1 JOHN 2:25
What is the key to eternal life? 1 John 2:25 is a brilliant science fiction short story written by Rabih Salloum for our latest print issue
I’d been trying to kill myself for the past twelve years. Nothing. Rien. Nada. I first heard about the Nurse less than a year ago. It was difficult to believe everything you could hear because very few people dared to speak. And those who did were always the weirdest motherfuckers out there. I’d joined this online forum where people shared stories they’d heard. Hidden behind avatars and usernames. It was impossible to tell who was serious, who was crazy, or if some of them were pranksters or undercover agents. I’d grown so desperate, though, that I ended up building a relationship with a user whom I decided I could trust. Call it instinct. Intuition. Whatever. Don’t ask. It was too risky to exchange any information online so we agreed to meet on the lawn of a park not too far from my atelier. We would pretend to be old friends and stroll around the neighborhood. Grab lunch in a not too crowded restaurant. Kick a ball next to the kids area. He would disseminate the information here and there in between conversations. I would take mental notes of everything. As we hugged goodbye, I would drop the cash in his coat pocket. We would split. He would disappear. I would then walk back to work. And I would hope it wasn’t all a fraud.
Point is: I’d grown sick of being thirty for the past century or so and I really just wanted out. The thing that frustrated me the most was that I couldn’t talk about it to anyone. I tried, in the beginning, though even the people who were closest to me would always snub me. Stare at me with accusatory eyes like I’d just betrayed the whole species. Betrayed everything that so many generations of our ancestors had dedicated their lives to. Betrayed humanity’s biggest accomplishment. Our grandiose victory over nature. A miracle.
And maybe I had.
There wasn’t anything I could do about it. The injections we were given at birth were so efficient that not even crashing your skull against concrete after having jumped off a cliff would have done it. I’d even heard about a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy whom apparently knew where I could maybe find a gun, but the rare cases I’d read about all told the same sad story – the pain would be unbearable for a few minutes, and I would stay alive. In a time where female sterility was induced in potable water, our species could not afford a single death. Point is: our cells regenerated way too quickly and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
On the day of my schedule I went downtown. I was given an address and a time though I had no idea who I was supposed to meet. It was on a tiny street not too far from the space where I had shown my latest collection, and I’d actually spotted the coffee shop numerous times before without ever walking in. I stood in front of it and examined the information on my palm. I stared back up at my reflection in the coffee shop’s window. I looked good and it made me smile.
The terrace looked vintage and reminded me of a photo of my grandparents in Paris, when they were teenagers in the early 2000s. It was almost empty except for a couple of people. A guy caught in a lively online conversation, interrupting his speech with cackles. A woman on the right scribbling on a notebook. Shit. When was the last time I saw a notebook? Passersby slowed their pace and glared but she didn’t seem to care. I walked in and slumped on a bench behind the third table on the left, just as planned, and sat there doing nothing for I don’t know how long. After a while, I turned my head and stared at a clock hanging on the wall behind the bar. My latest show gleaming on a screen caught my attention. I glanced at the figures striding down the runway, clothed in pieces I’d imagined and created, and wondered what my legacy would look like when it’s all over. Which photo of me would they show on the news? There’s a photo of me I really like and I was hoping someone would choose it. It was taken at an award ceremony around twenty years ago and I look really sharp in it. The only problem is that you can see this asshole Kareem in the background but I’m sure they can crop him out or something… Also, which adjectives would they use to describe me? I wonder…
‘Daniel?’ A voice startled me and I rolled back in my seat. A woman was on the chair facing me.
‘How… how did you?’
‘I’m quick like that,’ she smiled. ‘I’m sorry I scared you.’
‘Don’t worry about it, are you the…’
‘Shhhh! Don’t say it, are you out of your mind?’
‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…’ I whispered, bringing my hands up to my forehead.
‘What if it wasn’t me? Huh?’ She snapped. ‘Please, we can’t be too careful.’
I caught my breath for a minute as she sat there and stared without saying a word. The Nurse wasn’t exactly pretty, though she wasn’t too bad either. Her bulging black eyes reminded me of an old popular dog breed – the Pekingese. Her light brown hair was silky, tied up in a bun; freckles were scattered across her fair skin, surrounding a useless nose, and red, wide lips followed her chin up to her dimples. Her ears were small and her neck was delicious, a quasi perfect line.
‘I made this,’ I said, pointing at her jacket.
‘I know, I’m a big fan,’ she smiled.
‘So… is this the part where you ask me why I want to do this?’
‘Well, it’s not a job interview…’
‘I guess not… so is it really that simple? Anyone can just show up and get it done? I thought…’
‘How long did it take you to find me, exactly?’
‘Then maybe it wasn’t that simple after all.’
