The Reaper’s White Elephant (Part IV)

Start from Part I


Myshuno Meadows, for all the work the landscapers took to cram as much nature as possible into a painfully efficient 64×64 grid, wasn’t so much the oasis the city planners told people it was. There was a turf-war feel to the skyscrapers closing in on all four sides, like the park shouldn’t have come to this neighborhood and was cruising for an architectural bruising. And so the conversations you could hear tinkling in any cobblestoned or turfed area, those where sims reassured each other that it was so nice to get out of the city for once, could be one of the lies people who should know better tell themselves or could perhaps be a strained attempt to let the building-mafiosos know everything’s cool. Put the pesticides down and we can talk it out. Most of the fauna were urban types that adapted to have a symbiotic relationship with humans and their trash. Flying rats and bug rats and mammal cockroaches. If something else showed up, the place went wild; all you could hear were murmurs from the crowd around the beast’s general area and the species name bouncing around like a game of telephone between San Myshunites under the same collective wilderness-delusion. If the something that showed up was a bird of prey the world just about damn stopped.

Anyway Kendra got in her head that Aileen, with her suburban lifestyle, wasn’t here for the quote-unquote nature at all but rather, if she could, wanted to push the trees aside for a better look at the skyscrapers and the memoir-quality vignettes happening in and between them: a deliquescent nanny hissing to a child in Simână that no you can’t get a quarter water from the place with the cartoon llama advertising bubble solution no I don’t care how much you want it I’m not getting it for you, the guy who slept on the community center steps and wasn’t bothering anyone and the monolithic guy whose pee-crusted duster made him even more wall-like and who only begged simoleons from petite women, a High-Powered Business Boss Lady sneering so hard at the couple walking toward her that she didn’t notice her stiletto punting a fossilized dog dropping across a mica-spiked financial-district sidewalk; and was perhaps—Aileen was—calculating optimal area and population density for her to carve out a spot and avoid running into her ex-husband and his husband smooshing faces everywhere. Right now they were standing in front of the urn with faces nearly smooshed, so that Aileen’s neck couldn’t be in its default position if she wanted to avoid seeing that sort of thing.

Aileen wasn’t looking at Kendra when she spoke. She may have figured out where that kebab smell was coming from. “So I suspect you want to know what happened.”

“You guessed it.” What she was about to say was not PC from a Mike-and-Hector standpoint, Kendra admitted; if only she’d had more time to choose her words. “From you, specifically. Hate to admit it, but I don’t trust what my dad and brother are saying.”

“Any particular reason?”

“I mean, you were there. Right? Hector wasn’t there the whole time—I’m guessing, because he was at school—and I never know with Dad. It’s like he’s either waiting for you to slip up so he can make a joke or trying to trick you into thinking his memories are yours. Plus also I talked to him during the reception and the first words out of his mouth were ‘You believe me, right?’ I didn’t even say anything. That’s suspicious, right? It’s suspicious.”

“If you’re asking about your father’s motivations, it’s not going to do us any good to speculate. We’ll never know what he was thinking.”

“I guess.” The range of pitches she covered in ‘guess’ covered the tessitura of most pop singers, so you’d have to be tone-deaf to believe Kendra was satisfied with that answer.

shoutout to Pale Male—shit, I’m doing the thing New Yorkers do, going on about NYC when the context doesn’t call for it. If I mention pizza anywhere in the text below, international law says you’re allowed to throw something at me through the internet

“What I can do instead is tell you my version of events. I suspect that’s what you came here for anyway.”

“Yeah, that’s all I was hoping for.” And yet Kendra felt she should clarify again so Aileen gets that she, Kendra, isn’t an idiot who still thinks parents can read minds. “I know you can’t tell me what my father was thinking, but I was hoping you might have some insight or something to point me in the right direction.”

“Like I said, I’m going to stick to the facts and let you figure it out for yourself.” Of course she would. Kendra had read the back of one of Aileen’s book jackets and it was all about that informational freedom. “So I don’t over-explain, how much has your mother told you about the Selvadorada trip?”

“Jungle was beautiful. Produce was better. Than the produce here, not the jungle. She went on about parrots for a hot minute.”

