difficult decision-“

I snorted.

“-to make,” he went on, firmly. “But I wouldn’t be asking you if I wasn’t serious. I’ve been waiting for the right time. I mean, it’s one thing to commit to a person until death, but until eternity. Now that’s a long time.” Markus chuckled.

He rarely told jokes. He must be scared out of his mind.

“ What have you been doing all this time? Before you met me? Were you always in this house?” I asked.

“I’ve traveled to different places, talked to princes and thieves, escaping war and depression and famine. Indonesia, Germany, Brazil, England. There’s a whole world out there you’re never going to get to see if you just go to college, Andrea, I can tell you that.”

“This is a beautiful garden,” I stated, trying to distract him. We were surrounded by at least ten variations of roses and if it had been any other circumstance, I would have been fully enjoying the view.

“Thank you. It’s a hell of a lot of work to keep it up. It takes up most of my day. These flowers have been my constant companions through the years,” he said, his gaze unwavering.

Crap, he calls the flowers for friends? He was just oozing with sympathy. Not helping my guilty and confused mind.

“It doesn’t hurt, Andrea, if that’s what you’re worried about. And I have enough money to start us off. I’ve been saving and I have inheritance. We can do whatever we want, go wherever you want to go. You can make this be a gift, not a curse.”

The wind tickled my cheeks, coaxing me out of my silence. Markus raised the vial up again. The liquid looked like it was funneling inside. My stomach churned at the same pace.

“Markus, you’ve been-”I wanted to choose my words carefully. “- an incredible friend. From the moment we met, I have loved every minute we’ve spent together, through the concerts and restaurants and life advice and… as much as I would love to leave everything behind and live forever… I--”

He had an insistent smile carved on his face and the glowing of the vial threw me off. He had no idea what this decision would do to me, did he? Markus was the independent one, the lone wolf. Living on the outskirts of society suited him, but I couldn’t do it. Watching life pass me by like a carousel as I remained solid in the center would, well, kill me. How could I possibly do this? This was worse than Duke and Brown. This was truly, well, a matter of life and death.

I reached out and took the vial, feeling a sudden magnetic rush in my palm.

“Could I have a moment alone?” I asked, sheepishly.

“Of course,” Markus said, backing away and sliding open the patio door.

So this was it, Andrea. The ultimate test of trust or betrayal. Why was I making this so hard? Did I love him enough to throw away death or was I happy to enjoy the time we had until I had to go?

I would never grow old, never lead a normal life. I would have to be content with Markus’s companionship and that’s it. My family would grow up and leave me. And what about my dreams of teaching? I was simply throwing away a dream for another dream.

I twisted open the top, letting the woody smell roam free. I stood and walked closer to the rose bush. I tilted my head back to soak in the night, feeling that everything was going to be different from now on …and let it drop.



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kira_lou420 said...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 12:29 pm
thats intense lol(: I really enjoyed this stort, good job!
 
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