Loving Your Parents Is a Trap

"Model Boy," excerpted from the novel THE HISTORY OF LIVING FOREVER by Jake Wolff


Don’t get me wrong; I love a quiet novel, a novel willfully and unapologetically limited in its narrative scope, a highly nuanced character study, say, sparsely populated, with an abbreviated timeline, a novel that is both meditative in its delivery, and deliberate in its unfolding. But then, there is the audacious world-beater, that not-so-quiet novel possessing a narrative conception, and thematic scope so ambitious that it borders on reckless, a veritable whirlwind of disparate elements that can barely sustain the force of its own invention.

Jake Wolff’s debut,The History of Living Forever, is a century-spanning, geographically sprawling tome, encompassing subjects as diverse as chemistry, alchemy, history, and time travel along the way. Wolff’s novel follows two primary characters: Sammy Tampari, an alchemist-turned-drug-smuggler-turned-high school teacher who has spent his life in pursuit of an elixir of life; and Conrad Aybinder, the gifted student who finds himself embroiled in Sammy’s mysteries and machinations as he races to save his father from a fatal liver disease.

While it may sound like a lot, the secret of Wolff’s success is in the consolidation of the novel’s thematic ideal, perhaps best given voice in a single question: What will we undertake, and how far will we go for love?

In the excerpt below, which comprises the book’s third chapter, “Model Boy,” we return to Sammy’s childhood—in early 1990s Manhattan—to see the origins of his obsession with alchemy and the elixir. In this, our only glimpse of Sammy as a boy, we find a character plagued not by physical problems but by problems of the mind—an undiagnosed mental illness that has left Sammy wondering, What’s wrong with me? The chapter shows us a character trying desperately to understand himself, a character who will follow that question wherever it leads him: to the confidential files in his father’s study, to a secret society of coin collectors, and even to an open window, high above the street.

Jonathan Evison
Author of Lawn Boy

Loving Your Parents Is a Trap

“Model Boy”
by Jake Wolff

Sammy Tampari lies on his stomach on the floor of the living room, pretending to read. He is eight years old, and it is Saturday, early afternoon. He turns the pages of the book, licking his fingers, keeping a steady rhythm (too steady, if anyone paid attention), but what he’s really doing is observing his father, a man he calls Don. Don is actually reading. He’s a psychiatrist. When he comes home from work, he talks about his patients into a tape recorder, and then a transcription service turns these recordings into huge towers of paper, which Don can read silently, for hours, with no breaks to pee. Sammy likes to watch him, to study his face as he reads, but Don has said, repeatedly, “Stop spying on me, Samuel.” This is one of his father’s Traps, which is the best word Sammy has for it. Because Sammy wasn’t spying, not at first; he was just watching, right out in the open, not knowing it was wrong. But now that his father has told him to stop spying, Sammy has no choice but to spy, to watch his father secretly, to feel the shame of this disobedience.

Once, in reference to an important painting—six flowers surrounding a tomato—his father said, “Don’t even think about touching this,” and then it was all Sammy could think about, for that day and the next.

Sammy turns another page, sighing as he does it, and this makes Don look up from his papers. “Are you bored?” he asks.

“No, sir,” Sammy says.

Don grunts and returns to reading. He is a small man but handsome, even very handsome, with thick honey-blond hair and a broad dimpled chin that seems to lead Don from place to place, that seems to have—if this is possible for a chin—an awareness of its effect on people. On weekdays Don wears black suits, gray suits, or black-and-gray suits, but on Saturday, he dresses in a sweater and slacks. Sammy only sees his father in a T-shirt at bedtime, and it is hard to see him this way, like a turtle without its shell.

Directly behind Don’s of office sits a smaller room, cavelike and cold, where Don stores his coin collection. For Sammy, this collection is twice over a source of consternation. First of all, the coins are used, again and again, as example par excellence of a hobby, which Sammy’s parents feel he most urgently lacks. It’s true: Sammy does not have hobbies. He takes no pleasure in them. Second, despite its use as a rhetorical device, Sammy isn’t even permitted inside the collection room. He has been allowed, only once, to see the collection from the doorway. When he did, he was surprised to find the room filled not only with coins but also a very many books, which he presumed (incorrectly, it would turn out) to be about coins. Indeed (his father had used that word), it was the books, and their preservation, that rendered the room off-limits. Coins, his father explained, were very hard to destroy, even by children, and this was part of their appeal. With surprisingly little effort, Don said, you could find a coin that would be the oldest thing in your house, oldest by several hundred years. But books. Oh, no. Children, especially boys, must not be allowed to handle old books.

