Stop / Think

by Lauren B.

The exact moment when Ezra Spektor's being stopped aging isn't exactly known, but one can assume it was on a day that he had spent smoking Camels and writing story fragments by a freezing lake. On the outskirts of Decatur, Illinois, where the weather was never short of chilly and windy, he and his family were the only ones for about ten or fifteen miles. There was barely anyone who would wish to live in the ramshackle cabins neatly scattered on the earthy terrain around the large, shimmering waterfront. So, Ezra's case was not a local sensation of any kind. In fact, his family had begun to take to lying to those who even knew them personally about Ezra's whereabouts. "Dabbling about in the Boston literary scene" had been a popular choice.

Ezra's condition was known only to three people, which happened to be those who resided with him inside the cabin. His brother Randolph, a trained medical doctor would neurotically check his brother's vitals every morning and every night as if he were someone who was weak or close to death. Statistically, Randolph was two years Ezra's junior, but now at thirty-three, Randolph had passed Ezra by a good six years, his face loosing its boyish radiance while Ezra's clear complexion and thin features had remained the same as they had always been. Randolph remained aged and confused, seemingly going in circles with his research.

The only source of solace Randolph had was in his wife, Celia, whom he had married the year before Ezra stopped aging. She would visit Ezra and ask if he needed anything from the store, be it paper, a book, or cigarettes. She would head out into the town, buy a paper and whatever was on her list, and after the items had been bought, she'd load them into her beat up Camry, and return to the house, only going back out again around one if they were out of liquor.

Eva Spektor was the youngest in the house at nineteen years old, and spent most of her time playing the old piano that the family had taken from their parent's house when the passed away from a tragic plane accident. She didn't know a whole lot of songs, but on occasion, she would play a rousing rendition of Beethoven's "Fur Elise" which, under the right circumstances, could bring anyone within proximity to hear the tune to tears. Eva didn't grasp the concept of Ezra's inability to grow older more now than she did a thirteen. She knew bare facts. His looks would never change unless he decided to get surgery or eat heinous amounts of food, and he would never die unless the act was of something other that natural causes, but she still didn't understand the way she thought she should.

And according to his writings, neither did Ezra.

September 4, 1982

"It seems as though I am stuck inside of an hourglass, in which the sands are glued to the top and bottom. For, if they were at any one side, I would either be an infant, or a corpse. Yet, sometimes, it seems as though that would be better. An infant does not comprehend the concept of their loved ones growing old and dying, and a corpse, dead itself, cannot think at all. However, after spending six years on that boundary of youth and old age, death seems like a cruel fate, and the thought of it approaching me at all makes my heart heavy and my eyes flood."

~ * ~

On some afternoons, Ezra would write under the large willow tree near the den window so he could hear Eva play the ivory keys. While she would mostly play improvised chords and notes, dampening them with the pedal, she would dedicate Sundays to the classics, with Ezra sitting outside furiously writing inside of his tattered notebook, the smoke from his breath and Camel mixing together harmoniously as the text flowed from his pencil. With every note came a letter, every completed line of music, a sentence, and with every song came a new realization for Ezra.

October 16, 1982

"Eva plays so simply, yet so beautifully. One day, I won't hear her dabbling around on the piano anymore. I'll have to write to the sound of the wind blowing the in trees, and to nature's items dropping into the water. Cool breezes will blow through my hair, and I'll have to hear myself breath out smoke while I take drags. This terrifies me in ways which I cannot explain."

~*~

On one particular afternoon, Eva was playing herself "Happy Birthday" in celebration of her twenty-first birthday. Upstairs, Celia was coughing up everything her lungs could carry while Randolph boiled water for tea. A bad strain of pneumonia had come about in the town, and it was assumed Celia caught the sickness while going to a book club meeting a few days back. Ezra, now statistically thirty-eight years old, still sat outside, snuffing out his last cigarette on a rock when he noticed that the music had stopped.

"You should go inside. You're going to catch cold."

Eva was leaning outside of the window pane, her pale blue eyes scanning Ezra's face. He seemed so fresh, so young.

"I'm fine," he said with a grin, "This is a ritual for me. You shouldn't be worrying. It is your birthday, after all. Twenty-one is a big age."

Eva shook her head. "There are too many other things to worry about in comparison to me being able to legally get stone-cold drunk every night for the rest of my life." She motioned her head to the upstairs, where the sound of coughing was still very audible, along with Randolph loudly mumbling to himself about where he put certain medicines. "Celia is so sick, Randolph won't accomplish anything else until Celia is better, and you're"old. You don't want to celebrate a twenty-first birthday."

Ezra let out a loud laugh. Being called old, it filled him with some kind of odd joy,

"That is a lie, and you know it. I've never missed a single one of your birthdays. Besides"" He gathered his writing materials, and jumped through the window into the den. ""old-timers know how to party."

