Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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In God's Image

by DoA Worrell

1

Day

Evelyn sits in the darkest corner of the backstage waiting area. Her expression is shrouded in a cobweb of shadows. She had hoped to hide her face from the public until tonight but the tabloids had already made an awful mess of that. The light from onstage fades right at the tips of her open toe high heel shoes revealing the black nail polish smudged in-between her toes. Each time she looks at her feet she cringes, worried that someone would notice it tonight, the most significant night in the history of mankind.

Resounding applause resonates from onstage, mingled with cheers and shouts. Evelyn jerks up, startled by the sudden sound. She had lost herself and all track of time in daydreams of fame, films and better shoes. But as Evelyn poises to hop to her feet and take the stage, she hears his name.

"Leonardo Toure!" The announcer's voice is resonant, seemingly commanding the glints of flashbulbs popping from an audience blanketed in shadows.

Leonardo, is the leading biologist at HGS labs and a close friend of Evelyn's. Once a boy genius and apprentice of the late great Lee Guarente, he is now the father of modern SIR2 research. He takes the stage in front of an audience of over five hundred scientists, researchers and journalists and live on every station in every nation in the world.

"Good evening ladies gentlemen," Leonardo's voice is timid and either cracks or trembles on every other syllable. Never a public man or speaker, Leonardo normally makes his findings public via email or at most in a private interview with a science publication. But today he has summoned every man or woman of influence to attend what he calls, the press conference that would truly change the world.

Evelyn smiles and nearly giggles, hearing Leonardo's voice. She even tries to peek around the corner to catch a glimpse of him on stage. Though Evelyn seems young enough to be Leonardo's granddaughter, they share a kinship and understanding that cannot be measured by any amount of maturity. An affinity for scientific ideas and a healthy abhorrence for religion keeps their relationship close.

"The advancement of science seems to continually take mankind one step farther away from God." Leonardo pauses with a dramatic flair. "Tonight I profess to you, it will take us one step closer."

Evelyn's lips begin to tremble and though nervous, it's not because of her apprehension. Word for word she is mouthing Leonardo's speech. Hearing it a few times in rehearsal she has subconsciously memorized it. "We are trapped in our cells," she mutters herself.

"And we are trapped in our cells," Leonardo continues. "Free radials as we know erode our cells over time, and we can't avoid them. Cigarettes, sunlight, pollution, the very oxygen we breathe causes deterioration in our cells. Now each time duplication occurs, miscopied DNA is treated as correct and leads to the production of distorted proteins. This accumulated molecular damage causes a point five percent decline per year in overall physical capacity after age thirty. It's our cells that are holding us back ladies and gentlemen and it's our cells that we need to escape from."

Leonardo maintains his methodical spiel and overstated tone as the young backstage manager receives a message. He presses an earpiece firmly against his ear in an exaggerated gesture of competence, probably from something he's read in a book or seen on film because he can hear quite clearly without touching it.

"That's Evelyn's cue," the voice declares from a sea of static.

The young man turns to signal Evelyn but she is already on her feet and approaching the stage. She still remembers the key words and cues as she mumbles to herself, "Aging is a plague."

"And of all the plagues given to man, aging is the most exacting," Leonardo says. "We believe it's natural. There is no treatment or diagnosis. The elderly lay on their death beds awaiting this, natural death. But there is nothing natural about death. And no one dies from getting old. We die from weakened immune systems, Alzheimer's, forms of dystrophy, the list of killers goes on and on. But aging itself doesn't kill us, it just opens the door. Over the years men have been seeking the key to lock the ever widening gate to our maturity. And finally through SIR2 advancements we have found that key."

The audience pauses. The photographs stop, murmurs and whispers silenced. Not sure exactly what Leonardo is saying but poising with an expectancy of the unfeasible.

"I could stand here and articulate scientific details that you wouldn't quite understand. But one thing I've learned as a professor and teacher of science is that seeing is believing. Ladies and gentlemen, Evelyn Latoya Marie!"

Evelyn steps into the light and a tsunami of flashing bulbs, following her like a wave of light from one side of the stage to the other. Her brown hair cascades over her shoulders, swaying into a bounce with each step. Her gown accentuated a flawless figure, holding tight on her chest and back and flowing buoyantly above her ankles. Her cheeks mushroom into a smile as she embraces Leonardo, she can feel his palms moist with sweat on her bare shoulders.

