“Mom, it’s eight, I gotta make it to school.” Hector, like all members of his species, had an innate sense of time when it came to appointments. Promptly at 8 A.M., when the school day started, or at other government-set times, his neurochemistry lit up like Christmas and he was compelled to surrender his ego and march toward whatever social structure demanded his attention. It was an odd but welcome evolutionary development that made as little sense as the parallelism in that metaphor. But he had to finish eating.
Claudia watched the time she had left vanish down Hector’s throat. She had at most an hour to borrow and damn her if she wasn’t going to stretch it into a lifetime, adrift and clinging to the couch for as long as possible. But social norms meant that as soon as Hector left, she—no, best not to think about it. Savor this breath before moving on to the next. Borrow this hour before moving on to the next.
“So, Hector.” She’d started a thought she wasn’t prepared to finish, compelling herself to flesh out an empty list of conversation topics, compelling herself so hard the focus was on the necessity of coming up with something rather than the process itself, and finally coming back to her immediate surroundings in hope of inspiration. Something in the room changed more often than not, something other than herself—the TV. She found herself drawn to the glowing flashing pixels meters from her face. Or not their existence, but rather what they represent. Onscreen, a single eye gazed through a level that was balanced on a wooden plank the color of uncooked potato, imperfect with its asymmetric knotting, strikingly realistic in front of the lanky, garishly blue bird the eye was attached to. Presumably the animators gave the bird an anthropomorphic claw and that claw was what’s keeping the level in place. “What is this show?”
“Oh, so it’s pretty random but it’s actually pretty funny.” The bird and its level shrunk to a ninth of the screen, conserving aspect ratio, to reveal there were two people hiding behind the animated short all along. They were seated in armchairs. Someone had also projected onto the back wall the same bird, bodied and level-less in its promotional glory, making it more like a cartoon sandwich with talk-show filling. A man on the right promised they’d be right back. Cut to commercial.
“Ok, so mom. They’re talking about a film this guy made that’s making fun of those classic cartoons. You know the ones where the coyote’s chasing the roadrunner?”
“Wile E. Coyote.”
“And he’s not actually faster than the roadrunner, so he has to order from a special cartoon company called ACME? That sells things like paint you can put on a rock and if you paint a tunnel it becomes an actual tunnel, but only if you’re a roadrunner?” He got that his mother knew what he was talking about. This was more of a transitional detail.
She felt the vibration of the footsteps before she heard them. He’d finished making himself a Mexican breakfast plate from her kitchen’s perpetual lukewarm banquet, walking past the six chairs at the kitchen island, three at the bar, four further away, and one angled toward the front door. It would’ve been odd even if members of this family didn’t enjoy watching the fridge while they ate. He’d positioned himself so he could watch her. He knew. She cast him a ticcy smile in a way she hoped was comforting. The TV asked Claudia if she could please tune in to this network 12 hours from now to catch a different show.
“And so like as that suggests, it doesn’t matter how good or how complicated the trap the coyote sets up is, because all the roadrunner has to do is just do something insultingly simple to get past it? And the roadrunner has this smirk on his face because he knows exactly what he’s doing?”
“And that’s what makes it funny. Because to the audience it’s really the animated version of just like watching someone spend hours making a tower out of blocks and then someone else smacks the whole thing down in a second. And you’re supposed to identify with the person doing the knocking down.”
“Is that so?” Claudia’s the type to enjoy well-timed silliness and praise the voice actor who had to sit in a room more elegantly decked out than most people’s houses and say meep meep over and over again until he got it right, and so was blind to the mocking sadism embedded in that meep meep.
“Yeah, the funny part is how easy it is for the roadrunner to mess things up after seeing how much effort the coyote put into it.” Hector had since finished his empanada. He’s hitting snooze on his biological alarm. “The more elaborate, the better. Most people won’t try to get something right after they fail so many times. The coyote actually has awesome work ethic. He might even really be a genius if he can build all these things from scratch. So you feel good about watching him fail over and over again, because it means he was foolish to put in all that effort. It means you did the right thing by not trying to catch the roadrunner in the first place, or like whatever your equivalent is. You kind of see that sort of thing with internet trolls, is what the host is saying, where they can just say ‘fake’ and treat that like a mic drop and then walk off.”
