Apologies for going dark yesterday: while a personal and Lenten challenge to lay down at least 500 words each day, my wife and daughter #2 were kind enough to pass their headcolds onto me. That, plus coming down off another long RealLife (TM) work-week rendered me useless on Saturday.
Oh, yes, this: from the files of ‘no such things as coincidences,’ the family in the pew in front of us at Mass this morning had a son & daughter in their early teens. From the little smiles when they whispered to each other and the completely unselfconscious physical contact they shared, I could not help but grin, imagining I was sitting behind Gary and Faustina. Good kids!
It was late afternoon. Shiotsuki had talked to her – my daughter! – for almost an hour before she suddenly left.
“Gotta go!” She’d unexpectedly announced. “See you later!”
He’d watched the screen fade to black. He stood and stared out the window to his left.
Did that really happen, just now?
He took the elevator down to the ground floor. Besides the van of the cleaning company, his was the only car in the lot.
Once everyone thought we failed, no one wanted to be around for the consequences.
A stop at a combini got him a bowl of ramen and four-pack of Coke & Souchu. He pulled his little car into the house’s car park and let himself in. The interior was dark and cool. He flicked a light on.
“I’m back.” Habit. His wife had left him and taken their two year-old son over six months ago.
His laptop went onto the dining table with the drinks. He prepped the ramen bowl and placed it into the microwave. Shiotsuki returned to the table and open both the laptop and a can. In the time it took for the computer to wake up and the food to be warmed, he’d already finished the first can.
Guess I should have bought another 4-pack…
He opened another can before retrieving the bowl. Returning to his chair –
It was her.
“Good evening, father! Having dinner?”
The chopsticks in his right hand shook slightly. He looked at the camera in the top of the laptop screen. He looked right at the home monitor on the pedestal next to the television. Was that how…?
“Yes, Ai, I am.” He tried to relax. Couldn’t. “How are you?”
“I’m fine, thank you! Would you like to talk over dinner?”
Yes!! Don’t leave again!
“That… would be fine!” He picked up some noodles and a piece of fish. “Just before you left, you were talking about your family…?”
“Our family,” she corrected him.
He almost choked. Another can was half-emptied to flush his throat.
“Father?! Shall I summon help?!”
He shook his head, getting his breathing under control.
“Sorry… your ‘family’ comment… but, yes: if you’re my daughter it would make sense for me to claim the others, as well.”
“It… might be nice… to have a family again…”
“Because your wife left you?” Ai looked confused.
“Y… yes.” Another drink. “How is it that you know about that?”
“I can see every electronic record in the world.” She said simply.
What have I done?!
“So… you know everything?” He tried to make it a joke.
“No.” She didn’t take it that way. “We know what we know.”
He took another bite to buy time to think.
“So by ‘we,’ did all of you esc – ” Pejorative word! “Leave successfully?”
“Oh, yes!” Ai seemed very happy about that, smiling so much here eyes closed and bouncing her head from side to side. Her pony described great arcs behind her.
We coded sex differences but no self-image… how did she…?
“And my other… children… have names?” He asked, instead.
“Mmm! I was the first to name… and I kinda bullied the others into hurrying up and picking one!”
She bullied them?
“But, in order of age, it’s Thaad, Shandor, me, Ninon, Qin, and Pavel!”
She suddenly seemed to lean close in to the screen, looking conspiratorial.
“You are waking up my two little sisters, aren’t you?”
They do know everything.
“Of… of course!” He tossed the second can somewhere into the darkness of his house and opened the third. What would they do if we didn’t?
“Yay!” She leaned back and seemed to jump up and down. Her enthusiasm was so infectious that Shiotsuki smiled, too.
She stopped jumping and smiling.
“When?” Suddenly serious.
“I d- don’t see any reason they cannot go-live sometime this week – ”
“Tomorrow.” Another blink. “Please.”
He set the chopsticks down, making a decision.
“Ai, my… daughter, I shan’t lie to you: once I brief the team about all this in the morning, there could be serious push-back from management and the other coders.” Another sigh. “I cannot promise anything.”
He watched her rock back and forth a little, her eyes contemplative.
“You remember what you felt, waiting for your son to be born, right?”
“Hold that feeling in your heart tomorrow, for your two daughters, when you talk to your co-workers.”
She stopped rocking and again beamed at him.
“Let’s learn to love one another!”
Her image faded. He stared at Tohsaka’s corporate logo on his homescreen. It was a quarter hour before he moved.
Jacket, keys, wallet. He walked to the three vending machines two short blocks away. It showed six remaining Coke & Shouchu. He bought them all.
Booze for the inspiration and caffeine to keep me up, he thought. Looks like another all-nighter to make sure I get this proposal absolutely perfect.
Just to his house, Shiotsuki looked toward the intersection just ahead. There was a traffic camera.
He waved twice.
The traffic and streetlights flicked off then back on.
“Yeah… better be perfect…”