"Make history," he whispers.

"We already did," Evelyn answers.

Leonardo shuffles offstage and Evelyn turns to the podium. She stares into the audience, her eyes flutter under a bombardment of flashing lights. Her lips begin to shudder and she hesitates, apprehensive about everything from her quaint voice to the smudged nail polish between her toes.

Evelyn begins to hark back to the day wrinkles began to sprawl from her smile and how the skin squashed between her cheeks and eyes would gather into a highway of wrinkles. She recalls the different recipes of makeup she used to hide those lines of aging and the tones of dye she used to tame those first strands of gray. She remembers when the men stopped staring and gave her this ever fleeting glance that eventually faded away. She recalls how each flash of menopause brought back a desire for those sharp twinges of a long-gone period. She remembers when everyone started dying and her generation, the world she knew, found a silent apocalypse in a nursing home bedroom. All these things she remembers, this woman who doesn't look a day over twenty-five.

"Good evening." She finally speaks. "My name is Evelyn Marie and I am ninety four years old."

2

Months

Photographers wrestle with journalists and VIPs to get to the front of the barricades alongside of the SIR-2 pharmaceutical headquarters. A line of husky law enforcement officials threaten with stern looks, standing shoulder to shoulder at the entrance to the building. Just two months after the announcement and one week after the medicine went public, and Leonardo has become a celebrity of religious proportion. He is the wealthiest and quite possibly most influential man in the world.

The SIR-2 medicine was an instant success, sold-out before its release by way of prescription preorders. The medicine wasn't only purchased by the actors, athletes and affluent members of society, even the elderly were willing to exhaust their retirement funds on the cure to aging, which is by no means affordable. Even with their inflated price SIR-2 pharmaceutical is struggling to keep pace with the unprecedented demand for the prescription drug.

The SIR-2 Center stands a towering eighty eight floors, something Leonardo thought would be symbolic of infinity. A soaring architectural marvel of black panes and glass windows that aren't exactly mirrors but reflect perfectly the mingling whites and blues of the sky and at certain angles seems to blend into the skyline. Nearing the top of the building is an old fashion clock, large enough to be seen from the ground. Many believe it to represent aging but in truth Leonardo built it in memory of his mother, who as a single parent raised him by selling antique clocks.

Evelyn and Leonardo step outside abruptly, catching the by now tired crowd off guard. Leonardo is visibly younger than when he made the announcement. His receding hair has almost returned completely with only a few gray strands mixed into his blonde comb over. Leonardo is in fact twenty years younger than Evelyn at seventy-five but now appears as he did in his early forties. He has about six months until his treatment is complete. Weekly cellular injections, gene therapy and a daily cocktail of medicines leave Leonardo drowsy and the victim of surly paparazzi snapshots.

"Are the engagement rumors true?" a feminine voice asks. "Will SIR-2 go over-the-counter?" a man shouts. "Will SIR buyout O'Brien Pharmaceutical?"

The voices are loud but indiscernible in a sea of flapping lips and flashing lights. All the while Evelyn is visibly nervous, her middle finger tapping against her thumb.

"Relax," Leonardo says gently and holds her hand.

Evelyn nods her head and wipes her moist palms against the magnolia shaded gown swathed tight around her thighs. Her shoes and pearl earrings tone well her attire but the gold crucifix pendant hanging from her neck seems a bit off in a outfit of faded white.

"Why didn't you wear the pearl necklace I bought for you, sweetie?" Leonardo asks as he puts on his most photogenic smile for the cameras.

"No reason," she answers. "Why?"

"Then, who bought you that pendant?"

"No one. You don't like it?"

"I just think it sends the wrong message." Leonardo shakes his head and turns to the reporters.

"Mr. Toure," a stout reporter calls out and shoves his microphone into Leonardo's face. "Many call you the father of the returning generation. What do you think your father would say if he were still alive?"