‘When someone’s made it this far, Daniel, who am I to question their motives?’
I nodded again.
’I know why you’re here, I’ve felt the same too.’
‘And why didn’t you do it?’
‘Because I finally found a purpose.’
‘What is it?’
‘Saving people like you.’
I struggled to hold my tears. My lips started shaking and I was sure my eyes had turned red. ’So, that’s it? How are we doing this?’
‘I have to give you three months to think about it.’
‘Three months? Why? I mean, I’ve been waiting for twelve years, how are these three months going to change anything?’
‘Well, now you know it’s possible.’
‘And don’t worry. I’m going to save you either way.’
‘Either way? What do you mean?’
‘I’ll see you in three months. Maybe.’
I woke up the next day and decided that I wanted cherries for breakfast. Cherries were some of the very few things I wasn’t completely bored to (death) eternity with, though even on that special morning they tasted as bland as ever. I went for a long run to clear my head and people stared at me like I’d lost it: jogging was an obsolete activity for the nostalgic and the depressed, and you could almost never be one without the other. I ran for a couple of miles and the cold air of February kept my face dry as I couldn’t stop crying. I remembered my father on his deathbed. ‘I’m a happy father, Daniel. Your generation will never know what it’s like to be a parent, but who cares? You’ll find other ways to be happy. You have all the time in the world. I’m ready to leave in peace,’ then he started humming that old song Imagine. Seriously, who would have thought that John Lennon’s dream would turn out to be a fucking nightmare? I kept running and it suddenly hit me that I was afraid. Putting an end to it all was the thing I’d been wanting the most and I was going to go through with it. No doubt. ’Well, now you know it’s possible,’ the Nurse had said. And it was now scaring the shit out of me.
I reached downtown after a couple of miles and I couldn’t help passing by the coffee shop for a quick look. I was trotting by the terrace when I saw Nayla stepping out of the place. Nayla and I were married for ninety-eight years before we decided to call it quits. Marriage was a traditional practice back then, and we’d only done it to make our parents happy. But when you can’t age together, when you can’t have kids, and when there’s no death to do you part, who the fuck are we kidding? Nayla and I broke up around thirty years ago and though we were still on good terms, I hadn’t seen her in a very long time. She was heading the opposite way so I sprinted toward her and called her name.
‘Daniel! Oh my God!’ She said, flashing a smile.
‘Hey you! It’s been ages!’
‘How have you been?’
‘I’ve been great, how are you?’
‘I’m great too! Wait, are you seriously jogging?’ she laughed.
‘Yeah I don’t know why, I felt like it…’
‘You’re still as crazy!’
‘I guess!’ I laughed back. ‘So tell me, what are you doing here?’
‘Oh,’ she paused. ‘Nothing much, I was catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time…’
‘Here? In this coffee shop?’
‘What are you doing here?’
‘Not much either, just wanted to grab a bottle of water.’
‘I see. Have you been here before?’
‘No, have you?’
‘Are… are you doing anything tomorrow?’
’Not really, no. You?’
‘Not much… do you want to hang out?’
‘Sure, I’d love to.’
The next three months with Nayla were like magic. We would meet outside a museum that used to be the high school we both attended as the last generation of human children. We would stroll around for a while before stopping by a fast food place that used to be another fast food place. ‘Remember when eating animals was legal?’ She would giggle. ’Humans were so barbaric.’ We would order food and I would watch her eat. We would walk to a nearby mall that hadn’t changed much and we would chill there on the stairs with our backs leaned against the wall. People would topple over us and keep glaring like we were crazy. And maybe we were.
Nayla and I wouldn’t talk much. We’d mostly stare at one another. Her eyes were sad despite her constant smile, and I’m pretty sure my eyes looked sad too. Because we both knew. And we never talked about it. She would often spend the night over and it was unbelievable to think that this was the same woman I’d spent a lifetime having sex with. I knew every inch of her body, the sound of her moans, her rhythm, what she liked and what she didn’t, how she closed her eyes and smiled after coming, how her body dropped next to mine after we were done. I knew it all by heart but it was still unbelievable: it had never felt as new. Never felt as real. Never felt as good. Because we both knew. I knew why she was there at the coffee shop that day and I never confronted her about it. She knew why I was there too and we never talked about it.
