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Eternal Love

Introduction

My Dear Reader,

The story I am about to tell you is my first literary work. It came into existence in a rather unusual way.

One day, I had a very strange feeling of a terrible loss. It was as if somebody I loved gradually disappeared from my life. I was in a good mood that day, and I was not sure what could cause that emotion.

Soon afterwards, two people appeared in my consciousness, he and she. His name was Peter; she went without a name. They gradually became my very close friends, and I thought about them all the time. They were very ordinary people living very ordinary lives. They would be very surprised if they learned that I decided to write about them. “Hey Lev”, they would probably tell me, “You might as well write about your neighbors across the street. Chances are their lives are more interesting and eventful than ours”. Yet there was something a little off about them, some minor strangeness, as if a suburban soccer mum gave her daughter as a birthday present a little pet unicorn. As it transpired, he was immortal.

The consequences of this little oddity were horrible. You will learn about them from my story. I could not bring myself however to write about the worst of them. Most unfortunately,

These people do not exist!

There is an ironclad logic in this world, a strict set of requirements that determine who can and who cannot exist. All people who exist must be mortal. Peter is immortal, therefore he doesn’t exist. But she? Why did such a sorry fate befall her? She is just another woman, a face in the crowd. And she is definitely mortal. But I played a nasty trick with her. She appears in my story when she meets Peter at a bus stop. In this cruel world, people who exist can meet only people who also exist. And as soon as one meets a person who doesn’t exist, they lose their right to exist as well.

When I realized all this, I was close to desperation. I felt that I failed them, in a worse possible way. The only place where they existed was my head. If I moved to different projects or simply got distracted with a flow of life, I could forget about them and they would cease to exist, at least until I would remember about them again. And just like her, I am mortal, and when I am gone, so will they, and this time forever.

So I decided to write down their story and try to publish it. I wanted as many people as possible to get to know them and think about them at least once in a while. I hope that this will make the night of nonexistence a little less dark for them, and maybe, just maybe they will come into existence, just a little bit, in some very figurative way.

Eternal Love

What if some day or night a demon were to creep after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Friedrich Nietzsche

~~~

His name was Peter; he grew up in New York City. His parents divorced when he was very young, and he was brought up by his mother who worked as a pharmacist. When the time came for him to select a college major, he chose biochemistry, mostly because it sounded more exciting and interesting than other disciplines. He studied at CUNY; his grades were unremarkable, but he liked school, all the bright kids immersed into their studies, and most of all its stable routine of taking classes, doing homework and preparing for exams.

When he graduated, the prospective employers were not impressed with what he had to offer, and he decided to go for a PhD. The only program he was accepted to was at a university in a small town somewhere in the Midwest.

His years in a graduate school were quite miserable. He was used to a constant flow of energy of a big city and felt bored and lonely without it. His academic advisor had to drag him through the entire thesis writing process, and by the defense time they were barely on speaking terms.

He then spent some time in the private industry and became fully aware that having a boss that gives him orders was not for him. As luck would have it, he found a teaching position, also in the Midwest but in a much bigger city. His new employer apparently wanted to bring in instructors with a “real world experience”. He liked to teach, and the students enjoyed his classes. He didn’t publish much however, and in several years his employment contract ended and was not renewed. He sent out some resumes, they all were met with a polite standard reply. Already in his 30s, disappointed and depressed, he returned to New York, where someone important hired him as a lab technician. That someone received a government grant for longevity studies, and Peter would help his team with routine portions of their work.

Peter befriended at his lab a Chinese graduate student who was obviously a genius. They would spend hours together discussing their experiments on mice, and Peter could barely keep up with the rapidity of his thought. The student proposed a rather elaborate cocktail of chemicals and genetically modified viruses that in his view could dramatically expand the animal’s lifespan. After much effort and frustration, they prepared that cocktail and inoculated a middle-aged pair of mice with it. The Chinese wizard soon transferred to a better school, but Peter continued to monitor the inoculated mice and record their behavior in a lab journal.

In about a year, the grant money ran out and Peter was given a termination notice. He was told there would be no further longevity research done at the lab, and was instructed to clean his work area and discard all the notes they made. The mice were still alive, but they would be given to another research group and at some point end up dissected. Peter thought about his own future, and it didn’t appear very promising either.

Then, he had a light bulb moment. He would take all the remaining cocktail and inject it into himself. In a few years, he would publish an article about this experiment and its preliminary results. Such an article would likely be met with considerable interest. When it came to longevity, mice were very different than humans, and what worked for them didn’t necessarily work for us. Years before, there was a lot of hype and excitement about a calorie restricted diet. Mice on such diet lived considerably longer than the control mice on an ordinary diet. A number of people tried it, but their aging processes went as usual, and their ultimate life spans were unremarkable. If he could make a name for himself, hopefully he would find a job as a longevity researcher.

The injection was just an ordinary pin-prick. For a few days, he tried to pay attention to how he felt, but everything was as usual. He cleaned his desk, gave away the mice and returned his badge.

~~~

Peter decided to consult a professor he had worked for on what to do next. It was a humiliating conversation for him, but he no longer cared. The professor was frank and candid. He thought Peter’s chances of finding a teaching position were very slim. “If you put your last position on your resume,” he told Peter, “they’ll just toss it into a trashcan. If you don’t put it, they will start asking questions about what you did all that time after you left your teaching job, and I am afraid they won’t like your answers”. Another more permanent job as a lab technician could be a possibility, but most likely not in New York City. “You got lucky that my administrator had to find somebody right away. The hiring process for such positions is typically quite completive. Here in New York, many people find them very appealing, and to be honest with you, one doesn’t need a PhD to do such a job.” He thought for a minute and then said: “You know what? Try a few big universities in the South. They are fairly generously funded these days, and you would probably be in a better position there as an applicant. Just write them and state that you are looking for a position of a lab technician. Maybe somebody will reply. Only don’t tell them you are out of state, and don’t put your New York address on the envelope. I guarantee you they won’t consider a candidate who isn’t local. Rent some post office boxes near these universities and use them as your local addresses. You can do this over the phone. Just instruct the post offices to forward your incoming mail to your real address.”

Peter did what he was told to, and in a few months found himself working as a lab technician in North Carolina. His new assignment was much simpler, and he sometimes wondered: “For what I do, one doesn’t even need an undergraduate degree”. This aspect of his work didn’t bother him. He had always been oblivious to the concept of value creation. His lifestyle was modest and local rents very reasonable. The bright southern sky lifted his mood, and he felt content and happy.

~~~

Five years flew by; Peter was now in his 40s. Somebody from his lab acted as an in-house photographer and webmaster. The lab had been established relatively recently, and every anniversary they had an all-hands meeting with a subsequent gathering in front of a camera. The photos were posted on the lab’s intranet in a special “Photo Album” area.

After one of those anniversaries Peter got nostalgic and found the photo from the year when he had just joined the lab. He noticed how much older the lab’s director now looked. Peter didn’t get to see him all that often; they were at the opposite ends of the lab’s pecking order. The director’s hair was now all gray, and the wrinkles on his face became much deeper. Peter opened the old and the new photos side by side and saw that time had taken its toll on every of his colleagues. Wrinkles were now deeper and more numerous, eye bags more prominent, and new strands of gray hair appeared here and there.

Then he compared his face on two photos. Try as he might, he couldn’t find any difference. He blew up both images until he saw only his two faces, old and new. They might as well have been copies of each other.

It was at that moment that it dawned on Peter that the Chinese student’s cocktail worked. He stopped aging soon after the injection, as if he got to wear an old photo of himself on his face.

It was a slow day at the lab, and he had some time to collect his thoughts. He was really baffled and a little scared. He realized with dismay how naïve he had been when he hoped to publish an article about the experiment. What was he going to write there? He had no idea about what went into the cocktail and long since forgot the name of the Chinese student who created it. To write a one-sentence article “I injected something into myself and stopped aging”? That would be preposterous. At best he would become a scientific curiosity, and such a perspective was not at all appealing to him.

“I’d better keep my mouth shot,” Peter said to himself, “But – wait a minute… I live in the world where everyone ages, and everyone is expected to age. In another 10-15 years, things will get ridiculous. Nobody will believe me that I am in my 50s. And, oh my god, my coworkers! It won’t take them 15 years to out me. I guess I will have to be very careful and change jobs every so often so that nobody would notice my agelessness. I simply need to remember to deduct 38 from the current year and give the result as the birth year. Now what about government records? They keep my birth date in a few places. I will have to file some correction forms every once in a while, to change the birth year. Hopefully nobody will notice anything unusual. So, this means I am forever destined to be 38? No retirement? A fate of Sisyphus?”

The birth date correction forms turned out to be a yet another fantasy of his. The government agencies had correction forms for peoples’ names and addresses. They didn’t and couldn’t have forms to correct a birth date, because this would amount to changing the past, and the past was immutable. He could claim that his birth certificate had a wrong birth date, but for this he would need a solid proof, and he didn’t have such proof.

He continued to live as he always had. He was frugal in his habits and had everything he needed: an apartment, a stable job and good health. Every several years he would find a new position of a lab technician. Bioresearch was a rapidly growing field, and lab technicians were in demand. At every new job he would give the HR a new birth date, and thankfully they never asked for any documents to prove it. He became an avid sports fan, because just like him, athletes didn’t seem to age. They were always young and full of energy. After a while they disappeared from their teams and got replaced by other athletes who were even younger, and nobody seemed to notice. On weekends, he sometimes treated himself to a nice dinner at a restaurant at the mall not far from where he lived. After that he usually went to a fancy boutique at the same mall, just because they always had a fashion show running on a huge screen. The runway models also never aged …

Another 15 years passed. He was already in his late 50s, but still looked the same, a healthy, vigorous man in his late 30s. And then, one morning at a bus stop, he met Her.

~~~

She was a real beauty, long black hair, intense blue eyes, a friendly smile and a waist of a dancer. He didn’t know how to start a conversation, so he just approached her and said: “You are beautiful”. She smiled and said: “Thank you”.