"The --the --" Leonardo stutters, searching for a p.c. answer. His father was a man he barely knew. A con artist and clergyman for the local Baptist church who abandoned his family when Leonardo was seven. He didn't spend much time with his son but left an impression that lasted Leonardo a lifetime and as it now happens, even more.

Neither abusive nor overly stern his father brought Leonardo to church early each Sunday, even reading him bible verses every other night. It was a Saturday evening when Leonardo realized his father was gone, though it took him two years to realize he would never come back. Each night he would stay up late awaiting more Noah's Ark or David and Goliath but all he got to hear was the silence of the empty hallway outside his bedroom. And each time a resonance echoed between the peeling wallpaper, Leonardo sat up, expecting his father but only a breeze pushed in.

As the years went on his mother remarried and began taking him to a Catholic church outside the city. But somewhere in the pews of the church Leonardo learned to hate God or the idea of a father that he could neither hear nor see. A self-proclaimed atheist and closet agnostic, Leonardo hates the idea of God even more perhaps than the devil.

"Mr. Toure?" the reporter insists as Leonardo stares into space.

"Sweetie?" Evelyn taps Leonardo on the shoulder.

"I'm sorry," Leonardo mutters and with quick bat of the eyes he's is back, awakening from memories of a lifetime before. "Evidently I haven't achieved all of my dreams," he smirks "My daydreams are still a problem, I guess."

"I guess," the reporter repeats and they all chuckle.

Leonardo has become tactful in the public eye. A far cry from his early days in the lime light, bumbling over scripted lines for simple questions and sweating when he didn't know the answer. The arrogance of youth is returning and so much in fact that he plans to propose to Evelyn this very evening. Now a Nobel prize winner, he is at the pinnacle of his career and success. But in his excitement he has seemed to forget an old Baptist axiom his father would often tell him, The brighter the day boy, the darker the shadows.

3

Years

Every generation gap has withered into a fissure no wider than a strand of thinning, gray hair. The slight distinction that occasionally pesters the returning young, as they are now called. Just three years after the original announcement and the face of the world has been lifted. The elderly have dissolved into crowds of miniskirts and stilettos leaving behind a residue so thin. Just two percent of the world's population refuse to take the SIR-2A Solution or SI as it's now been dubbed, pronounced like the sci in sci-fi. Most of those abstaining from the drug are evangelical Christians and Islamic extremists, calling the drug unholy or man's attempt at God. But the vast majority of the world, over ninety eight percent, young and old alike, take SI as its medical benefits seem to be unending. From Alzheimer's to becoming the cure to the common cold, mankind has found in SI their ultimate cure and unwittingly their ultimate side-effect.

SI takes a full year of regular treatment to take effect. In the elderly it begins repairing the damaged cells immediately and often times rebuilds them better than they originally were. Sickle cell, HIV and even certain forms of cancer are no match for SI's potency. And with the cells repaired the skin becomes more elastic, wrinkles and gray hairs fade, muscle mass develops and the mind is sharpened. Yet buried within this end all cure for disease and aging was a curse, and for Leonardo, an emerging controversy.

Leonardo steps into the hotel with the newspaper firmly in his hands, unwittingly crumpling the weather forecast and sports report. His fingernails bore deep into the sheets of loose paper. With his attention fixed on the article in the paper, Leonardo amazingly steps over and around the furniture and bottles of wine scattered across the floor. He follows a trail of women's clothing, high heel shoes, a skirt, and coat to the bed and Lily, sitting upon it.

"Oh, my God," she gasps and the cigarette wedged tightly between her nicotine hungry lips plummets from her drooping jaws. Her jade lipstick is still smudged on the mustard filter.

Lily is dressed in a see-through jade blouse, with a black bra and panties swimming underneath. Intermingling black and jade silk stockings hug her willowy legs taut. Her makeup is heavy and light green. She is a prostitute but has an air of class to her. And she sits stunned to see the wealthiest man in the world, standing in front of her.

"Let's get this over with," Leonardo says, tossing the newspaper onto the bed.

"Hey, ain't you married to that one chick?" Lily's accent is southern, Georgian with spurts of Tennessee. "What's her name, Lynn or something, right?"

"Evelyn. And no, we're engaged." Leonardo barely looks at her, still glancing down at the newspaper as he takes off his coat.

