Everybody Needs Some Saving
…history is circular. There is nowhere to reach, I whisper to my friend Andy, who is too focused on the video game to care. I pat his shoulder, the one closest to me, the one moving up and down because of all the button pushing. I pat and pat as if to say worry not. Drink, insert coin, be the new challenger and kill the damn bees—all will work itself out.
“Easy,” Andy says, shaking off my hand.
A dazzling spectacle is being played out on the arcade’s screen. Digital bees of this space- themed game come down at Andy’s spaceship in a winding formation, shooting lethal dots at him only to be thwarted by his genius. I can do nothing but watch, and perhaps provide moral support, because space is a brutally empty place for a devoid man like me. That there is no up or down in space so you won’t ever fall is of no comfort.
“I miss her too,” Andy says, without interrupting his gameplay, “but no need to ride the fall, man.”
“I know,” I say. “Watch out, they are coming.” “Relax, got ‘em all.”
His compassion is quite contrary to the massacre he is committing on the screen.
Between the two levels, he turns to me.
“How were you planning to go home?” he asks. “You couldn’t drive like this.” “I have a lot of life,” I say. “And—and I have a plan.”
“I see,” he says, turning back to the game. “So, your plan was to bring me here to take you home? You know I don’t drive.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“We’ll get a taxi ‘cause I am not walking all the way back home,” he says as he obliterates bees. When space bees die, they vanish. Puff. No trace whatsoever. Not even an afterglow.
“Where do space bees go when they die?” I ask, leaning over the screen to examine the procession. Andy’s spaceship stops shooting for a moment, even though bees are still attacking it.
“I called you,” I say, straightening up, “because I needed you to beat the top score.”
Andy plays Galaga much better than I do, that is to say, he is a far too efficient killer than me. I am not hardwired to hit these fast moving beast at a high percentage, therefore my shots are scattered around and lost within the void. The nothingness of everything, my wife used to say. A sad sight, nonetheless. It is impossible not to feel sorry for them, for their being lost without being able to understand where things eventually end up. Be a water drop, but fail to perceive the ocean. Sad game, this is. Maybe that’s why there is something called observable universe because some of it, you just, you just can’t, you can’t even begin. The screen of the game frames the observable one perfectly.
“Die, you bastard flower fuckers, die,” Andy shouts. Two boys playing Street Fighter next to us throw quick and angry glances at Andy. I grin at the boys and send to their way a strong hadouken.
The most stupid thing I do, though, is to give up the game completely when I lose one of my lives, and start over with a new coin as a new challenger. The game gives each player three lives regardless of how shitty they are—the players not the lives—so that they can continue playing even after they die. Yet, somehow, especially since the accident, I can’t find the justification to use the remaining two lives after losing the first one. It feels unfair.
“I am about to beat that guy’s record,” Andy says. “Happy now, drunk bastard?” “Thanks a lot, you,” I say, groping the back of the machine to check whether dead space
bees’ souls are sent there. “I just don’t like to see his name at the top all the time.” “Yeah, I hate that son of bitc—what on earth are you doing there, Clive?”
“It’s not that I hate him,” I say, pulling my arm back and checking my palm. Nope, still not a trace. Puff. “It’s unfair. You can’t come back all the time.”
There are plenty of dents, scratches and half moon glass spots on our table, where now Andy is binge drinking, having beaten the son of a bitch. One can feel that the table is an integral
part of the history with all carved human stories mixed with another, on top of each other. We can draw, scratch and print our own stories on the table and it will carry them in the same way history carries us. What a game.
The son of a bitch walks toward the arcade, checks the scoreboard and inserts a coin.
Here comes a new challenger. Andy glances at him over his shoulder, shakes his head and sips from his beer.
There is a poem about the kind of table I mentioned, where a man full of joie de vivre puts all that he owns on it including his joie de vivre but the table won’t wobble one inch even after the man continues to pile everything he owns on it. The table is a metaphor for something, or rather, I don’t remember.
“He is trying to beat my score,” Andy says either to warn or inform me, I can’t tell. “I mean, our score.”
“There was something akin to death, but no one died,” I say, remembering another poem instead of the one about the table.
