Entertainingly Evil

The Smart Thing to Do by Rati Mehrotra

Roast chicken was on the menu today, not that I got to eat any of it. I hacked a leg and snuck it on my plate, but as soon as I stabbed it with my fork, I got a shock that made me yelp. I dropped the fork and rubbed my tingling arm. Across the table, my daughters giggled as they dug into the food—chicken, baked potatoes, green beans and cheesecake. I surveyed them gloomily.

Tyrin, my wife, reached out to squeeze my shoulder. “John, you know you’re supposed to be on a diet. You know what happens if you don’t comply.”

Yes, I knew. But that didn’t stop me grabbing the chicken with my fingers and taking a huge bite. Basil, rosemary and garlic burst in an ecstatic cloud on my tongue. I chewed fast, too nervous to really enjoy it.

“Oh no.” Tyrin rose, her face twisted. “To the bathroom. Now!”

I swallowed and scuttled away from the table. I almost didn’t make it. My stomach heaved as my medchip recorded the forbidden calories and activated regurgitation. I leaned over the toilet bowl and proceeded to upchuck not only the single bite of chicken, but everything else I’d consumed that day—the glass of vitamin water, the leafy green salad, the hydroponic berries.

Later, after I’d rinsed my mouth and changed my shirt, I sat on the veranda of our bungalow to recover. Crickets chirped as the moon rose over the treetops of Trinity Park. July, and it was already my third diet of the summer. How many days did I have to endure this one? Six down and fifteen to go. Nope, sixteen to go. My attack on the chicken meant that today didn’t count. Sixteen days watching my daughters stuff their faces while I pecked at leaves was going to kill me more surely than the beer gut Tyrin was always going on about.

“Have a drink, sweetie?”

I looked up. Tyrin, framed by the moonlight, was as slim and lovely as the day we got married, fifteen years ago. She held a clinking glass in her hands. I pretended it was a margarita and accepted it with a show of gratitude. I took a sip and winced. Pretence can only take you so far. It was vitamin water, of course. I couldn’t remember the last alcoholic drink I’d been allowed.

Tyrin sat on the lounge chair next to mine. “You need to get a grip, darling. It’s for your own good. Think how wonderful you will feel when this is done. Perhaps you can run the Toronto Marathon with me this year.”

“That’s what you said last year,” I said.

“It’s not anyone’s fault but your own,” said Tyrin. “If you’re going to binge-eat every time you’re released from a diet, Kitchen is going to keep putting you on one.”

“I hate Kitchen,” I said peevishly.

“John!” she said, shocked. “Don’t say that. Kitchen works with MedCentral to ensure we live long, healthy lives. Remember your mother?”

Well, of course I did. My mother died of complications from Type 2 Diabetes at the young age of sixty-six. She loved sweets. Nothing made her happier than a box of chocolates, unless it was two boxes of chocolates. Of course, she didn’t have a Kitchen to regulate her intake, or she’d have lived a lot longer. I’d inherited her diabetes and her fondness for rich food, but I was lucky enough to have a loving wife who’d made me sign on for a smart Kitchen, back when it was still optional. And it had worked, right? I hadn’t had a heart attack yet.

Thinking of this, of how much I owed Kitchen, tears came into my eyes.

“You’re right,” I whispered. “Thank God for Kitchen.”

“That’s my boy.” Tyrin leaned forward to kiss me. I kissed her back, distracted. She smelled of roast chicken. Something went click in my brain and I frowned. What had we just been talking about?

“Coming up?” Tyrin smiled. “The girls are all tucked in.”

“In a minute,” I said. I waited for her to leave before I withdrew my phone: the not-smart one. I felt terribly exposed, but it wasn’t like I was eating anything. I tapped out a Mexico number I knew by heart.

Someone picked up on the fourth ring. “John, do you know how late it is?” said a familiar, querulous voice.

“Mom,” I said, all choky, “you’re alive?”

“This is the third time you’re asking me that this year!” snapped Mom. “Anyone would think you wanted me dead.”

“They’re tampering with my memories,” I wailed. “What’s the smart thing to do, Mom?”

She snorted. “You’ll do what you do each time, I suppose. Raid the fridge, get your stomach pumped, throw a fit and get dragged to MedCentral for a partial mindwipe.”

There was a pause while I digested this. “I didn’t ask what I’ll do,” I said at last. “I asked what’s smart to do.”

“How should I know?” She rang off. I stared at my phone, bereft. I didn’t blame her. No, I blamed myself. Hadn’t she given me the same advice many times, and hadn’t I wimped out each time? No wonder she was mad.

I got up and snuck across the garden, sticking to the shadows. I made my way to the park, to the spot where I’d hidden a knife last year. I’d sharpened that knife many times. It was finally time to use it. I thought of the MedCentral chip, embedded in the subcutaneous tissue of my forearm, and wondered if I could run all the way to Mexico. Already, I could taste the empanadas on my tongue.

Born and raised in India, Rati Mehrotra currently makes her home in Toronto, Canada. Her short stories have been published at Apex Magazine, AE – The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Abyss & Apex, Inscription Magazine and more. Find out more about her at ratiwrites.com or follow @Rati_Mehrotra

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