A GENEROUS GIFT • by Fenella Grace

“How much does it cost?”

“That depends; how much can you afford?”

The man who had entered Ava’s office was seventy if he was a day. His face was set in a permanent scowl, his lips pursed at the corners like he was always just seconds away from asking to see the manager and attempting to have her fired. She knew who he was, of course. Everybody did. That didn’t stop her from pasting a vacant stare and an empty smile onto her face.

He would pay her whatever she asked. They all did, all these one-percenters who came in looking to avoid the cold dark hand of fate. So Ava asked the question she asked everyone who came her way. How much can you afford?

The mother needing more time before sickness stole her from her children had been asked for a bag of penny sweets. The veteran who fought in too many wars and just wanted to be young and vital gave his service medals and promised her he would stand for peace. She asked only for what they could afford.

This man. This man would give her half of his shares in his billion-dollar company. Ava had known the price she would ask the moment he walked in; she’d been doing this for long enough now to instinctively know what a man would pay for her gift. A few million cash and half your shares. It was a fair price.

Hell, it was more than fair.

“I’ll take half.”

“Of everything?” The man asked, grimacing. Ava smiled.

He would give her half of everything but she knew he would hate her for taking it. He would curse her name as often as the poor and the downtrodden praised her kind heart.

Ava charged a fair price for all, but the rich always felt slighted.

That, she had learned, was the problem with the rich. They felt attacked by fair treatment. Not that their hurt feelings ever resulted in anything more than grumbles. That, Ava was certain, was part of why they hated her so much. Nobody else had ever made them feel so powerless. She was the only person in the world who could rewind time, gently nudging the cells back to what they were.

She had something they couldn’t get anywhere else. A total monopoly.

Giving health to the sick and youth to the elderly was a matter of reminding their bodies of what had been and what should be. It was easy once you knew how. Unravelling DNA strands could be rewrapped and alleles given new life; anything was possible, provided you were working with the body rather than against it.

The problem, for the very rich, was that they didn’t know how to do it.

It didn’t matter how much money they poured into discovering the secret it remained stubbornly out of reach. Ava guarded her secret with all she had; it existed only in her head. Her hands were the only ones that could make the formula. They could not do the impossible, not matter how they tried.

The secret had been passed down to her, a legacy from her mentor, who had been incalculably old. Mr Longworht had been the last of his family by the time she met him. He shared his secret when he decided  he trusted her. When he did, she made a promise that she intended to keep.

That there was money to be made from the promise was a bonus.

The secret would die with her if anything happened to her. A failsafe, she once said to a wealthy and kind woman after she was asked how she could charge what she did. The other woman had studied her for a long moment and then said, “You’d better find some loyal and effective staff.”

“I give my staff eternal youth and good health for all their loved ones. They would kill for me,” Ava had replied.

The woman had nodded her reply and given Ava several precious stones. She had promised to send some polite, respectful patrons Ava’s way. Then she breezed out the door leaving a cloud of Chanel No.5 behind her. They had not seen each other again.

Ava went out of her way to watch her next movie. She had looked beautiful, and she’d been billed as her own daughter.

The rumours spread quietly and quickly after that. They say, in a quaint little blue-painted house on the seafront of an unnamed seaside town lived a woman that knew the secret to eternal youth.

You can find her if you know who to ask.

You can live forever for a fair price, but be careful not to cheat or lie. Dishonest or cruel souls often find themselves back where they started, with only a heavy heart and an empty wallet to show for it.

The secret of eternal youth is hers to give and hers to take away.

Fenella Grace is a British writer who lives and works in the Haute Savoie, France.

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