Clockwork Tangerine

This is a part of a series of stories I wrote, based on characters from my novels The Long-Timer Chronicles, which I’m developing for inclusion in a future volume of the series.

Tangerine Carson, better known as Tangie, looks at the ornate clock on the wall and watches the slow-motion progress of the minute hand. She checks her watch, the white gold contrasting against her dark skin and confirms the time. She’s been waiting for half an hour but she knows this time it’s her fault as she was late for her doctor’s appointment and they had to squeeze her in between those more punctual. Since learning her secret, she hasn’t really needed to be under the care of a doctor, and she wishes her employer didn’t insist on annual physicals so she wouldn’t have to bother with them. All they do is ask questions she’s certain she can’t answer without people thinking she’s crazy. She expects this examination will yield the same results as every one she’s had up to this point, that she’s perfectly healthy and still looks like a woman in her early twenties though she’s nearly forty-three.

How she looks so young is one of the questions she can’t answer, though she well knows the answer.

“I just eat right and exercise,” she always lies. If she told the truth they’d think she was some sort of freak, that is, if they believe what she’s told them and it’s almost certain that they won’t.

Tangie finds it hard to believe herself, yet every time she looks in the mirror the evidence stares back at her. Her daughter Beatrice, called BeBe, who’s twenty-seven, already looks like her older sister which most people are quick to remark on when the two are out together. When they learn Tangie’s true relationship to BeBe, they respond with an incredulous look and the exclamation, “No, it can’t be. You’re much too young.”

“I guess I’m just one of the lucky ones,” she replies. She is one of the lucky ones, more so than anyone could imagine.

She thinks back to the night of the shooting twenty years ago, the night her life changed forever. She remembered being confronted by Lukas, her abusive boyfriend while she was on her way back to the shelter where she and the kids had been living for nearly nine months. She recalled how he’d cornered her in a vacant lot on Houston Street and pulled a gun. The rest was a haze. She recalled seeing the flash as the gun fired and felt the sensation of being hit just above her left breast. Then there was nothing, just total darkness.

Then, suddenly she was aware again, sitting in a pool of blood, her blood, with her friend Victoria consoling her. The cops were staring at her like she was the second coming which, in a way, she was. She hadn’t understood what it meant that night and didn’t really believe it once Victoria explained how they were different than everyone else.

“Ms. Carson?” the nurse says from the door that leads back to the examination rooms.

The nurse takes her height and weight, five feet six inches and one hundred twenty-eight pounds, then leads her into the exam room. Her vital signs are perfect, as usual, so the nurse leaves her there to await the doctor.

Tangie glances at her watch and decides she’ll need to get takeout somewhere on her way back to work. She had no good excuse for being late. Today was a slow news day and therefore no production assistants were needed so she’d been playing around on the Internet, checking her email and looking at some photos a friend sent her. She almost forgot about the appointment entirely but her calendar alerted her about fifteen minutes too late to make it to the doctor’s on time.

“Ms. Carson,” Doctor Gray says as she enters holding a file. “I don’t know what to tell you. Just like clockwork, everything looks good. I wonder why I even bother with tests since the outcome is never any different.”

“Thanks, doctor,” Tangie says. “I guess I just take care of myself.”

“I guess you do,” the doctor says. “I was talking to a colleague about you and he couldn’t believe what I was telling him. I know some African-American women don’t show their ages, but you’re unbelievable.” The doctor hesitates a moment, then says, “What would you say if I asked to do a study on you. A case study.”

“I don’t know about that,” Tangie says. “I’m not all that special. Just good clean living.”

“No, I think it’s more than that,” the Doctor Gray says. “I just want you go keep a diary for a couple of months, what you eat, how often you exercise, how often you rest. Routine stuff.”

Tangie considers it. “I suppose I could, but I don’t think you’ll find anything unusual.”

“You’re the healthiest person I’ve ever seen,” the doctor says. “You’ve never had the flu even though you refuse to get a shot. Your cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar are always under control. Your physical condition is closer to that of a twenty-year-old and you’re over forty. There has to be something you’re doing right.”

“Look,” Tangie says, “I don’t do anything special. I eat my share of junk food, more than my share at times. I don’t work out very much and I generally get no more than six or seven hours of sleep at night, a lot of times even less. There’s nothing special that I do. It’s just the way I am.”

“I’ve been treating you for ten years and you haven’t changed a bit,” Doctor Gray says. “As I said, I’ve never seen anything like it before. My colleague thinks I’m exaggerating.”

