Adjustments (short fiction)

Life was full of small tragedies. Henry had known that for years, but his daughter’s death was yet another reminder. She’d had a long, full life, left behind children and loved ones. It was sad when a parent outlived his child, but he was an old man. It could hardly be called unfair that his sixty-five year old daughter had died before him.

It still felt unfair. That was the tragedy. People would die, and people would be left behind to grieve. It didn’t matter the order. Somebody would be lost. Somebody would have to deal with that loss. He wished to hell it hadn’t been him left behind, but that wasn’t stopping the pain. It was merely giving it to someone else to carry.

Betty and the kids and the grandkids and a lifetime of friends attended the funeral, and Henry knew she’d lived a good and worthy life. She’d done more than most and made the world a better place. She would be missed, but life would go on, as it must.

On the ride home from the wake, Betty and the kids adjusted their mood boxes and were filled with smiles and laughter. Like it was just another day. Henry sat in the back and said nothing. The kids dropped Betty and Henry at home. He watched them drive away as if they didn’t have a care in the world.

Betty took his hand. “What’s wrong?”

“We just buried our daughter,” he said.

“Yes, no parent should outlive their child.” But she said it distantly, like a rote memorization. She didn’t mean it. She couldn’t. She’d shut that part of her brain down with the twist of a dial.

Grumbling, he went inside. He grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator and sat on the sofa.

“You should adjust,” said Betty. “You’ll feel better.”

“Maybe I don’t want to feel better.”

She looked at him funny. It bothered him how quickly she’d become dependent on her mood box. They weren’t a bad thing, but so easy to abuse. It didn’t matter if you made yourself happy on rainy days or gave yourself a little boost of concentration on hard days. But now even the most basic emotions were things to be programmed and regulated. Human experience had become a series of dials and readouts.

“If you want to feel bad, go right ahead.” She disappeared, puttering around the house somewhere. He thought about how she’d deal with it when he was gone. Would she even wait until the funeral to adjust?

He pulled his box from his pocket. Such a small thing to change the world. So simple even a child could operate it. Push a button. Change a setting. Change yourself. One day, there’d be no more pain, no more sadness. It might be easier, but it would be a poorer place for it.

Henry clutched his mood box tight and grieved for his daughter and his wife and a whole world fated to be fixed with one final adjustment.

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