She was a graduate student majoring in English, writing her master’s thesis about some obscure poet that Peter never heard of. She was on her way to the classes, and luckily for Peter, they would have to get off the bus at the same stop. Peter told her he used to be a biochemist, but now was looking for a new direction in life. She said she had always been interested in science people, but could not imagine to be a scientist herself. “It must be so boring to have to deal with pages of formulas or try to figure out why the experiment didn’t work.” He assured her that there was much more to science than that and suggested to exchange phone numbers, to continue the conversation.

They started seeing each other on weekends, usually at some student diner. Peter shared with her his thoughts about science and told stories about scientists. She talked about her studies and about her friends; she was obviously popular and had a lot of them. After their dates, she often pondered upon what he had said. She was impressed that such a relatively young man worked on so many projects and with so many people. That was something unusual, and she found unusual attractive. There was some strange mixture of wisdom and humility in him.

Sometimes when the weather was good, they went to play tennis. She was very athletic and quick on her feet. He was no match for her, but she was amused by his clumsy efforts.

Once he saw her to the house where she lived, and she got close to him and said: “Have a wonderful week honey”. He understood her hint, said “You too” and kissed her.

~~~

Their romance blossomed. Next year, she defended her master’s thesis and entered the department’s PhD program. She never told Peter, but for her family and friends, this was a major surprise. They all thought she would do a PhD at Harvard or Stanford. She told them that she was sure she would be able to write a very good PhD thesis where she was, but she was not at all certain she would be able to convince Peter to move with her. This explanation also came as a surprise; no one suspected their relationship went this far.

She was out of town for a few weeks, staying at her father’s house and catching up with high school friends.

The same year, his father passes away, and Peter inherited a portion of some sort of manufacturing business where he had been a silent partner. The business paid steady dividends, and Peter was now able to retire from his work at the lab. Unbeknown to her, Peter was ecstatic: “No more frequent job changes! No more misleading about my birth date!”

She often complained to him about her living conditions. She rented a furnished house together with several other students and didn’t appreciate their partying habits. The PhD program would be far more demanding, and she was concerned that to escape the noise and distractions, she would have to, as she put it, “live in a library”.

A great idea came into his head. At one of their dates, he suggested to her: “Why don’t we buy a house? It could be a fixer-upper, I am handy and have a lot of free time…” She thought about it for several days and agreed. Next week, she called her father and told him: “My boyfriend and I decided to buy a house. Can you please help us with the down payment?” Her father was caught off guard and after a brief pause asked her: “Are you sure that this relationship is serious?” She answered: “As sure as I can be for any relationship. Plus, if we decide to break up, we can always sell it.”. Her father was not convinced but decided that to say no would be a worse choice than to say yes.

The house they bought was indeed a true fixer-upper. The house inspector found a whole list of problems with it. Luckily for them, their bank didn’t see any deal breakers on that list, and they got the keys.

~~~

Their joint dwelling was a ranch, with a large kitchen/dining/living room area and a master suite. She decided to use as an office a small bedroom facing the street, with a full bathroom next to it. “That will be my side of the house!” she told him laughing, “As a PhD student, I am entitled to my own private bathroom!” They bought some draperies, and she happily ran around the house barefoot hanging them. Her movements were quick and effortless. “She is still such a child”, he thought. It was then that he realized how truly in love he was.

Their routine was rather conventional. She got up at 6 and went for a run as he had his last morning dreams. She then took a shower, woke him up and fixed some breakfast. They ate, and she was off to school. He put the dirty dishes into a dishwasher and returned to his monumental home improvement project. All appliances needed to be replaced, plumbing was in a sorry shape, and some windows were quite drafty. She usually returned around 6, they had a dinner together and watched some TV shows or movies. She often had to prepare for her TA office hours; he then watched TV alone. On weekends, she sometimes invited her girlfriends to come over. If they were new to the house, she told them:” This is Peter, and let me show you our mansion!”. They seemed to be impressed with both, although a little surprised that such a young man had chosen to retire. They sensed that she wasn’t keen on discussing Peter’s past and didn’t bother her with questions about him. The girls would then sit around the dining room table, chit-chatting, gossiping, laughing…

~~~

Every afternoon, Peter picked up new mail and sorted it into three piles, his, her and junk. The last pile was always the biggest and his usually nonexistent. One day, a flyer in the junk pile caught his attention. It showed several happy families around a dining room table and in a living room. “Are you always absent from your family videos, because it is you who makes them? Don’t let yourself disappear behind the frame! The “Precious Moments” video recording system will capture all your social occasions with a touch of a button!” He was intrigued and read through the entire flyer. Apparently some company in California offered their buyers something similar to a home surveillance system but with cameras mounted at a face level. After the system is installed, the user would enter a room number on its remote, and in that room the cameras would be turned on. The family would all sit together around the table, and the system would record the cameras’ video streams. When a happy occasion is over, the videographer of the house would create a home video from the raw footage and preserve the memories for the years to come.” This is a neat idea,” said Peter to himself, “Our family is just me and her, and we appear together only on a few photos taken by strangers at our request. They offer local installer referrals, but I should be able to install it myself.”

When she came home, he asked her if it would be OK for them to have a few video cameras around the house. As usual when it came to technical matters, she had no opinion of her own and didn’t particularly care either way. “Do as you wish” she said and headed to her study.

The first order of business was to figure out how many cameras he wanted to order. Peter planned to place four of them in the kitchen/dining/living room area, two in the foyer and another one by the garage door. He also decided to put a camera in her study facing her desk. “Maybe one of these days”, he said to himself,” she will teach an online course and will use that camera as a webcam. The one in her laptop is just awful”. He went through the entire house again, stayed for a while in a master bedroom but then decided to leave it without a camera. “She may misinterpret the purpose of a camera there,”, he thought with amusement, “and the future buyers may misinterpret it as well”.

The system came in about a week. Peter unpacked everything and opted to install the cameras first. After dinner, he demonstrated them to her; he was afraid she would not like them. But she said: “Oh, they look cute. Now we will be movie stars! Maybe you will teach me how to turn them on?” He replied: “Honey, it’s a bit complicated. You can always ask me to do it.” She was never good at operating electronic gadgets, and he figured if she wanted to get better at them, she should start with something a little simpler that a video recording system. Next day, he put its central part in a linen closet by the front door and began planning how to run the cables.

Peter’s new video toy was very user friendly. He recorded them watching together a TV show; the result was four long video files. Two of them didn’t have anything interesting, so he discarded them. In the remaining files, Peter and she were shown from two different angles as they sit on a sofa and looked in the same direction, with the show’s audio track in the background. He saw how their facial expressions changed as the show progressed and how they laughed together when something funny was happening on a screen. For the first time, he thought that they were well suited to each other, despite both visible and hidden age difference.

He showed her the videos, but they were not her cup of tea. “Who would want to watch for half an hour two people watching TV? I would get bored after three minutes. Maybe the next time I invite my girlfriends, you will record our conversation? Perhaps that would be something worth seeing”. He indeed recorded their next get-together, but she was still not impressed. “I am not videogenic, and neither are my friends. Plus, looking from the outside, our conversation seems pointless and silly. I won’t be using this system, but you can record whatever you want, I don’t care.”

~~~

Soon afterwards, two minute events happened at their house. Nobody noticed them but Peter, but for him they turned out to be of utmost importance.

She had a birthday party and invited all her friends who were still in town. She thought about inviting her advisor, but decided that she would then feel obligated to be very “proper” and would have to be very careful with her drinks. At the end of the party, somebody gave a toast: “Many-many birthdays together at this table!” Everybody started clapping and saying “Yes!”. Peter also clapped, but something cold, damp and scary touched his heart. When guests left and she fell asleep, he got up and went to a living room to collect his thoughts. “How could I forget about it?! She will age, she already ages, like everyone does, everyone but me. People who live together barely notice how they get older, because they do it together as well. They share their lives, and aging is just part of that sharing. Our predicament could not be more different. I won’t age, she will. I will lose her. I am already losing her, and every day I will continue to lose her, little by little, one barely noticeable wrinkle at a time…”

He returned to their bedroom and sat down on his side of the bed. She breathed evenly and calmly, as she always did when asleep. He felt a jolt of gasping tenderness toward her. “My treasure,” said he to himself, “my beloved fleeting treasure…”

In several weeks, on Saturday October 16th, they as usual cooked together on the weekend. He decided to record this, to make sure the kitchen camera was properly directed. The TV was on. Maybe it was the same show, or maybe another show, but the host was bubbling with humor again. She continued to chop some vegetables, but he got distracted and went to the living room to see what was happening on TV. When the host made a yet another joke, he yelled it to her so that she wouldn’t miss it. She stopped, lifted her head and said: “What’s that?” He repeated, and she laughed.

When later that evening he reviewed the recorded files, he saw that very moment captured by the kitchen camera. She looked a bit up, straight into the camera, with wide open eyes and a smile on her beautiful young face. He stopped the video, looked at her for some time and decided that that moment of their lives should not disappear. He will keep this video recording for as long as he will live. If he is still alive when the earth gets scorched by the expanding sun billions of years from now, he will continue to keep it as the oceans boil and evaporate.

He pondered upon this for a few days and had an idea that seemed a bit crazy. Why should he keep just this recording, just this truly precious moment that came and went and left a video of itself behind? Maybe she had moments like this every day, many times a day, and neither he nor she noticed them. He should leave the cameras on all the time and configure them to be motion activated. At the end of each day, he would review the streams and archive some selected portions of them. He would probably have to invest in additional computer equipment to store all that data, but the storage demands did not seem to be impossible.

He called the “Precious Moments”’ support line and asked if their product could be used as a usual surveillance system, always on and motion activated. They said: ” Yes, it can, but you would have to update its internal software first. Then you would need to follow the updated manual to switch its operating mode to surveillance. If you don’t want the cameras to be activated by the members of your family, you would also need to perform a special training routine. It works like this: the family member stands in front of the camera, looks at it and then gradually turns around. The camera captures how they look like in various positions, the system memorizes it and disregards the activations caused by this person. It may sound complicated, but in reality it is not. We have customers with large extended families, and they swear by this feature. “He thought he would swear by this feature as well. She worked long hours outside the house, and he was mostly home. The vast majority of activations would be his. And what could be more ridiculous than creating video mementos of a person that never ages!

