Groceries, Tattoos, and Death
A short story about the hardships of buying groceries in a cold deterministic universe.
I always knew how I was going to die. It was written on my skin from the day I was born. I also knew how the people around me were going to die, but the thing is that knowing these kinds of things will never be enough to prepare you for when it happens. For one, I didn’t think I’d be buying groceries for my last dinner with Dad at a moment like this.
Before I rang the bell, I could hear Dad’s footsteps approaching the door. He opened the door and smiled at me.
“Were you planning on running away with my food, daughter of mine?”
“No,” I said, “The traffic was horrible,”
He smiled and took the bags from my hand and headed to the kitchen. I followed and closed the door behind me.
The warmth of the house was much better than the cold outside. Through the years, some things about it never changed about it. It's shabbier than I remembered, but the things that mattered, the family photos, the scent, the warmth, were still the same.
I made myself comfortable on the living room couch in front of the TV that was always on. My briefcase was still on the foot of his seat, right where he put it this morning.
He didn't even bother to open it.
I heard his footsteps again, steadily approaching the living room.
“Snack time,” his voice soon followed.
He slowly put the tray of Pepsi bottles and bags of chips on the table and collapsed on his seat.
“That took all the focus and energy out of me, and I used to work with dangerous chemicals,” he chuckled.
I didn’t reply. I picked up a bottle and let the TV fill the space between us.
“So, have you smooched any boys since I left the lab?”
“Y’know, it’s been two years, and you’re 26. I met your mom around that age.”
“Dad, please, you need to take this seriously. If you just open my briefcase and go through the research papers.”
"Not this again."
"We could sav—"
“Save my life? The 8 hours I have left of it?” he remarked,
“At least let us put you in the sta—”
“No. I’m not getting into a stasis chamber.”
“I designed that thing, Sara,” he said, “I’d be no better than a zombie in a comma,”
“But you’d be alive,” I said,
“I’d be better dead,”
The room fell silent again. The TV came back to the spotlight as he got up with the tray and headed to the kitchen, leaving a last remark before he went.
“Let's just make dinner together, and maybe we’ll talk about it.”
He left, and I was left alone with my thoughts. My dad was always, and still is, the most brilliant person I know. A man of determination and science. He didn’t despair like everyone else when Mom died. He decided to fight against this thing that took her from us. And now, when I’m so close to beating this curse — I sighed and checked my watch. There was still time for the chamber.
I just need to approach this the right way.
I got up and went to the kitchen. Dad was humming a tune while spreading the oil on the pan.
“What can I help with?”
“There are some leftovers in the fridge, daughter dearest. Heat them in the oven while I fry some rice. Aprons and clean hands before cooking. This is a civilized household,”
“What about the groceries I bought?” There were still sitting on the counter, unopened.
“While we have some great leftover Asian?”
“Then why did you make me go all that way to buy them?”
“It was never about the groceries, Sara,” he said, “But the drive and the traffic jam,”
Glad to see time hasn’t made him less cryptic.
I put the food in the oven with a 5-minute timer. The rice sizzled in his pan. It felt like hours before he said anything.
“You never really answered my question. Are you smooching any boys? Because I’d like to meet him while I still have the chance."
“No boys, Dad. I have more important things to get to at the lab anyways,”
“How is the lab?” he said,
“It’s alright, and so is everyone working there. Surprisingly, they do miss having you around,”
“Hah! Of course, they do,”
He lowered the heat on the stove and let the pan sit there.
“How was your break?" I asked, "Two years is a lot of time.”
“It was boring, the good kind,”
“And did you do anything interesting at that time?”
“I did, but I don’t think you find reading books and meeting old friends the interesting thing you're looking for,”
His face turned somber.
“I’ve done some research I’d like to show you,” he said,
I turned my gaze from the oven to him.
“You’ve been doing research?”
He started untying his apron.
“Get the dinner table ready," he said, "I’ll be back,”
The timer for the oven clicked to a halt.
How dumb can I be? Of course, he was doing research. That’s why he’s so calm about this because he’s already beaten it. I smiled.
I was going through the motions without realizing it. My mind was buzzing with excitement while my body was taking care of the dinner arrangements. I was excited and how can I not be? This was it.
And, of course, he’d want to play with the lion and then slip away from its teeth. He was that kind of person. I opened my briefcase and patiently waited.
I waited this long, and now that he’s back, we’ll change ours and everyone's fate.
He came back not with a carton of papers but just one. He sat next to me and put the paper on my lap.
It was titled, “Advanced alien biology of The Mark — ‘Tattoo’ — and the Impossibility of a Cure,”
I started reading through it and found parts of what I discovered already integrated and expanded in much detail. New terms I haven’t heard before. But all lead to the same conclusion stated in the title.
“Every Homo Sapiens that ever was or will be, will have that tattoo. It’s in our genes. And we tried to splice it out, but there's just so much of it and it just keeps of getting worse, right? So that got me thinking that maybe it’s not just a mutation but rather something akin to a virus,”
“A virus can still be beaten,” I said,
He smiled, “Not this one. I’ve only taken a peek at the genetic complexity of this thing, and it’s ancient, Sara. The machines that we need, to invent the machines to study it aren’t going to be invented for the next 1000 years, and by then, it would’ve grown more complex,”
“So what? Are you telling me to give up just like that?”
“I'm saying you can't change fa—”
“No, Dad. I have dedicated my whole life to beating this. We both have, and we’re giving up just like that? We’re the smartest people on the planet dad, we can figure something out — we just need to try. I can put you in the stasis chamber and we can study this. You don’t need to give up,”
I was met with a soft smile and the eyes of a man who knew more than I did. It was over.
“Oh, god no.”
Everything I’ve done, everything was just a waste of time. I felt tears rush down my eyes as the realization sunk in. I felt Dad wrap his arms around me as I began to cry harder.
“I think I always knew this was a dead end. My mistake was bringing you into this. If it still matters to you, I’m sorry, Sara,”
I hugged him tight.
“Oh, god what am I going to do, Dad?”
“You could throw yourself back into your research or take this as a sign to start smooching with boys. The choice is yours, really. The end is set in genetic stone,”
“63, dead from liver cancer,” I said,
“It was never about the groceries, remember,”
“But for now,” he said, “We can enjoy our time eating stale leftovers and watching stale TV, and if you want, we can talk about it later. What do you think?”
“Regardless, you still owe me my grocery money,” I said.
I heard him chuckle.
And I’ll pay you back tomorrow,” he said.