“What?” he asks.
We stare at each other for a while.
Nowadays, especially since the accident, I lose the thread of a conversation or try to pursue two of them simultaneously. Attention deficit disorder in the wake of a major depression, the doctors said, but I kindly disagree. It’s because, I think, all my references vanished. Puff. I often catch myself staring into the void as if mere looking will be enough to bring them back—my references, not doctors—to no avail.
Now and then, I go and stare into that road junction, where the brakes of a bus failed at the traffic lights as my wife was crossing the street; I stare and stare for hours on end hoping to see she would come back from her long and round trip. Mechanical error, no one’s fault, our condolences, the police said, but I kindly disagree. It was just her first. Comebacks might seem improbable to them, but they aren’t impossible as demonstrated by the son of a bitch right now. He tries so hard, and he should because there has to be some record somewhere, the record of a story, of a man, or the soul of a body, floating around the space, or in history for that matter. We can save it, or retrieve it, I am sure.
“Where you staring at, old sport?”
“The son of bitch wears a Widow Washing Service t-shirt,” I say. Andy looks at him over his shoulder with little to no subtlety.
“Dear Lord!” A smile appears in his lips as he turns back. “Window Washing Service, not Widow, you broken toy.”
He guffaws like a mad space alien. I check the t-shirt once again. Yes, Andy is right.
There is a name for what I did, but I can’t remember. It’s a slip of sorts, or rather.
Andy’s joy is infectious. I cannot help but join him. We guffaw like rival superheroes who are pit against each other in those mad comic book crossovers. He is the Beeman, I am the Retriever, and everybody needs some saving.
“How do you even wash a widow?” he asks, genuinely curious.
“You put them in a large pool,” I say, “by their size, marriage intensity and partner indifference ratio, then add some corn syrup and valium in it.”
“Nah, too clinical,” he says, shaking his head as if he has been a widow washer for decades. “Not to mention cruel. More personal touch is required, Clive.”
I must watch the son of a bitch play to see how he’ll do it. It’s the only way.
“Suit up, they are all here,” Andy shouts all of a sudden, springing to his feet with an imaginary hose in his hand. “Widows and widowers, we must do something for them.”
He scans the whole bar until he stops at me, grinning. “There you are,” Andy says. “A real dirty one.”
He directs the imaginary hose towards me and then starts squirting what I assume imaginary water. Real people in the bar look less perplexed than tired. I feel a tinge of breeze, perhaps a draft and I like it. Two boys playing Street Fighter earlier yawn in perfect synchronization. I grin at them and send another spirit energy to their way. This time, they perform wrist-guard to break my hadouken. We wink at one another. I am refreshed, I am clean, I am game.
“Dude, I am so sorry, I wasn’t thinking,” Andy says, but I won’t listen to him.
“This is your observable universe,” I say, drawing a big oblong around our table’s edges to envelop every dents and scratches, “and you are here, killing bees.”
“I should have known better.” He holds my hand. “So very sorry, man.”
“You’d think there is an end to it,” I say, ignoring him, “with it being an observable and all, with all these sides and edges, but it is an illusion, Andy.”
He sighs and reclines in his chair.
“You are scratching the damn table,” he says, frowning.
“It’s a trick. Because, what about the universe table cannot contain? Unobservable one. All the good people and their stories end up there. Puff. Maybe, that’s why they can’t come back?”
Andy looks at the table and the drawing.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you, real sorry,” he says. “You know how I loved Jane, Clive, you know, old sport. I didn’t mean you are now a wid—”
I pat his shoulder, the one closest to me. I pat and pat as if to say, worry not.
Yesterday, I saw this girl feeding a goose over the pond. They were adorable. I stopped to watch her feed the lovely goose for a while. It was the most beautiful scene I had seen since the accident. The sun was glistening. The water blanket. No earthly woes whatsoever. There
wasn’t anyone around the pond, so I thought I should do something to acknowledge them. To let them know that they were being recorded. I cupped my hands around my mouth and hollered: ‘YOU BOTH ARE ADORABLE!’ She waved and hollered back: ‘YOU TOO FOR SAYING THAT!’