The update and configuration went unexpectedly smoothly, and he verified that the system indeed became always on and motion activated. He even figured out how to automatically mix streams from the cameras activated by the same person as they moved around the house into two combined streams. If the system saw their face in a video stream, it temporarily became the Front output stream. If there was another stream with a good view of them from the side, it was routed to the Side output stream. Both output streams were compressed and stored as video files.

Then he trained the system to ignore him, walked around the house and confirmed that none of the cameras were triggered. “This company must have some top-notch software engineers” he thought, although what did he know about software?

And so his great video recording project began…

~~~

Her research process was slow and laborious. The PhD thesis required very in-depth analysis, and she had much more material to go through. Her advisor wanted her to write the thesis with little assistance from his side, to demonstrate that she could conduct research on her own. She also had to take some required classes where lecturers expected their students to read a new book every week. And as before, she had to support herself by working as a part time teaching assistant. She was frequently stressed out, and he got to see very little of her. She would come home late, grab something to eat and go to her room. She would spend the entire evening there either behind her desk or on an ottoman with her legs crossed reading books. Peter tried not to bother her. He had his own projects to do. On weekends they usually played tennis and sometimes explored local dining options.

The seasons passed one after another. She was less busy in the summer, and they could go on vacation. They got to like the Pacific Northwest. They would fly there, every time to a new place, and spend a couple of weeks on the hiking trails. Peter got concerned that there would be gaps in his video archive and bought a fancy camcorder. He made numerous videos of her, saying that on vacation, everything was video worthy. On those videos, she would drink her morning coffee, lean over a trail map, stand by a huge tree smiling at him… Sometimes she would walk along the trail ahead of him, and he would just record that on a camcorder. She didn’t seem to mind. She saw that he enjoyed tinkering with the video gadget and let him capture whatever he wanted. She never asked him to show her these videos after they returned home.

One winter was particularly cold and snowy. The town could barely keep up with street plowing, and nobody bothered to shovel the sidewalks. She had to suspend her morning runs and joked that after that winter, she would have to throw away all her clothes because she wouldn’t fit into them. At one of their dates, they brainstormed about a good winter sport she would enjoy. She grew up in Florida and her idea of a winter sport was “a summer sport with warmer attire”. Peter suggested skiing, and she thought it would be interesting to try, although she was worried about falling and hurting herself.

Next Saturday, she woke him up early, and they headed to the mountains. She found somebody to teach her proper technique and spent the day on the beginner trails. Peter had
lots of fun making videos of her progress. He skied in childhood, plus the trails were set up so that he could always take a shortcut and get ahead of her. He captured her that day from all angles and in all sorts of body positions, both vertical and horizontal. The next day, she graduated to intermediate trails and runs, and body positions on Peter’s videos became mostly vertical.

They went skiing several times that winter. Once she practiced enough, she absolutely loved the sport. One weekend, she did one of her downhill slides while he stood at the bottom of her run with his camcorder. He saw her on a camcorder screen moving toward him and stopping with her skies. Then her smiling face went out of focus and he felt that she bumped into him and hugged him. She whispered into his ear: “Thank you darling, thank you for bringing me here. I enjoy it here so much…”

This was the happiest moment of his entire life.

~~~

Four years came and went. The house was now all fixed up, nice, clean and comfortable. The “Precious Moments” system worked smoothly and did a very good job. Every day when she was in it produced two video files showing the Front and the Side output channels. They captured her movements around the house, as if two cameramen constantly followed her, one in front of her and another to her left or right. He now had two storage servers with expandable capacity. Every once in a while, he transferred to both of them the accumulated files to free up the system’s internal storage.

They bought a pricey Scandinavian recliner chair with a footrest and put it into their living room by the fireplace, right in front of one of the cameras. Now she would often sit in this chair reading. In winter, she liked to turn on the fireplace and relax while feeling its warmth on her feet. Sometimes, much to Peter’s amusement, she would fall asleep in that chair. She had a truly great talent for sleep. Her eight nightly hours were peaceful and uninterrupted. And Peter was an insomniac…

She changed over the course of these four years. The young girl Peter had met at a bus stop, with her impishness and impulsiveness, was now gone. She was still as beautiful as before, but in a more mature way. They had known each other for years now, and Peter decided it was the time for him to share with her his secret.

One Saturday morning he said to her that he had something very important to show her. They got into a car and he drove her to his bank. He asked to give him his safe deposit box and they went into the bank’s private room. The bank associate brought there his box and left.

Peter opened the box and removed from it a stack of documents and one document rolled on a tube and held by a rubber band. He told her his life story. He told about the Chinese student and his cocktail and about his true age. He showed her his college graduation diploma, given forty years before. He removed the rubber band and unrolled the document from the tube. This was his PhD diploma. It was followed by some old photos of himself in youth with time stamps. And finally he put in front of her the document from the bottom of the stack. It was his birth certificate.

She was shocked and astonished. “So you are about my father’s age… No wonder you seem so wise and experienced…” He reassured her that nothing in their relationship would change. “I am the same today as I was yesterday. I love you and I always will.” She promised him to keep his secret. They decided that he should no longer be seen by her friends. She would tell them that he had developed some sort of a skin disease on his face and felt very uncomfortable in the presence of strangers.

The manufacturing business that Peter partially owned started giving up the ghost, and the partners decided to sell it. Peter received a check in the mail together with the “best of luck” wishes. Now he had no income and a mortgage to pay. He considered for a few minutes the idea of finding another job as a lab technician and discarded it. Instead, Peter decided to take his chance on the stock market. He took some of the proceeds from the sale and deposited them into a brokerage account. He also joined several internet chat rooms dedicated to day trading.

To make a living as a trader turned out to be his calling. He had a lot of free time, no distractions and could do everything he needed without leaving the house. The beautiful thing about the internet is anonymity. You make up a name for yourself to be known under, and nobody sees your face or asks you for your birth date. Trading was not nearly as easy as collecting dividend checks, but he was glad he found something to keep him busy.

~~~

Next year, she was finally done with her PhD. They celebrated it at his favorite restaurant at the mall. She applied for several tenure-track positions all over the country, and Peter was worried they would have to move. But for whatever reason, the only offer she received was from her school. “Gee, when I came here for my Master’s, I could never imagine I would be living in this town for so long.”, she said, “I guess we will stay here for a while”. Peter rejoiced.

She started her first full-time job, but not much has changed in their lives. She was as busy as before and often had to spend evenings in her study preparing course materials for tomorrow’s lectures.

She now contributed her half of the mortgage. The financial side of their relationship was a little odd. They kept their separate checking accounts, and neither of them had any idea about how the other one was doing money wise. When they went out, they split their checks. The common use items such as that Scandinavian recliner in their living room were paid for jointly as well. They took turns doing grocery shopping, and whoever did it paid for the groceries. All “personal use” items were their individual concern.

Sometimes Peter wondered if the two people in their house had anything in common aside of keeping the house together. She put her all into her work, her colleagues and her friends. She would come home and tell him at the dinner table about the multitude of things that happened in her life that day. He would then just say a few words about the day’s trading. He knew there were few things in the world that interested her less than the stock market.

He contemplated this one Indian summer day. The real summer was gone, but it was unseasonably warm, as if August decided to play an encore. He looked out from the window at the trees in their backyard, still lush and green, and thought that very soon they would turn golden yellow, the final hurrah before the doldrums of winter. And he realized with the same clarity that was in the air that he had entrusted technology to record and remember her life, but it could only capture its external side. It could preserve how she looked like and what she did around the house, but it was largely oblivious to her internal life, to her joys and regrets, to what she would probably call a “real her”. It would take a human soul and human memory to save all this from falling into that bottomless dark well called “the past”.

When she returned home from work, he had a major surprise for her. He told her he wanted to read everything she read and most definitely everything she wrote. “You will be bored to tears, my dear”, she said, “I often read some rather specialized literature. Literary influences, linguistic analysis, life minutiae of somebody long gone who is of interest to maybe three people in the world, all English PhDs like myself…”. “No matter,” he replied, “I have plenty of free time, and if I have trouble understanding something, there is an expert in this house who can help me! Let me start with the books you read for your PhD, hopefully they will be more digestible. And please give me all the papers you wrote, starting from your Master’s thesis.” She was somewhat skeptical as to the usefulness of that effort or its longevity, but figured if he didn’t have anything better to do, let him read all of it. She went into her study and returned carrying several thick books and some slim stacks of paper held together by staples, obviously a portion of her oeuvre. “Ok honey, you can start with this; when you are done with it I will give you some more.”, said she.

The books were hard, but perhaps not as hard as she thought. He didn’t have to produce any original research. In fact, he cared little about the chapters of these books unrelated to her work. He plowed through her material and then followed her references into the books and read around them, trying to understand the flow of her logic. Sometimes he realized that he didn’t know something that she and the books took for granted, and she explained it or gave him another more introductory book. They started having conversations at the dinner table about what she had worked on for all the years they were together. He then reviewed their recorded versions, to better memorize what she had said. He was glad he installed that camera on a ceiling so close to the place of conversation. Peter needed to catch up, to immerse himself into what was going on in her life while he renovated bathrooms and installed new windows.

In another year, she turned 30…

~~~

They lived now a very established and settled life. Most people would probably find it boring, but it suited them just fine. He focused on his trading when the market was open, made sure the house was in good order and read the books and articles she gave him. Her work was her life. If she wanted to entertain friends and colleagues, she told him in advance and he would stay out. The guests knew she had a significant other with whom she lived, but never saw him and preferred not to ask questions.

A chat room guru recommended him to move his trading overseas, and connected him to people who could guide him through the process. Peter liked that idea, primarily because it would give him more privacy.