“So now this film is about, what if the roadrunner’s the one building the machines? What if the whole time, we’re watching the roadrunner go through the process of placing the ACME order, and waiting three business days for all the stuff they ordered from ACME to make it into the middle of the desert, and setting up internet so he can take Khan Academy courses about simple mechanics and staying up until 3 A.M. giggling as he comes up with a slightly more ingenious idea to add to the blueprint and developing a very close relationship with his barista and reading on the internet that he’s stupid for having used the wrong type of wood glue and having to go through a bunch of false starts putting it together and…”
And ordering sentimental items by sentimentality in case she couldn’t take everything she wanted, and figuring out who’s going to live at which mutual friend’s house, and what’s going to happen with those mutual friends afterward, and to the house, the dog, the kid; and could she talk Aileen into a bar or at least a shinier kitchen, and whether this was happening or whether this is just what she thought was happening as her brain ran out of gas. Hector kept up his own list. Parsimony was something he was still working on. Claudia wasn’t going to bask in the smug self-satisfaction of having 40 more years of experience to figure out when to stop, nor was she going to do the unthinkably awkward and stop her child mid-sentence to slowly administer some constructive criticism. That stuff’s guaranteed to make your kid stop talking to you. Hector’d have to figure it out himself or learn five years from now by delivering some similarly unproductive rant to a mean person.
“Mom?” She’d been staring. She snapped back.
“So you’re waiting to see how this thing works?”
“No. I’m waiting for the coyote to do something.”
“You’re rooting against the roadrunner?”
“Yeah, because then something would happen. But it’s not. The anticipation is what makes it funny.”
“I guess that’s true.” This was getting one-sided, comically so. She had to tip the scales to hold his attention. “In the cartoon you know exactly what’s going to happen and it’s still funny. But now they’re making you wait all the way to the end and you have no idea how it’s going to turn out until it’s over.”
“Yeah, I guess they’re funny for opposite reasons. One’s following a formula and one’s poking fun at us for wanting to follow a formula. But they’re still both funny! That’s cool, right?”
The smile she returned was genuine. What’s cool was how easily her youngest son could tether her when she found herself lost in her own world, more than she’d ever been, like he pressed a button on a tape measure and snapped her right back. Like she could take back some of the sparkle in his eyes. The look he gave her now, anticipating some expert flavor of positive response, that’s the face she gave herself in the mirror each morning 30, maybe 25 years ago. It was only natural of her to reflect it.
She lowered her voice and brought her face closer to Hector’s. “Hector, look at this.” She turned away, placing herself in the straight line between the two men, and aligned her pointer finger and thumb roughly where her head had been.
She brought her pointer finger and thumb together, covering her husband’s head. “Squish, squish, squish.”
“Haha, Mom, that’s great.” A pair of disapproving dog eyes drew Hector away from the gesture Claudia’s divorce lawyers didn’t need to know about. Perry was watching this entire bullshit go down. “Mom, did you feed the dog yet?”
“No, not yet.” The dog’s empty stomach is a known problem and we kindly ask for your patience as we work to resolve this issue.
“Ok, I’ll do it.”
Claudia hadn’t expected herself to call out, or to regain control so suddenly after she’d lost it. She was aware of how it looked. Her open fingers reaching out toward Hector, pulling herself almost up out of the couch after him, the boy she was intentionally keeping from school to assuage her selfish desires; she’d be on the butt end of jokes involving Jocasta or helicopters, a dog-eared copy of Love You Forever slammed on the prosecutor’s desk on Day 1 of the Newcrest vs. Mom breaking-and-entering case.
“Hector. Thank you.”
“It’s cool Mom, it’s just feeding the dog, someone’s gotta do it.” He turned the TV off just as the roadrunner entered his eighth minute of being on hold with ACME customer service, the staff being overwhelmed with their vital role in the animated world’s food chain.
