It had a been a quick trip across country but I was tired from work and the sight of the old town through the jet window took the life out of me. The funeral was tomorrow.
A four block walk took me from the station to the doorstep of the home I had left nearly two decades ago. I kept my head down most of the way, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone. Especially not anyone who might remember me. Not much in the mood to talk to folks in my defeat, to hear their consolations (uninspired and cliched mantras about life moving on or god's will or any of the millions of tired tropes we as humans have written over the millennia to help us cope with or ignore the cold truth of our impending non-existence).
I stood on the doorstep for what must have been two minutes before realizing that mom and dad probably hadn't made any updates to the house. A brief glance around the block confirmed that everyone else was with the times, and that this place had become an antique. I was so used to being scanned and ushered into my own home that the notion of having to do it the old-fashion way seemed tedious; I keyed my serial into the rusted touch pad, followed by the last password I could remember using here. bradleynowell1996. A deceased musicer from First Earth. I thought it was pretty clever as a teenager. I guess it still is. Real names and dates are easier to remember than garbled letters and numbers. Or at the very least they give the illusion of life and character in something otherwise sterile and abrupt.
No one greeted me as I walked in. Glad to see things hadn't changed. I had to take my coat off myself and realized in the absence of any nearby chutes that I'd be hauling my own luggage upstairs as well.
I saw only winter coats in the closet. No more suit jackets or coveralls. A sure sign of the retired life. They were dusty though, and the closet space smelled dank. Looking up I saw that there was a cleaning unit installed. Maybe they just didn't know how to use it, or forgot that it was even there. Mom and dad grew up in a different time, so they had odd habits and practices when it came to day-to-day living.
Dinner was something mom used to call Sloppy Joes. I couldn't remember the last time I had eaten meat, or anything that required me to touch it for that matter. Out of habit, dad began to ask if I had met any nice women lately. At a look from mom he dropped that line of inquiry and changed the subject to silence. I excused myself early. But not before hearing mom say meekly - as if the rest of her body had been fighting her tongue and then finally let the beaten, broken pulp of it have what it wanted - "She loved you, you know".
I didn't acknowledge that I had heard.
The walk upstairs was longer than I had remembered. I set my travel case down at the door of my former bedroom. Pushing it open I expected to see a guest room painted in mute pastels, and tame adornments hanging on the walls. Instead, what I saw dropped me into a half-stupor, and I loped eagerly over the threshold into the past.
Nothing had changed.
My Siznak poster with the electroluminescent ink. My vintage, paper comic books. My Yokoi-41 console with custom rig and full-wall display. It was all still there. Untouched, unaltered.
I examined the pad next to the closed door and saw that it had been powered down. I started to reach towards the command terminal but stopped myself, partially curious, partially hopeful. I withdrew my hand and leaned in towards a speaker -
Bonjour, ma petit ami.
The walls seemed to crackle for half a second, but then a familiar voice replied, Bonjour, mon beau!
The pad in the wall powered on, and the lighting changed immediately from dim yellow to brilliant neons of green and blue.
I turned as I heard the Yokoi fire up and broadcast its out-dated welcome screen across the wall.
Pressing my luck, Une biere par jour.... A glugging sound emanated from within the nutrobox near the door. It rattled and then shortly opened to show a glass of red ale at its front hatch.
I took a small sip. Then a large one. I flopped onto my bed, adjacent to the display wall. What media did I have on the Yokoi? I called up its library and was immediately inundated with lists of simulators, puzzles, and films. All organized by genre and my own preferences. Thousands of them. It had seemed meager to me at the time, but looking at it now my collection of distractions was impressive even by modern standards. How many hours - days, really, - had I spent entirely consumed by these things in my youth?
Invasion du la Lune! I barked at the console.
In a flash my wall became a mural of grim and brilliant space combat. A classic zero-g shoot 'em up game. The ship designs and enemy AI left one wanting at times, but the physics were excellent. I finished my drink before calling up a second and tasking myself with a near-suicide mission for freedom on the moon.
I had forgotten the music was also a weak point in this one. Siznak - Red Rockets!.
Yeah, that had always been the remedy. A toxic neo-punkcore album. The room filled with raucous guitar riffs and chaotic, merciless drum pounding.
In a few hours I was the captain again, commanding effortlessly all that lay before me. School work taken care of, college acceptance notifications by the gigabyte, a fast cycle, a tasteful collection of films, games, and books. A girl.
Five drinks later I turned off the game, laid back on the bed, and noticed for the first time the hundreds of hard-copy photographs pasted to the ceiling looking down on me. All of them of us. Of her.
Without thinking it through, without wanting to think at all really, I breathed, Vidéo mémoire. Gwenyth. Tous.
At first I didn't watch. I kept my eyes closed and lied on the bed, listening to the awkward conversations of two teenage lovers recorded in the uneasy solitude of this very bedroom.
I eventually rolled over and watched the clip that was playing. It was odd, watching a recording made within this room in the past while watching it in the present, though the room had scarcely changed. As if the concepts of present and future were just that. Concepts. And only the past existed and continued to exist.
Gwen was clapping her hands together in front of her and I was trying to point my hand, held like a pretend gun, at her. It was a cowboy game. The object being to draw and point your gun at the other person without them catching your hand between theirs. To win, you needed to place your gun against your opponent's chest. The stakes of the game, played between us in all our burgeoning sexuality were of course much higher than when we had learned it as kids. I watched as my gun hand slipped past Gwen's, right against her chest. We just stared at each other until finally she put her hand on mine, pressing it against her permissively.
I watched a few more clips as they progressed through the years of our adolescence. I considered masturbating as the scenes became more intimate, but I eventually passed out with the console still streaming.
I woke up to the sound of a crash against the far wall. I looked up and saw only a painted-over gouge near the nutrobox. I realized the clips were still running, and Gwen had just thrown a portable console against my wall.
I looked on as she screamed and cried. All the while I sat still on the edge of the bed, just like at present.
"Well what do you want me to do about it, Alex!? I made a mistake, I'm sorry!"
The figure of myself on the screen didn't stir for a minute. How I had hated her then, at that moment. How I had wanted so much for her to hurt, to feel what I had felt.
I became aware that my heart was racing, and blood had begun to flush my neck and face. In the display I turned towards Gwen. Presently, I stood up and began to walk to where Gwen had stood, but the me on the display remained seated.
"I honestly don't care what you do anymore. I hope you fucking di--"
The display wall cut off and I was alone in the dark of my old room. My arms were frozen in the air, grasping for the phantom of Gwen in that moment.
I let the tears soak into my face.
I left to pee and as I stepped out through the door I looked once more into the gray quietude of my parents' neglected home.
Had I watched a moment from the past and then resumed my place in the present? If anything, it felt like I had left the past for an even more remote time and place.
This house had bore witness to it all, and I suppose only it could sort past from present. Should anyone care to know the difference.
Exhausted, I pissed for what seemed like an hour. When I flushed I watched the house toilet swill my urine around and around before finally funneling it all down. Once more swallowing my waste into itself.