Tangie thinks about it a few seconds, then says, “If I tell you the truth, you’ll have me locked up.”

“The truth about what?” the doctor says.

“Why I look this way,” she says. “Why I’m so healthy.”

“I promise I won’t have you locked up,” Doctor Gray says. “You can tell me anything.”

Tangie hesitates a moment, then says, “When I first saw you, you noticed the scar on my chest. You said it was lucky I wasn’t killed.”

“That’s right,” the doctor says.

“What if I told you I was killed,” Tangie says. “What if I told you I did die that night, I just came back.”

“I’d say that’s nearly impossible,” the doctor says. “I know of patients who’ve flat-lined and were revived but I’ve never heard of anyone getting up from a fatal bullet wound.”

“But that’s what happened,” Tangie says. “I died and came back to life. I can do that. The reason I look as young as I do is because I’m not aging the same as a normal person. I’m aging much slower.”

“I find that very hard to believe,” the doctor says. “If you don’t want to do the study, you can just say so. You don’t have to invent some far-fetched story about yourself.”

“I said you wouldn’t believe me,” Tangie says. “But I’m telling you the truth.”

“Perhaps I’m not the doctor you should be talking to,” Doctor Gray says. “I know a very good psychiatrist who deals with this sort of thing.”

“I’m not delusional,” Tangie says. “I know it’s hard to believe.” She pauses, then thinks of an idea. “I can prove it to you.”

“Okay,” the doctor says skeptically. “How will you do that?”

Tangie retrieves her bag and rummages through it. She removes a nail file.

“Now watch,” she says. She holds out her right hand and plunges the nail file into her palm. Then she pulls it out and blood spills from the cut.

“My god!” the doctor says. “What are you doing?”

She goes to one of the drawers to look for some gauze.

“No don’t look away,” Tangie says. “You have to watch.”

“Watch what? You bleeding to death?” Doctor Gray says.

“Just watch, you’ll see,” Tangie says.

The doctor takes Tangie’s hand and holds up where she can see the cut. As she watches, the cut stops bleeding and begins to repair itself. The doctor stares at Tangie’s hand until the cut is completely healed. She releases the hand and takes a step back.

“How did you do that?” she says, her eyes still focused on Tangie’s hand.

“Exactly how it works, I don’t know,” Tangie says. “But it’s how I survived this.” She places her hand on her chest where the scar is.

“That’s impossible,” the doctor says. “Nobody heals that fast.”

“I just did,” Tangie says. “It’s why I look so young and why I don’t get sick. I’m different than everyone else. It’s why I’m going to live for a really long time.”

The doctor is shaking her head. “How long?”

“I’m not sure,” Tangie says. “But my friend, who’s like me, said we can live for at least a thousand years or more.”

“This is incredible,” the doctor says. “Frankly I find it hard to believe, but your hand–”

“See this is why I can’t participate in a study,” Tangie says. “I don’t want others to know about me. There’s no telling how they’ll react.”

“This is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard,” Doctor Gray says. “How did you get this way?”

“I suppose I was born like it,” Tangie says. “I’ve never done anything special, just lived.”

The doctor is still shaking her head. “I can see why you’d want to keep something like this under wraps.” Giving Tangie a disbelieving look she says, “A thousand years?”

Tangie nods. “Probably longer.”

“And you say there are others?”

“Several that I’ve met,” Tangie says.

“Unbelievable,” the doctor says. “Now I really want to study you. Find out more about what you can do.”

“Like I say, I’d like to keep it under wraps,” Tangie says.

“No, no, nothing like that,” the doctor says. “I’d just take some blood samples, maybe some DNA. It would be totally discreet.”

“What about the other doctor you’ve been talking to?” Tangie says.

“He doesn’t need to know,” Doctor Gray says. “No one needs to know, I just want to find out more about you for my own research.” She looks at Tangie and smiles. “I mean, if I tried to publish any of this I’d be laughed out of the AMA.”

Tangie returns the smile and says, “As long as it stays between us, I don’t mind. But it can go no further.”

“Yes, yes, I understand,” the doctor says. “To think I’m sitting on the biggest find in all of medical history and no one will believe me.”

She asks Tangie to set up a time when they can get together again and excuses herself to see other patients. Tangie collects her things and heads out to the appointment desk.

“Does the doctor want to see you again?” the clerk says.

“Definitely,” Tangie says.

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