Soon he became a sole beneficiary of a new offshore trust formed in the Bahamas. The trust’s only asset was an International Business Company registered in Belize. The IBC owned a bank account in Antigua and a brokerage account in Gibraltar. Peter thought it didn’t get more private than this but was concerned that such an arrangement may prove to be too “tax efficient”. He met with a local CPA who shared his concerns and helped him set up a Wyoming corporation to pass his trading income through. They called this cute stateside small business “Timeless Ventures Inc.”. The CPA gave him a list of annual forms to file, and Peter contemplated with some trepidation that by the time he would learn how to operate this Rube Goldberg contraption, he would miss something essential and wind up in a criminal court, or maybe some of the jurisdictions would change the rules and the entire scheme would fall apart. To make some lemonade out of that lemon, he transferred his bank account, car and share of the house to Timeless Ventures. The beautiful thing about business entities is they don’t have a natural age limit.

~~~

Peter was now in his mid-sixties, and it dawned on him that it was no longer possible for him to drive. If he would get pulled over, the officer would ask for his driver’s license and see his true age. To stay mobile, he decided to buy a fancy self-driving car, with a large LCD screen and an always-on internet connection but without a steering wheel or pedals.

The AI in such cars was still considered not mature and reliable enough to let it operate completely on its own. The self-drivers made their first baby steps in the messy world of humans, and like a baby needed to be constantly monitored and controlled. The car manufacturers were required to implement a so called “connected driving mode”. The buyer would have to subscribe to a special cellular internet access plan. They also would need to sign a waiver that they understood that the car would not be operational in remote areas not covered by a cellular service. With the internet connection available, the road maps in the car’s memory were always up-to-date. The car interacted with other cars nearby and with the internet service that was aware about the local exceptions such as road construction or closures, detours or accidents. The service passed all that information to the car. If the car ran into something ambiguous, it could always ask the service for help. In case the car and the service could not resolve the ambiguity on their own, they would pass the controls to a human operator. The operator would then drive the car remotely until the situation became clear. This could happen if for example the car ran into a malfunctioning street light or needed to follow instructions given by a construction worker or a policeman.

Peter was aware of all these and could easily live with it. He paid for the car and for the cellular service, and in a few hours got a phone call that the car was in their driveway. Peter went out to see it, wondered “Where is the driver?” for a moment and immediately realized he was being silly. Aside of giving a destination, a human inside that vehicle would not have any means to guide the driving process. Peter sold his old “manually driven” car and returned his driver’s license to the DMV.

When the next time they wanted to go on vacation, Peter realized that he would have difficulty getting on a plane without a government ID. He found a very clever solution. They would get to the airport, and then when it would be the time to show his ID, he would “discover” that he probably forgot his driver’s license at home. They would panic and try to find it in his bag, and all they would find would be some utility bills with his name and their address. The security officer would see that the bills were on the same name as his boarding pass and on the same address as on her driver’s license. This would prove that he was indeed the Peter who was supposed to travel that day. Such a trick worked, and they were allowed to board.

~~~

One day next year, she returned home from work all cheerful and happy and told him: “Guess what? I got a tenure! Now finally, after all these years, I am an associate professor of English. It looks like we are really going to stick around here for a while”. Peter was glad for her but got a little concerned. He wondered: “Her job is now quite stable and probably decently paid. On the videos, her office looks increasingly crowded and messy. She gets a lot of books and articles to review, and she is running out of space to keep them. What if she starts a conversation about a new and bigger house, with an office suitable for a tenured professor? I would have to reinstall the “Precious Moments” at a new place, and she may not like it there. It’s been a few years since I set it up, and we never really used it for its primary purpose, to record family occasions. Maybe she will want the new house to be “nice and cozy”, a dwelling of successful professionals and not something purchased by a PhD student and an unemployed lab technician. These cameras, they would probably not go very well with a new décor, plus there would have to be more of them…”

He shouldn’t have worried. She had always been non-materialistic and had no sense of new entitlement what-so-ever. The school gave her her own office, and the problem of overcrowding was resolved, at least for a time being. As to everything else, she was perfectly fine with their house. It was a place for her to spend nights and weekends, and it continued to serve that purpose well.

He had read through all her papers and related books. She was impressed and grateful to him for this effort. She often discussed with him whatever she worked on, and they both truly enjoyed these discussions. Now that he better knew her field of study, she could share with him more details. Sometimes she even bounced off him some ideas and found this very stimulating for her thought process. Maybe if she had had a cat and bounced those ideas off it, the result would have been the same, but she would have felt weird conversing about English literature with a cat.

Peter’s calendar age was now advanced enough for him to apply for Social Security. He did this with great hesitancy, and only because he could do it online. He felt more amused than happy when monthly deposits started showing up on his bank account statements. After his college graduation, he had never received a single dollar that he didn’t earn as an employee, business owner or investor, so each of those deposits felt like a Christmas gift. He was worried however that Social Security would send somebody to check if he was still alive, and they would not be amused if a man in his thirties would answer the door and say “I am Peter”. He rarely discussed with her his financial matters, but he felt compelled to share with her his concerns and ask to tell whoever would be looking for him in person that he wasn’t home.

~~~

The seasons continued to change. Now she travelled much more than she used to. She became fairly well known in her field and was often invited to attend a conference or to give a guest lecture. Peter hated it. He felt that he was losing a little bit of her every day they weren’t together. Some of her presentations were posted as videos on the internet. He figured out how to save those videos and convert them into the file format used by the “Precious Moments” system. She got an offer to spend a sabbatical as a visiting professor somewhere, but he begged her to decline it: “What am I going to do here alone? My parents have passed away, I have no friends, all I have is you”. She agreed, quite reluctantly. She thought that being a couple required some compromises, and there was very little she had to compromise on in her life with him.

She also got some graduate students to advise. This was new to her, and she took it very seriously. Now in addition to her work, they discussed at dinner time the fumbling efforts of her students. Peter asked her to explain him everything she wanted to instill into them. “If I can understand you, they most likely will as well. After all, they just got their degrees in English, and I have never gotten one.” On her recorded videos, he would often see her reading a draft of somebody’s paper and making numerous notes on it.

In a few years, they noticed that slowly but surely, she approached his visible age. “You know what?”, she once told him, “It may sound funny, but I do not notice me becoming older. It is you who keep getting younger and younger! I guess I am the only person with such experience, and I must tell you, it feels really weird.” When they had gone out or travelled together, people used to think of them as of a successful businessman, plain and boring, and his really hot girlfriend. Now they looked more like two friends, possibly divorcees, who were trying to figure out if they could become more than just friends. He was obviously head-over-heels with her, because he followed her everywhere with his camcorder making videos of her walking, talking and drinking coffee…

And then that year arrived, the year when she indeed turned the same age as he was when he made that fateful injection of the mousy cocktail. She didn’t notice it. Peter told her how old he was at that time when they were in the bank’s private room, but she was never good with numbers and probably forgot. For him, it was a watershed year. He knew that once again, his life was divided on “before that” and “after that”. He was often depressed. He would give anything to start aging again, to live out his life while always being the same age as she. He wouldn’t feel then that the time was taking her away from him and had already taken the years of her youth…

Her knees started bothering her, and she had to give up on her daily morning runs. She was very upset and frustrated. “I am getting old, my dear”, she told him, “and you are the same young man I met at a bus stop “. She decided to take up lap swimming. She would still get up at 6, have a quick breakfast and head to the university pool. In the warm time of year, she swam in the outdoor pool. She enjoyed it so much that she occasionally lost the sense of time and then had to rush her class preparation routine. Peter thought he could also get up early, ask his self-driving wonder to deliver them to the pool, record her swimming, return home and program the wonder to drive itself back to the university campus at the end of the day to pick her up. He was afraid however that the pool regulars would notice the same man coming to the pool every morning for years and years to shoot some videos. “I wish the car could also self-operate a camcorder, but this would probably be asking for too much”, he said to himself.

~~~

They continued their evening conversations about her days. The department once asked their tenured faculty to propose new courses to be offered in the future. She got excited about that idea and spent a good deal of time thinking about it and researching possible alternatives. The result of this mental effort was a new graduate course on Indian authors writing in English. Unlike most countries in the world, India didn’t have a single language that every its citizen was expected to be fluent in. Hindi/Urdu would be a natural candidate for it, but it was very different from Dravidian languages spoken in the south of the country, and southerners ardently opposed its acceptance as a country-unifying language. They were afraid this would lead to an effective first and second class citizenship based upon linguistic proficiency. English didn’t have such a problem. It was very commonly spoken but had very few native speakers. Everyone was in the same boat when it came to learning it. Unfortunately, the government would never agree to declare it as “the” Indian language. On a grass root level however, its usage continued to widen, and many writers chose it as a primary language of expression, hoping to reach out to the countrywide readership. “It is a truly fascinating subject, the emerging Indian literature in English.”, she said, “In this country, nobody knows these writers aside of a small group of immigrants. That’s a shame, and hopefully this new course will help to remedy it to some extent. They write about things that are close to their reader’s hearts but seem foreign to us. Their vocabulary is often limited and language cadences somewhat simplistic. But this is just a beginning. The Indian middle class is growing by leaps and bounds, and it has become fashionable recently for them to hire American or British au pairs for their children. The au pair agencies have no shortage of candidates. A young woman from a small Midwestern town with no college degree can try to make ends meet by doing odd jobs, or she can get free room and board in a wealthy Indian household, plus some not inconsiderable pay, just because her parents taught her to speak English as her first language. Most of the young children that these au pairs take care of will grow up bilingual. Eventually they will have children of their own. And then they won’t need to invite au pairs from abroad to pass the language along to their progeny. They will do it themselves, thank you very much. A whole new social layer will appear whose English isn’t worse than yours or mine. They will use it as a primary language among themselves; a Tamil and a Punjabi who are its native speakers will feel more kinship toward each other than to their respective ethnic groups. They for sure will be avid and discriminating readers. And you can bet some of them will write and publish books to be read by people like themselves. These books will be as well written as those we have here in the States. And who knows, maybe centuries from now, the capital of English literature will not be London or New York but Bombay.”

The course proved to be surprisingly popular. Many undergrads wanted to take it as well. “Any English instructor can teach us Jane Austin or John Steinbeck”, they would say, “But India, that’s quite uncommon”.

