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"Nothing Lasts Forever"
© 2004 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved
© 2004 by Wayne Faust
Click here to listen to a recording of this story from KGNU - Boulder, Colorado
Stretsky sighed through pale lips and poked at the burning logs in the fireplace. His shoulders hunched as the winter night’s chill crept in under the door frame. “A new millennium,” he muttered. “It seems impossible that I would still be around to see the year 2000. I feel so ancient.”
Lucky, who was much younger, chuckled. “Ancient isn’t a word I’d use for you. Old, maybe, but you’ll still be around for a long, long time.” He raised his glass in a toast. “Here’s to the new millennium.”
Stretsky didn’t reply. He merely dropped his head and looked down at his gray hands. “I was like you once. I thought I was immortal. When you are young and full of vinegar you can never imagine your own death.”
“Stop getting morbid,” said Lucky, who indeed felt immortal. “You’re supposed to be happy. It’s a festive night.”
“I suppose so,” answered Stretsky, “but I have been feeling very melancholy as of late. I have witnessed so many things in my time that nothing can hold my interest any more. Not even a new millennium.” He gazed into the fire and the flames danced red in his eyes.
The pine log in the fireplace crackled as the grandfather clock in the parlor chimed five times. Lucky sipped from his wine glass and tried to enjoy the remaining hour of night. Stretsky was ruining a memorable evening with his depressing talk. The two were good friends and had spent a lot of great nights carousing in town together, but sometimes Lucky thought it would be better to live alone.
“Do you know what I will miss most?” said Stretsky, breaking Lucky’s reverie.
“The music. Beethoven and Mozart, mainly. They were the great ones. They could make me feel. Not too many things in the world can do that.”
“You’re talking like you’re leaving or something,” said Lucky. “You can still listen to that music all you want. You have it on CD.”
“I know, I know,” answered Stretsky. “But I miss the old days when it was performed live, with the composer himself conducting the orchestra. No modern recording can compare to that.”
Lucky let out a long, aggravated sigh. “Martin, that was hundreds of years ago. You can’t possibly remember.”
“Oh, but I can,” Stretsky said forcefully. “As if it was last night. Those were brilliant times. Your America might be the land of opportunity but it can not hold a candle to old Europe. We had culture. None of that rubbish that passes for music today.”
Lucky shook his head. They’d been over and over this. He hated it when snobby Europeans dissed American culture. America was the country that produced Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley and Ray Bradbury and Ann Rice. Why did guys like Stretsky have to cling to a moldy, rotten culture that went out with Napoleon? But there was no point in arguing. Stretsky was like the Rock Of Gibraltar for all he would listen.
“ I was there,” Stretsky continued, “in Vienna when Beethoven first introduced his Fifth Symphony. In the Duke’s private box. If only I had not left during the intermission because I was hungry. I was so foolish in those days that I did not even know what I was witnessing. When you are my age, the regrets pile up until they are the size of the Matterhorn.” Stretsky wiped away a tear.
Lucky grimaced. This was getting downright sloppy.
“Martin,” said Lucky. “Look on the bright side. At least you were there. And think of how many countries you’ve seen and lived in. You shook hands with Talleyrand. You had dinner with Peter the Great. You shared a brandy with Winston Churchill. You even met the Pope, and if that’s not delicious irony, I don’t know what is.”
“So?” snapped Stretsky. “What does it mean to me now in the 21st century? It means nothing! It is just like pictures in a book. My body is tired and even my teeth are getting loose. Look at this.” Stretsky wiggled one of the two yellowed canine teeth that extended down over his lower lip. “Will I grow another one if this falls out? I do not think so. And if the other comes out as well then I will starve.”
“Nonsense,” said Lucky. “You can’t starve because that would mean you would die. You can’t die because you’re immortal.”
“Ah, now you have hit on a nasty, little secret, my friend. I have done a great deal of studying lately, mostly in the sciences, especially physics. Scientists say that immortality is impossible. We may be able to last for a thousand years, but even we will reach a sad, ignoble end. Slowly, imperceptibly, everything in nature breaks down. It is now happening to me.”
Lucky had no more time for this. He stood up. “Come on,” he said. “You just need something to eat. We still have time before dawn. Let’s go to town and feed again. Your tooth will tighten back up when you get some more nourishment.”