The sudden lack of motion was as jarring to Claudia as its existence in the first place. She narrowed her eyes at the void, certain she and the show were in an interrogation that wasn’t over yet, when Hector decided to test his precision-engineered anti-fantasy abilities again.
He didn’t speak a word, just aimed the universal bro-nod in the kitchen’s direction. Now that he wasn’t looking at Claudia, she realized she could take out her phone, but then also didn’t want to seem distracted when Hector walked out for school. She let herself stare. He’d barely aged since the first day they met, although he’d cultivated more mass since letting himself listen to Claudia’s alignment tips. Today, though he usually did a better job of hiding it, his face wasn’t flat so much as focused, the intense concentration lending him an air of mystery Claudia hadn’t ever been able to lift. It didn’t sit well with her. Of all the days—hours—she needed him to be predictable, this was the big one, and she wasn’t expecting much, just that when 10 A.M. came around the Work bell would go off and he would follow the same compulsion that drove Hector out the door.
“Bye Mom and Dad. Peace out. I’ll see you at 3.”
“Goodbye my lo—“
The door latched itself behind him. Hector was gone. Perry was gone. Kendra was gone. Charlie was really gone. Mona was dicking around outside somewhere. And yet the couch had become her prison in this nearly-empty house, Claudia finding herself unable to move as the warden’s eyes burned through her. This next hour would be the worst. This next hour would be the worst and then it’s all over. He looked back down at his partially-finished breakfast.
It had slipped her mind to ask what happens to the roadrunner after his trap gets sabotaged.
24 thoughts on “Sunshine and Laughter (Part III)”
Squish! I love the idea of the roadrunner watching Khan Academy! The rest was pretty sad.
In all honesty, nothing could get me to root for the coyote, but nothing could compel me to actually watch that sketch. I’d probably be working on my own Rube-Goldberg equivalent while it plays in the background.
I’ve always liked the coyote. Roadrunner is mean to him. But I like Roadrunner, too. Now, I live someplace where I see actual roadrunners! They are quite curious and friendly–they always come to say hello when they see me, and there’s one near my office that follows me when I take walks! 🙂 I love them. Oh! We have coyotes in the same neighborhoods, too! Also interesting and friendly. One follows my boyfriend when he takes walks in our neighborhood.
The roadrunner’s a dick, for sure! I’ll just side with the prey animal 100% of the time. Disney’s not tricking me into believing Nick from Zootopia was getting all his nutrients from popsicles. Heck, despite the blog title, I don’t even like carnivore pets—mine eat hay, junk mail, and my couch.
You lucky duck! Roadrunners are hilarious! We have quails, who aren’t as friendly. They just scream and have the ridiculous head bobbles.
I read this a second time. I want to make sure i really get it before commenting but.. i dont think i do. Is she worried about losing custody of her son? I know she’s affected by the divorce proceedings, which I think came unexpectantly since it seems like she hasn’t come to terms with it. I never thought id ever hear from the classic cartoon in any literature! This is a first. Is there a satire aimed at cartoons or you made that up lol. And reading your post w CathyTea above, would you feel the same about Tom and Jerry the way you do road runner? 😀
For sure, she is! The sim world doesn’t have divorce proceedings like ours—as far as I know you just walk up to someone and are like, hi I’m divorcing you—but she can’t do it without her friends. She’s waiting for him to leave for work so that she can take some sentimental items to a friend’s house, then confront him with backup when he gets home. Though the forces that lead to this divorce were in place from the beginning of the story, this scene takes place the morning after ‘Unlike Mike,’ and was really set in motion starting from ‘Al Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara.’ If you read those first it might make more sense.
Totally just made up the roadrunner thing. If someone already made such a film, I haven’t heard of it. Jerry’s also a huge jerk, but context suggests Tom doesn’t plan on eating him and they have more of a friendly rivalry. Not like the coyote who licks his lips around the roadrunner and generally acts like a bus stop creeper. So, yeah, I guess I’m on neither side in that case. I’m on the side of stop-fighting-you-idiots-and-get-Mommy-some-wine-so-she-can-sleep. Why, are you a Tom sympathizer?