As for the coins themselves, they came in sizes large and small, bronze, silver, and gold, mostly circular, some more square. Sammy would admit that the sheer number of them was impressive— two whole walls full, plus several smaller displays—and he would admit that there was a certain magnetism to seeing, this close together, so many objects alike in size and shape and yet, in a profound way, completely foreign to one another. And it’s true, this nearness without exactness produced an interesting visual effect, so that when he tilted his head, a kind of shimmer passed over the coins, like the sun traveling quickly over a river, like a wink, a raise of the eyebrows, the promise of a secret.

Don grunts again, this time to himself, and Sammy thinks, What’s wrong with me?

From across the house, the long, empty hallways report the sound of the front door opening. His mother is home. The Tamparis live in a Manhattan brownstone, a building so old that Sammy can’t re-create it with LEGOs; he’s found the right colors, even a plastic door with a fake stained-glass window, but the shiny plastic simply can’t reproduce the history of the place. He hears his mother drop keys into her purse and kick off her shoes in the landing. He hears the sound of her bare feet in the hallway. The entryway is rich with windows, and the house is bright, but as you proceed, the rooms darken, so that coming home is, for Sammy, like falling asleep.

His mother, Leena, sweeps into the room, patting his head, inspecting the wall hangings—she’s an art appraiser—as though she hasn’t been home in years. Leena is more plain in the face than her husband but much taller and thinner; from behind, Sammy can see the beginning of her spine form below her neck and disappear into the low back of a cotton dress. Sammy knows he has inherited the best of them both, at least physically; he will be tall, thin, and pretty, and everywhere he goes, people will look at him. They already do.

“SonAndHusband,” Leena says, acknowledging them. She bends almost in half at the waist to kiss Don’s head, and when he looks up at her, there is warmth between them. Sammy can recognize these feelings in others, which he thinks must be good, must be a sign that he is not totally, irreversibly broken.

Leena adjusts the slider for the ceiling lights, which are recessed like the eyes of a doll, and the room brightens. Her hair is curly and red—last week it was brown—and she grabs a strand of it now, examines its color in this new light.

Sammy can recognize these feelings in others, which he thinks must be good, must be a sign that he is not totally, irreversibly broken.

When she’s done, she catches Sammy’s eye. “Your friends are outside. The sun is there, too. Go play and be free.”

Sammy closes his book. This is his mother’s version of a Trap, except it’s not a Trap really, just a Sadness: she tells Sammy to do the things that she’d like to be doing, but never does. His mother dreams of playing basketball for the New York Knicks. He knows this because when she naps on the couch, she updates the score in her sleep and sometimes, like a peaceful sigh, says, “Swoosh.”

He has accepted that his parents don’t love him.

Those boys outside, whichever boys she’s seen, are not his friends. They’re just neighborhood boys. To Leena, all young people know and admire one another. Sammy wonders if this assumption comes from some great happiness in her own childhood or whether, instead, it has formed in response to some unhappiness, some old wound. Sammy does not have any friends. At school, he is so much smarter than his classmates that he feels the weight of their stupidity on his chest—even after the bell rings, like waking up from a nightmare to find yourself suffocating, still, under the heart-crushing burden of your fear.

Nonetheless, he stands and stretches. With Leena home, Don will read in the bedroom, away from the noise of the television (which Leena is turning on now, checking the TV GUIDE for schedules) and away from spying eyes. Sammy might as well go outside if it will make Leena happy.

“Hey,” Leena says to him. “How many three-pointers did Trent Tucker make in 1986?”


She laughs with delight. This is the one thing he knows can make his mother happy: his memory. Words, faces, field goal percentages, he can just . . . remember things.

“How about you teach him something useful,” Don says.

Sammy trudges down the hall, Leena calling to him to take his skateboard, so he does, though he’s never actually used it. On good days, he would confess that it does bring him pleasure to carry the board around, to be seen with it. He thinks it suggests to strangers some hidden swiftness, which he has chosen not to show them.

