Written by Eduardo Martínez Báez | Translation by Toshiya Kamei
Illustration by Gutti Barrios
Length 3965 Words
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Discussion of death
Tamara set the table and served breakfast. That morning she had woken with a recipe on the tip of her tongue. Perched on the edge of her bed, she recited it out loud. After three months, she was used to her chip implant. When figures and words danced behind her eyes, she said them aloud and rolled them around her mouth to guess what they meant. Thyme, pepper, butter. Oftentimes a flavor or aroma lingered on her taste buds. Without realizing it, she found herself in the kitchen rummaging through cabinets and drawers. Where did they keep the vinegar? She dashed to the pantry and extended her hand to the exact place where the white wine vinegar was. Afterward, she reached down a few shelves below and, without looking, grabbed a handful of tarragon and a jar of allspice. The sauce didn't take long. Only when she dropped eggs into a pot of boiling water did she have some idea what she was making. But not knowing didn't slow her down. The scents of ham, thyme, and butter soon filled the kitchen.
Lidia awoke to the appetizing aroma. When she opened the door, she felt tears rise up, but fought them away. The smell triggered memories of other Sundays when Samuel cooked in front of the stove. In spite of herself, her mouth watered. She tied her hair back in a ponytail and walked into the kitchen.
"I made you breakfast," Tamara said. "I don't know what it's called. But if you don't like it, I can make you something else." She spoke almost perfect Spanish but in a trembling voice. Her new command of the language failed to hide her anxiety. She hadn't bonded with her client yet. She was an intruder in Lidia's house, and Lidia had let her know it from the get-go. At least, Lidia no longer called her that in front of her guests.
"Thanks, Tamara," Lidia said as she took her seat. She was making an effort, ready to get on with her widowhood. A few days earlier, under the same circumstance, she would have locked herself in her room until Tamara went to bed.
"Huevos benedictinos," Lidia mumbled as she poured herself coffee.
"Excuse me?" Tamara replied, so startled that she blurted the words in English.
"That's what they're called in Spanish: huevos benedictinos. Eggs Benedict in your language." Lidia sighed, looking forlorn. "Samuel's specialty. Although he made them only when he needed to cheer me up. I asked for them every weekend, but he said they wouldn't be special anymore if he made them too often. Sometimes I faked a cold or a migraine so he would make them."
"But he didn't realize you faked it?" Tamara asked, less formal than usual.
"I suspect he did. But that was what our marriage was like. We both played pretend."
"Well, you're not fooling me at all. Anyway you don't look very sick to me," Tamara replied.
A sense of pride surged through Tamara. Her strategy had worked. She had picked it up during her pre-employment training. Replicating past experiences and rituals helped speed up the bonding process. Her culinary tricks had been fail-proof so far. Luckily for her, Lidia's memories of Samuel were replete with mornings spent in the kitchen.
Tamara had arrived three days after Samuel's funeral, carrying a yellow suitcase and a gray backpack packed with pencils, rags, erasers, brushes, and a handful of basic color paints. When Lidia answered the door, still in her pajamas, Tamara delivered a message from the grave. Lidia boiled with hatred like liquid fire in her veins.
As Samuel knew that Lidia would refuse help, he had hired a memory surrogate behind her back. He had looked into surrogacy services when he received his terminal diagnosis. As Samuel told the consultant who attended to him at the agency, Lidia wasn't particularly forgetful. The effect of his physical absence worried him more than memory loss. If memories of him remained with her for a while longer, perhaps they could soften the blow of losing him. The consultant, a young woman in her late twenties, listened to him with empathy and attention.
"I've come to wonder about this. Am I really preparing Lidia for my death or am I preparing myself?" Samuel said with a nervous smile. His nervousness seemed a bit exaggerated to the consultant, but she was used to it. Clients rarely behaved as expected.
"So my surrogate will have all my memories?"
"That's right. At least for the duration of the assignment. We erase them when we remove the implant."
"Will it hurt?" Samuel asked, grimacing.
"No, not at all. Neither you nor your surrogate will feel a thing. You will be under anesthesia," she continued. "Also, I assure you that the device is very small, and the procedure is simple."
"I read that skills ca