“I see.” She seemed caught in an internal debate. “Well—something happened in Selvadorada that convinced your mother to leave your father.”

“No.” As in you’re-shitting-me-man-that’s-juicy, not as in what-do-you-mean-Mommy-and-Daddy-don’t-love-each-other-anymore.

If you drive up to Boston, you can hear the same Yankees–Sox game spun two conflicting ways. The switch happens somewhere around New Haven

“Xiyuan, Bernard and I were all in on it. We talked with her two days ago. And early yesterday morning, she told us she was going to leave. After your father went to work, I was supposed to help her move her things to my house, where she’d be staying temporarily, while your uncles dealt with Mike.”

“Wow, Aileen, that’s—thank you.”

in the instance I’m personally talking about, the Yankees won. Duh

Aileen recounted what she’d done up to to and including Claudia’s death. “I’m sorry, Kendra. I did everything I could think of at the moment.”

“So did Bernard come after you sent the text?”

“He did, and he brought quite a few paintings, like I asked. But by the time he got there, she was already dead. No one was paying enough attention to let him in.”

“Ah.”

anyone been following Wormgate?

“I didn’t have the presence of mind, either, even though I was expecting him. He texted me later. He must have been looking through the window and said something about wanting to avoid another brush with the Reaper.”

“Understandable. I keep forgetting he died a long time ago.” Generations of sims grew up with the Von Haunt Estate ghost Lord legend. But not Kendra’s. To her, Uncle Bernard was the one with the beard and hair curl who kissed Uncle Xiyuan and at his wedding they stuffed her into a pink dress. “Poor Bernard. But what happened after the Reaper showed up?”

“Well, you know how we always carry death flowers?”

Shit, yes, of course she knew. Kendra found it metal as hell that her mother was growing these ominous and friggin’ sweet skull-with-mane-looking plants in the front garden for everyone to see, and that the whole family had to carry them in case of accidental death. Like you’re just sighing off the day’s stress before you kick off your and then bam, memento mori. Claudia’d shared them with Aileen and the Lius, too. Though Kendra wanted to paper her house with the damn things, she didn’t have a partner, roommate, or gal pal to gift them to in case of emergency, and she considered maybe that was where the parental pressure to be in a relationship, but not necessarily to incubate more sims, was coming from.

Aileen continued. “Well, I had my death flower out, of course. But I couldn’t get to the Reaper before—“

“—Oh no. Hector plead, didn’t he? Sorry. Sorry for interrupting.”

“No, you’re right. Hector was so desperate to save her, he got to the Reaper first. And I don’t have to tell you how that went.”

Dread set in if Kendra tried to think about it. “Does Hector know you had the Death Flowers?”

“I put them away before he could see them, at least I hope I did. He doesn’t need to be reminded. I’m not sure whether he’s realized he has them.”

“I hope not.” Kendra glanced toward the community building, inside which Hector was probably still honoring his mother’s life in his own bread-enclosed way. “He doesn’t need that kind of guilt right now.”

“That’s true. Look, Kendra. Even though I stopped him from joking with his mother, I do think he might feel guilty about the failed plea. And I don’t think he can be convinced it’s not his fault. Do you mind if I give an opinion, Kendra?”

“What is it?”

“You, more than anyone else, have to be there for him.”

There were a thousand excuses Kendra could’ve used: the age gap, the favoritism, the divergent personalities, the divergent interests, the Charlie thing—Charlie the teenage girl—and she silenced them all. “Okay. I don’t know what to do, so I’ll try.”

By this point Aileen had said her piece and trailed off inside her own mind. They were facing the Arts District—out of the question as far as the San Myshuno dream she imagined Aileen having was concerned. Uptown as well. And then there’s Spice Market; everyone goes to Spice Market for Spice Festival, even out-of-towners, and even if that’s too tourist-friendly for San Myshunites it’s still where the good karaoke bar is. Clearly her best bet was the Fashion District, which Kendra knew well because it’s where the Pride Parade is held. She’d asked Xiyuan why he never attended Pride, and what he told her, but hadn’t told the San Myshuno reporters he’d compared to gnats, was that the general consensus around his house was that they were old and Pride was loud.

