My brother remembered last year we played a family trivia game with Dad and his pick for a ‘last meal’ was lamb chops, so we cooked him those for dinner tonight. Lamb chops are not a common dish in Chicago. Mom found them at the gourmet supermarket in Buffalo Grove. She said it’s the least we could do.
At the dinner table, all those lamb chops are grilled and arranged in a crown. Sitting behind them, Dad looks at us and announces, “Computers around the world are going to crash tomorrow. Do you realize what that means?” His voice is loud and deep and almost shakes the walls.
There's an awkward silence. He’s waiting for one of us to show interest so he can explain the computer problem. But our minds are on something else, and tomorrow being January 1st 2000 just doesn't feel that important.
Mom speaks up first, “You are the computer expert John, tell us what it means, but try the soup first?”
Tonight is a rare family dinner. Most of the time Dad is away on business, busy with being the CEO of the family company, that’s what Dad says. Mom says he’s away with other women. I don't know why he needs to bring his fishing equipment if that's what he's doing.
“Cathy! This soup looks delicious!” Dad says. He holds his bowl, stands up, and puts in his spoon and give it a stir. “While this is cooling off, let me explain the year 2000 problem. Bear with me. This software glitch will cause computers to crash at banks, trains, in airplanes, even nuclear power plants. The idiots who designed these systems…”
I interrupt, “What about hospitals?” The business magazines Dad keeps on his desk say he is the King of hospital computer systems.
“Those will be fine, we had two hundred software engineers check and recheck everything,” Dad says. “Now, what I’m really worried about are the nuclear power plants, especially the ones close to us at Zion...”
I zone out while Dad endlessly explains how many things will break down tomorrow. If so many things are going to fall apart, why haven’t we stocked up on any extra food or hair conditioner?
Drink the soup. Drink the soup. I see the chorus in the family’s eyes.
I was undecided about the whole thing, but after a family meeting organized by Mom, we decided together that Dad needs to go. We will each pitch in, in our own way. Mom, the cook, will poison his soup. If that doesn't work, my little brother Seth will take a shot at him in the shooting range when Dad is not looking. Seth is young enough it will be judged an accident. And if that doesn't go according to plan, it will be my plan. Plan C.
Dad is bringing the spoon toward his mouth. I’m pinching my leg and trying to act natural. Something big and heavy brushes against my leg. Bandit, our border collie, moves toward Dad and makes a leap.
“Get off Bandit!” Dad shouts, then he topples over toward the table. Everything goes flying with a crash. Luckily, Dad grabs the table with one hand and catches himself.
“Sorry Cathy,” Dad, looking remorsefully at the floor, says to Mom. Broken ceramic and chicken vegetable soup are everywhere. Bandit’s long tongue is lapping up the soup greedily. A rare opportunity for a taste of people food.
Bandit staggers and topples over, Right where Dad should have been, and starts vomiting, and then lays still.
Dad checks on Bandit, feels his heart beat, and looks about to cry.
“Everyone, stay away from the soup,” Dad says in a quavering voice. “It might have botulism toxin.”
Everyone looks in shock, and no one says anything back to Dad. What have we done to Bandit? Things are definitely past the point of no return now.
“Anaerobic bacteria multiply in a lack of oxygen…but I guess you all don’t know much about bacteriological processes,” Dad says.
“Dad, you remember I’m in dental school, right?” I say.
“What does that have to do with bacteria?”
“4 years of biology classes, in case you weren’t paying attention.”
Dad stop talking about bacteria, but insists we keep eating while he sends our housekeeper with Bandit to the veterinarian. Maybe they can do something for him, he says. I feel sick to my stomach. We sit down again, and I try my best to look like I’m eating.
Mom starts nagging Dad about where he was last week and why he didn't return her calls. Tempers rise. I just want them to stop arguing.
“Dad you’ll never be content,” I say, “you’ve made a billion from Maglione & Co, you own a dozen antique cars, and now you starting your next business. But you are never home.”
“I do it all for our family,” Dad says and looks a bit sad. We eat in silence for a while.
The deer head mounted on the wall in the dining room looks my way.
When dinner is finished, Seth says, “Dad, can we do some target shooting?”
Dad has a shooting range tucked into the hill behind the stables that he takes his buddies to. He’s always been trying to get Seth involved.
“Seth, my man! Girls, you will need to excuse us, we’ll be back in later,” he says.
After they leave, what feels like an eternity of waiting goes past. I think about if Seth will be emotionally ok after murder.
Dad and Seth both appear at the back entrance at the same time.
Dad chuckles and says, “I’m signing up Seth for gun safety training. He almost took my ear off.”
I am surprised Seth missed. Dad torments Seth for not being an outdoors man like he is. A few times he locked Seth outside in the cold for hours at a time to toughen him up, that’s what he calls it.
Dad goes upstairs. Each night he takes a bubble bath before watching TV. He’s trying to smell clean before he moves in on Mom later I think.
At dad’s bathroom door, I ask, “Dad, can I come in?”
“Sure,” he says.
“My hair dryer is broken.”
A hair dryer sits on the cabinet, I pick it up, turn it on and pretend to dry my hair. I have checked the length of the cord. I see Dad close his eyes. I'm not a murderer, am I?
My arm swings forward, lets go of the hair dryer, and it tumbles toward the bath. I see a splash of bubbles and the hair dryer sinking into the foam. It's still running and bubbles are blowing into the air until the room goes dark.
Dad begins shouting.
I panic and feel my way out in the dark, making it to the door and shuffling down the hallway to the living room, back to where everyone is waiting.
A few seconds later, I hear Dad’s heavy footsteps upstairs, and his shouting becomes louder and louder. I see a dim glow. Then I see dad, he’s holding his Nokia phone with his face lit up from below like a horror film, and he looks really angry.
I’m too scared to say anything, maybe I should run, but where will I go?
“Angela, are you ok?”
“I’m ok,” I squeak.
“I don't know how, but you dropped your hair dryer in the bathtub. We have a short circuit, I’ll flip the breaker,” Dad says. “We are all lucky to be alive!”
I’m happy Dad didn't die. Mom and Seth talked me into this plan, but Dad never did anything bad to me.
Dad stretches his arms over his head and says happily, “Three close calls in one day, whew! This reminds me how much I love all of you,” and hugs us, wet bath robe, bubbles, and all.
After we get settled, we sit down to watch TV. As usual, Dad talks over all the Discovery Channel programs . His explaining now feels comforting. I don't know what we were even thinking today. The problems we are having, we will get through as a family, just like they say.
When it gets late, Dad says, “It's almost New Year's Eve, I'm going to go down to get the Champagne.”
I hear Dad open the basement door. He’s walking down the stairs. Suddenly, a series of loud thuds echo from the staircase. There's a final crash and then silence.
We all stare at each other in the living room. A tingle goes down my spine. One family member didn't update us on her plan.
“Grandma?” I ask.
Grandma comes out of the kitchen, takes a look down the staircase and says, “Never underestimate the elderly. Extra virgin olive oil on the steps down to his liquor fridge. An unfortunate accident.” Grandma winks at me.
I’m still in shock. “Why? He’s your son.”
“That terrible son of mine killed your grandfather, that's how he took over the family business," she says, "You didn’t think your grandfather's fall was an accident, did you?”