She turned 40, and in a few years was promoted to a full professor and was given a bigger office. It immediately became cluttered, because she decided to move there everything from her home office as well. Peter was relieved; it now seemed unlikely that she would want to buy a new house because her study was too small.

Her girlfriends were now all married with children; some of them had to move out of town to follow their husbands. Only she and Peter followed their own individual paths in life they had chosen many years prior. They went out one day to the same restaurant at the mall, and she asked him, in her usual slightly detached way: “Honey, you must feel lonely sitting all day at home on your own. What if we volunteer to babysit, on a very occasional basis? My friends also want to have a night out every once in a while, or maybe to travel for a few days, and you can imagine how much fun it would be with young children. You don’t have to worry about them being surprised by your apparent agelessness. By the time they could notice it, they will grow up and won’t need babysitting anymore!“ He wasn’t exactly prepared for this turn of a conversation but thought that maybe having some children around the house every so often could indeed be rather entertaining, assuming that they would behave themselves. He answered: “Well, why don’t we give it a try? Only please, bring somebody quiet and manageable. As you know I have no experience quelling unruly children” She laughed: “Wow, maybe we will be more demanding in who we admit for babysitting than my school in who they admit for teaching!”. He really wished they were at home at their dinner table; her laughter would then have been recorded. Every time she smiled not on camera, he felt that something precious and irreplaceable had just disappeared…

~~~

The finiteness of human life endows it with meaning. We may not think about it, but the limited number of days we are alive makes us value each of them. In childhood, we don’t think about death. But we understand that our childhood isn’t forever, and the time will come when we will outgrow it, like we outgrow our small yesteryear shoes. We know that our parents were children themselves many years ago, and now they no longer are. We go to school and enter a long and very important stage of our lives, but it has a known predetermined time limit, 12 years. Perhaps the most important thing we learn at school is to value our time. We work on our first projects and dedicate several days to each of them, and we ask ourselves whether we have succeeded and whether we were focused and productive. When we are young adults, it dawns on us that at the core of human experience is a never-ending time crunch. We have to make choices that will affect our entire lives. Should I go to college, or I should work full time instead, or maybe I am ready to have children of my own? We often wish we could choose “all of the above”, but it is simply not possible, at least not simultaneously. And after we’ve made our choice, we realize that the more time we devote to it, the less time we will have to catch up on the alternatives. It doesn’t take us long to learn that some of the opportunities we have chosen to pass on are lost forever. If I start a family, it may no longer be feasible for me to go to college, because I will not have the time for it. If I get accepted to a top university a thousand miles away, my high school sweetheart may decide that a long distance relationship isn’t for her and find somebody else. So not only we are in a time crunch, we are in a time crunch where we are bound to be late for something.

We try to pass to our children the notion of preciousness of time while they are still young and impressionable. As we move through our careers, “time is money” is never far from our minds. Seldom a day goes by when we don’t see people using their time wisely or perhaps unwisely. We have good days and bad days ourselves. Our parents age, and it burdens us that they won’t be with us forever, and every birthday may become their last. And when we retire, we soon comprehend that we are no longer productive members of society. Every day of our lives expends our limited resources and the resources of entire society which alas are also limited. Our lifestyle in our golden years turns out to be based upon that nasty actuarial invention, the mortality table.

We are connected to time in another way as well. Humanity is undoubtedly work in progress, and as times change, so do we. Our lives are shaped by the social conventions of the age we live in and its technological sophistication. Our attitudes, habits and desires are also very much time-bound. When we reach adulthood, we can say that the world we live in is our world, and the time we live in is our time. The opposite is also true: we are all people of our time, whether we like it or not. We belong to our time, and our time belongs to us. We comprehend it, the way we cannot comprehend the past or the future. A time traveler who would venture a hundred years, either into the past or into the future, would find the world full of objects and customs that are taken for granted by the people around them yet are alien to them. And one doesn’t need a time machine to realize that a thousand years ago, life was very different indeed and people lived in truly different times. There can be no doubt that a thousand years from now, they will say the same about us.

~~~

Her hair was now turning gray. She chose to disregard this, and he tried not to notice it.

In her late forties, she began taking on more and more administrative duties. She did it with her usual zeal and perfectionism. The weekend trips to her office in the university because more and more frequent. Peter calculated that between commute, shopping and various errands, she now spent on average 4 hours a week in her car, an inexcusable waste of her time. They had now been together for many years, and he had never given her anything truly valuable as a gift. He thought this was also inexcusable and bought her the latest model of the same self-driving vehicle he had in their garage. With this new mode of transportation, she would get into her car in the morning with whatever she planned to work on that day and say: “Pool” or “Office”. The car would start, and by the time it was out of their driveway, she would already be deeply immersed in her work.

She reached her fifties, and her parents passed away. Children they had babysat had all grown up and disappeared from their lives. She told him once that if somebody had asked her about the stage of her life she was at, she would have answered: “It’s September. It is still nice and pleasant, but the summer’s already gone”. He then thought: “What about me? Does my life have any stages? I guess it does, but there are just two of them: the childhood and youth, gradually receding into the distant past, and the eternal Today…”

~~~

After she introduced the Indian course, the department started asking her to mentor and advise graduate students whose first language was not English. Most of them went to high school in English-speaking countries; they weren’t all that different from other students. Sometimes however she had to work with individuals who acquired the language at a later stage of their lives. She never knew why they decided to pursue an advanced degree in it and never asked them, because she thought that would be rude. Peter’s best guest was that they intended to teach ESL courses, either here or abroad, and wanted to get more formal training. These students required much more time and effort on her part. They worked incredibly hard writing their papers and essays, and yet she kept finding mistakes that no native speaker would have made.

“It must be a royal pain in the neck to write in a language you learned as an adult.”, she told him, “I took French in high school and in college. If I ever go to France, I can compile a great shopping list and ask store associates where all these items are located. But writing something publishable? Forget about it. Even the first draft would take forever, and my original submission would most likely be returned with a lot of red ink on it. I would have to be very lucky to have an editor patient enough to help me whip the text into a passable shape.”

Peter replied: “Well, these people do not end up as students at your department by some unlucky accident. They understand what they sign up for and hope to make a rewarding career out of it. Think about it this way. If you had a twin sister who was also an English major, after college she could have decided to go to law school. By now she would probably be a partner in a major law firm, work more reasonable hours than you do and earn much more money. She could also have thought: “It must be a royal pain in the neck to deal with the crazies who want to get a graduate degree in English while still not being comfortable in its grammar. And to be in some way responsible for their successful graduation? And all that headache for a professor’s salary? No, that wouldn’t be for me.” It’s really “to each their own”.”

Things went from bizarre to ridiculous when the department decided to admit into their Master’s program somebody from Eastern Europe. Every year they reserved one spot in that program for a student abroad, supposedly to improve the diversity of a student body. These spots were almost always taken by recent graduates from the UK, Canada or Australia. Occasionally the department accepted somebody from India, but these students most often came from English speaking families. That year however, the program’s admissions transpired to be less competitive than usual. The chairman of the admission committee sifted through several applications that had been deemed passable and chose the one of a writer who lived in a small country somewhere between Germany, Russia and Greece. Some committee members found it on the map and learned something new in the process.

The chairman of the committee felt that his choice required some explanation, and at their final meeting told them: “We never accepted anyone from that part of the world, so if we are indeed interested in diversity, that would certainly be the right move. Plus, he is a bit older than most of our applicants, and his admission essay shows some uncommon maturity and sense of purpose.” The committee sent him an acceptance letter, and Peter started hearing all sorts of fascinating stories at their dinner table. “Gossip is an essential human trait.”, he once thought, “We must have learned to speak not because we needed to hunt or prepare our meals together, but because we could not live without gossip”.

The new student arrived in September. He looked just like an Eastern European writer was supposed to look, tall, thin and with a sloppy beard. It soon became clear that he must have paid somebody to translate that admission essay into English. He spoke with the thick accent straight from a spy movie, and he had very little regard for the articles. Apparently his mother tongue had no articles, and he kept forgetting about their existence. His writing was to put it politely, a mess.

The department considered dropping him out but decided against it. They had no tangible proof of an admission fraud, and sending him back home right after the arrival would not look good. They figured he would realize soon that he was wasting his time and leave on his own.

Then the newcomer got his lucky break. He met another international student, a young lady from England, and they clicked. Rather abruptly, his papers dramatically improved.

“Some people have it really nice and easy. The guy has practically just stepped out of the plane, and he already has a girlfriend here who is willing to correct his writing. Some of my friends spent years looking for a relationship, and their men are so busy they barely have the time for a weekend date.”

The writer’s new girlfriend was a complete opposite of him: shy, not really tall and not at all thin. They obviously spent a lot of time together, because his pronunciation became clearer and the articles appeared, although not always right and in the right places. For a winter break, they went skiing to Switzerland.

“I always thought a Swiss skiing vacation was only for the rich. I suppose he knows the right places to stay at and to ski. As they say, the world is divided on insiders and outsiders, and when it comes to Swiss vacations he is definitely an insider. And by the way I have a difficult time imagining her on the skis, but probably it’s again just me.”

The Eastern European was indeed a writer and had a couple of books with his name on the cover to prove it. When he settled into his student life, he and his girlfriend translated some selected chapters, and he showed them to his mentor. She didn’t have much to say about them, and he was very frustrated. He said that the translation process took the soul out of his prose. She recommended him not to bother trying to translate his old works and start writing something new and preferably in English. When he left, she thought she would likely never see him again, but he continued his studies as if nothing had happened.

When the time had come for him to write a thesis, he and his advisor realized they had a conundrum. When he had entered the MA program, he didn’t know he would be required to write a thesis; in his country, those were written only on a PhD level. His familiarity with English literature turned out to be limited to a few novels by Hemingway and Mayne Reid he had read in translation as a teenager. Now, it was the time for his advisor to become frustrated. “I guess my next project would be an attempt to teach English to a Martian”, she said to Peter. She got the dean of the department involved, and he had a brilliant idea. The year earlier, another Eastern European writer won a Nobel prize. He presumably had been better known to the Nobel committee than their hapless student, but on this side of the pond, the reading public’s awareness of their oeuvre was about the same. The dean suggested that the thesis could be dedicated to that Nobel laureate. “We could then say that we try not only to increase the diversity of our student body, but our body of knowledge as well”, he said. “And what will that effort have to do with English language and literature?”, she asked the dean. He smiled and answered: “Well, he will write his thesis in English, won’t he?”

The writer couldn’t be happier with this proposal. The language of the Nobel laureate was similar to his own, and he could read it if he really wanted to or use automatic translation if he didn’t. According to him, the grammar of these two languages was essentially identical, and the accuracy of the auto-translation was almost perfect. He wrote his thesis, his girlfriend edited it, the department accepted it and everyone involved was relieved.

When the writer graduated, he went back to his small country in Eastern Europe. For some reason he thought that without her help, he would never have made it, and they stayed in
touch. His English girlfriend returned home as well. They tried to continue their relationship long distance but soon realized they should downgrade it into “just friendship”. Needless to say, a new local girlfriend soon materialized, to whom English sounded like bird chirping. He continued to spent a lot of time on the phone with the UK, supposedly to practice and retain his language skills. Both ladies got quite jealous of each other, because neither had any idea of what was going on “on the other side”.

“This guy is just phenomenal”, she said, “I think if he had ended up stranded on a deserted island, the next day some young woman would have gotten stranded as well and become his girlfriend. And what do they find in him? He is not particularly smart, he has no money, and I am even not sure how good of a writer he is”.

He resumed his writing and decided to do it in two languages simultaneously. He claimed that this laborious process improved the native language version as well. Now he could publish his books in English without paying a translator. He found a small publisher in England, and they agreed on a royalty rate that would have been unacceptable for a Western writer but was just fine with him because of the difference in the cost of living. The publisher would make a run of maybe a thousand copies of his book and ship them together with a multitude of other books to bookstores all over North America and Western Europe, usually one or two copies per store. This way her European friend accessed the market of about 700 million people. If 700 of them would buy his book, either in a store or online, the publisher would be able to pay him, pay the store and still make a profit.

In a couple of years, he wrote her that he landed a job as an adjunct English language instructor in the best university in his country. He was the only person they could find for that position who had a graduate degree from an American university on their CV. At this new job, he taught math and physics students how to say their names in English and how to give a simple high-school level presentation in their respective fields of study. His superiors at the university were apparently very impressed with his teaching abilities and promised him that when somebody from the senior faculty would retire, he would be given a permanent full-time position. The system of higher education in his country didn’t have the concept of a tenure, but neither it had the concept of a layoff.

“We at our department are a bunch of bozos. We thought that the Master’s degree was for people who would be content with teaching in a public school somewhere in the boonies. And here we have a person whom that degree helped to became a successful writer and a future professor in the best university in his country. We thought that we had accepted a future dropout who would waste his and our time. None of our other students has gotten so much from studying here. And let’s not forget about his extracurricular activities, namely his girlfriend. And you know Peter what I find most amazing in all this? In countries like France and Germany, the English versions of his books are in the “Literature in English” sections of their bookstores! Yes, somebody may browse the same rack of bookshelves and buy the original Hamlet and his book. And one stupid lady you know used to express her doubts about what that guy had to do with English literature. In a way, he is now more relevant to it than she is”.