Outside, the sun is high and hot, the sky a distant river blue. There are boys, yes, four of them, playing four square in the street. This is a relief to Sammy: they will have no use for a fifth. He tucks his skateboard under his arm and sits on the shaded bricks of the stoop. His mother likes to say Manhattan is changing— she likes to say it even though it pains her—but to Sammy, everything looks the same as it always has, except maybe for the coffee trees planted along the sidewalk, which for some reason, this summer, have not grown leaves and now sit naked under the sun like skeletons. The cars in front of his house are parked very close together, their bumpers nearly kissing, and it gives Sammy a sick, shuddering feeling, as he imagines the drivers trying to extract these cars from their spaces.

Three stupid pigeons—one white, almost dovelike, the others as dirty and gray as the street—land near the neighborhood boys, who are hurling a spongy red ball across the chalk lines of the playing field. The pigeons line up in single file, as though they are waiting to play, and this distracts the tallest, oldest boy—who is not wearing a shirt, who has a thin line of hair emerging from his nylon shorts and rising to his belly button, it’s really something— and so he loses the point and throws the red ball at the pigeons, who scatter. Sammy looks away from the boy’s hair and follows the white pigeon as it flaps—in the inelegant way of pigeons— toward his house. He worries it might fly directly into his bedroom window, but at the last moment it thrusts upward, into the camouflage of some fast-moving clouds.

How high above the street is my bedroom? Sammy wonders, and the urgency of this question frightens him. He’s always being struck by thoughts like this, that arrive seemingly out of nowhere but desperately, with an insistence that reminds him of his father’s chin. He stacks imaginary versions of himself on top of each other until his hypothetical head has reached the window. His bedroom, he decides, is four and a half Sammies off the ground.

When he returns his attention to the street, there is a man standing in front of him, blocking his view of the boys. The man is wearing dark jeans and a green collared shirt. Wiry tufts of chest hair sprout from the neckline of this shirt, and it is not like the hair of the neighborhood boy—Sammy does not want to look at this.

“Hey, kid,” the guy says. “Got a minute?”

Here is why Sammy spies on his father.

Every Wednesday Don receives the package from the transcription service—delivered in person, it must be signed for, “And not by a kid, please,” said the delivery boy, once, when Sammy opened the door—with a box full of patient files. Every Thursday evening Don meets with the New York Society of Numismatics, i.e., coin collectors, and of course Sammy is not invited, while Leena goes to something she calls Fun Club. This Sammy has seen, and it’s just women smoking cigarettes. The babysitter hired to watch Sammy—a college girl with polychromatic eyes—doesn’t care what he does so long as he doesn’t go “out of sight,” the mere thought of which makes the girl breathe so frantically that Sammy can map the shape of her breasts.

This means that every Thursday evening, for four hours, Sammy can read his father’s files. The coin cave Don locks, but the files, miraculously, he leaves unprotected, perhaps assuming they’re too dry, or too complex, to attract Sammy’s interest. The first time, he read them out of boredom. Sammy really doesn’t have anything, not one thing, he particularly likes to do. He plays with LEGOs when ordered, but they make his mind anxious and his fingers feel raw. Reading books is okay, but only when they’re about science, and even then he could take them or leave them. In bed each night, he cries from 10:00 to 10:15 (he sets the timer on his bedside clock). It’s almost a relief, this crying, though he can’t explain from what. To use a phrase of his mother’s, “It’s just one of those things.” Why did the pigeons land near those boys, and not some other place? Why did they arrange themselves in a line?

These things could not be explained: the behavior of pigeons, the crying, his lack of pleasure in activities that drive other boys into frenzies of excitement (video games, cap guns), that his parents loved each other (proving they were capable of love) but not him, that if he listened carefully, in a quiet place, he could hear something rattling in the space between his shoulder and neck, as if a part of him had broken off. He did want to touch the babysitter’s breasts, and he did want to do . . . something with that neighborhood boy, but even these things he wanted vaguely, indifferently—he wouldn’t give up anything to have them. Or was it that he had nothing to give up? That there was nothing in life he valued?

All of these, he had thought, were questions without answers. But then he read his father’s les, and he found stacks upon stacks of pages of his father trying to answer them . . . for other people. He read about someone named Edna, who cried so much in public she lost her job, which made her cry even more, so then she lost her kids. He read about William, who felt unloved by his parents (this was Don writing this!), and for whom Don had prescribed medication. Sammy read about Christina, who told Sammy’s father—and these were her actual words, though Sammy could barely believe it—that she had always felt broken. To solve these people’s problems, Don had to take a cross-sectional view, plus a longitudinal view, to create a working hypothesis.

