Waiting for Leyla

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A man is gifted with immortality and realizes that with fulfillment of his wish he is cursed to find his love and lose her through the ages.

Submitted: June 11, 2019

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Submitted: June 11, 2019

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Waiting for Leyla

by Daniel L. Link

Eternity wasn't supposed to be like this. Endless possibility—the freedom to live in the moment and make all the mistakes life had to offer and still have time to correct them—that's what it was supposed to be. He ran his fingertips over the smooth skin of her hip and thigh. "What are you thinking?" she asked. "Nothing." "Come on." Her voice was thick, and he knew she was fighting sleep. "Tell me." "You just get some rest," he said, turning his face so she couldn't see his tears. The gift was what they had called it. The day he got it, he felt a god, anxious to exploit his power to the fullest. He cut off a finger. It grew back. He jumped from a two-story building, falling awkwardly on his shoulder, but he stood, uninjured. Soon, he grew more bold. Skydiving. Mountain climbing. Tightrope walking. Released from the grip of mortal fears, none of the things that simple self-preservation prevented normal people from doing were any longer of concern to him. Then, he met Leyla. It was the newfound confidence that had proved to be his undoing. The man he had once been would never have approached her, never found the courage to ask her to coffee. When he had accepted the gift, he had tried to think of every angle, to weigh the pros and cons. He knew he would have to watch his family grow old and die while he remained frozen in time. He could father no children. That was acceptable, he had decided. Children were a nuisance, and he would have had to bury his parents eventually. What did it matter how young he looked at the time? What he hadn't accounted for was love. He fingered the strap on her nightgown, idly rubbing the satiny fabric between thumb and forefinger. She was asleep now, the rhythm of her breathing threatening to pull him under as well, like a drowning man who takes his rescuer down with him. Though he knew he needed sleep, he resisted, clinging to his time with her, a lifeline to sanity as delicate as the material under his fingers. The first time he watched her die, he was determined to follow her. Bullets couldn't hurt him. Electrocution didn't work. Drowning. Fire. Hanging. He tried them all. He sought out those who had given him the gift. He went to the old temple, determined to tell them to take it back, to give it to somebody else, anyone else. They were no longer there. He spent the next few years in despair: unable to die, yet unable to truly live. It was night on a rainy street in London when everything changed. She stood under a red awning, arms wrapped tight around herself, hands tucked into her armpits to keep them warm. It was Leyla. She looked different. Her hair color, her face, her body type: none of them resembled the old Leyla. He didn't know what it was that gave her away, but he knew. He ran to her, offered his umbrella, and she smiled. Just like that, she was back. Again, he was swept away by love, his heart in sync with hers, the pain he had felt at losing her replaced by elation at having found her again. She may have looked different, but the soul was the same. She was perfect. She loved with her whole heart, sacrificing her entire life to loving only him. He explained the gift to her, terrified at what she would say. "Then I'll just have to love you enough to last a thousand lifetimes." He smiled with the memory. He held her hand and rolled his thumb over the veins on the back, more prominent now than they had once been. That time, she had lived to be much older, and although their physical forms lost their harmony, his affection for her never did. They spent their last years together in an odd syncopation, a man in his prime lovesick over a dying husk of a woman. Losing her a second time shattered him. He scoured the globe, determined to find her again. Genoa. Mumbai. Reykjavic. Nothing. Forty years he spent searching, but she eluded him. When he gave up, she came to him. He was a shrunken shell of a man, surviving on drink and sorrow on the streets of Saigon. When he opened his eyes to see her standing above him, face lit by concern, his heart was whole once more. "Where were you?" he asked in Vietnamese. "I've been here all along," she said. Leyla.

"Aren't you going to sleep?" she asked, turning in bed to look at him over her shoulder. "It's late." "Soon," he said, but he had no intention of sleeping. He ran his hand down the bare skin of her upper arm, from shoulder to forearm. It had once been so shiny, nut-brown and tight as a drum. Now, it bunched with his touch like crepe paper. He kissed her, bit back a yawn, and watched her chest rise and fall with her breathing.

Her life had been cut short, ending on a twisty mountain road in Hawaii. He had tried everything he could to bring her back, holding her scorched body in his arms and trying to will the magic into her. That was the ultimate cruelty of the gift. What worked so easily on him could not be shared. Every time she died, he burned to be with her again. He would spend years frantically combing city streets with thoughts of nothing else. When he found her, his impatience grew worse. Night after night, he would stay up, watching her sleep, talking to her though he knew she didn't hear, trying to share with her the experience of Methuselah in a lifespan too small to contain it. His acute awareness of the preciousness of time drove him, led him to spend his years with her possessed with a manic intensity. That intensity was replaced by the deepest grief at her loss, and a singular focus: finding her again.

"Hold me," she said. He jumped up from his chair and put an ear close to her mouth, but she was still sleeping. "I'm not...don't look." She stirred, her tiny shoulder blades shaking with the dream she was trapped in. "Find me..." For a moment he considered shaking her, trying to wake her, but he didn't. He lay on the bed beside her instead, careful not to jostle her. She needed sleep. He was always tempted to wake her, but it was unfair. So much of their lives together was spent with him watching her sleep.

Toronto. Cyprus. Montevideo. It was always when he grew weary of searching, had lost the will to look, the will to continue, that she came to him again. How many lifetimes? How many Leylas? He was unsure now. That was hard to believe; he had loved them so much. Their faces flashed before him in memory, in dreams, but that wasn't what he truly remembered. It didn't matter what she looked like, if she was fifteen or fifty, it was always the same when he found her. It was the soul, the light behind the eyes and smile that he recognized so easily, the shimmer in the air around her that only he could see, the way the world moved out of her way to make room for her. There would be more, he knew. There was always more. That realization did him no good now. Sitting there, in the dark, on the cusp of yet another descent to the bottom of his never ending cycle of peaks and valleys, there was no solace. The breath caught in her throat, a dry gurgle escaping her lips, followed by the smell of old flowers. He ran a hand through her hair, the wispy white filaments so thin, the scalp beneath aglow with the blue light from the bedside clock. The digits taunted him, continuing their steady progression, mercilessly marching forward as did everything in his life: everything but him. Her eyes shot open and she gasped. He stood, held her hand and watched as she struggled to form words. "I...loved you..." Leyla said, each syllable a tortuous effort, "enough... for a... thousand lifetimes." "You did," he said, smiling and squeezing her hand while holding back the scream that was building inside him. The gift. That was what they called it. He knew the truth of it. To die happy, loving and being loved, having an entire life to live—nothing more, nothing less—that was the real gift. He sat there watching her long after she took her last breath. Her fingers started to grow cold. He stood, covered her face with the bedsheet, and wiped the tears from his eyes. Resigned to his fate, he left the house to start the search anew. Eternity wasn't supposed to be like this.


© Copyright 2019 Daniel Link. All rights reserved.

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