Vita in Morte Sumus
This post is a response to August 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this story comes both from my song of choice, as well as a comment made by John Green on a recent episode of “Dear Hank and John“. My choice of the three songs listed in the post was “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire1I had originally written a story based on “Atlanta” by Stone Temple Pilots that dealt with the current climate towards legal and illegal immigration in parts of the USA. Upon re-reading the story, as well as a day spent with family members whose views on those topics are diametrically opposed to mine, I decided that my story needed more research prior to publishing. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, as well as one I feel like I presented from the correct point of view. That said, after seeing the venom and hatred that some people feel towards those who are different from them (not to mention how certain people think that splitting up families is a joke), I want to be certain that there are no factual inaccuracies in my story. Not because the people I was around deserve it — but because the people living through the hell that is being an immigrant in the USA today deserve my story to be as accurate of a representation as possible..
“Wake up! It’s finally here! Today is here!”
Maddie rolled over and placed her pillow atop of her head, cuddling her skull into the mattress beneath her. For a few seconds, the silence around her gave her hope that sleep was coming. But that hope was quickly shattered by her roommate, Cruz, shouting at Maddie again in her melodic, soprano voice.
“Maaaadieeeeee,” she sang. “It’s your special day!”
“Then why are you waking me up?” Maddie mumbled back from under her pillow.
“Because it’s your last chance to do anything you want!” replied Cruz. “You don’t want to miss out on that.”
Maddie sat up in bed, then threw her pillow at Cruz with a swift-moving left-handed toss. The pillow missed wide, bouncing off the wall and landing harmlessly at the foot of the bed.
“What if all I want to do all day is sleep?” asked Maddie. “I’m dying today. I should get to do whatever I want. And maybe I just want to curl up in bed and dream about sleeping while I’m sleeping.”
“But…” Cruz stammered. “What about spending time with your best friend?”
“My cat’s dead,” Maddie deadpanned.
Cruz picked up the pillow off the floor and playfully tossed it at Maddie’s head. Her throw flew truer than Maddie’s, striking Maddie’s hands just as she got them up in front of her face.
“Bitch,” said Cruz.
Maddie climbed out of bed and walked toward her dresser. She pulled out a pair of baby blue leggings, pulling them onto her legs and over her hips.
“I’m really sorry, Cruz,” stated Maddie as she dug through another drawer looking for a shirt to replace her sleeping shirt with. “What would you like to do today?”
“It’s not my day, Maddie. It’s yours. Whatever you want.”
“But I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I’m not spending this day wearing a bra. Fuck that noise.”
“Then let’s go get some coffee and figure it out from there.”
Maddie and Cruz left their apartment and walked to the nearby coffee shop they had frequented numerous times over the three years they’d lived together. Upon entering, they were greeted by Cline, a burly middle-aged man with a graying beard and a blue bandana covering his balding head.
“Good morning, ladies,” Cline bellowed out from behind the counter. “The usual?”
“That’s fine for me,” replied Cruz. “But we need to make something special for Maddie. It’s her day.”
“Oh, yay!” Cline exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”
“Not her birthday,” retorted Cruz. “Her day.“
“Oh…” said Cline as his voice trailed off. “Um…well, what would you like, Maddie? It’s on me.”
“You don’t need to do that,” replied Maddie.
Maddie sighed. “Fine. A small decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel is butter.”
“Go have a seat. I’ll bring it out to you.”
Maddie and Cruz walked to the far side of the coffee shop, taking a seat near an large window that stared out to the shopping center behind the building. A small emerald green sedan rolled slowly through the lot between the coffee shop and the shopping center. Its back and sides were covered in bumper stickers of all sizes and shapes and colors. One of the largest stickers — a bright yellow sticker with bold, black font — read “EXPIRATION DATES ARE POPULATION CONTROL”.
“I hate seeing people like that out in the wild,” said Maddie.
“Why?” Cruz inquired.
“Everything is a conspiracy theory to them. I get there there are actual conspiracies out there, filled with shady people doing shady things. But most of the time it’s just people upset with something that’s out of their control.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“Being upset isn’t bad,” replied Maddie. “Shouting as loud as you can about something you know nothing about is. Especially when there’s impressionable morons who will believe anything they hear.”
Cline walked to the table, a drink in each hand and a plate balanced on each arm. Cruz and Maddie reached out to take the plates from him as Cline carefully placed the drinks down on the table.
“Decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel with butter for you,” he began. “And a blueberry coconut Italian soda with a slice of lemon pound cake for you.”
“You’re the best,” Cruz said enthusiastically.
“You’ve been getting that flavor combination for nearly a year now and I still don’t understand it.”
“Have you tried it?” asked Cruz.
“Yep,” replied Cline. “It’s one of the few times in life I’ve regretted something I ate.”
Cruz shrugged. “More for me, I guess.”
The sound of sleigh bells hitting a glass door announced the arrival of new guests at the coffee shop.
“That’s my cue,” said Cline. “Maddie, if there’s anything else you want, just tell me or come help yourself. Okay?”
“I will,” she replied. “Thanks.”
Cline walked back to the front of the store where he began to make drinks for a young couple struggling to corral the three young children that had arrived with them.
“Is there anything you feel like you’re going to be missing out on?” asked Cruz, her mouth half full of pound cake.