~~~

Peter turned 90 and became increasingly worried that a Social Security agent would show up any day at their door to confirm he was still around. He felt it was the time for him to retire his government-given identity. It had served him well over the years, but now became too old for further use. Peter transferred the ownership of Timeless Ventures to his Bahamas trust and became officially unburdened with any property. Then he called Social Security and told their representative that his father, an elderly gentleman by the name Peter who used to live at such-and-such address and have a such-and-such Social Security Number had just departed this world. The representative expressed their condolences and thanked Peter for letting them know.

A great weight fell off Peter’s shoulders. He no longer needed to file any annual returns and reports. He became completely anonymous, nobody besides her knew he still existed. The Peter who had moved to North Carolina for a job of a lab technician and then owned a house, a car and a bank account there was dead and buried.

On her 60th birthday, she had a huge party at her department. Everyone was amazed how well attended it was. Some retired faculty came as well as some undergrads who learned about the party through the grape vine. All these people mingled together and talked between themselves how fortunate they had been to have her as a teacher or a colleague. She was obviously well loved. After the party, she told him: “I really wish you were there. You could have showed up just once, and nobody would have suspected anything”. He replied: “Sunshine, you don’t notice it, and neither do I, but you look much older than I do. They would probably have decided that you got a new partner and started asking questions like: “For how long have you been together?”. And we would not have been able to answer “For most of our adult lives”. ”

Soon afterwards, the university gave her a chaired professorship. She continued to teach her Indian class and another, undergraduate class she really loved, but most of her time was now devoted to advising to graduate students, mentoring younger faculty and to department wide projects. Their dinner conversations now revolved around how much there was to academic life that was neither teaching nor research. “Everyone around me is up to their ears in class preparation and paper writing.”, she would say, “I suppose this is what we expect from them if they are to get their next promotions. It’s just too bad that people like myself who don’t have any further promotions have to pick up the slack and do everything around the department that they don’t have the time to do.”

He knew her now for almost four decades, and for all that time, aside of their short vacations, she hardly had any evenings or weekends off. At first she had books to read, courses to take, exams to get ready for and papers to submit before the deadline. Then she needed to prepare coursework, grade term papers and on a regular basis publish articles in referred journals. And now she provided guidance to both recent and future PhDs and helped run the department. Activities and duties changed, but the demanding nature of her line of work didn’t. “My life is a picnic compared to hers”, he thought sometimes, “There are trading hours, and outside them I can do whatever I want”.

By her mid-60s, they no longer celebrated his birthdays. He found them depressing. “It is me who is supposed to become a year older, but it is you who actually does”, he once told her. She came home one day, as usual a little late, and he welcomed her with the news: “My dear, today is an important day for me. I just turned 100.”

She was surprised and a little astounded. She long since lost track of how old he really was. “Well, congratulations honey”, she said, “you are certainly the best preserved centenarian in human history. Let’s go out, it is a very good excuse for both of us to get drunk!” In the age of self-driving cars, DWIs were no longer an issue…

~~~

In her early 70s, she unexpectedly for everyone decided to retire. She told Peter that the school budget was getting really tight and she felt that her salary should go to somebody with more urgent financial needs. “Every course I teach could be taught by some assistant professor.”, she said, “And if I teach it, that assistant professor won’t be able to and their future tenure could be in jeopardy. Every grad student I advise could also be advised by somebody else, and they would satisfy their research requirements that way. The department gave me so much over the course of the 50 years I’ve been here, and I cannot possibly ask for more”. Much to Peter’s relief, she kept her office at school. She also continued to teach her Indian course as an adjunct.

She was now at home much more than she used to. They had long since paid off their mortgage, and Peter could reduce his trading activities. “After 105, one needs to be careful with their money”, he told her laughing, “I’d better become a tad more conservative”. They spent more time together, watching TV or just reading, he at his desk and she in her recliner by the fireplace. The “Precious Moments” system was now much more prolific in its output. Peter upgraded its cameras to newer models with better optics and microphones. He enjoyed life as never before.

And then one day, everything changed. She came back from her doctor’s appointment, took off her coat and told him: “Honey, there is something I must tell you”. She never spoke to him in such a slow and hesitant way.

“I don’t think we ever discussed things like this”, she said, “But now we have to. Last week I had my biannual mammogram. The radiologist found a spot that looked suspicious, and my doctor ordered a biopsy. It came back abnormal. I didn’t want to tell you anything, because you know how I like to talk about my health. I hoped it would be normal, but it wasn’t.”

Peter didn’t say anything. He felt as if everything inside his mind got suddenly frozen.

They sat silently for some time and then she continued: “Tomorrow I will see an oncologist and discuss with him my options”.

The oncologist told her that she had a small malignant tumor in a bad location. The same week she had a surgery that removed the tumor and several lymph nodes. For the next half a year, she did her radiation and chemo therapy.

Peter took over all the chores around the house. His mind and soul continued to be numb, as if they too had a surgery with general anesthesia. He tried to focus on the simple tasks at hand, because he was incapable of anything else and this mental blockage was unbearable. They barely spoke over the course of these months.

She was then told that although all known malignancies had been removed, she would have to do hormonal therapy for the next five years.

Their life gradually returned to normal. They accepted that they were no longer in control of what was happening to them and tried to live in the present, just enjoying each other’s company.

Quite unexpectedly for Peter, she became very involved in politics. She followed everything that was going on on a local, state and national level and was very passionate and opinionated about it. She registered as a party member and became an active participant of local political events. Peter pondered upon this new side of her for a while, and it occurred to him that in a way their behavior was very illogical. She was a lady in her seventies and a breast cancer survivor. One could argue that her future horizons were limited, and all this political minutia should not be relevant for her. She continued however to argue with him about election campaigns and public speeches. He on the other hand would have to live with the consequences of these elections, both immediate and indirect, both positive and negative. Yet politics were the farthest thing from his mind.

~~~

Five years passed, and much to her relief, she no longer had to take hormonal tablets.

In a few months, in late spring, she started having back and hip pains. They came and went at first, and because they seemed to be better when she moved, she attributed them to her age. Then they became continuous and started bothering her at night. She called her doctor and he told her to come for an appointment as soon as she could. At the appointment, he heard her out, prescribed some extra-strength pain medication and asked to call him if she would notice any new symptoms. She told Peter afterwards that he seemed to be quite worried about something. Peter tried to make a joke that perhaps the doctor’s wife had filed for a divorce, and immediately regretted it.

The medication helped, and for a couple of weeks she felt almost normal. Then she started having some strange constant fatigue. She had to really drag herself out of her recliner chair to go to the bathroom, which she had to do a lot because she was thirsty all the time and couldn’t stop drinking. Her meals were left largely untouched. She asked Peter to call the doctor on her behalf, because she felt she couldn’t think straight. The doctor told him she needed to be immediately hospitalized. He also asked Peter who he was to her. Peter replied that he was her son.