And we didn’t need to. Nayla and I had grown distant from one another in the past few years so her newfound interest in me, and mine in her, couldn’t have been fortuitous. I knew for a fact that her mind was made up: she was going to go ahead with the procedure. Or none of this really made any sense. She left her job and I took a break from mine. We rented a house in the woods and spent our days hiking and talking. On the week-end we would drive to the city. Go clubbing. Drinking. Make out on the dance floor. Have ice cream. Stroll in parks. Go to the beach. Invite friends to a picnic by the river. Go skiing. Go shopping. We took a trip to the moon and back. Did all the stupid things we’d grown tired of doing. Remembered how meaningless, how stupid all of it really is. And fuck, we enjoyed it. Because time was relevant again. Because time was running out. And after she would fall asleep late at night, I would sit down and sketch my last collection. The final curtain. I would close my eyes and imagine it all. A posthumous show that would cement me as an all-time greatest. Bodies of all shapes and forms parading in black. And nothing else but black. Death will be much more than a theme. Death will be a reality. My ultimate success. My very own funeral.
I had dedicated my whole life to my art and I had to dedicate my death to it too. It was merely thanks to fashion that I’d made it this far. More than a passion, a creative outlet or a career. Fashion had given me the chance to lead a life that was beyond stimulating. I had mansions in every city you could think of. Threw parties that made old Hip Hop videos look like a meditation class. Dated celebrities and celebritants and nobodies. Had the whole world at my feet before, during, and after each one of my shows. In a godless world I was a god. I was loved and I enjoyed being loved. And I loved back. Family and friends and lovers and fans, beautiful and ageless people in a beautiful and ageless time, where hedonism had become harmless and affordable. And there we had made the ultimate mistake: we still believed that happiness was possible.
It was a warm Spring morning and I was terrified. My mind had been racing all night and I struggled to remain rational. Yes, the past few months had been great, and yes, I hadn’t felt this happy since I was a child. But only because it was timed. You fool. I kept repeating to myself. You were happy only because it was timed, you moron. Don’t you dare act like a pussy now. Look at her, lying there in rumpled white sheets like it’s a scene from a romantic movie. And look at you idiot falling for it. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? But what happens when you’ll have to look at that same fucking face for another hundred years. What hundred years? Two hundred. Make it three. Four. Fuck. Maybe she’s not that beautiful after all, is she? You’re pathetic to even think about it. You know what? Just name one thing you haven’t done yet. What is it? Name one thing you’re going to miss. What are you going to miss? Seriously. The trees? You fucking hippy. What’s to miss about a fucking tree? The sea? It’s just water with salt. Flowers? You fucking hate flowers. The sky? You hate it when it’s cold and you hate it when it’s warm and you hate it when it rains and you hate it when it doesn’t. So fuck you. What else is there? Other women? Other men? Is there anyone on this planet you haven’t fucked yet? Let’s not even go there. Fashion? Aren’t you sick of doing the same shit over and over again in the name of revival? Just for how long are you and all the other fucking designers going to keep on reviving things? Stop reviving things. Leave things alone. Let things die, for fuck’s sake. They deserve a fucking rest. You deserve a fucking rest.
I looked at Nayla one last time and my stomach turned. No goodbyes. No thinking. No more bullshit. I just wanted to get to the Nurse as fast as possible. I put on my shittiest sweatpants and an old t-shirt and dashed out. Wait, maybe I should have some cherries first. No. Stop thinking, motherfucker. Just run to the stupid coffee shop and let that bitch take you wherever she wants to take you and get it over with. Go. Do it. Nayla’s voice called from upstairs but I didn’t look back. Go. I squeezed my lips tight and struggled to keep my tears in. My love. My house. My building. My street. My neighborhood. No. Cut the crap. Stop thinking. Just go. I was so focused on the task ahead that the endless stream of people didn’t phase me. Fucking meaningless zombies. They don’t have the balls to do what I’m about to do. I’m the fucking hero here.
I finally reached the coffee shop and stopped on the other side of the street. My phone had been ringing for a few minutes but I didn’t want to look at it. Through the window I saw the Nurse. Placid. Slowly bringing a cup to her lips and staring at nothing in front of her. Waiting for me. My phone stopped ringing. And then it beeped. A message received. I was about to cross the street but I couldn’t help glancing at the screen. The message received was from Nayla. ‘Daniel, please answer,’ it said. ‘It’s a miracle.’ A miracle? What miracle? What the fuck was she talking about? There’s no room for a miracle, baby. Nothing. Nothing. I was crying hysterically. I dropped down to my knees. I lost my discipline and called her back. She answered immediately. ‘Daniel, it’s a miracle,’ she said. ‘I found the Nurse too,’ she said. ‘Daniel, I’m pregnant.’
I closed my eyes and everything disappeared. And there it was. The sound of the wind. And the sound of my heartbeat.
About the writer: Rabih Salloum grew up in Beirut before heading to Paris for college, where he mastered in Philosophy and Film Studies. Always an advocate of multidisciplinarity, Rabih was the lead singer of Slutterhouse and has worked in fashion as a model, stylist and art director. He also owns a bar in Beirut and teaches philosophy. Rabih Salloum currently publishes short stories with various publications (Go to rabihsalloum.com for more info)