Well, I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t holler at all. I just stared at them, I stared even after they were long gone, and did nothing about it.
“We are closing in 15,” the bartender shouts as Andy puts his head on the table.
When I understand what space or history means, I will be able to put all sons of bitches into context; their incessant comebacks and their aversion to endings, I think. How they can do it: Insert a coin. Here comes a new challenger. Win or learn. Game over. Start over.
I leave Andy nodding off at our table and go over the arcade to watch the son of bitch play. We are the only people left at the bar. He hasn’t beat our score yet, but is capable of doing that. He employs a good tactic by staying put at the edge of the screen-universe and barraging down the creatures. Space bees have no tactics, they come as per their programs. The son of a bitch knows everything there is to know about programmed bees and their projected lives, so he has found the optimum strategy. Even he kills all the bees, by the time he wakes up with enough coins in his pocket, all these dead bees will have come back for him, and he knows it.
“You are God, aren’t you?” I ask, squinting.
“What?” The son of a bitch doesn’t break his eye contact. “I, too, know it.”
He is playing the bonus stage, where space bees don’t attack. They just fly around and he hits them for bonus points, so that he can gain extra lives. He has right now no more lives left.
“Is that a widow?” I point at the yellow and pink creature. Andy, at the table behind us, in his sleep deprived state, manages to mumble yet another apology.
“Just don’t,” the son of a bitch warns me, frowning. “Get a life,” I say.
“Shut the fuck up! Rob, get that bastard off me.”
“Hey, we are closing in 5,” a voice shouts, Rob the bartender, or rather. I observe the space for a while, and things in it, flying and floating.
“I have lots of unused lives out there, you know,” I whisper, leaning toward him. “If you help me find my lives, you can claim all of them like a God.”
The son of bitch sighs as I rub the screen with my thumb to see if there is an opening. “But I will need a few of them for my wife,” I say, “you know, to play on.”
“Please, go away,” the son of a bitch says.
“You can then beat us with all these lives,” I say. “Do we have a deal?”
I stare at the son of a bitch, stare and stare for I don’t know how long. My plan is going to work, and he needs my help. I stare at him long enough to see that the arcade’s screen melts away. There is no limit or border. The son of a bitch glances at me, despondent, because I broke his game. Because I broke the game. But he is somewhat compassionate.
So be it, hop in, he says from the driving seat of the spaceship. His voice is so deep. I smile and dart towards our table.
I’ve convinced the God, I say to Andy, who is drooling on the observable universe I carved. I drag him to the spaceship.
Thank you, I say as we get in, they should be floating around the traffic lights.
The son of a bitch nods and speeds off from the center of the screen towards the lights. We are going to be so lost, so far from anywhere else, I am sure of it. Andy rests his head on my shoulder, apologizing and sleeping, his hose still firmly in his hand, dripping water.
Spaceship sweeps past the edge of the screen. The journey is instant, the end is thus near.
As we go deeper and deeper into the space, I start seeing my unused lives, floating by without any purpose. I smile and touch God’s shoulder. He duly maneuvers right and left to collect them. One by one, he gobbles up all my lives. One by one, he devours and consumes them all without sparing any for me. There is no afterglow, no trace whatsoever, no afterwards. So be it, all lives spent.
Well then, I whisper to Andy, game over.
I should be upset, but then, it is also comforting. Spaceship accelerates as I feel lighter.
You both are adorable, I say both to Andy and the son of a bitch. They nod in unison even though one of them is God.
We stop at the lights. Our brakes don’t fail us and I begin telling them the story about the girl and the goose once upon a time. We wait at the lights and stare at the road for hours on end to see the place where good stories end up. If I can observe it, maybe, just maybe, I can start over there and then. Maybe, just maybe, even my wife can come back in the same way…
Ali Ünal is a writer from Turkey. He moved to the USA two years ago to study creative writing in the MFA program at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is, at the moment, working on his thesis-novel. His story “What Kind of Sons We’ve Become” was placed in the Top 25 in the Glimmer Train Family Matters Contest. His stories appeared in numerous Turkish journals, but this will be his first publication in English..