Author: E.M. McCarthy

I shop here.

There are better places to stop and shop, better prices, better inventory, but this place reminds me of the good old days, and they replicated the look of the old stores pretty well too. Same bright lights, same late hours, same rows of glass cases filled with pre-packaged foods.

As a kid, I’d stop by a convenience store and buy a can of soda pop, then on the way home, I’d pop the tab and drink it down, feet pounding the pavement, while sunlight streamed down onto my sweaty face. And I mean the real sweat, forced by heat from a strong sun.

A robo clerk stops by me, gives me an eye scan, then moves on. A bag of dried fruit is still out of my price range due to shipping costs. I settle for a pre-packaged meal, third time this week. We grow tomatoes native, so everyone eats sauce and noodles.

This particular store holds a special memory for me. It’s where I purchased my son. Right there in aisle three, I saw him in the newly installed embryo kiosk. I read his description detailing things like his eye color, his intelligence. There was something special about him. It was more than science. Looking through the glass, I fell in love with him. I knew that all I was missing here was a family.

I made the best decision of my life, to purchase him on the spot. The eight-month wait for him to arrive gave me time to file the appropriate paperwork. They don’t let just anyone have a kid. The usual questions had to be answered: job, education level, income, ability to pay. But, with a little luck and a large bribe, it worked out.

What’s missing here are the holidays. I know they don’t “do” holidays.

We need a holiday. It should be Christmas. Christmas has the joy we’re lacking. I can put up an LED image of a tree on our living room wall at least.

Manny would like that. He’s the right age for a train.

They’re selling trains on aisle seven. I need to think about it after seeing the cost. The computer program toy train is pretty realistic and the apartment is cramped.

I pay for my purchases using my phone, adjust my gloves, then push the button on my suit to close my helmet around my head before I venture through the two doors and leave the artificial atmosphere.

This store has no connector tunnel, so I walk outside. The charm of a brief walk to the shuttle ramp is something I cherish. Perhaps I’m old school, but all the indoor stuff gets old.

The night is dark. So dark I fear it. I leave behind the convenience store’s bright lights for the wilderness of Mars.

Then I see them, snowflakes floating in the air above the lighted store.

I replay a song inside my head about a silent night. For one moment, as I shut my eyes, it’s Christmas again.

A red glow from the space station forms above me. In the moment, I miss home. I miss the smell of leaves, the sight of trees. The next generation doesn’t even know what those are, or why they are important.

But I will tell my son. He’ll know. Maybe he’ll be the one to develop a method to grow a tree, and then he’ll see what Christmas can be again.