Honestly, you referring to this as literature made my whole week. I’m ashamed of how much effort I put into it sometimes! But I’m glad other people are getting something out of it.
This chapter really hit me. Leaving is like this. It took Claudia so much to get herself to this point and now, just as she is trying to clear the next hurdle, it’s like she is aware of precarious it all is. The mundane takes on so much more significance, especially since everyone else is blissfully unaware of how pivotal this moment is. The whole chapter feels suffocating, but in a really good way. That moment when she is sitting on the couch at the end, trying to steel herself for the next few hours. I just…I was really in it with her.
I think “savor this breath before moving on to the next. borrow this hour before moving on to the next” is my favorite line.
I am HERE FOR THIS ROADRUNNER METAPHOR. I know it’s very extra that I had to scream it. The jokes! Haha, enjoyed them even in this dark chapter (maybe it will end up being triumphant? I don’t know…)
“no one cares is you’re an hour late” is mike’s dating rules. Ugh. Eff that dude.
The poem about the mother being so unable to respect her son’s personhood that she breaks into his house and grabs him while he’s sleeping gives you the willies? You don’t say.
Internet says the author wrote it after his wife gave birth to a stillborn. It’s an unimaginable loss, but I can’t help but wonder what this world would be like if he chose to write a touching book about the experience of losing an infant rather than going the hypothetical-nightmare route.
If you’re relating this strongly to Claudia (which is awesome btw), be prepared for this chapter to *keep* hitting you, because this scene appears only a quarter of the way through. Damn thing’s 25k–30k words and eating the free time I don’t have. But it’s worth it! Roadrunner!
I forgot to say, that poem is supposed to sweet (I think) but it kind of gives me the willies.
Claudia seems to be afraid of her husband.
Ooh, I’m not sure if I should answer that! Even she doesn’t know why at this point. We’ve established that she’s planning to leave him today, but her intuition is telling her that something’s off.
Unless you’re asking if there’s a precedent in the plot for her being afraid of him, and in that case, I don’t want to over-explain things. How much of the full story (http://willoughbywhippetsandtibetanspaniels.com/catastrophe-theory/) have you read?
eh it’s fine, I guess I’ll get to it eventually 😀
wait, there’s more? I just got this story linked by a friend from story one. Now I’m reading a little every time my internet allows it xD
Tbh that link is a little confusing, and also, where is this part of the story supposed to be?
Ah, I see! Don’t worry about that. I only asked to make sure I wasn’t explaining things you already knew.
This is the penultimate chapter of Book II, so not only is there a crapton of stuff going down, it’s tying together a lot of loose ends from the previous chapters. I can’t summarize the foreshadowing (Catastrophe Theory is very intricate and has LOADS of it) but can describe the main events.
In the beginning of Book I, we learn that even though Mike & Claudia’s marriage seems cute in theory, especially to a simmer, the sims autonomously decided it was a shitshow. After the birth of their first child, Claudia, without any human intervention, started heading for the bar every 5 minutes. We also learn that Mike’s Self-Assured trait causes him to be too self-centered and dismissive of other people’s problems. He also has a penchant for mischief; he completed the Joke Star aspiration before the story started and autonomously heads to the computer to Troll Teh Forums. But Claudia’s a Goofball, so she’s charmed by that sort of cheesy behavior.
During Book I, Claudia is in denial about Mike’s assholery, weathering his treatment of her with a combination of juice and her perpetually positive, sunny attitude. They have three kids, btw: Charlie, Kendra, and Hector. Charlie and Kendra are adults and only show up briefly in this chapter. Hector is his mom’s favorite.
