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Friday, May 3, 2013

Always seventeen

There's a short story I wrote a while back, but I never got around to putting it up here. Went back to the previous posts to check. Didn't want to repeat myself. So here's a little ditty to get your weekend off to a good start.
 
Forever Young
Will Malone


“I need to talk to a doctor, but I don't have an appointment,” an elderly man said to my receptionist through the window.
“I'm sorry,” my assistant Judith began,“we only see patients by referral. If you'd like to make an appointment, I'm sure we can schedule you in next week.”
“Our regular physician recommended you,” the old man said. “It's concerning my wife.” Through the sliding glass window, I could barely make out the old man's hand clasping infantile fingers.
Judith had just confirmed that my four o'clock had canceled, leaving the Friday afternoon clear. If the man wished to talk about his wife in the company of his granddaughter, I could oblige.
“Mrs. Shapiro,” I said softly. When our eyes met, I nodded that it would be okay.
“Please fill out these forms sir,” Judith said as she handed the man a clipboard before closing the window.
Taking the clipboard to a seat in the waiting room, the man dutifully pulled a pen from his jacket, then lowered his head and began filling out the form. I couldn't help but notice the child with him. Blonde curls and the greenest eyes I'd seen in my fifteen years as a pediatrician. Perhaps what stuck out the most was her poise. Sitting beside her grandfather, hands in her lap. I guessed her age to be between five or seven years of age, except she didn't behave as a toddler should. No fidgeting or playing. Her eyes didn't even stray to the toy chest or the Golden books nearby. Normally kids would pick up the ones with Snow White or Cinderella on the cover, but not this child.
Back straight and hands still. Her emerald eyes stared at the form while her grandfather filled in the blanks. If I hadn't known better, I would have sworn she read the answers as quickly as they were written down. A tiny finger crept up the page and pointed to the next line. Whispered words exchanged between them. The man nodded and began writing again.
He didn't brush the hand away. The girl wasn't distracting him, but seemed to be helping him fill out the form.
I returned to my office and straightened the scattered paperwork. I also made sure there were two chairs available. Perhaps this would be a consultation, nothing more. I could still be out of the office in thirty minutes. Plenty of time to beat rush hour.
“Mr. Langston,” I greeted my new patient. “What can I do for you today?”
“It's about my wife,” Langston said.
“You are aware I'm a pediatrician, Mr. Langston. Normally my patients are like your granddaughter here.”
“I'm not his granddaughter, you imbecile,” the girl retorted. “I'm his wife.”
“Perhaps we should start at the beginning,” said Mr. Langston.
1965-
“Happy anniversary, Mrs. Langston,” the middle aged man rolled over and said to his wife.
Smiling back at her husband, she responded, “Happy anniversary, my sweet.”
As he sat up in bed, Langston caught his own gaze in the mirror on top of the dresser. Running his hand through the gray tinge lining his temples, he sighed. “Fifty years old and married to the best looking girl in the neighborhood. Am I lucky, or what?”
“Wanna know who's lucky? I haven't had any hot flashes all this month.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Let's take that as a good sign. Marci down at the salon asked me what moisturizing cream I'm using. 'I can't see your lines,' she said.”
“Lines, means laugh lines, right?”
Giving her husband a lighthearted slap to his side she said, “Yes, that's what she meant.”
“Well, I don't care. This is my anniversary, it's the weekend, and I'm in love with the most gorgeous gal in town.”
Being in love with one another can make a person gloss over details, but later on, both agreed that's when they first noticed.
1975-
“John, I want you to take my picture,” Gloria said.
“Didn't I take your photo with that Polaroid Instamatic last week?”
Gently placing the camera in his hands, Gloria Langston gave her husband an imploring look. John waited patiently while she straightened herself against the wall.
“Wouldn't you want the picture to be taken outside or by the pool?” Langston asked.
Gloria shook her head. “Just take the picture, please. I need to check something.”
After taking her picture as she asked, flash bulb and all, John asked, “Can you tell me what this is about?”
Gloria took a deep breath before speaking. “People are talking. Susan from the bridge club asked how we managed a May/ December marriage.”
“She's just jealous. Artie lost all his hair, and I've managed to keep mine.” John patted the top of his head. “Although mine went gray, I think it looks distinguished.”
His wife stepped closer. “That's just it. I haven't had to color my hair in a while.” Taking the new picture to the kitchen counter, she placed it beside four other photos.
“There,” she observed. “Right in front of us in living color.”
John stepped over to the counter for a closer look. Beside the one he just snapped, lay a photo of the two of them at the beach at Galveston five years ago.
“I don't see a difference.”
“Look at the next one,” Gloria said.
He did. The photo had been taken in Vegas on their twentieth anniversary. “So, you're as gorgeous as ever.”
“I was buying some new clothes at the mall. My old pants didn't fit. They were too big.”
“Did you just ask me if you looked too big in those clothes? 'Cause that's one I'm not answering.”
“I'm fifty-seven years old. You're sixty-one, and we have been married for forty years.”
Langston smiled. “And what a wonderful forty years it's been. Have you ever--”
“John, a young man at the mall asked me for a date.”
John sighed. “So that's it.”
Worry lines crossed Gloria's face, but they evaporated quickly. “What are you talking about?”
“I want you to consider that a body can go through all sorts of changes over the years,” John said. “Has it ever occurred to you that you'd be one of those gals people call 'well preserved'?”
“When we talk about those women, we usually make fun of their plastic surgery.”
“Joan Collins.” John responded.
“Excuse me?”
“That actress, Joan Collins. She hasn't aged since we first saw her in the movies back in the '50s.”
“Make-up and surgeons helped her, I'll bet.”
“Have you ever stopped to consider that you are gorgeous? A sexy senior citizen? My wife? To me, you have always looked like the day I married you,” John said as he pulled Gloria into a hug.