But the way Aileen’s hand clasped and unclasped, as if reaching for a treasured blanket, the hem of a mother’s coat, was too nervous for Kendra to ignore.

“Aileen? Is there something else you want to say?”

She gave no indication of hearing Kendra, off in her mind, fingertips still twitching.

“I know you said you want me to decide for myself, but I do want to hear your opinion. That’s like a form of evidence, and I won’t mix it up with fact.”

At this, Aileen turned away. That had to be intentional.

“It has to do with the death flowers, doesn’t it?”

Aileen winced, her shoulders nearly reaching her ears as if to squeeze herself shut, and from the tension in her right cheek, Kendra guessed that her eyes were also closed tight. She waited a beat. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Aileen’s next exhale was more of a sigh, letting the pressure out. But rather than turning to Kendra, she still gazed past the cherry tree at the city beyond, dreaming of belonging, maybe, or escape.

I’m just saying, one of them lived through when the AIDS crisis would have been if the sim universe had such a thing and the other was alive in that sweet spot between when gay men were hanged and when they were lobotomized or chemically castrated, so they’re probably wondering what the hell’s going on right now re. Pride

“Do you know who brought Bernard back to life, Kendra?”

“It was my mother.”

“Exactly. Your mother’s aptitude at cooking extends beyond Central Simerican spice mixes. Claudia was the first among us to control life and death. Thanks to her home garden and your brother’s fishing, she’s made Ambrosia before. She has the recipe, has the ingredients. And you’re trying to become a great poet, if I remember correctly.”

“Horror poet.”

“So I’m guessing you aspire to become a bestselling author. Do you know what power is awarded to the greatest authors?” Even though no one was close enough to eavesdrop, Aileen hesitated to scan her surroundings, then reached into the left breast of her coat and pulled an object from her inventory in the sketchiest way possible. She revealed just enough for Kendra to recognize the spine of a book. Matte black, and if Kendra had to guess, there’d be a lotus on the cover.

“Nah, Aileen, that’s not the Book of Life, is it?”

“Again, exactly. It’s not the one I bound to Claudia, but she has one. She could resurrect herself in a flash if she wanted. All of us, both of our families, we’ve got a foot jammed in death’s door.”

“So what you’re getting at is, there was no reason to have a funeral at all.” At this point Kendra was just spitballing. “Her ghost might come out, and she’d have multiple ways to resurrect herself. And even if her spirit doesn’t come back for a while, she’s got me, Hector, all her friends—come to think of it, so many mourners strengthening her connection to the physical world. There’s no way this is permanent. That’s what you’re saying?”

Aileen’s closed-off posture told Kendra that no, no it wasn’t. Just as Kendra began to fear that maybe she regretted showing off the Book, Aileen twitched in what appeared to be a total-body flash of contempt. She spoke again.

“Earlier, you asked me what your father was thinking when he joked with your mother to the point of hysteria.”

“Did I do something wrong?”

“Mike’s very good at that; getting people to focus on himself. It’s all about him. Mike, Mike, Mike. You’re asking the wrong question. You’ve asked yourself what your father was thinking.” When she looked at Kendra after minutes of avoidance, it was like the shock of cold water against bare skin. “Have you asked what your mother was thinking?”

“When she died? How could I possibly know what that feels like?” Now that was—damn, that was a damn embarrassment of an answer, defensive and shamefully incorrect. The truth was she couldn’t bring herself to consider what Claudia felt. Every time she looked at the urn, there was this little hint of her mother’s giggle that she felt rather than heard, if that made any sense, and she had to look away before it turned into honest-to-god choking. But Aileen didn’t know that.

“I mean beforehand, Kendra. For years. Whether she was happy with her life; with her relationship. Why she made the choices she did.”

“The juice.”

“Not that I’m saying this is her fault, but what caused her to laugh? To stay? To be drawn back in? What was she looking for?”

“I thought my mother just wanted to be happy. For all of us to be happy.”

“And was she?”

That, Kendra knew, but she left Aileen to fill the silence. It was a silence she felt. Whatever Aileen said next, she wouldn’t be prepared for.

my girl Aileen dropping the central premise 150k words into the story

“Remember, Kendra. No one in your family stays dead unless they want to.”

