Trina has changed into her shopping outfit. She wears tight denim pants, my sweatshirt, sneakers with racing stripes. She is as trim as Homer's yacht. A breeze shapes her hair so it falls in curves around her Code, arching back and dropping to frame her face. The woman has incredible cheekbones. They hold her skin like struts in a model plane streamlined and efficient. My wife is beautiful. It always surprises me to remember that I have a beautiful wife.
"Listen, about Amos. I will talk with him. It doesn't thrill me that he buys ersatz Codes. I mean, boys will be boys and all that but after seeing Hoffenstein the other night he should have acknowledged at least the emotion of respect. Kids are so damn unfeeling."
"I blame a lot of it on the school, Jim. They don't emphasize history. The children think they're the first ones ever to inhabit the planet."
"Yes, you could say that. It's the one area where I question the Hoffenstein Dictum. I mean, Future Focus."
"I don't question the Dictum. I never said that. I mean history, not the past."
"Come again, honey?"
"The stuff going on just before coding. What they call the Events Cluster. The mess. Not the rest of it."
"But how can a student be expected to understand the Events Cluster if they don't know or care what went before?"
"Minds should be cleared, not clogged. The Dictum says there's nothing if there's not Efficient Input/Output. No mother wants her son constipated with information."
"No problem with Amos. He doesn't know what happened before interactive holograms."
"He needs to know about order and chaos. Not everything."
"We could give him a crash course. It isn't easy to convince a likely lad that there really was a time before Globalism. It's hard enough for us so-called grownups to keep competition alive. Of course that was the core of Hoffenstein's genius. The idea that within the bounds of your Code you can move from bottom spectrum to top. At least we have Motivational Dimension."
"You question the Dictum and now the Competitive Guidelines? I'm worried about you. You sound like a Slime."
"Not quite, Trina. I'm very much Inside The Circle and happy to be there. You must know that. You don't have to be a Slime to recognize that things can be made better. Or that there are problems. The Slimes don't have a monopoly on honesty."
"Honesty? It sounds like dissent to me."
"This world was made for me. You think I would rock the boat. I have my work, the children, you. Even the respect of Homer Brogg. And I got rhythm. Who could ask for anything more."
"Well don't send Amos mixed signals. Just tell him never to buy those things. Tell him he will be punished."
"That should do it, Trina."
"You're being sarcastic. But it's the quick way to a desired result. Tell him if he is ever caught wearing one of those disgusting ersatz Codes he will be sent to remedial. And say it like you mean it."
"If I say that I'll sound like my father. Why does Amos keep forcing me to sound like my father?"
"Maybe there's no other way to sound if . . . "
"The question was rhetorical. You don't have to answer every question."
"Why not? What are questions for?"
"Now you're being snide."
"Do we have to go shopping? Can't we go home and have intercourse? Look at that moon, a perfect crescent. And there are stars. This is a night for unabashed bliss."
"After the market. Remember?"
"Then stop your hair from slapping at my fly. Talk about mixed signals."
"I didn't know I was sending signals."
"Because you are a natural transmitter. The worst kind. Did I tell you I love you?"
"I love you, James."
"Good. That's settled."
We revolve into the Food Forest. After ten they lower the lights and change their tapes to the sound of night birds. The ceiling glows purple and a soft wind rustles the plastic trees. I follow Trina who pushes a cart that looks like a reed basket. She matches products to her coupons saving us money. The same woman who has twenty pairs of shoes lined like birds on a closet rack is glossy with the pleasure of knocking a dime off the price of dishwasher detergent. Sic transit.
The Forest is bountiful. We wander aisles and navigate tunnels. We pass waterfalls and climb styrofoam hills covered with grassy carpeting. Trina's basket is brimful of survival items like bread and milk, sardines and bottled water. She piles in a romaine lettuce and greenhouse tomatoes. She finds Caesar dressing and a can of coffee. She goes back to Produce for alfalfa sprouts and a honeydew.