In the middle of Book II, Claudia, Mike, and Hector take a trip to Selvadorada, where Mike autonomously flirts with other women in front of Claudia. Twice. The chapter where this happens is called “Al Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara.” It goes in depth about Claudia’s background and motivations. Claudia later asks her friends what to do about Mike (“Unlike Mike”). This chapter takes place the day after “Unlike Mike,” and this chapter is where we first learn Claudia is planning to take her friends’ advice and leave him.
Claudia’s friends are going to show up shortly to assist her through the process. These friends are Aileen Jensen, Xiyuan Shallot-Liu, and Bernard Shallot-Liu. Aileen and Xiyuan used to be married before Xiyuan autonomously came out of the closet and fell in love with the Von Haunt Estate ghost lord. Aileen didn’t take the divorce well. She is more negative and introspective than Claudia, and out of all the main cast, is the person who senses there’s something wrong with her relationship. Xiyuan and Mike have been best friends since college; Bernard (yes *that* Bernard, the ghost lmao) has since picked up on Mike’s manipulative nature, deducing that the friendship was built on Xiyuan being secretly in love with Mike and Mike stringing him along, and hates Mike’s guts. Xiyuan is empathetic and conflict-averse, while Bernard stopped giving a crap sometime in the 1920s and is ready to throw some hands.
So that’s the main context!
Is there anything I can do to make the story index less confusing? I did summarize Book I and make a character sheet so people could get caught up easily, and would be happy to make these more accessible.
Ahhhh, thanks a lot for the explanation! I think what got me confused is that I got linked part one of this chapter, and there are like … 11 parts? So I assumed that is a story by itself, also because it really feels like a story beginning! (esp with that flashback how they met, in an ongoing story I’d expect that would have been described before 😅)
Now that I looked more into the book chapters, I think I can understand it better.
Oh man… Should I start reading from the start? xD
Oh, also sorry for spamming your comment section. I keep trying to read the next, but the pics won’t load 😬
True, the chapters are somewhat self-contained because they switch between groups of characters! (As you’ve seen by now.)
Haha, I actually don’t recommend starting from the beginning. The earlier posts are weaker and it kills my heart every time someone looks at the first post and then peaces out. That’s also why the flashbacks are there; the first three flashbacks are set before the actual story begins and the latter two fill out some detail from when I was a crappier author.
As far as plot and foreshadowing go, the most relevant chapters to this one are:
Option 3 (warning: angst): http://willoughbywhippetsandtibetanspaniels.com/2019/07/08/option-3/
Al Mal Tiempo, Buena Cara (warning: Mike): http://willoughbywhippetsandtibetanspaniels.com/2019/10/26/al-mal-tiempo-buena-cara/
Unlike Mike Pt. I: http://willoughbywhippetsandtibetanspaniels.com/2019/12/24/unlike-mike-part-i/
and Pt. 2: http://willoughbywhippetsandtibetanspaniels.com/2019/12/29/unlike-mike-part-ii/
If you know the characters and have recently read those three chapters, you’re in pretty good shape to catch details in this one.
Spam the comment section all you want—I live for comments.
ah thanks a lot! I will read those chapters first then!
“(warning: Mike)” – 😂😂😂
I totes get that feeling that you’re worried about your first chapters! I feel the same whenever someone reads my story’s first season – please don’t get bored! 😅😂
The second part (which is actually a prequel) is so much better, but also a lot darker.
Darker’s not a bad thing.
First of all, man, I can’t believe I actually forgot about my favorite character Charlie’s entire existence until Claudia mentioned his being really gone. Apart from that, man… this chapter touched me in a lot of ways, just like previous chapters with Claudia have done. You really have such a good way getting in her head and exploring her feelings in a “show, don’t tell” stronger than most I’ve seen before and I think that’s why your readers are all so clearly and extremely touched by Claudia’s story. It’s clear to me that her story is one that… man, I’m trying to find the words but they ain’t coming, so I guess I’ll just go with her story suiting you well. To me this reads like a story the author put a lot of thought and most of all, feeling into, and it’s making it all the more touching (if also heartbreaking).