“And you’re saying she might”—Kendra felt herself curling up the same way Aileen did—“want to.”

That’s the level of crap I’ll pull to avoid ellipses in dialogue

Aileen nodded. “Even if we don’t know what she was thinking on that day—no matter what anyone else intended, least of all your father, your mother’s choice is the only one that counts. And if she chooses not to resurrect herself—“

“—She’s choosing death.”

“You have to prepare yourself for the possibility.”

“Wow. Just—” Kendra didn’t have a thought to complete yet. Then one did pop up, inconveniently long after she’d begun the sentence. “But why speculate on it when we haven’t even seen her spirit yet? The Book of Life could be the first thing she reaches for when she resurfaces.”

“Kendra, I think you know,” Aileen said. “Your mother was a much sadder woman than she let on.”

“I suspected—the juice—but was she really that bad off?”

“Well, let’s see if I can express this properly. The thing is, your mother learned to be passive in order to survive. That’s why Xiyuan and Bernard and I were so proud when she decided to take action; we were ready to drop everything and do what it took to get her out of that house. You see, up until that morning, I thought she lost the will to fight. And then she proved me wrong. But the truth is, Kendra, here’s the thing: she never stopped fighting. She was fighting the whole time. Fighting to keep her strength hidden in a home that both punished and rewarded her for it, to do what she thought was right for her family without considering the cost of her self-sacrifice. And if she’d gotten out, I don’t know—I don’t know what would have happened, if she found something new to fight for or if she felt like she didn’t have enough left in her to start again. Like a car running on empty. You want there to be enough left to get to a gas station, and people keep telling you that ’empty’ doesn’t really mean ’empty’ and it’s usually got a couple miles left, but no, there’s actually physically not enough. And now that this has happened, the bar’s even higher. And does she have enough left? I don’t know, Kendra—god help me, I don’t know—and I want her to, I really do, I’ll do whatever she needs to get there, but we have to accept that she may be spent. She may be done fighting.”

“Wow.” Nothing really for Kendra to say to that.

“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Aileen took a sec to mumble incoherently to herself. “I want her to go on. But I can’t convince myself she can. And if she can’t, I want her to know there was one person who understood.”

“So here’s what I’m getting.” Kendra raised three fingers on her left hand and gestured to each as she spoke. “Hector thinks it was a murder, Mike’s saying it’s an accident, and now you’re telling me it might have been—might have been a suicide. And now how the hell are we supposed to figure it out when it’s impossible to know what everyone was feeling?”

“I wish I could tell you, Kendra. I wish I had the answers. I don’t.”

“But you said it yourself.” Down went Kendra’s hand, the rule-of-threes thing having been satisfied. “We could ask her ghost.”

“I think that’s—she might not even know herself. But it’s worth a shot.”

“Aileen, anyway. Thank you again. I’m glad you were the one to help Mom on her last day.”

“Me? I couldn’t save her.”

“But you’re the only one who could have caught it. I’ve always had this sense about you, that you always see past the joy. You see bad things happening and you don’t ignore them. It’s like you can’t. So who else could have seen my mother, laughing and happy, and immediately made the connection to hysteria?”

That did cause Aileen some discomfort, as Kendra expected, but she wasn’t looking off into the distance anymore. She wasn’t longing for escape. “It’s not the easiest job in the world.”

“Look, Aileen, c’mon, I know people use ‘the weight of the world on your shoulders’ to be a bad thing, like to scoff at you for taking on an unwise and impossible task, but it’s not shameful to want to hold everyone else up.” She racked her brain. “Maybe it’s just selfish to want people like you to run everything. People who are miserable because they don’t just admit their mistakes, they feel them; who know they’re not perfect and never pretend to be; who don’t want to be in charge because they know every detail of every way they can mess it up. The people who want power most deserve it least, right?”

“I mean—thank you, it’s a nice sentiment. But it’s hard to do anything when I’m exhausted all the time. The guilt, the mistakes—it just piles up. And it doesn’t stop when you need it to. All I want is an off switch sometimes.”

“What can I say? You’re a fighter. She still needed you.”