“Nothing I’m not over,” Maddie answered. “I mean, I would have liked to have been rich and famous. But it’s hard to get either of those things by the age of twenty-six.”
“It’s not fair though. Not the not getting to be rich and famous. But you’re only twenty-six. Most people get to be around until they’re in their eighties or nineties. You don’t feel anything’s wrong with that?”
“Not really,” said Maddie. “There’s still a lot of people who think a sky spirit pre-ordains when it’s their time to die, even if it’s an untimely death. I don’t see how this is any different.”
Maddie took a drink from her coffee, closing her eyes and savoring the taste of the coffee in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.
“In fact,” Maddie continued, “it’s a better situation. I get to know when I’m dying. I could choose to ignore it, live life on the run, and then die anyway. Or I can have my shit together, say my goodbyes, and live my life the best I can in the finite time that I know I have.”
“But what about the people that’ll miss you?” asked Cruz.
“My adoptive family hasn’t spoken to me in years. My parents gave me up as a baby and I haven’t heard from them since. My group of friends has been dwindling the more people I tell about my expiration date. My cat’s dead. It’s pretty much you and the service workers I interact with that’ll notice I’m gone.”
Cruz clenched her lips together, contorting them to the side as she bit down on them from the inside. She took a deep breath in, then let it out with a long, slow exhale.
“I’ll miss you a lot,” stated Cruz.
“I know,” Maddie replied. “I’m sorry. You can keep as much or as little of my stuff as you want. Whatever helps you.”
“I appreciate it. What time is it?”
“A quarter to eight.”
“You have to be there at nine, right?”
“We should get going then.”
Maddie and Cruz took the last few bites of their food, then packed up to leave the coffee shop, their drinks in hand. Cline waved at them from behind the counter, though only Cruz returned a wave, albeit a half-hearted one.
The Expiration Bureau was a large sandstone building on the edge of the downtown area. It has previously been a bank, as well as a hotel before that. But with the formation of local Expiration Bureau offices by the National Board of Human Services and Well-Being, many cities found their largest — and often most well-known — buildings converted into Expiration Bureaus.
Maddie and Cruz entered the building and proceeded to a large reception desk with several employees seated behind it. After a short wait, they stepped up to a middle aged man wearing a cobalt blue suit.
“Your full name and birth date, please?” he asked, not bothering to look up from the screen he was about to enter the information into.
“Madeline Niko Raymond. Born November 1, 2084.”
“One moment,” said the man.
Behind her right shoulder, Maddie heard Cruz begin to sniffle. She reached back and grabbed Cruz’s hand, grasping it tightly in hers.
“It’s okay,” Maddie whispered.
“No it’s not,” Cruz whispered back.
“Do you wish to submit a final will and testament, Ms. Raymond?” asked the man.
“I do,” said Maddie. “I wish for all my possessions, physical, digital, and financial, to be turned over to Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega.”
“Is that who’s here with you today?” inquired the man.
“It is,” replied Maddie.
“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man, “please state your name and date of birth so that the system can locate you and complete the final will and testament process.”
“Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega,” stated Cruz. “Born January 11, 2086.”
The man waited for the voice verification system to process Cruz’s information. He scrolled through the prompts that followed, tapping various boxes and radio buttons as he did so.
“Would you like any final pictures taken prior to processing?” the man asked.
“No, thank you,” replied Maddie.
“Any pets, children, or non-emancipated robotic beings where custody would need to be transferred to a family member, domestic partner, or other willing and financially responsible entity?”
“Do you wish to opt out of the national organ donation program?”
“I do not.”
“Do you have a preferred method of processing?”
“Can you make me famous?” asked Maddie.
“I cannot, Ms. Raymond.”
“Then just make it painless.”
The man tapped at more options on the screen, his eyes glancing back and forth as he read through the various prompts on the screen.
“Do you need more than legally required hour and a half of visitation to say goodbye to friends, family, or business associates?”
Maddie looked back at Cruz. As Cruz stared at the floor in front of her, she shook her head slightly from side to side.
“No,” Maddie murmured. “I do not.”
The man motioned for Maddie to place her hand in a translucent blue box in front of her. The box felt warm around Maddie’s hand. After a few moments, she felt a gelatinous fluid filling the box around her fingers. The fluid filled the box nearly completely, though just as Maddie started to feel pressure from the fluid building on her hand, the box began to buzz and the fluid began to recede. The fluid completed its escape, the box stopped buzzing, and Maddie’s hand was freed from the box. She pulled it away, her hand covered in a pale white powdery film.
“Go down the door on the far end of the lobby,” said the man as he gestured toward the door with two fingers. “Place your hand under the scanner and wait for the door to open. Follow the purple line to the visitation area if you so desire. After your visitation ends, you’ll follow the white line back to your room. Do you understand, Ms. Raymond?”
“I do,” said Maddie.
“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man. “Once visitation ends, advise one of the attendants that you’re Ms. Raymond’s primary heir. You’ll be taken to handle any and all final arrangements for Ms. Raymond, as well as to process her will. Do you understand, Ms. Ortega?”
“Ms. Ortega, I need verbal confirmation,” the man stated.
“I understand,” replied Cruz between sobs.
“Thank you both. You’re free to go. Welcome home, Ms. Raymond.”