Stretsky waved his hand. “It will not help. Do you know that last Saturday night I drained every last drop of blood from that waitress in the pub? She must have weighed 300 pounds. When I woke up the next evening and sat up in my coffin, guess what? My tooth was still loose! And my back pained me so badly I could hardly sit up. So much for nourishment.”
“Maybe she was anemic?” answered Lucky.
“Fat chance,” said Stretsky, not realizing his own pun.
“Well, just the same, I think you should try to get out more. How about tomorrow night? It’s New Years night and people will be slow and tired. We can do the town.”
“I will not be here tomorrow,” said Stretsky.
“Why? Are you thinking about moving again?”
“No. I will be gone from this world.”
Lucky rolled his eyes. “Stop getting dramatic on me or I’ll have to cue the violins.”
“I am completely serious. I do not take this decision lightly. I have decided to end my life.”
“Oh? And how will you do that, since you’re immortal.”
“I told you. Nothing is immortal. Soon after the clock chimes six, you will go downstairs to your waiting coffin in the cellar. I will not follow you to my own place of rest. I will stay upstairs and when the morning sun comes up, I will open the front door and walk outside. Within moments, poof! That will be the end of Martin Stretsky.”
Lucky scratched his head. “Will that work?” he asked.
“Of course,” Stretsky answered. At least he thought it would work. Neither of them knew for sure because of course, they hadn’t actually tried it. They had watched a lot of movies, though, and at least according to Hollywood, the sunlight should do the trick.
Lucky plopped back down in his chair. “You’re really serious, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am. It is time.”
“Wow,” answered Lucky.
They sat in their respective chairs, gazing into the fire. Lucky thought about what it would be like to be on his own again. Stretsky thought about what it would be like to not exist.
“Have you thought about what happens next?” asked Lucky.
“What do you mean?”
“What happens after you commit suicide?”
“I will be dead.”
“But what about after that? Did you ever think about that?”
“Yeah. Your soul. The whole Hell thing. Because if anyone goes to Hell, it’s us.”
“People don’t believe in Hell any more,” said Stretsky.
“They don’t believe in vampires either.”
Stretsky tried to think of something to say to that but failed.
The grandfather clock chimed six, startling them both. Lucky glanced at his watch and jumped to his feet. “I’m going downstairs to bed,” he said. I hope you’ll follow. If not...” And with that he headed for the cellar.
Stretsky groaned and got up out of his Queen Anne’s chair, the one he had bought in Vienna centuries ago. He touched the back of it affectionately. He put his hands on his hips and stretched, feeling every one of his long years. He knew he would never be what he once was. He didn’t want to wait around to see how bad it would get. He walked to the front door.
The first pink rays of dawn crept under the door frame. Stretsky reached out his pale hand and wrapped his long, ropey fingers around the door knob. It felt cold against his palm. He paused.
A word began to play around the edges of his mind. It was the word ‘Hell.’ Something that Lucky said had evidently spooked him – especially that part about what happens next. He imagined that nasty word above the doorway, blinking like an exit sign, waiting for him to go through. He tried to wish the thought away but it persisted.
Stretsky shuddered. This was ridiculous. He didn’t believe in any of that. Besides, he had made up his mind and he had never lacked courage before.
He began to turn the knob.
The sunlight coming in beneath the door frame licked his big toe. Stretsky felt a stab of hot pain spread across his bare foot. He pulled his foot back and looked down. His toes were smoking.
Stretzky’s hand slipped off the door knob. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Sunlight crept further under the door like a tide of poison rolling in on the beach.
Stretsky stood up straight and took two more steps back from the door. Maybe his muscles didn’t really hurt that bad after all. As a matter of fact, it was nearly miraculous how his back suddenly felt better. And as for that tooth thing, there must be a dentist somewhere that worked at night and didn’t ask questions.
A new CD Walkman sat on the end table next to the front door. Stretzky grabbed it and headed for the cellar. He just needed some rest, that was all. He’d fall asleep to Beethoven’s Fifth and feel better in the evening.
As he climbed in his coffin and closed the lid, Stretsky managed a slight chuckle in the dark, stale air of his resting place. So he’d gotten carried away a little.
It was the first day of the new millennium. Time to rest up for the next one. It might be true that nothing lasts forever, but Stretsky knew he just might last a little longer.
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