Nevertheless, every year from that point on, John Langston dutifully took pictures of his wife. A few years later, even he had to admit there was a difference.
1985-
A knock on the door sounded along with the doorbell.
“I'll get it Grandpa,” Gloria Langston called out for the benefit of the person on the other side of the door. A middle-aged woman stood on the porch holding a clipboard.
“Good morning,” the woman with the lapel tags to go along with the clipboard said. “My name is Mrs. Johnston from Health and Human Services. I'm here to check--”
“Are you here to check on my granddad?” Gloria said.
“Can I please come in?” Mrs. Johnston asked. “This won't take a moment.”
Gloria wanted to slam the door in the social worker's face, but that would trip any number of red flags with the ever-so-helpful “abuse detectors”. Reluctantly, Gloria allowed Mrs. Johnston and her clipboard in.
“We've had a couple of complaints that--” Mrs. Johnston began.
“That a pedophile is keeping a young child captive?” Gloria finished.
Mrs. Johnston looked flushed. “No, that's not it. There's been--”
“I know. It's about the abuse I'm allegedly receiving?” Gloria retorted as she showed her bare arms to the social worker. “Look, no tracks. No bruises.”
Taking a calming breath, Gloria looked the social worker square in the eye and prepared to give the story John and she worked out a long time ago.
“Mrs. Johnston, please understand. This is the third time this year that social services has come by. My name is Gloria Langston. I was named after my grandmother. I live here with my grandfather, who does not abuse me, or rape me, or hold me captive. Somewhere down the line, my name and my grandmother's identity got jumbled together.”
“Actually,” Mrs. Johnston said. “We're wondering what happened to your grandmother.”
“Oh.” was all Gloria could manage to say. “She's not here.”
“Also I'm here to straighten this mess out once and for all.” Mrs. Johnston lowered her clipboard to reveal an ink pad. “We're going to re-establish your ID in our database, and I'd like your permission to take your fingerprints.”
Gloria allowed herself to be fingerprinted. There was no telling what conclusions would be drawn by social services. After all, what were the odds of a daughter or granddaughter having the exact same fingerprints? Gloria knew the odds of that were astronomically zilch. Mrs. Johnston left shortly afterwards. Gloria raced upstairs to her husband's study.
John Langston sat at his desk carefully tying a fly fishing lure using a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers.
“John, social services came again,” she began.
“I heard.” John pointed to the intercom on the wall. “I'd hoped for a few more years, but it looks like we'll have to move again.”
Gloria sat on her husbands lap and buried her head next to his neck. “They're following us, aren't they?”
John silently nodded.
“All I want to do is grow old with you.” Gloria protested.
“I know, dear.”
“We can't even make love like we used to.”
John sighed. “That's what made people start talking the last time. That little public display of affection.”
Gloria blushed. “I just wanted to kiss my husband.”
“But somebody saw. That's when the police started asking questions.”
Gloria nodded. “We barely got away that time, and now we have to move again.”
Two days later, John and Gloria Langston packed their motor home with the essentials and took to the open road, leaving behind clothes, furniture and a mortgage. Gloria took the photos with her.
Reaching under my glasses, I rubbed my eyes. The sun had gone down shortly after Mrs. Shapiro went home for the weekend. “That is an incredible tale you've told me, Mr. Langston,” I began. “There are no known cases such as the one you've described, ever.”
“We're sorry for taking up your time, doctor.” Langston stood. “Come along, dear,” he said.
Gloria Langston slowly stood, taking the hand of the elderly man who could be mistaken for her grandfather. Before leaving my office, she reached into her too-large sweater and removed a worn manila envelope.
“I know this sounds incredible, doctor, but if things go the way we think they're going, I don't have much time left. Please look at these and decide.” She placed the envelope on my desk. “In a few years, I'll be a 90 year old in an infant's body, what then?”
After showing the Langstons out, I locked the front doors and returned to my office. Several photos peeked out from the top flap of the envelope. Curious, I removed the first few snapshots. Each one depicted a pretty young girl resembling the child who had just left my office.
Below each picture, written in neat script, was the year the photo was taken. All the pictures featured the same girl, standing straight and tall. Every year, the girl kept getting younger in each picture. Could these have been faked? Possibly. I studied the pictures with a clinical eye, examining bone structure, the face, the shoulders.
Something else bothered me, some detail I'd overlooked. It took me several minutes to realize that in every photograph she wore the same red sweater. The clothing changed, but over each blouse, every dress, she wore the same red sweater from 1976 onward. The exact same one she wore into my office.
That was when I began to believe. My gaze returned to the battered envelope on my desk. Two items remained inside: the fingerprint ID taken in 1985 and the faded marriage license from 1935 along with the accompanying fingerprints.
Thirty years have come and gone. I still have the photos of Gloria Langston. On the day of my retirement, I received a letter, written in a familiar neat script.
Dear Dr. Everett,
After our meeting with you, my husband John and I decided on another course of action. My niece and her family were reluctant at first, but they took us in.
My beloved John passed away at the age of 97. I regressed to infanthood, fully expecting to join him. Instead, I began to age normally. In order to maintain a low profile from the law, I was raised by my own grandnieces under a different name.
This is about the age I was when I began regressing. Having gone through puberty three times now, I can attest I do not wish to experience it a fourth time.
If you still have the photos we left in your office, I would like them returned. After eluding authorities for so long over the years, I've decided to end this. It is my hope that the pictures along with the fingerprint ID will help.
Sincerely,
Joanna Gloria Langston

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