Aug 12th 2022
The doors to the station apartment glide open and I see mom and dad sitting on the couch waiting for me.
“What is this?” I ask.
“Take a seat, son, your mother and I would like to speak with you.”
I feel an odd twisting in my guts when I take the seat across from them, setting my paper bag from the store on the floor next to me. They both have strained looks on their face, like they dread the conversation they need to have with me. Already I don’t like where this is headed.
“Sooo, what did you want to talk about?” I ask.
They give each other a glance, that silent talk that parents have with looks. Then mom clears her throat. “We are worried about you sweetie.” Dad puts a hand on her shoulder.
I groan internally.
“You’re around the house a lot. You don’t really go anywhere, don’t have the energy to do anything, and the drinking,” her voice trails off.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, I was just out at the store.”
“To buy booze,” dad cuts in.
I roll my eyes. “I’m not sure if you two have noticed or not, but I’m grown. I can drink and lay around if I want to drink and lay around.”
“That’s not what we mean,” dad says. “There’s more to it than that and you know it. It’s not healthy.”
“Not healthy,” I repeat. “And you know what is or isn’t healthy for me right now, is that it?”
“I know for sure it isn’t that,” dad says, voice rising, and points to the bag I have on the floor.
Mom puts a calming hand on dad’s forearm. “What he means, what we both mean, is that we don’t want to see you spiral to a place that’s hard to come back from. We want to make sure you’re taking care of yourself. We’re worried that you’re going to let it take over your life. That you’ll never move on.”
“We’re gone, son,” dad says.
I stand, my chest is tight. “End program.”
There’s a two tone chime of a declined command. I walk to the apartment door but it doesn’t slide open. “What the hell? Did you do this?” I turn back to them.
“We had a conversation with the holocommand terminal. Since you’re risking your own safety, it will allow us to have this conversation unimpeded,” dad says.
I’m in the middle of my own holoroom and I don’t even have control. I feel like it’s the first time I went out with friends and did something stupid and my parents needed to have an “important” conversation with me as a result. I want to get out of this conversation in a bad way.
“I’m not doing this with you,” I say.
“No, but we’re doing it with you,” dad says.
“We love you so much sweetie, and we are so proud of the young man you’ve become. We just don’t want to see you lose control just because we are dead and gone.”
I try to banish the memories from my mind, the urgent message on my SocialHUD from the detective to give him a call. The numbness I felt when I listened to him tell me about the shuttle accident. I never had a chance to say goodbye.
“I don’t want to be without you,” I say. I feel a knot in my dry throat. I want the whiskey from the bag on the floor to make me feel better. Not better. Numb, so I can forget.
“We know, and we are so sorry it had to be this way.” She stands and they both walk over to me, pulling me into a tight embrace. I can’t hold it in any more. I fall apart. Snot and tears stream down my cheeks and chin. I sob until my head aches and my eyes are sore.
“I love you,” I rasp.
“We love you too,” dad says. “We need to let you go, now. You can visit us, we want you to visit us, but we don’t want you to spend your life in here, wasting the hours away.”
I nod. It’s a hard pill to swallow. The memories generated from the holoroom are so detailed and accurate. It’s easy to pretend the accident never happened. But it did.
They release the embrace and offer me weak, tear-filled smiles. I give one back, but I feel so raw I know it can’t look sincere. We exchange I love you’s and the holo winks out, showing an empty room with octagonal generators on the wall and a brown paper bag in the middle of the room.
I let out a ragged sigh, scoop up the bag, and pull out the glass bottle of whiskey. It wont be easy, I’ll have to take it day by day, but at least I get the chance to visit with them. Even if it isn’t the real them.
I lift the bottle and twist off the cap. I don’t want to deal with all of these feelings right now. I want to forget.
But my parents are right, as much as it pains me to admit it.
I pour the liquor on the floor.
Author Bio: Eric Fomley’s stories have appeared in Clarkesworld, Galaxy’s Edge, and Daily Science Fiction. More of his stories can be found on ericfomley.com.
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