Sammy, too, would do this. He would read the files. He would watch Don read the files. He would figure out, once and for all, what was wrong with him.

“Seriously,” the guy with the chest hair is saying, “you’re a real beautiful kid.”

Sammy clutches his skateboard. He wonders how tall the man is, how many of him it would take to reach Sammy’s bedroom from the street.

“This is your house?” the guy says, responding to Sammy’s glance back at the window. The man has bad teeth, but his clothes look expensive, or at least they seem to have been chosen carefully. “Are your parents home?”

Like all children, Sammy has been instructed not to talk to strangers. But one of his thoughts comes to him, and he can’t help himself. “Are you a patient of Don’s?” he asks.

The man’s eyebrows narrow. “A patient I am not,” he says, very seriously, but then he smiles his crooked smile. “In fact, I’ve been told I’m rather impatient.” This makes him laugh. Behind him, the red ball escapes the playing field and goes bump-bump-bump down the street.

Sammy has lost his curiosity and stands to go inside. He tries to turn his back to the man, but the man has his arm.

“Wait,” the guy says. “Do you want to make a lot of money?”

Sammy considers this. It’s not a question he’s ever been asked before. “I think I already have a lot of money.”

The guy casts his eyes over Sammy’s house. “That’s probably true,” he admits. “But there’s more to it than money.”

“No, thank you,” Sammy says. “Goodbye.”

“So polite!” The guy still has Sammy’s arm. “Let me give you something.” The man fishes in his pocket with his other arm and produces a small business card, the kind Don keeps in his wallet. “I photograph kids. Beautiful kids.”

Sammy’s right arm is holding the skateboard, so the man has no choice but to release Sammy’s left and press the card into his hand. Sammy grips it tight, bending the paper, and the man grimaces. “Just show it to your folks.”

Sammy climbs the steps to his door. It has not occurred to him before now to meet one of his father’s patients, but now he wants to, badly. He imagines meeting all of them in a warm, public place—there are coins, and there is four square, and there is the smoking of cigarettes. It would be their own Fun Club.

“Hey, model boy!” the man yells from the street as Sammy opens the door. “Tell your folks to call that number. The world needs beauty.”

The world needs beauty.

Sammy says nothing and enters the bright foyer of his house. The sound of televised basketball wafts like a smell from the living room, and Leena has often dragged him to live games, so he really can smell it: the popcorn, the beer, the sweat from the players, which runs and runs down their muscled arms until the ball is slick with it and they start missing shots. Sammy wonders if athletes would ever need a psychiatrist or if their minds are too simple. He has heard his mother call Patrick Ewing a “head case.”

He goes upstairs to his bedroom, which is across the hall from his parents’ bedroom. Don is in there with the door closed, not to be disturbed. Sammy’s own room stays clean because of the housekeeper who comes once a week, but it is also cramped with his bed and bookshelf and homework desk and neon-colored beanbags, the fabric of which develops a weird film in summer. The walls are white, with a hint of yellow, and he’s covered them in glossy posters of the Ferrari Testarossa, a fast and flat car. This is one of those things he can’t explain. He has no interest in driving this car—no interest in driving, period—but something about its pancake geometry, its simplicity of form, excites him.

He goes to the window, opens it, and looks out at the neighborhood boys, still playing. The strange man is gone. The air smells of gasoline and heat. All of the cars parked in front of his house, he notices from above, are the same shade of blue. One of the boys makes a violent motion with the ball, and the tallest boy says, “Hey, no spikesies!,” and an argument ensues. The bleached limbs of the coffee trees cast fingered shadows over all of this, and it is pretty—actually, so pretty—and just one more reason for Sammy to go on living, to take pleasure from this good city, this good house, his good parents. What was it the man said?

The world needs beauty.

Sammy jumps out of the window.

Several weeks later, on a Thursday evening, Don takes Sammy to his first meeting of the New York Society of Numismatics. Sammy’s arm is still in a cast, his left arm—broken right where that strange man, the photographer, had grabbed him. It wasn’t the man who broke it—that was the fall, four and a half Sammies to the sidewalk. When he landed, the world went white with pain. Sometimes he thinks he never left that world, the pain world, as though his jumping flipped some switch on the universe. But still, the two events—the man grabbing him, the jump—have become linked in Sammy’s mind.

