The Immortal and the Dying Girl - A Short Story
Every Fall I take a trek to Lubec, Maine; only for me to get drunk in a pub and then stumble the pitch black 2 miles to the candy cane striped lighthouse to watch the sunrise. Out of all my prolonged time on Earth, this is the one place where I can find solace. A place to mend my soul. I share this moment with no one not out of some misplaced bravado, but loneliness is a symptom of my circumstance. But Death, or maybe Life, had somebody waiting for me.
I found her sitting quietly, basking in the calm sound of the waves breaking against the shore. She sat solemnly on a red plaid blanket in front of the lighthouse, only wearing a flowing white dress. Her ghostly white skin did not shiver nor mind the crisp morning air, but I felt a chill go through me as I hesitantly approached her.
The wet crunch of the grass cracking underneath my gentle steps caught her attention. She looked at me frightened but I held my hands out to show I meant no harm.
“Are you here to watch the sunrise too?” I asked.
She cautiously checked me out as all I can do is smile. I slowly removed a bottle of bourbon out of my jacket pocket and took a sip, then offered her some.
“I got nothing to lose,” she sadly quipped. “I’m pretty sure a man dressed in a black suit, stumbling drunk, won’t do me no harm.”
She patted her hand on the blanket as I sat down next to her. I handed her the bottle and she took deep gulps from it.
“You’re pretty trusting of men who come bearing gifts. Speaking of which, aren’t you cold?” I was about to take off my suit jacket to give to her but she stopped me.
“The cold is one of the last things I can still feel. It reminds me that I am still alive.”
I sat quietly for a moment to gather my thoughts from her dark answer. I gazed around her and found a bloodstained handkerchief in her other hand.
I took the bottle back from her and took a deep swig. The taste of bourbon and death filled my gullet.
“Aren’t you afraid to catch what I have?” she asked with a weak smile.
“Death seems to elude me.” I took another swig, this time looking in her beautiful but teary blue eyes. “How long do you have left?”
“Not long. This maybe my last sunrise.” Her gazed moved to the horizon.
Her brown curled hair gently swayed in the salted wind. I couldn’t help but admire the beauty she extolled from her dark final moments.
With her eyes still fixed on the horizon, she began to cry as she confessed. “I wish I could live forever. I wish I did the things I truly wanted instead of following a script written by others expectations of me. I wish I had more time.”
Wholeheartedly I felt her pain as I began to confess my curse. “Death can be a beautiful thing, if you let it be.” She gave me a scornful gaze.
“I have lived such a long, long life. I have never aged and never fell ill. I have lived many lives and I envy you for knowing an end.” Before she can regret her invite, I handed her a laminated picture from my wallet. The picture was tattered and weathered from time. Nevertheless, it was unmistakable of what it shown.
“That was taken in 1859. I took my family here to watch the sunrise in front of the lighthouse I helped build.”
She was speechless for a few minutes as she kept looking at the picture and me. Confirming to herself the truth.
She finally spoke, “If this was true, then I truly envy you because you will never face the cold, blackness of death. You get to live as many lives as you want to. You can take all the risks, the dangers and the adventures without fear. I truly envy you.”
“Aye, I have. I have done things which others can only dream of. I have seen the brightest of mornings. Climbed the highest of mountains. Explored the deepest of caves. Fought the toughest of men. And made love to the prettiest of women. But I would trade it all to know death. To be with the ones who gave me meaning. Everlasting life is not worth living if you’re alone in it.”
The Dying Girl coughed violently into her handkerchief, which was now dripping with blood. She gathered what was left of her strength but feebly yelled at me.
“How dare you! You flaunt your gift as a curse to a woman, moments away from death in a poor attempt to make me feel better about dying. I came here to die alone. Not only to spare my loved ones from watching me slowly die, but to die by my choice. Don’t make me regret my life and decisions…please don’t let me regret before I die.”
The Dying Girl could barely cry from her weakened state.
“Have you loved another more than yourself?” I asked
“What?” She asked as she was barely able to wipe her tears.
“Yes, once. I loved a man more than anyone else on this planet. He was more than I can ever dream of. He was my hero. He died in combat a few years ago, a year after we were married. It took me a year to stop crying whenever I awoke from a dream of us together, only to find him not laying beside me.”
“Have you expanded your horizons?”
“Not till I was diagnosed as terminal. I was too afraid to do so before. But, when I was given the news of certain death was when I truly lived. I realized how futile my worries were. The soul sucking job I stressed over was no longer a priority. The need to own a house, a nice car and cute dresses were now silly as I realized how every moment should be made into something beautiful. Not to be used frivolously on shallow pursuits. Life is precious.
I used my precious time to love my family even more and to stop taking them for granted. I was afraid to travel without my husband but death put things in perspective. I went to see the places I’ve dreamt to go see. Danced the Tango in Spain. Visited the base of Everest. Laid a wreath for my husband at Arlington Cemetery and saw the majesty of the Grand Canyon. Now I’m here, the last place on my list.”
“Have you sacrificed yourself for something much more?”
The Dying Girl intensely pondered the existential question. Our talking was replaced by the gentle crashing of the waves and her shallow breathing.
“My mother was dying and I never left her side. I had a chance of interviewing for a job as a journalist, a dream of mine, but I couldn’t leave her. I couldn’t leave my mother to die alone.” She said with tears falling from her eyes.
“Were both the good and the bad times worth it?”
“What do you mean?” She asked as her voice grew weaker and her posture began to slouch.
“The bad times are needed for the good times to have value. In the moments of tragedy and failure we regret, feel anger and despair. But it’s the hero in us which grows from it. We become so much more than who we were once we embrace tragedy. But the good and bad times are equally needed for life to have meaning.”
The Dying Girl could barely sit up as she leaned against me and I wrapped my arm around her. I began to tear up but held it back, so I can be strong for her.
“You were blessed with the gift of life and you spent it wisely. Death is just a caveat, to remind us to never take anything for granted. But, when you live forever then you stop being human. You watch helplessly as the people you love are taken away from you. Yes, you love again but only to repeat life without meaning. To bury children and grandchildren can make a weaker man cold and monstrous. Travel, adventure and the beauty of life becomes bland if you can’t share it with someone. Unlimited life will make you cynical and numb to beautiful. Death can be a beautiful thing, if you let it be.”
I paused for a moment to wipe the uncontrollable tears from my eyes.
“You have lived a true life which any immortal can envy, for you finally found peace and will be with the love of your life.”
She began to lose her strength and could no longer hold herself up. I pulled her torso across my lap and held her in my arms as rays of light broke across the horizon.
“Thank you for…” She could barely keep her eyes open but I shook her violently to keep her awake.
“Life isn’t over for you, yet,” I said as I lifted her from the ground and carried her to the shoreline.
Her eyes were open slightly but she was still alive to see heaven and earth meet. The orange and sunflower yellow rays erupted from the brilliant blue horizon. The sun slowly rose from the distance as the white clouds looked like as if they were painted by a gentle god. A beauty which can renew hope in any lost soul.
I hadn’t noticed the wide smile on my face was becoming wet with tears of appreciation for being alive with this woman. I looked down at the Dying Girl expecting to find her staring with me at the sunrise.
I found her eyes closed and breathing stopped. She passed away in my arms, with a smile on her face.
I held her in my arms until the night fully gave in to the day. I never let her down as I carried her into town. My Dying Girl gave me life, again.
What separates a curse from an opportunity is choice.