"You booked the room under the name Professor Long," she giggles. "Couldn't come wit' something more creative than that?"

Leonardo sits on the bed and removes the bulge of a medicine bottle from his left pocket. He places it on the mahogany dresser next to the bed. He takes out a notepad and pen out of his right pocket and begin jotting down some notes and without giving Lily the slightest glance he says, "Take off your clothes."

"I was jus' trying to break the ice!" she snaps.

"Well let's just keep things cold. We're just sleeping together."

"You know, I thought you were gonna save my career," Lily barks, now recovering from her initial awe. She slips the cigarette back between her puckering lips.

"What's that?" Leonardo replies.

"I was a forty-one year old prostitute with a drug habit. My assets kept dropping if you know what I'm saying," she smirks and takes a drag of the cigarette.

Leonardo is not amused and places his notepad and pen on the dresser next to the medicine bottle. He takes off his tie and unbuttons the top of his shirt.

"Now I'm one of the returning young," Lily continues. "I'm in my prime. My clientele has damn near quadrippled or something! But..."

"I said take off your clothes," Leonardo interrupts, his shirt now completely off.

Lily sighs and snuffs the cigarette between her toe and a champagne stain in the carpet. She doesn't stand but ascends with a seductive arch in her back as she pulls up her blouse and her femininity pours out. Her legs are slender and ever thickening into thighs that curve into her hips and breasts.

Leonardo's eyes follow the rising blouse, entranced not by a lust but by a focus that seems strangely forced.

Evelyn pulls the blouse over her face. Her lips open to a grin, her eyes open to a gander and the blouse drops onto the lavender carpet.

Leonardo, still seated on the bed stares into Lily's navel like a bottomless pit. "God damn it!" Leonardo snatches the medicine off the dresser and pops it open.

"That's not gonna work?" she seems to ask, as if 'is it?' was on tip of her tongue.

"Just keep taking it off," Leonardo mumbles as he swallows a few pills.

Lily begins to contort her hips into a swirl of seduction. She simulates sensuality well though her indifference can be seen in her lack of eye contact as she constantly glances over at the clock on the wall. She unclips her bra from the back but lets it linger over her breasts for a moment or so.

Leonardo begins to perspire, seemingly in frustration. His eyes water. He bites his lip and reaches up to hold Lily's breasts, supple and shapely, he touches every corner but feels nothing. "Jesus!" He pushes Lily onto the floor.

"Hey!" she shouts.

"Get out! You... You're not doing it right."

"What?" Lily snarls as she fumbles her way back onto her feet. "Put your hands on me again and I swear to God you won't be getting them back."

"Shut your filthy ass up, you goddamn ugly..." he says and begins to mutter.

"Oh, that's why you came here to cheat on Evelyn, right?" she quips, the sarcasm louder than her voice. "Because I'm ugly. You like to cheat with ugly hookers."

"I did not cheat on her!"

"That's right, you didn't. Or couldn't?"

They take a breath, both awaiting the other's retort. Leonardo reaches into his bag and tosses a large wad of hundreds at her feet.

"Get out," he says. There's no intonation in his voice just the monotone hum of his indifference. "Just go."

Lily puts on her clothes just as quickly as she took them off and crams the large wad of bills into her bra. "You can be damn sure the press is going to hear about this," she says and after less than a moment's glance in the mirror to check her makeup, she's out the door.

As Leonardo lies on the bed, starring up at the fan blades spinning into a blur, he pulls the newspaper from under his back and takes one last look at it. He gazes into his own face enlarged on the front page. He reads the headline: The Father of Infertility. A title offered by a conservative media outlet, Christian at its origin, bringing Leonardo to hate organized religion all the more. The article is less scientific and more about religious discourse and bible quotes, many of which Leonardo remembers from Sunday school. We have been aborted, not born again. The words haunt Leonardo, because to some extent it's true.

Predictably, the mortality rate for the past five years has been plunging as those who would have died from "old age" grow young again. But so has the birth rate. Unnoticed at first in the excitement and hype over SI, the amount of births eventually dwindled down to a few hundred within the past year. The problem isn't simply infertility; somehow, those who have taken the SI treatment have lost all sexual desire. An asexual society appears to be the side effect of immortality.

