“Look, you’re the fifth person I’ve ever told,” said Gil. “Sixth. Maybe. It all runs together.”
Jeremy laughed. “You haven’t told me yet. So the count’s still four or five.” He was grinning, but Gil’s reaction put him more on edge than he expected.
Gil grinned. “Yeah. So how do I understand all these things?” He put the grin away. “It’s a curse.” Jeremy frowned, thinking it over. Gil waited. He had all the time in the world.
“Understanding’s a curse?” Jeremy drained his beer bottle, waved at Rhonda, held up two fingers. “I don’t get it. Seems like it’s the key to… everything.”
“The curse isn’t understanding. It’s how I got the understanding. Did you ever think I’m older than I look?” Gil saw Rhonda round the bar and finished his beer.
“Huh. Never thought of it that way. I just thought you were crazy-smart or something. You don’t look any older than me. How old are you, then?”
Rhonda brought their refills over. “You need anything else? Plate of nachos?” Gil and Jeremy were her two favorite customers: even drunk they never tried anything funny, and they always left a decent tip or made it up next time. They didn’t get huffy if she was busy, which meant she tried to make sure they never ran dry.
“Sounds good,” said Gil. “Put it on my tab.”
She smiled. “I’ll have it right out,” and walked away. She knew how they liked their nachos: cheese, tomatoes, and sliced jalapeños.
Gil watched Rhonda walk back to the bar, admiring her wide hips and sturdy backside before turning to Jeremy. “Eighty-four hundred and thirty-six.”
“That’s how old I am. My curse is immortality.”
Jeremy snorted. “Good thing I wasn’t taking a drink. You’d’a gotten a shower.”
“It’s true. Have I ever lied to you? About anything?” Jeremy shook his head. “So go with it for now. No harm, right?”
“Yeah.” Jeremy gulped half his beer. “Okay. So how did it happen?”
“I loved a goddess’s daughter. Now the goddess in question claimed I kidnapped and raped her, but that’s a damn lie. I might have seduced her, but it didn’t take much. And I married her before we made love.”
“This just gets better and better. Which one?”
“Their names are forgotten, except by me, and I’m not going to speak them. Forgotten gods are —” he waved his hands a moment, then downed most of his own beer — “comatose. Something like that. I might wake ‘em up if I speak their names. But the ancient Greeks knew my story. They turned it into Hades and Persephone. Assholes.”
Jeremy laughed. “So you’re Death Himself?”
“Oh, hell no. I’m just a guy who fell in love with the wrong girl. We married in her grandfather’s temple, boarded a barge down the Tigris to start our life somewhere safe, and her mom caught up to us anyway.”
“She gave me a choice: she would either kill me on the spot, or give me the gift of immortality in exchange for renouncing the marriage.”
“Evil bitch of a goddess.”
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it. P— my bride said I would be better off dead than to take that bargain, but I was young and dazzled by the prospect of living forever.” Gil drained the rest of his beer. “She was right.”
“What do you mean?”
Rhonda brought the nachos with two more bottles; Gil tapped his chest. She smiled, nodded, and left. Those guys liked to solve the world’s problems while tying one on.
“Just because I can’t be killed doesn’t mean I don’t feel pain,” said Gil. “I’ve been shot with arrows and bullets, stabbed with just about every weapon you can name, hung, and beheaded.” He took a long drink. “That fucking hurt, and it kept hurting because I can’t die.”
“What? How did you —”
“Science is awesome. It at least let me understand what’s going on. Cell repair: for you and everyone else, that’s how you heal. But sooner or later, it stops working and you get old. Then you die. But for me, it’s in overdrive. Do you have any idea how much it hurts, trying to squirm your severed head back to the rest of you so the whole can heal?” He gulped down his beer and waved at Rhonda.
“Two more?” the waitress asked.
“I need something a little stronger tonight,” said Gil. “You got any half-decent whisky or rum?”
Rhonda nodded. “Sure. And a taxi for each of you, right?”
“Yeah,” said Jeremy. “This is — this is a night for stronger measures.” Rhonda grimaced, but nodded and left. “Jeez. That’s harsh.”
“You have no idea.”
“Yeah. But why don’t you bring her back?”
“Who, Rhonda? She’ll be back.”
“No, the girl. The one you married. Can’t you wake her up without the bitchy mother-in-law?”
Gil cocked his head at his latest friend, feeling the room spin around them. “Wouldn’t work. She musta moved on by now.”
“Why? If she’s been asleep all this time, why couldn’t you two patch things up? Shit. Listen to me. I don’t even have a girlfriend, and I’m advising some immortal about his love life?”
Rhonda brought the bottle and two glasses, filling each before leaving. “You want me to hold your car keys?” she asked. “The taxis will be here when you’re ready.” The boys fished their keys out of their pockets. “Good. Just let me know.”
• • •
Later that night, Gil lit a candle on his kitchen floor, kneeling before it. “Come to me, my love, my wife,” he said, in a language long forgotten by the rest of mankind, “my… my Pyanya. Awaken, Pyanya, my quiet one, from your long slumber, and join your husband in this strange time.”
A sudden draft blew out the candle. Gil lifted his head.