Letting herself sink deeper into the park, Kendra reminded herself that it wasn’t the first time she was seeing color. The sky’s just as blue here as it is in Newcrest or Strangerville. But it was the yellows and oranges: Kendra had never been one for the warm colors, but now all she had to do was look and the good parts of her mother came rushing back, immediate, electric; the sunshine, the idea of a never-fading smile without all the baggage that came with it; and for now she couldn’t imagine wanting to look at anything else. It was like seeing through her mother’s eyes. It was the closest she’d felt to her mother, almost like something had awakened, a part of her she imagined as an illuminating yellow arc that fit into all the other parts of who she is; a memory she would never lose. One that she would take to the grave. She muttered to herself.

“Now you’ve got me thinking what she felt when she died.”

“Maybe she’ll tell you someday.” Aileen nodded her chin forward, toward the backdrop of marigolds. “But for now, there’s one other person you can ask.”


BONUS:

15 points from Ravenclaw for ruining the moment

10 thoughts on “The Reaper’s White Elephant (Part IV)

  1. Yes , but it was a sad lottery song, a metaphor, for they lost.

    The paragraph-long sentence was my favorite.

    And the paragraph of color was beautiful.

    I’d hoped maybe someone might rez her, but I hadn’t considered she might choose death.

    It’s a specific type of sadness that hides behind the mask of happiness, and I know that masking is almost unbearably exhausting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Okay, damn—if you were already considering resurrection before this, you’ve got the deeper layers down. I’m honestly quite excited to hear your interpretation but, of course, will wait patiently until you’re ready to share. This stuff does take time!

      I’m glad you got something out of those paragraphs; the setting bits are the hardest for me to write. It’s harder to write in my own authorial voice than any of my characters’ voices. Dunno how it is for everyone else. But occasionally they’re a long time coming, like that sentence-paragraph has really been germinating after I spent eight straight days in high school laughing at this exchange:
      “Yo can I get a quarter water?”
      “What flavor?”
      “Purple.”

      5 points for Ravenclaw for justifying the lottery song; 0 points to Ravenclaw for being the author because Alby-Dumz is going to make up bullshit points for Gryffindor so we can’t win the House Cup anyway and who even cares about the dumb House Cup in the first place. I like to think there’s no actual lottery song and Xiyuan’s just saying “Hey Bernard, check this out,” and improvising a parody on the spot. “Let it Be” and “Yesterday” are natural candidates; I’d personally use “Ching A Ling” by Missy Elliot as a base.

      Like

  2. I will admit that, coming into this chapter, I was firmly in the Mike-is-a-murderer camp. Now I’m not so sure. I’m at an obvious disadvantage not being super familiar with the game mechanics, especially given their importance and ramifications in this story, but now that they’re explicitly out in the open, you’ve really got me thinking.

    What Kendra and Aileen say about Mike is pretty damning and reeks of narcissism and gaslighting:

    “It’s like he’s either waiting for you to slip up so he can make a joke or trying to trick you into thinking his memories are yours.”

    “Mike’s very good at that; getting people to focus on himself. It’s all about him. Mike, Mike, Mike. You’re asking the wrong question. You’ve asked yourself what your father was thinking.”

    I’d gotten the sense before that Mike knew what was happening and simply didn’t care enough to stop. But Aileen’s question after the latter quote, paired with the death flowers and the Book of Life… yeah, it’s pretty convincing that death is a choice for Claudia.

    And leave it to Aileen to be able to see through Claudia’s bubbly exterior. It’s a very sad parallel — Mike using laughter for harm, Claudia using laughter to hide the damage.

    Aileen winced, her shoulders nearly reaching her ears as if to squeeze herself shut, and from the tension in her right cheek, Kendra guessed that her eyes were also closed tight. She waited a beat. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Aileen’s next exhale was more of a sigh, letting the pressure out.

    (Just going to drop this S&L callback here.)

    I’ve said it before, but I love Kendra. She has a very specific voice in my head — it’s apparent you’ve put effort into honing in on all of your characters’ individual speech patterns and quirks, and I love it. That being said, I can hear the wheels turning in Kendra’s head in this chapter.