She detours to Cereals and selects a box of bran flakes, then cuts around to Pasta. I watch another shopper, an older woman who stands deciding on spaghetti sauce. There is a fat child, Code L, in her basket holding a toy gun and firing bursts at the animals that appear and disappear on the market walls. I remember the battles with Amos who was not permitted to pick up a gun at the door and hunt animals. It was hard to explain to him that A's have a special responsibility. Amos' clear A and Amanda's B+ had always seemed a splendid gift to us. Now I wonder, after Homer's little speech about convenient manipulation. Even Homer can't have that kind of clout, not anymore, not bloody likely.
The L child leans over to fire at a cave man holding a spear. The image of the Neanderthal turns colors and disintegrates.
"Excuse me," I say to the mother who is holding her spaghetti sauce. "Your son is shooting at people. That's a clear violation as you must know. Animals are one thing."
The woman, a Code P, scans me. Her face floods with blood. She puts the sauce into her basket, then smacks her kid in the face. It lets out a tremendous wail as she grabs the Hunter Gun from its plump fingers.
"I am sorry," she says to me. "It won't happen again."
Trina is embarrassed. She hurries down that aisle and turns down Soups and Juices. The night birds drown the child's emissions which have turned to breathy whimpers.
"Why did you interfere?"
"Because the child was firing at a human form."
"It's not our business. Did you read their Codes?"
"Yes, Trina, I read their Codes. So what?"
"Why would you pressure them then? The kid's behavior was self-evident."
"That's a rather haughty attitude."
"We're rather haughty. What did you expect to accomplish?"
"What I accomplished. Positive reinforcement."
"I doubt it. You frightened the mother is all."
We roll past shelves of soup. Trina is sulking. She sucks at her lower lip. I stop the cart.
"What are you doing, Jim? We're finished except for the specials up front."
"I want some soup."
"Why not. I haven't had canned soup in years. I want some."
"I have no soup coupons."
"I am prepared to pay the full price, Trina."
She chews at the lip as if it were candy. It is not in my best interest to antagonize her but I can't stop myself. I begin loading cans of soup into the cart.
"Did I ever tell you I thought King Oscar was the ruler of all fishes? That he had a flounder queen? I did. I fantasized about them. Oscar was a role model."
"There's a lot I don't know about you," she says. "Can we go now?"
"Yes. We can go now."
I push the cart slowly along. Trina trails after me fuming. I can smell her steam. She is not too angry to forget the specials. She selects a roll of marked-down paper towels. She reaches for a new brand of toilet paper. It is her revenge. She knows I am orthodox when it comes to toilet paper. I am entirely loyal to Cloud Cover. I came to our marriage with several rolls.
My memory of subsequent events is dim. It never came back, not after all the therapy.
There is a clerk mopping up shards of glass and spilled cooking oil. He works near the checkout register. I remember that the oil glitters with stars reflected from the ceiling. I remember the complaint of a mourning dove. The girl at the checkout smiles at me and says, "Good evening. Did you enjoy your romp in the Forest?" I say, "Yes, very much, thank you."
Then I remember sliding. I remember my foot hitting the slick. I remember losing balance. My hands and arms cradle cans from the cart as I fall forward. I remember flipping over the counter. I think I remember the taste of the rubber belt against my mouth. Sometimes I almost remember the cool of the glass on the scanner that reads each UPC. Do I imagine the sound of the glass cracking apart or do I remember that too? (Trina says she screamed a warning. I have no memory of that.) Some noise comes out of me along with the gush of blood but I can't tell what noise it is. There is a security guard looking down at me. Trina wipes at my face with one of her paper towels. Then the paramedics load me onto a gurney. Mostly I remember the ceiling glitters with every kind of color. I remember marveling at the wisdom and beauty and integral harmony of the lovely dots of light. It does not seem to me a manufactured heaven. It seems like the genuine item, the real thing. I remember gagging on my salty blood, then dying.
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