Claudia is such a sweet woman, and I really wish her nothing but the best – she deserves nothing but the best. The fact that she’s losing everyone around her (or, perhaps more accurately, AFRAID of losing everyone around her) that she loves, it touches me on a deep level because here’s a woman I’m rooting for so hard, whom I really can find not a shiver of judgment of dislike for even though she is not without her flaws either (obviously no character should be, and I deem the chance of anyone finding any type of Mary Sue character in YOUR stories effectively impossible)… she’s got me, man.
And Mike can go fuck himself. 😳
I kid, I kid. But obviously, team Claudia all the way.
High-five across the internet for stories where the primary conflict is usually people fucking up their own lives! (Arguably not in this chapter.) Possible high-five if the intention is to get the reader to realize when they’re doing the same thing and to heal from it!
Prayer hands and bowing for the show-don’t-tell comment because lord knows CT didn’t start out that way. I’d go as far as to say this is the singular chapter where the style, format, etc. solidify. I’d also go as far as to say some aspects of this chapter’s execution and overall structure (meaning across all eleven parts) would be rewarding for a literary-minded person to reflect on.
Ha! I can tell you’re touched by Claudia’s story because there’s a ton of humorous bait in this chapter and you’re like, not having it. At all. You are NOT letting yourself get distracted. But I also trust you’ve been reading long enough to see a chapter titled ‘Sunshine and Laughter’ and think “What the fuck is she planning?” Imagine this arc being your first exposure to the story and it has a title like this and there’s a kid going on about plastic cheese and cartoons. Whee! Party! Because this actually happened to some people.
And you already know I’m writing this because our collective fear of mistakes keeps the rough stuff that needs to be written from actually being written, IMO, and so you can expect something emotional and heartfelt while the author is also lobbing as many wrenches as possible into the machinery. At the very least it’s abuse recognition, defense tactics, and trauma recovery written from a female perspective rather than another scene written by a fifty-fucking-something dude where his author avatar gets to fondle a teenage girl’s breasts.
If you’re already feeling this strongly for Claudia, holy shit you are going to get a lot out of this chapter.
I’m gonna be entirely honest: when it comes to humor I don’t always get it as easily, cause arguably humor (and slang) is like the one thing that’s most difficult for non-natives to grasp. There’s a load of references that I just don’t get, or I become unsure whether they’re thought up or whether they’re references, etc. etc. so that definitely counts in my not having the humor here. 😅
Other than that, man… now I really can’t wait to read more.
How old is Hector? He certainly seems to have the youngest child issue – it feels like Claudia has a deeper bond with him than any of her other children, but she’s still protecting him is if he was a baby, when he looks like he’s almost fully grown (granted, that’s the fault of sim teens looking so old, but still). Either way, I don’t think he’s as young as she treats him, even though he is auite innocent-minded – because of how she treats him. Surely he should not play that big of a part in her decision to leave Mike now, soon enough he’ll be old enough to take his own path either way. But of course, with him being her baby, she doesn’t see it that way.
Y’know, because children and teenagers have equal life-stage lengths, I’ve had some difficulty mapping sim age to human age. Right now I’m assuming both life stages represent the human equivalent of 7 years of development, where the child stage starts at 4 and the teen stage at 11. (Which does make Shu’s fast-onset hypersexuality quite disturbing.) That would make Hector roughly 15 before updates messed up my aging forever.
But yeah, he’s totally the baby. More on that later.
You’re right, converting sim age to human age is a minefield! Ha, I never thought of the teen stage starting at 11, wowie 😀
gets me every time.
I don’t think I mentioned this in my previous comments, so: shout-out to the tense introspection throughout this chapter—the whole thing, not just Pt. III. Just all the drawn-out sentences, the abrupt shifts in Claudia’s focus, the saturated detail—I really appreciate what you’ve done to build tension.
Oh my god, I didn’t catch the meta interpretation of this the first time. I don’t know what I can say that isn’t too spoiler-y though. (That the word Hector uses is “funny” is also apt.) Dude. DUDE. How dare you; it’s kinda evil!