    Like wait:

    “Now you’ve got me thinking what she felt when she died.”

    What?

    You’ve established death is reversible… Kendra is a goddamn horror poet… ohohohoho

    Now that all that’s written, I can admit, with a bit of shame, that I laughed at this:

    “Look, Aileen, c’mon”

    Too-ra-loo-ra, too-la-loo-rye, ay?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Also, I’m just now realizing I forgot to yell about you introducing the central premise of CT. WAT WAT.

      YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

      Silly, forgetful me.

      Like

    2. GOD

      DAMN IT, ESK

      I DIDN’T EVEN REALIZE—GODDAMN IT

      About that Mike bit: yeah, it made me recognize that one of the themes in this chapter is how we tend to ignore things when they’re not begging for our attention. Aileen’s right that Mike’s boisterous personality is distracting everyone from who the real focus should be, you know what ruse-distaction shenanigans went on in RWE3 (and do feel free to drop hints for everyone else if you feel like it), and Bernard may have something to say about it as well.

      Aileen’s a yogini, so our girl’s gonna get more breathing references. Have I told you that I love how many of my characters’ quirks you’ve picked up on already? You know what I’m talking about.

      That being said, I can hear the wheels turning in Kendra’s head in this chapter.

      People.

      You’ve established death is reversible… Kendra is a goddamn horror poet… ohohohoho

      People.

      What?

      PEOPLE.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I so heart your description of Myshuno Meadows. I’m transplanted back to a park in a city I worked in a while ago. It was smack in between 70-storey high skyscrapers and towers. Had a decent amount of rainforest and trees, the very definition of an ‘urban jungle’ so it wasn’t too bad if you don’t look too closely. Not large enough for birds of prey or wild animals though.

    I don’t know if I can accept suicide for Claudia’s death. Suicide implies that the responsibility lies in Claudia. The chapter didn’t begin with Claudia wanting to die, she wanted to live and the point where she gave up wasn’t when Mike began making her laugh but halfway through. So if Mike weren’t there to push her past her breaking point, she wouldn’t have wanted to die at all. Taking sims out of the context, if a person is abused to the point where they lost their will to live, is it their fault for not being able to handle the abuser? Should the person walk away scot free then? Especially when the scars Claudia has are emotional/mental than physical. This made me wonder if the term ‘giving up’ is the same as ‘suicide’. Claudia gave up but did she kill herself? Does wanting to stay dead means suicide. Not really.

    I’m with Aileen. I’m uncomfortable with Kendra’s words. I’m not as noble so I’d have the switch off at all times haha.

    The thought that came to my mind when Kendra was associating warm colors with her mom is ‘A cheerful person dying by hysteria.’ sigh. And after everything Kendra knew or was reminded of by Aileen of her mother Idk. I’d feel totally guilty about Claudia’s ‘never-fading smile’ and ‘sunshine’ because those are her mom’s desperate fight for survival. I’m not sure if I could look at Claudia’s smile with that much positivity. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a fan of that theory! I wanted to set up a situation where people were hopelessly split on what really happened because it relies on information we don’t have about people’s intentions—and also whether or not those intentions matter. But I hadn’t considered the semantics of using the word ‘suicide.’ I’d agree that her death isn’t her fault, in her world or ours; on the other hand, if she has full access to resurrection items and chooses not to use them, what word would you use then?

      I’ll agree that Kendra interpreted the situation slightly wrong. It doesn’t have to clearly be a murder, accident, or suicide. It could be a combination of the three. Frankly, I love when people disagree with me or the characters—if I were afraid of being wrong, I would’ve written a much more straightforward story, pfft—and I’d be surprised if someone came to the same conclusion I did.

      Although Claudia’s sunny disposition contributed to her death, that’s what she was known for and that’s why people liked her. I think in Kenny’s case it’s like having a parent who was a professional mountain climber die from falling. Looking at a mountain might call up a flood of bittersweet memories of the parent’s passion along with their death; it depends on the person. I could clarify more, but maybe Kendra’s not trying to romanticize her mother’s personality, it’s more that seeing the color makes Kendra miss her mother. Oh—does it help to know that Claudia loves yellow?

