They’ve been saving money for a year now. It was either this or visiting grandma in the south. Since the banning of all airplanes, though, crossing the country has been a real nightmare. It would take them three whole days just to get there. The kids made it very clear they hated the trip last time. In the end taking everyone to a smuggled buffet is just easier.
Richard is reaching for his tie in a chest and thinking of the last time he attended a buffet. It was a few months before the prohibition, in a family restaurant a few blocks away from his college. He was very disappointed they created the law without consulting the population, but perhaps it was for the best. Many lives had already been taken by the starvation and since the establishment of the governmental ration everyone seemed slimmer and healthier. Not happier, no, for happiness only comes with a full belly, but definitely slimmer.
His face shows a mix of excitement and despair. Never before he has done something illegal in his life. His time in prison after graduation was due to his thought, not actions.
“Are you sure you want to do this,” he asks Melissa, his wife. She turns slowly at him from the bathroom. A red silk dress is hung on the back of her chair. “I mean, we don’t need to, you know?”
“What do you mean ‘we don’t need to’? It was your idea.” Melissa shrugs, turns back to the mirror and resumes putting on make-up. “You’re the one who’s been over the sky about it.”
“I know, I know. But it’s just — it’s risky, you know? We surely can’t afford the fine if they get us.”
Melissa lowers a brush with a thud and turns to Richard again.
“You told me it’s one hundred percent safe, Richard,” says she.
“No, no — it is,” he says defensively. “It is a hundred percent sound. My friend Tommy has it all figured out. It’s guaranteed. That’s why we’re paying all this money. It’s just, I don’t know.”
“Do you wanna back off now?”
“No, no. Of course no.”
“So relax, babe,” Melissa smiles. “It’s going to be alright. You said so yourself. And the kids will love it.”
The kids won’t even know what to do, Richard thinks. Facing the mirror while trying to knot his tie for the second time he calculates how long has it been since the law came into force. The boys probably never heard the expression “all you can eat”. When buffets were made illegal Junior was just a baby. Daniel hadn’t even been born. It’s been ten years now, maybe eleven. Too long a wait for a plate full of food. Those were the days. Those were the days.
Richard unties his tie again and speaks thoughtfully, his eyes fixed on his collar.
“What are we gonna tell them?”
“The boys. What are we supposed to say to them?”
“What boys?” Melissa isn’t paying attention.
“Our boys, Melissa. They have never heard of such a thing. I mean, not even schools are allowed to tell them the way things were. Their minds are going to blow up when they see a bow full of pasta.”
“It’s true,” she throws her thing in the drawer and begins to get dressed. “I suppose we could just explain the situation—?”
In listening that Richard feels the need to sit. Just explain the situation, he thinks. They’re kids, Melissa. They’re not even allowed to hear anything about those who perished. It’s a crime. How to explain to them a mere thing like a buffet has been prohibited worldwide without telling them what happened? What if they let it slip in a conversation with the curfew agents? Richard doesn’t want to go back in. He, who in a surge of some adventure decided it was a good idea to commit a felony and involve his whole family in it, has not thought it through. Just explain the situation.
“Yeah,” he says at last. “I guess we just have to come up with something.”
The following minutes are of complete silence between them. Richard settles with a clumsy half windsor and goes after his vest and jacket. Melissa feels unsure about her legs in that dress but wears it anyway. After getting fully dressed they wrap everything up in their room and head for the boys’. Junior and Daniel are on the floor playing roshambo.
“The thing we’re going to do now,” Richard says without introduction, “is completely illegal. Not only here, but anywhere else in the world.” Ignoring the ghostly stare from Melissa he sits down between the boys. “I think you’re old enough to know that now, so listen carefully. The most important thing here is that you guys never, ever, under any circumstance, talk about it outside this house. The only people who should— the only people who can know that you know about it are me and your mother. We might go to prison if anyone finds out.”
The seriousness in his voice and the eagerness of his movements attracts Melissa’s attention. Richard has never spoken like that since they met. He is the kind of guy who looks resigned at all times, never emitting a harsh opinion on any matter or getting angry at anything. Listening to his way of explaining to a pair of pre-adolescents how “several years of excessive and increasing inequity has provoked the undertaking of drastic measures by the UN” is just too strange. Decided not to encourage even further her husband’s outburst of passion Melissa calls everyone’s attention.
“I’m afraid we’re late, Richard,” she says rather tentatively.
“I don’t mind if you are 12 or 36,” Richard keeps saying while getting the boys up. “Since we’re doing this I need us all on the same page. This cannot going to be an illegal, erm, conduct just for the sake of it. I want to show you what life could have been. I want you to understand that a man shouldn’t be deprived of his vices or hobbies due to a governmental misconduct. It was not my fault that some people couldn’t handle their food. I used to enjoy eating, you know? Full plates of rice and potato. Stew. Beef, loads of beef. Ah! Now there’s only these tasteless rations and pills. Pills for everything.”
The night is going to be splendid, Richard thinks while being pushed ahead by Melissa. He has no recollection of the last time he went to bed with his belly full. If only he could explain why this is so important. The kids will never understand anyway, and Melissa, well, she won’t accept. Why, though? Life is so confusing right now. I just want to eat.