~*~

Well, they made a fabulous cake with a mix inside of the pantry and butter cream frosting Celia had homemade a week or two back when she was baking on a whim. They opened two beers, cut the cake into ten slices, and vowed that they'd eat every single piece until they threw up. So, they each ate one piece, and another, and a week later, Celia passed away due to complications with the pneumonia. After the burial, which was carried out without Ezra being there, Randolph locked himself inside of the upstairs bedroom where he and Celia resided where sometimes, his wretched sobs could be heard through the hollow walls and floorboards of the cabin.

On one particular night, the clear sound of glass shattering awoke Ezra, who ran from his downstairs bedroom to the upstairs, throwing the door of his brother's bedroom wide open to discover a ragged-looking Randolph trying unsuccessfully to clean up a broken whisky bottle, licking off whatever drops of liquor were left on his hand. He then looked up at Ezra, with bloodshot retinas and bags underneath them that puffed, as if they were full of the tears that he had shed in the recent week and a half.

"Oh Ezra, I uh"I'm just"I'm so"it's nothing"how, how awful""

His sentences remained incomplete as Ezra began to carefully take each piece of glass and throw them into a wastebasket full of various empty bottles. After he had completed the task, he grabbed a roll of ACE bandaging, and began to wrap his brother's hand. When Ezra had gotten to the bottom of the palm, Randolph spoke.

"You're so unlucky, Ezra""

Ezra looked up to see Randolph's eyes wide, almost crazed.

""you won't get to die on your own. When it comes, it will be"so relieving""

Ezra dropped the bandage and ran out of the house to the lakefront, where his screams and sobs, although not heard by anyone else for miles, seemed to envelop the entire world.

~*~

August 2, 2012

"Randolph was pronounced dead today due to a failure of the liver. The doctor said it was because of his alcohol-heavy diet. Eva looks so old today. Forty-nine never seemed like so aged until I saw it on her face. Seems like only yesterday she was thirteen."

~*~

Weeks passed, and things seemed to shift back to normal. Although it was just Ezra and Eva now, they kept the house as clean as they could. Randolph and Celia's bedroom was now free of any evidence signaling that the mental rot of a depressed man had been conceived inside. With the onset of spring, Celia would open the windows and play the piano while Ezra took to writing inside of a notebook. Celia's playing was heavily improved, now able to compose her own music that sprawled through the air in graceful patterns.

"I don't want you to die," Ezra suddenly said to Celia one day, which made her playing cease suddenly. She looked at him calmly.

"Hush. You sound like such a child."

"But, it's true." He set his writing materials down and walked over to the window pane, lifting himself up and perching his body inside the crevice. "I've thought about it before. Many times, actually. But, it's just going to be so strange"and so depressing."

Celia continued to sit at the piano bench, contemplating her next move, and lifted her hands, beginning to play a mystical tune, which seemed to have a fantastical element to it.

"It will be fine."

Ezra's eyes widened. "Look at you! So carefree! Why would you say such a thing knowing that I'll be left alone?"

The playing got faster and faster, a smile growing on her face. "You're old enough to take care of yourself. You are in your sixties after all." Louder and louder the notes became. Her nimble fingers went up and down scales, making Ezra dizzy. Finally, he slammed his hands on the keyboard and grabbed his sister by her shoulders.

"It's too much, Eva! Too much! I don't want to sit here for the next twenty or thirty years, knowing that with every passing minute I'm going to be left alone soon! Never a day have I not thought about it. You're the only thing I have left in this world, and to lose you"" He began to loosen his grip, tears brimming his pale eyes.

"I don't know. I sound so silly."

Eva took his hands off her shoulders, and pulled them into her lap, looking at his still youth-ridden face. Not a single day aged him, while she was riddled with wrinkles and crow's feet. It seemed almost like a dream, or perhaps a nightmare. Nonetheless, now was the time to reassure her cursed brother.

"I do not believe that there is no life after death, Ezra. Everyday, I see Celia and Randolph in the sky, the trees, happy to be together once again. To die is just to begin life anew." She wiped a few tears from his face. "I know you are afraid of death, brother. But, consider your happiness in death over your sadness on Earth."

Ezra looked at his sister with an ease he had not felt in a very long time. Her age had made her wise. She understood something that seemed so simple, yet he had failed to grasp it for so many years.

With that, he pulled her into an embrace, which seemed to last until the day she did pass away inside of her room with Ezra by her side. Tears were shed and the body was covered with a sheer sheet Ezra took a small dose of poison that was kept with Randolph's medical paraphernalia. As he felt life grow brighter and louder, than dimmer and quieter, he saw the faces of his family, all clapping and congratulating him. A smile lit up his body as his spirit escaped into the beyond, an ageless wonder.

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