      Bahaha! City parks! I always knew when Pale Male was around because everyone around me went absolutely apeshit. The rainforest is definitely cooler, though.

      Like

  4. My jaw dropped about halfway through reading this.

    Okay, okay, okay, first of all thank you for not mentioning pizza because I would have been HONOR BOUND to talk about tomato pie and how the best tomato pie is in NJ and those guys in NY, they don’t know how to make a fuckin’ tomato pie.

    But I digress–

    Wait! Wormgate was the most ridiculous academics being academics but also the most white people thing I think I’ve experienced in August 2020. For reasons that are we occupy the similar career circles, you will appreciate the long zoom calls I had with my co-workers laughing about this, but also being ashamed that academia is like this.

    Okay, now I’m ready.

    For a moment, I thought Aileen was laying out a conspiracy because my brain still wants it to be a nice neat narrative where Mike is terrible and purposefully made Claudia laugh to death. And even as it was becoming obvious that wasn’t true, I was still clinging to it a little bit because, dreams are nice sometimes. But the longer Aileen talked, the clearer things got and I had this dawning sense of horror. Like the thought was blossoming inside my head: this is actually a tragedy. Claudia made a choice and this is a tragedy.

    There was a line in my head the whole time I was reading this part, from Anne Lamott where she’s talking about prayer and she invokes Kurt Vonnegut:

    But as Kurt Vonnegut put it, Welcome to the Monkey House. This is a hard planet, and we’re a vulnerable species. And all I can do is pray: Help.

    I read this when I was in a really rough relationship that I didn’t know how (if?) I could get out of. And I felt so desperate and tired and hopeless and sometimes that was the only word I could rouse from my body: help. It was a quiet help. Then a louder help. Then a shout. Then a scream. Then a full scale symphony: HELP.

    And the crazy thing is, the WILD thing, is that even with all that personal experience my attention was still focused on Mike. It is again a testament to how masterfully he is written. Not until Aileen mentioned it did I see it. And then I instantly didn’t want to think about him again forever. There were a million questions to ask about Claudia, to investigate her inner life but I had a box for her: victim. And then I closed that box and never thought anymore about it.

    (if we’re gonna get a little meta here, it’s interesting that in the game you can always bring someone back if you really want to. You can bring them back, age them down, and start their life all over again. It’s possible. And so game death is a choice. A sim only stays dead because we want them to).

    Anyways, I’ve been thinking about my comment last chapter and why I love (obsess over?) Bernard so much. And honestly, this chapter gave me a lot of clarity. We are, all of us, capable of great horrors. We’re capable of small horrors too. The small horrors are insidious, and they don’t often rate the way big horrors do so we forget about them. Perpetuating the small horrors requires a constant distasteful vigilance. You can’t grow from the small horrors, because you’re too busy being in the business of making them.

    To my mind, Bernard is not in the business of perpetuating small horrors.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fucking Wormgate. Ohhh my god I’m stealing “the most white people thing… of August 2020” because it was. Any other shots fired during that Zoom call? Chelsea Connor handled that heroically, though I’m bashing my head against a wall that she had to waste so much time on this trash. Thank goodness white people were there to explain to her what’s offensive! Wait, sorry: they’re 1/37 Cherokee and their pets are black so they get it.

      “Not in the business of perpetuating small horrors” is a poetic way to put it. For me, it’s that Mike and Bernard respectively respond to guilt selfishly and unselfishly: Mike tries to quash his feelings by denying, minimizing, gaslighting, and getting defensive; Bernard does so by convincing himself not to focus on his own guilt because his emotions don’t change the fact that he fucked up, and he should instead be listening to the people he hurt. It’s a red flag that I’m thrilled has been getting more attention in recent years. I’d go as far as to say the repeated smaller horrors you’re mentioning betray a fundamental lack of empathy for the other party. Heck, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel to find the footprints of oppression and abuse in the small stuff.

      Bernard is haunted by the worst thing he’s ever done and Mike is haunted by the worst thing ever done to him. Though Mimsy’s situation is so, so much more complicated than I’ve been able to portray it so far.