They came to the hospital together; the doctor was already there. He ordered some tests and told the nurses to connect her to the IV. She was given some narcotics and fell asleep.

Peter spent the rest of the day by her side. He went home to take a shower, grab something to eat and get some sleep. Next morning, he returned to the hospital and saw her oncologist. The test showed a very high level of calcium in her blood. The oncologist thought that this and other symptoms she exhibited were caused by the reemerging cancer that had metastasized in her spine and hip bones.

She got better with medications and was discharged from the hospital. She was now on daily opiates. In a couple of weeks, the fatigue and thirst returned, and she had to be hospitalized again. After she was discharged, she rested for a couple of days and told him they needed to talk. She was as usual in the recliner chair by the fireplace, so he had to move his chair to sit closer to her.

“I do not want to go to the hospital again.”, she said, “It is pointless. If I am to die, I want to die at home. I wanted to talk to you now, while I am still capable of having a conversation; I may not have much time left. “

“If something happens to me, on the desk in my study you will find a check on your name. That is all I have.” She caught her breath and continued. “I also wanted to tell you something else, something I wish I told you years ago.” Her eyes became wet with tears.

“I wanted to tell you I was sorry. I was sorry that back after we met, I didn’t love you the way you deserved to be loved. I was young and foolish and took many things for granted. I thought: “A girl needs a boyfriend, to date and hopefully one day to come home to”, and you suited for that role so well. Now I understand that my whole life with you, I lived like a princess. You took care of everything so that I could focus on my work. And you, you knew even back then that this would happen, that I wasn’t forever young as you were, and eventually you would have to take care of me. Who was I to you that you had to sign up for all this? I was not your mother, I was not even your wife, remember we never married… And then later on, when I became older than you were, I was afraid. I was so afraid that you would leave me at some point, send me to a retirement residence or something. How would I live alone without you? What do I know about life? English language and literature, that’s all. I never had to deal with things like a roof that leaks. You looked so young, and this was a university town, there were so many pretty girls waiting at bus stops…”

They sat for a minute in silence. The only thing Peter could say was: “Don’t be silly, I would never have left you.” Another long, silent minute passed. Then Peter got up, went to the linen closet by the front door and turned off the “Precious Moments” system. He decided she wouldn’t want it to continue to run.

In five days, he woke up while she was still asleep. He didn’t want to wake her up and had his breakfast alone. When by midmorning she didn’t come out of their bedroom, he came there to check on her. She was already gone. Her heart just stopped.

He called her doctor, left the front door ajar and went to the window in the dining room. The young leaves on the trees in their backyard were light-green and translucent. He looked at them until he heard the ambulance doctor and the paramedics enter the house. Then he turned and told them she was in the bedroom. The doctor quietly said to Peter: “We are so sorry for your loss.” After a brief pause, he asked: “May I ask you who are you to her?” Peter answered: “I am her son. I came here to stay with her when she got sick”. The doctor nodded and followed paramedics into the bedroom. Peter turned back and continued to look in the window at the spring trees lit by the midday sun. He heard some noise behind him, as if several people carried something heavy. Then the doctor told him: “I will leave a death certificate on the table. I am not sure if you know this, but your mother signed a form authorizing the university’s medical school to use her body for educational purposes. After that we will cremate her, and if you want, you can come by and pick up the urn with her ashes.” Peter replied, without turning to the doctor: “No, this won’t be necessary. Just do with them whatever you do for people who have no relatives. “The doctor said: “Again, I am very sorry for your loss”. Peter didn’t answer. The front door closed.

~~~

Peter decided to sell their house and move back to New York City. The check he found on her desk was in seven figures. Apparently she was paid fairly well in the last years of her career but continued to live as if she were a graduate student. He had some money of his own as well. He could buy an apartment in Manhattan and still have enough money to live on the dividends. If things would get tight, he could always get back to trading.

He went to the department store and bought a nice leather briefcase. Then he drove to the bank, deposited her check and put the contents of his safe deposit box into a briefcase.

On the way home, he stopped by a real estate office. A young man sat there reading a book; he must have had a slow day. Peter told him he had a house to sell and gave him the address. Later the same day, the agent came to see the house. He said it was in a good shape and recommended Peter not to worry about dated appliances; the new owners would replace them. Peter asked him whether they would potentially be interested in some of their furniture, and the agent told him politely that he would prefer to show the house without furniture. The realtor wasn’t impressed by the “Precious Moments” system but said he would include it in the listing. Peter gave him the keys to the house she used to carry in her purse and promised he would give him a call when the house is vacant.

After the agent left, Peter took the briefcase with his papers and went into her study. He was hoping to find her archive, maybe some old photos of her taken before they met. There was nothing there however except for numerous books and papers and her university diplomas hanging on the wall. If she had an archive she must have kept it on her laptop. The laptop was encrypted and required a password to log into; he didn’t know that password. Peter decided to take the diplomas and the laptop and donate to the university everything else.

It was already an evening, and Peter had to turn on the lights. He sat down at her desk and took a blank sheet of paper and a pen. He thought for a moment and started to write:

“To My Beloved:

You told me the other day what you wanted to tell me for so long. You know, I also had my own fears that I could never bring myself to talk with you about. After I shared with you my unbelievable secret, I was afraid you would break up with me. I thought that like any woman, you wanted your man to live a life with you and grow old together with you. Why would you need me then if I could not be such a man? You were so beautiful and so smart, you could easily find somebody like you, somebody normal, somebody who would forever be a little older than you. And you would be happy and have children and spend your golden years with him. Who am I after all? A failed scientist, a nobody who through some bizarre accident of fate fell out of step with humanity marching toward Death, each to their own, and got pushed out on a sidewalk…

Your Peter”

He then removed her diplomas from their frames and put them and her laptop into the briefcase. He thought that if not for the “Precious Moments” system, his life story would be in that briefcase.

The next morning, he went to an office supply store and bought many moving boxes of various sizes and several big rolls of bubble wrap. Back home, he copied the recorded videos from the internal “Precious Moments” storage onto the primary and the backup storage servers and reinitialized the system. The new owners would find it as if it has just arrived from the vendor. He then shut down the servers and packed their hard drives into two sets of boxes, carefully rolling the bubble wrap into large balls around them. The old hard drives from prior decades were packaged the same way. He decided not to bother with the rest of computer hardware and buy a replacement for it in New York.

Peter needed somebody to securely deliver the backup hard drives to his future apartment. He called a local moving company and told them he needed to put something very valuable in storage, to be delivered to New York City at a later date. They came, put the backup boxes on a pallet and very thoroughly strapped them to it. Peter wrote down the order number and told them he would call when he knew the delivery address.

Peter had lunch, packed the books and papers from her study and went to the university library. He told the librarians that a distinguished professor had left a library after herself and asked them to keep whatever they wanted and discard everything else. They agreed, and one of the librarians helped him to carry the boxes from the car into the library.

He returned home and brought several moving boxes into their walk-in closet. He selected a few of his shirts and other clothing items that were fairly new and packed them. He also packed two pairs of shows that for whatever reason were still in their original boxes. Then he put the rest of the closet into trash bags, went to a local charity and gave them the bags as a donation. They gave him a signed form to fill out for tax purposes, he crumpled it in his pocket and later threw away.

Peter spent his last night in their house. In the morning, he took the remaining boxes with hard drives and very carefully carried them one by one into the trunk of his car. He then put there the boxes with his clothing and shoes. The trunk was now full, so the briefcase went onto the passenger seat.

Peter still needed to tie up some loose ends. He called several estate cleanout companies and found the one that could come right away. When they arrived, he told them to remove from the house everything that was still there. He stood in silence and watched as his and her furniture was lugged from the house into their truck.

After they left, Peter called the utility companies and asked them to turn off their services tomorrow. Then he called his realtor and said to him that the house was ready for future showings.

Peter surveyed the house one last time. He wasn’t a sentimental person. The house had served its purpose, and now it was the time to move on. He went into his car and entered as a destination an extended stay hotel in New York City.

~~~

Peter checked into the hotel and brought into his room the boxes with his personal items. Then he went to a local computer store and bought himself a laptop. He couldn’t believe how light and thin it was. He never had a laptop before, and her laptop was very old and much thicker.

He had no identification documents anyone would deem valid, and no way to get such documents. He needed to figure out how to live in New York unidentified and had come up with a couple of ideas. He would buy an apartment on the Timeless Ventures’ name. He would then pay for his living expenses with the debit card linked to his Antigua account. The regulators there likely preferred to spend time on a beach and would not be concerned when a business account paid for items like groceries, dry-cleaning and movie tickets.

Peter began making a series of phone calls to local real estate firms. He needed an apartment as soon as possible, hopefully something spacious but not necessarily near the subway, not necessarily in a perfect shape and preferably in a building without a doorman. Showing appointments started to appear on his calendar. Their house in North Carolina wasn’t big at all, but after he saw a few Manhattan apartments, he realized he had lived for many years in a mansion while paying next to nothing for it.

When not out for a showing, Peter often sat in an uncomfortable hotel chair, drew doodles in a little notebook on a cluttered desk and contemplated his long term plans. “If I looked into my situation in a detached, objective way, what would I decide to do? What one is supposed to do if one has no family, no financial concerns, no strong interests and unlimited future? It could be argued that for a man to be happy, he needs to have a woman in his life. And she was right, instead of trying to find a shoebox to live in here, I could buy something decent in Ann Arbor or Ithaca and seek attention of pretty girls, on bus stops and elsewhere.

On the other hand, I could continue with my current plan, settle here and post a few ads on dating web sites. Oh, how about this one: “A financially independent new Manhattanite, not yet 40 and never married, is looking for a new romance. Please be local and in your 20s or 30s. If you love winter sports, we will surely hit some serious slopes in Colorado the coming winter!” This island is full of single women anxious to get something going in their personal lives. I am sure some of them would reply to those ads.”

