This decade, my name is Eliza.
Last decade it was Beth, the previous one Elisabeth, Betty before that. I reuse the names over the years; one can only acclimate to so many variations.
But today, walking through the new art museum, draped in violet silk, I feel like Lisbeth, the girl who loved beautiful dresses and couldn’t bear the thought of settling down. The elegant golden archways and detailed murals on the ceilings bring me back to the days when servants came at my call.
My heels click against the tile as I make my way down the ornate hallways. Paintings always bring me back to my childhood. I stop to study one that so clearly resembles our summer estate. I can almost feel the sea against my toes, the salty air against my skin; can almost hear Mum telling us to slow down, to be good girls.
I shove the ache deep inside and stroll through the museum. Lovely quality, priceless things. They really have improved the museums over the years, though part of me misses the time when carriages clattered down cobblestone streets.
I almost pass the painting, lost in my thoughts, but the dress catches my attention—pale pink chiffon, cinched at the waist, lace draping the neck, silver threads glittering throughout.
My feet stop of their own accord, and I turn my full attention to the painting. The Adoration of Lisbeth by Claude Heron.
The girl depicted is pretty, late twenties—an old maid—dark hair caught up in tight coils. Her smile is mischievous, her gaze playful, even transmitted through brushstrokes.
Her smile is mine.
I tear my gaze away from the painting, my limbs suddenly weak. Mother hired an artist to paint our portraits, hoping they would incite marital interest from eligible young men. She often told me this portrait was the only way I would ever get married, as my youth was fading. In my mind, I see Claude’s powdered wig, his angular nose, his intense blue gaze.
He told me he loved me. I laughed, said that life was too short for me to waste it on him.
It had sealed my fate.
“Wow!” A fellow patron is pointing at me from where she’d been admiring another painting. She’s young, blonde, her cheeks perpetually flushed. “You look just like her.”
My blood runs cold. “Like who?” I tug my skirt, which has hiked up, down to my knees. Fashion nowadays can be so irksome, but I must say that I do not miss corsets one bit.
“The girl in the painting.” The girl’s red-haired friend rolls her eyes. “Didn’t you notice? She’s, like, your doppelgänger or something.”
“Oh,” I say, staring at the painted girl who knew nothing about life, who threw away every opportunity in her naïveté. The girl who insulted a sorcerer and was paying for it with every long year that passed.
“That’s so cool.” The first girl yanks her phone from her pocket. “Can I take a picture of you?”
I back away, hands outstretched. “No, please. I don’t like—”
“Cheese!” says the red-cheeked girl with a smile of her own.
My stomach flips, and I reach for the phone. “Please, no pictures. I don’t like pictures.” The last one I took was the one hanging on the wall, and look where that got me.
Besides, with the invention of the internet, this strange contraption that brings the world together and immortalizes even those who will eventually perish… if this picture enters its archives, will people discover who I am?
The blonde jerks her phone out of reach. “Chill out! It’s not like I’m going to post these or whatever.”
The redhead gives an exaggerated nod and another eye roll.
Times were simpler before technology entered the world; people looked at each other instead of their devices. I can barely operate a computer, see no use for a television, and have a phone only for emergencies. But I never realized just how dangerous those devices could be.
The blonde huffs at my pained silence. “Fine. Be a snowflake.”
I frown. Why is she comparing me to snow?
“I deleted it. See?” She shows me her phone, not that I understand the screen. “Seriously, you need to get a life.” Muttering to each other, the girls walk away, casting me dark looks.
I’m shaking. I need to be Eliza today, to hold onto my composure, but all I want to do is fall down on the slick tile and soak it with my tears. I always thought life was too short, that I couldn’t waste it. But life has gone on far too long.
“Are you all right?” An attendant moves cautiously toward me. He must be in his early thirties—so young compared to the years I have lived. He cannot possibly understand the weight I bear.
I clasp my shaking hands and take in a shuddering breath. “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”
“Yeah, of course.” His eyes flick to the picture. “Hey, that girl was right. You do look like her. Weird.”
My breath catches in my throat.
“Doesn’t give her the right to take a picture of you against your permission, though.” He offers me a smile.
I move quickly away from the portrait. The longer I stand there, the more people will notice the uncanny resemblance of me to a girl from 1880.
“Who do you think she was?” The attendant matches my movement. His eyes are kind. My eyes drift foolishly to his ring finger, which is bare.
“I think…” I turn and gaze again at the rendering. “I think she was foolish.”
“Foolish?” He snorts. It is strangely endearing. “Okay, I’ll bite. Why?”
Because she was so desperate to make her life count that she missed the things that mattered. “She…” I swallow hard. “She was beautiful, desirable, but wouldn’t choose. An old maid, I’m sure.”
“Her?” He snorts again. “Yeah, right.”
Does that mean he thinks I’m beautiful? I force my thoughts back to his question. I don’t have time to worry about a man.
Well… actually, I have all the time in the world. But his time will end, and then I will be left with nothing. And I can’t bear that.
“She rejected man after man, waiting for perfection that existed only in her mind. So she lost her chances of marital bliss, and with that bitterness, she pushed away everything and everyone that mattered.”
The attendant is staring at me. I turn my face to the floor. Here I go, pushing yet another person away.
“Wow,” he says. “You came up with all that just now? That’s really cool.”
Heat floods my cheeks. Is his admiration genuine? “I had been staring at it for a few minutes before you spoke.”
“Yeah, true.” He sticks out a hand. “I’m Norm. What’s your name?”
Lisbeth, I want to say. But I left that girl in another century. “Eliza.” His palm is smooth and warm, and I withdraw my hand quickly from his.
“Nice to meet you, Eliza.” Norm grins lopsidedly. He looks around thirty-four, an eligible bachelor. But I am much too old for him.
Exactly why I have forever lost my chance to love.
“Do you… uh… would you want to go somewhere sometime?”
I would laugh at his awkwardness if I weren’t so terrified. I can’t do this to him. I can’t be with him for a few years and leave before he gets suspicious of why I never age. I can’t tell him of my immortality and watch him walk away, and if he decided to share it with the cruel, unforgiving world… Or even if he stayed, I can’t watch him die and forever mourn his loss.
I swallow hard, my eyes on the tile. “Norm… I am honored by your interest, but…” How can I possibly explain that I am not from this time?
“Oh. Yeah, I get it.” He backs away, his shoulders slumped.
“Norm.” The word shoots out. “You are a good man. I wish…”
His green eyes meet mine. His voice is almost childlike. “Yeah?”
“I wish it could be.” I blink rapidly to fend away sudden tears. “But I’ll hurt you.”
“Everyone hurts each other,” he says. “That doesn’t stop me.”
I gaze at his earnest face. Maybe he isn’t as kind and accepting as he seems to be. My many years have taught me that often, the people who seem the strongest are the ones who crack the quickest.
But if he is truly as good as he seems to be, I may just have to tell him the full story of Lisbeth, the girl cursed with immortality.
And maybe, just for his brief lifetime, he will stay.
Normally, I post the prompt at the beginning of the story, but it would’ve spoiled the story, so I decided to post this one at the end. Here it is:
I hope you enjoyed “Eliza”! I love stories that examine the problems of immortality, like Tuck Everlasting.
If you want to check out a different version of the prompt, here is Laura E.’s story “Amnesia.” Also, next week, I’ll be launching my May prompt contest, so watch out for that!
Happy Friday, friends.