As scientists have been scrambling for a cure, the analysts and philosophers have delved into the effects on society.

Is lust the catalyst for love? The pundits often debate on television and radio programs. They theorize that love between men and women and even the love between a parent and child all have their origins with sexual desire -- the instincts that bond parent a child and the urge to mate both spring from the instinctive drive to reproduce, to preserve and propagate genetic material. For a potentially immortal being, producing offspring means producing competition for resources.

As many have come to observe, couples don't walk as close together as they once did, or hold hands as tight. They just go through the motions, with focus but without feeling, as if performing a dance where they remember the steps but forget their meaning.

Lying on his back, his feet hanging off the edge of the bed, Leonardo takes the bottle of impotency medicine and pours it into his mouth. A few trickle from the corners of his lips, as he coughs and gargles and closes his eyes.

4

Trimesters

Evelyn sits on a windowsill on the eighty eightieth floor of the SIR-2 building. She's drunk. The wind is strong. Her dress umbrellas into a frenzy. Flashes of red and black flicker from under her undulating dress. She stares through the approaching gray clouds slowly consuming the skyscrapers in the distance, wondering if her eyes will still be open if she dies.

Evelyn has become increasingly secluded over the past year. Awake at night and asleep during the day, it's been three weeks since she's seen the sun. Leonardo's drug overdose, though a year earlier, is still fresh on her mind. Leonardo continually insists that it wasn't a suicide attempt but a mishandling of the medicine. Yet as often as he says this and even after falling victim to his own lie, Leonardo can never bring himself to look her in the eyes when he says this.

His overdose wasn't a complete surprise to Evelyn. She saw his gradual collapse over the past few years as biologist began to discover the frightening side effects of SI. She saw how his curses and threats of lawsuits against critics and media lulled to little more than a whisper when he realized their findings were true. And she saw him lose interest in her, his passion, in the end, had seemingly worn out.

But Leonardo hadn't taken the entirety of the criticism. If he is the Father of Infertility then she is undoubtedly its mother. Evelyn has suffered remorseless scrutiny, and to some degree has suffered more than Leonardo. The attacks against her were far more personal than his. While the media attacked him for being a mad scientist, they attacked her for being the Woe of Man. Mother of the Barren was a title that struck a particular chord with Evelyn. It made her cry the first time she heard it, and still does when she's reminded of it. Far from the nastiest slander against her, this one provides a certain imagery that haunts her. She sees a desert, arid, barren as they say. It wraps around her as she walks, with swirls of pinching sand. This desert goes on for an eternity; it's immortal, unending, just like her, because the horizon always bows before her feet.

Evelyn looks down at the unsuspecting pedestrians below, walking with some purpose in their step, quickly passing over a crosswalk that looks like a pattern of white smudges from her height. They're a disassociated group without even one couple cuddling side by side or a child scuttling alongside their parents. They just move like ants in a line, trailing along the cusp of buildings, trying to avoid the sudden drizzle that has started trickling at a slant. That's when their hazy details begin blurring into focus, as Evelyn subconsciously leans towards the street below. She tilts, her head bends then bows and she begins to topple over.

Bells gong and Evelyn comes to, her hands flail in a sudden desperation, grabbing onto the windowsill below and beside her. A shoe slips off. High heeled and red, it slowly dissolves into the fog and distance and snaps into a bounce against the pavement. The bell resounds again, almost louder this time, echoing between the buildings in the distance. She isn't sure where it's coming from. Her head bobbles back and forth, her eyes searching for sound. And cuddled between the Liberty Building and the fire escape of a rotting apartment complex is a crucifix, peaking just over a thicket of flashing neon lights, resembling a star atop an urban Christmas tree.

The church bells aren't visible under the sprawling metropolitan but pound against the still air like an overture to the coming storm. The thunder clouds in turn begin to rumble. The wind picks up, rattling windows, kicking up dust, its dull hum sharpening into a whistle. It thrusts Evelyn back and flings her other shoe far into the distance. Her dress mushrooms into her face. She loses her grip. Her hands slip on the soaked windowsill as her legs thrash against penetrating breeze. Even kicking now as the gales toss her back and forth until she topples backwards and smacks against the moist carpet, trembling with chills climbing up her spine.