Peter amused himself with such daydreams for some time. Then he went back to reality. He thought that like with so many things in life, only people with certain personality traits would benefit from being immortal. To have a successful and happy endless life, one needed to have boundless communication capabilities as well as some extraordinary mental elasticity. Such an individual would always crave new social interactions and let the old ones recede into the past without a trace. They would enter into a new relationship knowing that it may or may not be permanent for their partner but it would certainly be temporary for them. And after that relationship had ended, perhaps as in his case tragically, they would grief for a while and then turn the page. They would become their old selves again and find another relationship, and the cycle would continue without an end. Peter even imagined some twin brothers who won a competition to become immortal and chose the two paths he daydreamed about. One would for centuries move from university town to university town across the country stalking young beauties there, and another would put down roots in Manhattan and spend the same centuries chasing local skirts. They would meet every 80 years or so and share over beer their latest adventures.

“Unfortunately”, Peter said to himself, “I would not pass the first round of such competition. I am only 115 and already feel full to the brim with life experiences. And I have been influenced by almost everyone I’ve ever met. If I am to go through another “relationship cycle” or two, my next stop would probably be in a hut somewhere deep in the woods of Montana where I would spend my eternal life hunting and fishing and hoping never to see another human being. The immortality befell me, and I am not good at it, just like I wasn’t good in biochemistry.”

~~~

He finally saw an apartment that would work for him. It was a one-bedroom condo with a large main room and a tiny bedroom, in an old building with antiquated plumbing but quiet and on a high floor. He told the realtor he would pay cash and asked to refer him to a real estate attorney. In New York, a sane person would not buy a broom closet without an attorney.

The closing was uneventful. Nobody was surprised that the purchaser was not Peter but some Wyoming company, and no one asked him how he was affiliated with that company. His attorney received a wire transfer from Timeless Ventures and that was sufficient.

Peter rode in his self-driver to his new digs, put the boxes with hard drives in a living room and called the moving company in North Carolina. In several days, the boxes with backup hard drives safely arrived to the door of his building. He himself carried them one by one into his apartment and put them on a closet shelf. When the movers left, he looked at the boxes again and said to himself: “Welcome home honey, you see I didn’t let you down!”.

In several weeks, Timeless Ventures sold both the house and the car it owned. Peter wired the proceeds to Antigua and closed their bank account. The North Carolina chapter of his life was now officially over.

Peter purchased several storage servers and installed into them the hard drives from the boxes in his living room. He also bought a dedicated video rendering computer and two TVs, one for the Front channel and another for the Side channel. The vendor of “Precious Moments” had special video player software that they allowed everyone to download. He installed it and was very impressed. The program scanned his servers and formed a nice timeline with the thumbnails of all his recorded files. He could navigate that timeline directly or search by the date. The player could also be run in the background in a so called Anniversary Mode. The user would enter the number of years that have passed after some event, and the software would automatically play the video files that were recorded that many years ago that day at the same time of day when they were recorded. According to the documentation, a couple on their wedding anniversary could use this mode to watch the videos made at their wedding, and the videos would appear in the right order and at the right time.

Now he was ready to explore the results of his decades-long effort.

He decided to start somewhere in the middle, when she was in her forties. He saw her at her desk, grading somebody’s essay. He saw her after work at the dining room table telling him about her day, and in the morning, rushing to make breakfast before her swim session. He wanted to tell her “Good morning sweetheart, the cereal is in the island”, but realized he would be talking to a TV.

And for the first time, he felt with his entire being, with all the emotional strength he was capable of, that she was truly, completely and forever gone. He thought: “Death is when people who are dear to us stop hearing us and don’t answer when we talk to them”. Tears started streaming from his eyes, and he cried, cried hard, for the first time in a hundred years…

~~~

He now truly felt the terrible burden that his immortality placed on him. He was destined to live among strangers. He could become close only with people he could relate to and whose life he understood. But soon there would be no such people left. He was about to outlive his world and everyone from it.

He needed to think things through. He had a plenty of time for this. His brokerage account in Gibraltar was mostly invested in some long-term bonds and brought him enough income to live on. His apartment now had new windows and plumbing fixtures and felt like home.

He got used to wondering the streets of New York. He felt less alone there. The nine-to-five crowd was dressed differently than in the time of his youth, but it felt like the same people in more modern attire. The restaurants had signs above their doors made from some bright new materials, but they served familiar food. The cars in the streets appeared very futuristic to him, but the gridlock and the honking remained the same. He became an avid concert and museum goer. “God bless the ticket office at Carnegie Hall”, he thought, “They never ask for a picture ID”. The classical music and the past of the museums became his refuge.

His mind continued to be busy. He was just another human being, he wondered, with the same needs and desires that everybody had. But all those common needs and desires are meant to be satisfied only for a limited period of time. Everyone needs a shelter, but what would he do when the building he had just moved into would deteriorate and be demolished? Modern buildings aren’t meant to last for more than a century, and his building already had many decades on it. He would have to find another place to live. Would he get any money as a compensation for his current place, and if so how? What would the price of a similar apartment in that new future age, and how would people go about buying them? Would he be required to provide any documents to identify himself and the source of his income? And what about something even more basic: what if the store he was buying groceries at would transition to some form of electronic payment that would be totally unfamiliar to him? Where would he find a kind person that would be willing to explain him how to make these payments?

He didn’t have answers to these questions. All that he could do was continue to be engaged in the world. He would keep up with all major news. He would subscribe to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and read them every day. He would have to stay social, no matter how difficult that would be. Every new decade of modern life brings something new, some new concepts, technologies, ideas and laws. He would have to learn and master all these novelties. If there ever would be a man that would embody lifetime learning, he would be such a man.

He understood all that. He realized now that to be immortal indeed meant to be forever young, active and innovative. What he was yet to figure out was what would motivate him to be like that. He dreaded to think that he would have to spend eternity worrying about missing the boat here or there.

One morning, he went to see some exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. He didn’t miss any of them, whether they showed ancient Egyptian art or dresses of former first ladies. On the way to the museum, he decided to take a walk through Upper East Side and got off the subway one stop early.

The neighborhood looked as upper crusty as a century or so before when his parents brought him there for reasons he could no longer remember. There were many new high-rises, and it quickly occurred to him that they had been built on the land that used to be occupied by old buildings. “I wonder if in a few decades the same fate awaits my building”, he thought, “And I don’t think they will let me move into a new high-rise for free”. The weather was beautiful, and he enjoyed his stroll. He was not in a hurry, and rushed locals kept passing by him. He noticed something else that hadn’t changed in his city. Those middle-aged Upper East Side ladies, immaculately dressed and in a full makeup, walking their tiny dogs. Decades flew by, stock market soared and crushed, natural disasters and wars shook up the turbulent world, but these ladies kept walking in their high heels with the dogs running around them on leashes. And just like fashion models, they didn’t age…

After he saw the exhibition, Peter went to Central Park. The skateboarders, joggers and bikers were still there, as were the street musicians and their listeners and all sorts of folks on the benches reading books and enjoying the sunshine. It dawned on him that he was much older than any of these people but soon, just in a few decades, they would all disappear, but he would remain. “Humans are so short-lived”, he thought, “So transient, but even though their personal existence is fleeting, they have learned to create things that are much bigger and more durable than any of them. This city, for example, or the English language. It has been around for longer than a thousand years, and it will likely be around for many thousand years into the future. She dedicated her entire life to it, because she knew that somebody had done so centuries before her, and somebody would do centuries after her.”

Peter found himself next to Bethesda Terrace, crossed the street and began his stroll along the Mall. It was particularly crowded that day. Peter grew tired of having to avoid other park goers and found an empty bench. Something bothered him, something he thought about for a second before he got distracted to decide on where to go next. Then he remembered it. “Yes, I contemplated human transiency and what was going to happen in the future. I actually know full well what will happen. A hundred years from now, I will continue to come to Central Park. The buildings around it will look different than today, but the Mall will still be just like it is now, a tree-lined promenade with benches. When the weather is good, it will be just as crowded as today. And not a single person in that crowd, and not a single soul in the world besides me will remember her. Even the undergrads who may have attended her final Indian class will be dead by that time. Most people get tombstones when they die, and a random passerby can read their names and wonder about them. She didn’t get that, probably because she didn’t want to. The only thing remaining after her in this world outside of my head and my apartment will be a few pieces of information in the university archive. First and last name, date of birth, her position titles and when she held them. She’ll be reduced to a historical record, of the type that nobody cares about. The look of her eyes, her smile, her light steps, her amusing habit to read cross-legged, the beauty of her mind will be completely and forever forgotten.”

Peter started crying again. He cried inconsolably; he must have not cried like this since he was a toddler. For the first time in his long life, he hated mankind, he simply hated it. He was embarrassed that people would notice his tears. He must have been quite a sight, an adult man crying like a child. He got up and went to the side alley that had less people in it. He tried to calm down, but every time his thoughts jumped a century ahead, tears burst from his eyes.

And then, in a moment of epiphany, he understood how he would want to live the rest of his life. Everything became clear to him; all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into their proper places.

Peter waited until the next October 16th. In the morning, he launched the player software, set it to the Anniversary Mode and entered the proper number of years.

At the right moment, his beloved appeared on the screen. He watched her as she finally understood his joke and laughed.

Peter let the software run. He watched her coming back to life the next day and the day after that and the day after that. He saw her moving through the years, and she reappeared in his memory the way she was at that stage of her life, and he talked to her, and she answered him, because he knew her so well, and he knew she was alive again. He lived with her through her laughs and through her tears, through her triumphs and her sorrows; he wanted nothing more than to continue to be with her. And when that dark day had arrived when she decided not to return to the hospital, he simply waited for the next October 16th and entered a new number of years into the software. And he was never lonely, and he was never sad, and with a burst of rapturous joy, he always returned, over and over again, to the same young girl, immortal as he was, smiling at him from so many human lifetimes away.


Eternal Love

  • ISBN: 9781370689385
  • Author: Lev Minkovsky
  • Published: 2016-10-22 01:50:10
  • Words: 19999
Eternal Love Eternal Love