And not just his. Don and Leena have tried to convince him that he didn’t jump, exactly—the man scared him, and he ran, and he fell out of the window. An accident. Sammy is not convinced by this, nor is the psychiatrist he now visits once a week: Dr. Gillian Huang, an interesting woman—interesting because she seems to watch people, including his parents, with an intensity he recognizes as his own. She has black hair with heavy, side-parted bangs and thick-rimmed glasses that she adjusts constantly, forward and back. She does not buy the panic theory, but she did agree (reluctantly?) to consider his fall an act of “self-harm,” rather than a “suicide attempt,” considering his young age and the short distance from the window to the street. (It would take a drop of seven or eight Sammies, he’s since calculated, to ensure a fatal outcome.)

Dr. Huang did echo his parents on one central issue: hobbies. “You need some,” she said to him, and in their first group meeting, Dr. Huang suggested that each of them—Sammy, herself, and his parents—propose one such hobby. He would be allowed to veto one of these proposals; the others, he would have to try.

Sammy suggested reading. He was already doing it anyway.

Dr. Huang suggested journaling. Every day he would need to write about his life: what he did, how he was feeling. This didn’t sound so bad to Sammy, relative to his mother’s suggestion.

Leena said he should join a basketball team. VETOED.

When the needle landed on Don, he shifted uncomfortably in his chair, bereft of ideas in a way that seemed embarrassing— what kind of psychiatrist was he?

“How about this,” Dr. Huang said patiently. “Why don’t you tell Sam some of the hobbies you enjoy.”

“He collects coins!” Leena said, relieved to break the tension. She was sitting between Don and Sammy on the small couch that faced Dr. Huang’s chair. The office was carpeted, clean, and slightly too warm. A well-manicured-but-dehydrated ficus tree sat potted in the corner, the tips of its leaves pointing to the ground.

“Good.” Dr. Huang’s voice had a liquid quality that contrasted with the dry air and produced, in Sammy, a pleasurable hum. “Does his coin collection interest you, Sam?”

“He doesn’t let me near it.” It made Sammy feel good to say this to her, in front of them.

Don lifted his chin, defensive, but Leena interjected before he had the chance to explain himself. “Maybe you could take him to one of your coin meetings?”

“The New York Society of Numismatics,” Don clarified, in response to a single raised eyebrow from Dr. Huang. He clenched his teeth. “That’s a good idea,” he said, chewing the words.

Dr. Huang smiled, indifferent to his obvious displeasure, and focused her eyes on Sammy. “Reading, journals, coins.” She ticked them off on her fingers. “Showing up is half the battle.”

The coin is gold, or at least the color of gold, and the size of a half-dollar. The side of the coin that Sammy would call heads— though he now knows it’s called the obverse—shows a man standing on a pedestal, striking a pose that reminds Sammy of the ballet dancers he can see through the window of the studio near his house, their heads lifted, arms raised, fingers and toes extended. The man has wings like an angel, but he wears a hat that also has wings, and so do his boots. This, Don says, is a poetic redundancy. The man is actually a god, Mercury, and below him an inscription reads Arte de Industria—“art by industry.”

The tails (“The reverse,” Don corrects) is nothing but text, a full paragraph but circular, coiling around the coin like a sleeping snake. But now the coin collectors have lost interest in walking Sammy through his first close reading of a coin, and they only summarize it for him. “It basically says mankind can make stuff that is just as beautiful as found in nature,” says a much-older man, whom Sammy has identified as the leader of this group, even though he was not introduced this way. They are sitting in a circle, maybe twenty of them, but everyone’s chair—including Don’s—points toward this ancient fellow.

They are in the library of a house on the Upper East Side— whose house, Sammy isn’t sure. No one seems to be acting as host, the way his mother does at home, arranging seating, fixing drinks (or telling someone else to do those things). The air is thick with dust and wine (which everyone is drinking) and the smell of old books and old people. Sammy wouldn’t call it stuffy, exactly— the room is quite large—but there is a sense of permanence, of objects and people that either don’t move at all or move slowly. There are three walls of books, floor to ceiling, and their age gives them a uniformity of color, just as many of the men, even the Asian one, share an ashy, faded complexion. (Don is one of the youngest.) In the middle of the circle is a table, and on it are more books, several bottles of wine, and a sign-in sheet with a pen attached by string to a clipboard.