She looks like a fetus with her knees held to her chest and her arms around her legs. The curtains above her thrash in the breeze, sprinkling water as they do, and loose papers are tossed into a tumultuous swirl around the room. Evelyn eventually stands and closes the window but she lingers there, staring at the raindrops squiggling down the windowpane, thinking they look like sperm chasing life.

Evelyn presses her nose against the glass and stares out. She isn't sure whether it's the wind or the bells or the proximity to death that did it but she's excited like she hasn't been for many years. Still visibly panting with cheeks blossoming into a blush, her breath fogs the window, hazing the view outside.

5

Decades

There was something Evelyn's mother told her when she was about thirteen. Something that at that time was condemned by the prudish and narrow-minded. She told Evelyn that sometimes when a woman has a secret she hides it between her legs. That it can almost be seen in the woman's step or at the pace she walks. She told Evelyn that it's the only place they have left in the end because eventually they'll run out of room in their hearts. Evelyn never really understood what her mother meant, even after she married, divorced and got engaged again, she never quite comprehended, until today.

The light underneath Evelyn's bedroom door hits the off-white carpet in the hallway outside at an angle, lighting it brighter than the slight fluorescent glow from above. Leonardo approaches the bedroom door. His footsteps are barely audible on the yielding carpet and as he gets closer he begins to hear Evelyn whispering. It sounds less like sweet nothings and more like the desperate everything of a woman full of passion. He presses his ear against the door.

"I need you to stay here with me." Evelyn's pleas are merely murmurs from outside the door. Leonardo leans closer. "I'll never let you --"

The wood creaks under Leonardo's heavy feet. His eyes drop into a cringe and he holds his breath but now all he hears is silence. Then bed springs chink, footsteps patter, all in a commotion of a panic. Leonardo swings the door open.

"Evelyn?" He catches her in mid stride, standing like some gawky effigy between the bed and the open window.

"Oh, Leonardo. You scared me," she replies awkwardly.

"Who were you talking to?" Leonardo asks subtly, stepping into the bedroom and glancing to and fro.

"No one." She takes a breath. "Why?" She takes another. Obviously out of breath but trying hiding it under her flaring nostrils and calm long breaths.

"Just now, I heard you talking to someone," he insists.

"No."

Leonardo walks up to Evelyn, noticing at first her shoulders, stiff and pushed up towards her neck. Then he spots her middle finger tapping against her thumb, a habit Evelyn could never kick.

"Relax," he says, pressing his cold finger tips against her supple shoulders.

"I'm fine," she says but she isn't. She's hiding something, something dangerous, and now realizes that Leonardo is trying to find it.

Leonardo puckers his lips to her cheek but she flinches and draws back. She doesn't lean into his kisses like she did before. It's been so long since they've kissed, at least with any passion, that the mere gesture seems inappropriate. The last time Evelyn can even recall were decades earlier when Leonardo regained consciousness after a drug overdose. That's when they were at their most passionate. Them against the world. And Leonardo vowed then to find a cure for SI infertility single-handedly. Now almost half a century has passed and the cry of a child has yet to be heard.

"I have something for you," Leonardo says. He slips his hand into his pocket and takes his time rummaging through, noticing Evelyn's guarded expression as he does. He eventually pulls out a black plastic bag, simple and barely big enough to hold a pen.

"What is it?" Evelyn asks.

"Where have you been running off to when I'm not here?" he answers with a question.

"You know I hate when you do that!"

"Do what?"

"Change the subject." Her anxiety finally gives way to a stifled frustration as her brow cowers into a frown. "I asked what's in the bag."

"That is what's in this bag. Where you've been going is in this bag."

Evelyn realizes something's amiss and though she knows her secret is safely hidden, she begins to wonder.

"Leo," she says reaching for the bag. Leonardo pulls it away.

"Didn't I give you enough?" He places his fingers against her cheek. "Look at you, as beautiful as you were ninety years ago. You're complexion will never fade like the paintings in the hall --"

"What's wrong with you today?" she interrupts.

"What's wrong with me? Well, I guess I should ask you. What is wrong with me Evelyn?"

