Elixir of Life
Carla had a curious way of extinguishing cigarettes. She had to stamp out all of her Camels in liquid—water, whiskey, coffee, whatever was closest at hand. I might have understood it: the sizzle at first contact, a flutter of ash littering the bottom like a ticker tape parade.
Alphonse and I were sitting at the kitchen table. He had just returned from an archaeological dig in South America, where his team of intrepid scientists had unearthed the Fountain of Youth. He’d brought back a vial of sparkling gold liquid that we stared at admiringly, until Carla came over and doused her cigarette.
“Damn it, Carla” Alphonse said.
Although I felt he was being a little hard on her, I didn’t understand—even if she wasn’t interested in having her youth back, her habits reset—why she had to ruin our chance at a second beginning. The vial bubbled, then turned to black. Alphonse drained the liquid in the sink, mumbling bitterly to himself.
Several months later Alphonse took a job as a museum curator. Carla switched to smoking lights. Beyond that none of us would ever change.
Ravi Mangla is the author of the novel Understudies (Outpost19). His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, The Collagist, American Short Fiction, Wigleaf, and Tin House Online. He tweets @ravi_mangla.
Photo by Marius Mellebye