What there isn’t much of, surprisingly, is coins. “There’s a bit more to it than that,” Don says when Sammy remarks on this, and even the gold coin he now holds between his forefinger and thumb was produced offhandedly and without much interest. “Does anyone have something he can look at?” Don had said, and now Sammy feels the way he does at a restaurant when the waiter hands him a children’s menu.

“We approach the subjects of coins obliquely,” the ancient man explains, and Sammy likes that he uses this word: obliquely. It’s clear he does not speak often to children. “We approach the subject . . . alchemically.”

“Alchemy,” Sammy says. “Like chemistry?” At home, he has a chemistry set. It’s just a toy—used to make volcanoes or monsters that foam at the mouth—but Sammy has hacked it to test the paint in his house for lead. So far: negative.

Apparently his question was loaded because all of the adults, except Don, begin to laugh.

“There’s no difference between alchemy and chemistry,” the ancient man says quickly, as though to immediately curb debate.

He’s not fast enough. The Asian man clears his throat. “The continued existence of the two words—alchemy and chemistry— suggests there is a difference.”

The ancient man throws up his hands, but the subject has broken loose.

“For me,” says another man to Sammy, “chemistry is more practical, while alchemy is more thinky.”

Don leans forward in his seat, fingers caged, and Sammy wonders if this is how he talks to his patients. Sammy’s gut says the answer is no, that the way Don is acting is a performance for Sammy’s benefit. But why? “I believe you’re referring,” Don says in a low voice, “to what Goltz calls the science of matter versus the philosophy of matter.”

“Alchemy is a subset of chemistry,” says the only woman in the room, a white-haired wrinkle-face (that’s what Leena calls old women) with a faint Long Island accent. “Alchemy is chemistry with a specific purpose.”

“What purpose?” Sammy asks, his interest piqued by the dissent.

He is startled when several of the coin collectors answer this question at once, in unplanned unison: “The elixir of life.” This word, elixir, makes no impression on Sammy, but it clearly means a lot to these people. He picks at his cast.

“This leads us back to our proper subject,” continues the old man, trying to end the unwelcome digression. “Last week we examined the manuscript that claims to be the fourth volume of the Steganographia, proposing a fuller recipe for the elixir than that described in Trithemius’s other work. Do we have thoughts on the veracity of this manuscript?”

“The recipe’s use of spikenard root is consistent with Trithemius’s research,” Don says, glancing sidelong at Sammy in a way that seems—though this can’t be true—almost shy. Sammy’s thoughts keep being pulled to his cast, which is so itchy he could scream, but something in Don’s voice, a smallness, moves Sammy to alertness. In spite of himself, he’s drawn to it, the same way a distant plane, a fleck of white against a blue sky, makes him stand on his tiptoes. He wants to see that shyness again.

So he says, “I don’t get what this has to do with coins, even obliquely.”

Don’s face goes red—there it is!—but the white-haired wrinkle-face laughs. “There’s a centuries-old bond between alchemy and numismatics,” she explains.

“Look again at the coin you’re holding,” says the ancient man, so Sammy does. “‘Art by industry.’ The coin commemorates the supposed transmutation of mercury into gold.”

“It’s all fiction, of course,” Don says quickly, his face still bright. Seeing this, Sammy feels as if he were lighter than air, as if he jumped out of his window now, he would rise.

“So you talk about the history?” Sammy asks.

“Not history in a general sense,” says the Asian man. “The history of the elixir.”

“It’s just for fun,” Don says. “A thought experiment.”

The ancient man has been writing something on a slip a paper torn from the sign-in sheet. He holds it out to Sammy, who has to stand and cross the circle to take it with his one good arm. “There’s your homework. Next time, you can tell us why this is important.”

The paper says:

HgS+O2  → Hg + SO2

Sammy takes the formula to his chair. Everyone is staring at him, but not seriously—to them, he’s just a kid. A baby historian. “What is the elixir of life?” he asks. “Something that makes you immortal?”

“That depends who you ask,” says the ancient man, “and when they lived. But in most modern cultures, true immortality is not the objective. Do you know the word panacea?”

Sammy does know the word. “So if there was something wrong with someone, even if you didn’t know what it was, the elixir would make them feel better?”

Don is watching Sammy hard. “It’s all just stories. A hobby, remember? Don’t get excited.”

Sammy nods, but one of his thoughts comes to him, as hot and urgent as fire.

It’s a Trap.

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