Entertainingly Evil

MAINTENANCE by Elaine Cunningham

Thunder rumbled as Eva pulled into the nursing home parking lot. A few fat drops splattered her windshield before the skies opened in earnest. She circled the lot in the pouring rain, but no one obligingly vacated a spot close to the entrance.  She sighed and yielded to the inevitable—all the work she’d put into maintaining her appearance, undone by a summer cloudburst.

And it was work—the stylists, the makeup, the surgeries. Eva didn’t begrudge any of it. “Look at her,” Brian used to tell anyone who’d listen. “Forty years a bride, my Eva, and she’s still the prettiest girl in the world. The prettiest girl in the world,” he would repeat proudly, this time just for her ears, “and she’s all mine.”

She stepped out into a puddle and ran for the entrance, shoulders hunched against the rain. The lobby door swung inward. She froze in the threshold, her senses momentarily overwhelmed by the scent of brewing coffee and expensive floral arrangement, the soundtrack of “easy classical” music playing in the background and the soft, conspiratorial laughter of the nurses who’d gathered by the coffee bar. One of them caught sight of her. The others noticed their colleague’s frozen stare and followed the line of her gaze. Silence fell over them.

Eva brushed past them and scrawled her current name in the guest register. She couldn’t bring herself to care about the sidelong glances and muttered speculation that had followed her since she’d stopped maintaining her façade of polished, late-midlife beauty. What did it matter? Brian no longer noticed how she looked. Some days he didn’t know her at all.

Still, she paused outside the door to his room to dash on a coat of lipstick, a bright coral shade that was years out of fashion. Brian had always liked the color.

His eyes lit up with recognition when she entered his room. Eva’s heart lifted. Today would be a good day. She sat on the edge of his bed and took his trembling, age-spotted hand in both of hers.

Brian patted her hands absently, his eyes proud as they took her in. “The prettiest girl in the world, and she’s….”

His old-man’s quaver faded into uncertainty. Slowly, his expression shifted from pleasure to puzzlement to something Eva knew all too well: awe, mingled with longing and touched by fear. It was the look men wore when they faced a reality their intellect had long refused to consider.

Brian’s hand gripped hers with forgotten strength. The monitors beside his bed began to beep and flare.

“What are you?”

“Yours,” she whispered. “I’m the prettiest girl in the world, and I’m all yours.”

A nurse wearing pink scrubs bustled in. Her eyes held things Eva had last seen on the faces of long-dead priests and vengeful peasants.

“I think he’s had enough for one day, Mrs. Hampton.”

Eva fled.

The rain had stopped, but its work was done. The world looked brighter, fresher. Younger. Summer rain had that effect.

She slid into the car and reached for the rear view mirror. When she saw what Brian had seen, she muttered curses in a language mankind had long forgotten.

Her ash-blond hair was longer, thicker, threaded through with bright new strands of gold. Smooth skin surrounded ageless eyes. Taut cheeks bloomed like spring roses. Her earrings were gone–two more diamonds cast aside by ears determined to undo the work of needle and scalpel. Eva smoothed her hair over the persistent, telltale points.

Brian would almost certainly forget what he had seen. Tomorrow he might not know her at all. That knowledge pained her, but she preferred it to the alternative: that Brian might remember he’d seen something impossible. He would regard that memory as yet another betrayal by a once-keen mind, another loss to age and Alzheimer’s.

No, forgetting was better. Perhaps it would be better if she were forgotten entirely–if all her kind were forgotten.

Even as the thought formed, Eva knew it was impossible. Aging and death were inexorable foes, but so was immortality.

She reached for her cell phone and keyed in a number from memory. When the receptionist answered, Eva gave her True Name.

A short silence followed. “We thought you’d moved on. You really should, you know.”

“I know,” Eva said. “And I will, soon. But I need a little more time.”

Pages rustled as the receptionist checked the schedule. Their kind had little fondness for computers. “You’ll need more than the usual maintenance, but I think the doctors can fit you in this afternoon. How much time should we plan to give you?”

Eva glanced at her too young, too beautiful reflection. ”Thirty years should do it.”

Elaine Cunningham is a New York Times bestselling author best known for her work in licensed settings such as Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, Everquest, and Pathfinder Tales. Her publications include 20 novels, over three dozen short stories, and a graphic novel. For more information, please visit www.elainecunningham.com.

This story was previously published on www.elainecunningham.com.

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