Linda Zuccaro and her sister Ellen Bannerman stepped out of the self-driving cab, and each took a shopping cart from the queue. Random advertisements for beef cuts, pickles and bar soap popped up in the displays on the handle bar and on the front panel. Linda inserted her ‘FlexMart’ card, and the advertisements changed to Fruit Loops, Hot Cocoa, and Pop Tarts. Ellen slid her ‘American Plan’ card in place on her cart, and the exact menu for the week came up, highlighting what she needed and dimming out what she already had at home.
Linda pulled out her shopping list that she and her sister had made based on the American Plan’s recommendations for her family. “I have to admit, that display is pretty slick,” she said. “I’ve meant to set that feature up on my FlexMart card for a long time.”
“The Plan automatically sets it up for you for all grocery stores,” said Ellen.
Linda looked at the list. Lots of salad ingredients, fruits, beans, rice, and a few meats. All healthy choices. She felt bad that she hadn’t done this for her family sooner. The breakfast menu had mostly oatmeal, nuts, and fruits. Eddie would miss his eggs, and Rebecca’s usual french toast sticks weren’t on it, either. “I just hope I can afford all this stuff.”
“Once on the Plan, you’ll get a fifteen percent discount.”
“It’s mandated by the state.” said Ellen. “It’s a difference maker.”
“That would help even things up,” said Linda.
“I’ve been thinking, sis. Don’t get upset, but Eddie is losing his eligibility. Have you given any thought to replacing him?”
“No.” Linda didn’t want any advice about her husband and kept her answer short to avoid giving Ellen traction on the subject.
As they went down each aisle, Ellen’s cart beeped when they reached a food item she needed. Linda continued to scan the aisles for items on her list.
As she checked off most of the lunch menu, she realized Abraham wouldn’t get the teriyaki meatballs he liked. “My kids are going to have a hard time with these adjustments,” she said.
“Tough love, Linda.” Ellen stopped her cart to grab some cod liver oil. “In my house, they eat what I give them or they don’t leave the table.”
“They’ll manage,” said Linda. She grabbed the last whole wheat and kale fettuccine on the shelf. “What if they’re out of something I need?”
“The store automatically sends an adjustment to The American Plan servers for approval. If the American Plan rejects it, it provides an alternative.”
“That’s so much better than the willy-nilly way I buy things. but I do like to browse.”
“Bad habits,” said Ellen. “You should consider a trade.”
“A trade for what?”
“What have we been talking about—Eddie.”
“Not an option. Eddie is the father of my children,” said Linda.
“Oh, Linda, you’re so antiquated. That doesn’t matter as much as it used to. Roles have changed, now you’re the keeper of the family, and fathers do the grunt work. Our true natures have prevailed, and if the mule doesn’t produce, it’s off the farm.”
“It would kill him,” said Linda. “Eddie has traditional roots, and taking away his family would destroy him. I can’t do that.” Linda wanted to say ‘I love him with all my heart and soul,’ but she refused to let her sister in that far.
“He’s a man,” said Ellen. “Men have to accept what they are.”
“He’ll get his old job back, and we’ll be fine.”
Ellen hissed. “Are you seriously counting on that? He’s marked for disloyalty, Linda. He’ll never get that expunged.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I don’t? Have you ever heard of someone getting clearance back after getting a disloyal brain scan?”
Linda kept silent. This was twisting her stomach. Why did Eddie get a disloyal signature? Can she count on him to be loyal to the country—and to the family? How strong was her love for him? Strong enough to hold on even if they determine he is permanently disloyal? She hoped so. Deep in her heart she hoped so.
“Start looking, Lin. You’ll be in much better shape if you prepare.”
They lined their carts up at the cashier. The impulse display had Oreos in packages of six, and the twisted knot in Linda’s belly started to loosen as they reminded her of her youngest, Joseph.
“Ellen.” Linda reviewed her cart. “I’m going to get one more day’s worth. Go ahead without me.”
“Good idea,” said Ellen. “The longer you stay on track with the Plan, the better.” She brought up another day’s menu from her digicuff and synced it with Linda’s FlexMart card. “I’ll see you back at the house.”
Linda smiled and pushed her cart around to the back aisle. She grabbed eggs, teriyaki meatballs, french toast sticks and Oreos. Then she went to the bakery section and picked out some extra crispy apple fritters for herself. By the time she got to the cashier’s lane, the knot in her stomach was gone.