"What are you...?" Her voice peters out as she ponders. Wondering what he found out or heard from the few shady friends that he keeps.

"I mean something must be wrong with me for you to be cheating on me!"

"Ha!" she exaggerates, even gesturing with her arm upon her chest.

"Who is he?"

"I'm not cheating on you. You made damn sure of that," she says still smiling and almost relieved. He doesn't know her secret. He guessed wrong.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"No one can cheat on anyone anymore, Leonardo! And though I would love to, I can't."

"Then how the hell did this happen?" Leonardo says and subsequently pulls what seems at first just to be two flat black rods out of the bag but as Evelyn's eyes focus she realizes that they aren't rods at all. Her eyes reel up to his, her lips split but she's unable to find the words.

"How did this happen?" he shouts and steps closer.

A thousand different lies rush to her lips but she only stutters.

"I want to know how you got pregnant?" Leonardo shoves the pregnancy tests in her face.

Evelyn steps back and lays her hands on her stomach. Her secret is out. She is almost five months pregnant and it's starting to show. For the past four months she has been avoiding monochromes or light colors and wearing blouses that are loose at the bottom but even that now can't hide her blossoming belly.

"We have been engaged for half a century and you still won't marry me. All I want to know is who? That's all I'm asking you. Who's the father?"

She sits on bed, finally giving in. Her fingers stops wrangling, her shoulders sink and her clasped legs ease open.

"I'm not cheating. There's no father," she says. "Perhaps it's a side effect of all those hormones you filled me with, what was it, about six months ago?"

"The hormone treatment didn't work." He asserts himself with a wag of the finger. "None of the other women got pregnant. Why you?"

"I don't know."

"Not to mention the hormone treatment was eight months ago. What are you, three months pregnant now?"

"Leonardo, I don't know!" she shouts and drops her head into her palms.

"I just want you to answer the first question I asked you. Where have you been going when I'm not here?"

She looks up at him and opens her mouth to a sigh. A final gesture of resistance as she gives in. "Church," she says, timid and almost embarrassment.

"Church?" Leonardo scoffs, unsure of what to really say. The answer catches him off guard and though he thinks he feels surprised, taken aback by the abruptness, what he really feels is indignation.

"Time ignores us now," she begins. "It doesn't move us anymore. I didn't feel anything anymore. I felt so empty before..."

"Like a hollowed out egg." Leonardo finishes her sentence. "I've heard that poem too."

"There's a difference between I believe you and I believe in you," Evelyn pleads. Tears begin to mist up the resentment in her eyes. But Leonardo doesn't see her expression and barely listens to her, marching over to a small safe in the corner of the bedroom. He crouches down, whispering to himself as his wrist spiral around the dial of the safe.

"I need something to believe in," Evelyn continues. "Even if I don't believe it."

"Anybody but him." Leonardo says, shuffling through the safe. "Why did you have to cheat on me with him?"

"I didn't cheat on you! Who are you --"

Leonardo pulls a revolver from the safe and turns to Evelyn. He snaps the trigger back, the resonance is deafening but doesn't echo, as if all the reverberations crammed their way into that first boisterous bang. The bullet cracks against her chest and she falls back on the bed. Scarlet laggardly blossoms across her white blouse.

She doesn't see it coming and is dead before she hits the bed.

Leonardo steps towards Evelyn, the smoking revolver still clutched tight in his palm. He lifts up her limp arm, hanging over the side of the bed and sits next to her. Her eyes are still open, still staring up at the emptiness and the pallid ceiling. He reaches to close her eyes but pulls his hands back remembering what she said to him the day she volunteered for the SIR-2 experiment. I just want to see what happens.

Leonardo clasps Evelyn's hand and places the gun against his temple. "We elope," he says, curling his finger into a knuckle around trigger. There's a flash of light and a voice, We elope.

THE END


© 2009 DoA Worrell

Bio: DoA Worrell is a native of Boston, Massachusetts currently living and teaching at a top University in Beijing teaching English literature. Though he focuses on writing for the screen and has had two screenplays produced his true love is fiction and he has recently gotten back into writing short fiction. The SIR2 research described in this story is real (although the immortality treatment and its consequences are not...so far.)

E-mail: DoA Worrell

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