The grey faux-granite of the kitchen counter has a sheen of dried soap. I watch the flicker as the politically-correct compact fluorescent bulb alters the texture of the matte. The kitchen, no matter how orderly, is never clean.
"I said, are you OK?" Jessica has had furled concern in the corners of her eyes since we left my Mom's.
"Yeah, I guess," I reply. "Whatever." With this cold slap of passive-aggressive, I shut down the one meaningful, loving conversation I might have had today.
I defocus. My eyes no longer converge see the Corian surface, lining up instead in parallel tracks through the center of the earth, never converging.
I'm in the Monet fire of Braid. What would Tim do?
Earlier. I sit at the aged dining room table. This table and I are not friends. When I was five, I tripped over one of the grotesque lions marking its feet, breaking my leg in three places. It is a 25-year stalemate. It won't kill me. I won't find the axe in the shed outside and reduce it to stained-oak kindling.
The table shakes under the weight of the obese factory-bird. It will deliver its gift of salmonella into my unsuspecting gut momentarily. The air is sour with brussel sprouts and canned cranberry.
I should be full of love--my family is here, my favorite nieces, my sister, my mom. Even the stepfather, a man I prayed for just a year ago, his body in declining torpor in an ill-managed hospital. But there is too much tension in the room, even before the ritual of awkward Thanksgiving conversation.
The table sits.
"Can we say grace?" my mother asks. My jaw opens just a bit, an involuntary, minute homage to cartoon surprise. Since his recovery, the stepfather has rebelled against the stereotypical return to faith common in the aging and infirm and those who have seen death. Instead, he's resorted to a form of militant atheism designed to douse even the most casual agnostic in scientific shame.
My four-year-old son is too small to choke on the tense smoke filling the house at adult height. He soldiers on, delivering a rote prayer.
Sick pink meat travels down the table.
"I don't think it's underdone at all. It's just moist."
My well meaning sister, at my left. She's wrong. The wet flesh on my plate is evil. I push the offense into my abdomen, a decision I will regret tomorrow.
I close my eyes, grasping for escape, incongruously finding the wastelands of Fallout 3.
The green-and-black of my Pip-Boy readout indicates contamination, my pixelated doppelganger's face humorously unwell. Examining the plate in front of me, my VATS targeting overlay descends, percentages indicating the areas of highest bacterial concentration.
This calms me. It occurs to me, although briefly, that this is not a healthy reaction to American holiday tradition.
Inane conversation sputters around me. I do not participate. I have better things to do. I have left my hunter alone in the Arathi Highlands. She needs training. I construct the talent tree I feel will finally bring her more quickly to the endgame of World of Warcraft. I have not yet mastered playing a hunter.
"Well, I don't understand why she didn't just have an abortion."
I return from Azeroth to see that my stepfather has descended into angry stupidity. He has been discussing the fate of his 19-year old grand-daughter. In the course of 15 minutes, the table has discovered for the first time that she is pregnant. We learn that my born-again stepsister talked her into keeping the baby. The four, seven, and nine-year-old children sitting at the table seem temporarily oblivious to this inappropriate fork in the conversation.
I stand up.
"Does anyone want more wine?" I say this too loudly, and with a tone of voice that I hope communicates "Shut the f*ck up, you tired, inconsiderate old man. I don't even disagree with you, but you're an ass for saying it, and saying it in front of my children."
I'm fairly sure I fail. Falling silent, I play the conversation mini-game from Oblivion, choosing the "intimidate" option, over and over again. The washed-brown, uncanny face of my opponent remains grim and unyielding.
An hour passes.
There is pie.
The inequitable division of said pie inspires pre-teen hormone-rage within my daughter. She runs from the table in tears. I have no skills with which to deal with the multiple failures of the evening. I quickly exercise an unspoken marital veto, and escort my entire family from the house.
We travel home in silence. Children are unceremoniously deposited in beds.
"You need to calm down."
Nobody else would look at my immobile exterior and my center-of-the-earth stare and see anything but calm. Jessica, as always, sees well below the surface.
I return to the basement. I return to the more forgiving and controlled world of vision and sound and interface and tidy save-games and virtual friends who won't see the blood-flushed skin under the permastubble or indoctrinate my children without consent.
What would Tim do?
Launching Braid, I try and find out. I hit rewind over and over again, replaying each section that fails to meet my expectations. I throw myself against the game, rejecting the real, hoping that this time, this time, this time I will get it right