Wasting Time Playing Video Games by Daniel Uncapher

Aunt Clara was in a car accident again. Who cares. Mom keeps texting me so I toss my phone under the couch.

When grandma died she claimed the TV even though grandma gave the TV to me because Aunt Clara bought grandma the TV just that Christmas, which was the last time any of us except my mother had seen grandma.

Grandma gave me half of her library, the better half, and gave Aunt Clara’s son, my cousin Charlie, the lesser half. I got the TV and enough money to buy a PS4.

Charlie doesn’t believe in the Anthropocene. He invested heavily in cryptocurrencies after they’d already gone mainstream but still made a lot of money from them. When I told him that I think climate change makes cryptocurrencies unconscionable he called me a treehugger.

I read that neoliberalism comes from Chicago, like the pinball industry, and hotdogs. Charlie, who grew up Naperville and hung a W-flag from his window when the Cubs won, wasn’t interested in his half of grandma’s library and left it boxed up in the basement, where the books rotted, while I built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to maintain my half of grandma’s library. I don’t think Charlie even plays video games, except FIFA.

Last Thanksgiving Aunt Clara shit herself when we were walking the dogs and Charlie didn’t help her. She just fell down and shit herself. People do that kind of thing all the time. Weird stuff is always flying out of people.

This morning a snowstorm blanketed the whole northern hemisphere. The snow is so white it hurts to look at. Until something breaks it and gives it discrete parts it doesn’t even really exist.

The dogs love it. The old lady upstairs saves her newspaper bags for the dogs. Every month or two a newspaper bag full of newspaper bags appears on my doorknob. I replaced the doorknob after the old one fell apart. It just fell apart in my hands one day. I put the bags on the shelf with the other bags. I love my shelves. Sometimes they make appearances in my dreams. It’s one of my fixations. It’s a relatively benign one, so Eudo entertains it. Once I got so fixated on the stock market that I hired a hypnotist to get me out of it. For all I know she made me a sleeper agent. That would be a secret, and secrets are tremendously meaningful. I haven’t witnessed a good secret in a while. I’m not sure that secrets can even really exist. Secret societies, secret events. On the far side of the wall, through the power supply, someone’s propped a plastic snow shovel. I don’t know why they put it there.

I crack the window and smell the freezing air. It brings me back to my childhood in rural Maine. Everything was cold and the snow smelled like dark eternity.

Eudo gets mad when I open the window at night, especially when the heat is on. It’s like mining cryptocurrency, she says. It’s unconscionable in the Anthropocene. She’s afraid of entropy. Entropy keeps her up at night, her back to the wall, a mattress full of cold sweat. Plus she has Renaud’s disease so the cold windows are particularly unconscionable on my part.

The snow fell so hard earlier that we just let the dog out without a leash. We didn’t think there would be anyone in the snow, and there wasn’t. But there was a raccoon, sitting in the middle of the road, bowing forward and holdings its head. The dog kept its distance. The raccoon looked up, shook, and bowed back down.

That’s one sick animal, said our neighbor. I was still mad at the dog for peeing on the bottom shelf of books. It was my fault for keeping book on the bottom shelf in the first place. And for not taking him out to pee again before I left, too. I think he’s a brilliant animal but Eudo thinks he’s an idiot. It bodes well for me if he’s an idiot, it explains why he’s so poorly trained.

When he dies Eudo says we shouldn’t get another. They cost too much money, she says. I’m a conscientious objector to money so that argument holds no weight for me. She got upset with me for spending too much on Valentine’s day. In grade school, back in a potato field in Maine, I gave out more valentines than I received. I sat in a snowbank on the walk home from school counting my valentines and coming up short. I have a fixation on figures. That’s why I like the grocery store so much; it’s stocked full of benign figures to contemplate meaningfully — prices, ingredients, calories, weights. Nothing hurts and everything is calculable. So it took me ages to get home that day. I walked through the endless plodding hayfields up the hill, where I saw a box sticking out of my mailbox: my new sword had arrived. I bought it on the internet, styled after a Roman gladius. I took it into the barn and fought the haybales in the loft. I found a dead squirrel in the rafters and examined it closely. I stayed there all night, dragging up a TV, antenna, and sleeping bag and watching TGIF in a blizzard.

I call in shrimp fried rice for Eudo and I pick out the shrimp. The water chestnuts are undercooked. That’s never happened to me before. I open the laptop and click through the tabs for the one about water chestnuts. There are too many tabs open and the browser crashes, and it takes the whole system down with it.

For a moment I remember the money I lost and then I remember the people, like my grandma, and all the books that my cousin destroyed, and then the computer reboots and the room lights up in blue.

All the fans are whirring now. The machines are getting hot to the touch, the snow is still falling. Something was off with the Chinese food. Eudo thinks the Chinese are going to win the world. I tell her it’s possible, the Chinese are super smart, but I know it doesn’t matter, because I’ll be bedridden long before then. Don’t even bother eating meat anymore. Pigs are super smart. Cows are smart, too, and so kind and so curious — Eudo says the problem is something called CFLs. She voted on a petition to cast a Chinese actor in some new film. It was a big win when the production company cast a Chinese actor, more for the production company than the activists, and everyone was relatively at ease. Orders skyrocketed for electric vehicles, even if in relative terms they remained small. Battery-operated sedans lined up under the Aurora Borealis in a Norwegian port, the smell of salted fish still heavy from beheading season.

I go to the kitchen and take a banana out of its packaging. I used to eat banana peels because I’d read a book about a dragon who eats orange peels. The mail’s on the counter. An organization mailed me a letter with a nickel taped right inside it, clear as day, and the words: this nickel could save a child’s life. It was like the mood-detector credit card I was given by an evangelical that was just a piece of inert plastic with a sermon printed on the back. It’s too much for someone like to me to put up with.

When Eudo came back from her run and found the PS4 on she was understandably upset. I was in the same place she’d left me, as usual. She told me she’d been sexually harassed on the running trail and sprinted all the way home. A man was standing on the ridge jerking off into the snow, staring right at me. I hate running pants, she said. I’m wearing sweatpants from now on.

She sat down beside me and pulled up her news app. They say the army’s raping Rohingya women in Myanmar. Rape armies. I’d already read the article. I told her she should read this book about North Korea.

Outside by the dumpsters someone called my neighbor a bitch nigger and slapped him around. I got up to call the police but couldn’t find my phone. I pulled the curtains and turned down the TV. Spotify was still playing. Eudo had fallen asleep. I’d forgotten Charlie’s birthday. He was still mad at me for not saying hi at grandma’s funeral, as if that was the point of the thing. He never even mentioned the times he made me suck him off as a kid. Eudo’s never been to a funeral. Her hardest limitation is the 93% chance global warming exceeds 4 degrees by the end of the century if business continues as usual.

I turn the heat up, crack open a window, and try in vain to clear my head.

 

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Daniel Uncapher is an MFA candidate at Notre Dame and 2018 Sparks Prize winner whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chicago Quarterly Review, Tin House Online, Baltimore Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, HCE Review, Posit, Neon, and others.