      I had to think about this to properly express how those concepts tie in to the personal revelation and beautiful quote you’ve provided, but I ultimately think it boils down to a message of how to approach abuse and oppression. Along with learning to recognize toxic behavior—even if it’s our own toxic behavior—I’m hoping the reader picks up some tools to prevent the abuser from controlling the narrative: because the justifications for oppression are ultimately bullshit, the abuser always has to ignore or silence information in order to preserve it. I’ve been trying to highlight a particular misdirection in the last couple chapters. Put maybe too concisely, that abusers tend to draw attention away from their own actions by focusing on the victim’s actions and draw attention away from the victim’s needs/emotions by focusing on their own needs/emotions, when, really, I’ve been arguing that the only productive strategy is to reflect on the exact opposite things. And here, it’s hard to prevent ourselves from centering Mike’s narrative because we don’t have another option. Claudia can’t speak. Like ‘Nard says, we’re quite good at ignoring things that don’t beg for our attention. That’s how I’m interpreting the repeated cry for help, anyway, like ‘help’ is the word you have left when it feels like no one will listen to a single other word you say.

      We could have a revenge plot, but that would center around Mike. We could have a mystery plot, but that would center around Mike. Instead, fuck Mike: Gen 1 and Claudia’s children are making this story about listening to Claudia and helping her find peace. (And also one old-school motherfucker decided his job was throwing hands all over the place.)

      But most importantly, you win the Metafictional Analysis Prize:

      And so game death is a choice. A sim only stays dead because we want them to.

      HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT, I WAS NOT EXPECTING ANYONE TO CATCH THIS. I AM OVER THE MOON. Because this is explicitly a metafictional work, the interpretation you’ve pointed out is one that many would exclude because it seems too obvious, but is actually in play here: she was murdered by the author. That’s the actual truest interpretation of what happened; the characters are just incapable of coming up with it. I wasn’t even going to suggest it until way in the future. But now the cat’s out of the bag! Thank you, thank you.

      The best part is, I have no fucking clue which in-universe interpretation of Claudia’s death is most “correct” because I’m leaving her to handle it on her own. So no matter what I’m thinking or suggesting, it’s still possible for dissenting readers to get it right.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We made a lot of “go fuck yourself” jokes. I’m generally dealing with historians of science so for five seconds, we were like: it’s not us!! And then we remembered historians and their Confederate monuments prevaricating and got depressed again.

        Yes, Chelsea Connor is a queen but man it was painful to watch. LOL 1/37 Cherokee. I AM DYING.

        Responding to guilt selfish and unselfishly – ugh, yes. YES. I feel like this and BBD are exploring that messy nuance of human behavior. It’s not so simple as good or bad, and I love that the message of this story not just: well don’t be a bad a person and all will be well. When you say Bernard is haunted by the worst thing he’s ever don’t and Mike is haunted by the worst thing done to him, I get chills.

        I agree in this case that we don’t get to delve into Mimsy so much because she’s not the main character, but I think that’s a smart decision and its a story to always go to later. Although, I feel your pain. I have to yell at myself all the time to be like: THIS IS A SIDE CHARACTER FEROSH, WE CANNOT GET INTO IT.

        “Help is the word you have left when it feels like no one will listen to a single other word you say,” yes and yes. Like I said, this was masterfully done: I did not even realize I was an active participant in Mike controlling the narrative until that moment. It was so subtle but when I look back, you are laying the groundwork for fucking chapters and oh man, I bow to you. That’s the thing about getting out an abusive relationship, you have to retrain yourself to think about yourself and not the other person because of everything you articulated. I think this is written in a way that both shows the problem and gives you empathy for Claudia in a new way because once you realize how easy it is to slip into, you realize how hard it was for her to leave.

        Have I said fucking bravo?

        I love the idea of everyone listening to Claudia and helping her find peace (I mean, besides the one exception lol). I mean, that’s the way to move on and evolve, right?

        AHHHH!!!! Okay I’m glad I was not doing crazy off the wall speculation. It really clicked because once you made that comment about Alice and control, it reminded me that part of what makes these stories so unique is that they are operating by these game mechanics, even when we’re doing story-driven simlit.

        Normally, I hate ambiguity. My brain does not want it. But for some reason, I was okay with it in this story.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s