Your twelfth birthday, was what I said. Sunglasses off, the mall’s arctic ether splashing our faces. I want you to go into a store and pick out anything you want. My boy just turned twelve, an important number, despite being unprime. All numbers are sacred, so said Pythagoras.
“Anything I want?”
“Anything you want, darling.”
Tommy’s swollen sneakers made haste to GameStop. Of course, of course. Not that I expected him to veer toward Barnes & Noble. A son is a precious thing, no matter what he likes, which isn’t what you like.
“Well, that game looks interesting! A whole world of fairies and princes — ”
“No, Mom. Over here.”
Mom was now two syllables that dropped from a great height. I drew up close to Tommy, packages already in his hands. So urgent, bangs swamping his brow. Don’t touch his hair. He hates that since last week.
“Sweetie, you know I don’t like war stuff.”
His hazel eyes mocking, rolling.
“May I help you, ma’am?”
The sales kid in descent. Shock to the face. Teenagers and metal lips. The smell of oniony sweat. Some people get disgusted by this, but being a young mother, I had an open mind. Young mothers stay close to their sons forever.
“It’s his birthday,” I whispered to the sales kid, whose name tag said DENIS.
“Well, you came to the right place.”
Tommy smiled back at Denis, his face full of impossible expectations. He had six packages now at his feet.
“Yup. Those are all great shooters he’s got,” Denis said.
“I think he likes more fantasy-based stuff.”
Tommy shot me a look that could freeze custard.
Denis caught the exchange. “Have you heard of ZombieVoid?”
Tommy’s ears sailed up. “You got that?” He bolted up to a posture I hadn’t yet seen. [End Page 36]
Denis glanced around like a cheap spy in a film noir. Finger up to his metaled lips. He motioned us to the corner.
“Now, there’s a waiting list — ”
Tommy’s eyes sank.
“But since it’s your birthday — ”
On the drive home I learned everything a person could hope to retain about ZombieVoid. A cultural milestone. Developed in secret. Macabre humor. Diaper-filling graphics. Rewardable killstreaks. Ayn Rand political components. Dystopian architecture. And yes, zombies galore.
“But it’s a shooter.”
“Mom, it’s like so much more.”
Sweet boy. So thrilled. So interested.
“You bought him a shooter?”
“It’s zombies, not war.”
“But we said — ”
“Just this once, Jacob. For his birthday. You didn’t see his face. And he’s been in there all afternoon. Calm as can be. I have so much work.”
“Wearing the headphones?”
“Yes, like I asked him to. Never a bother. What’s for dinner?”
Jacob was a demon in the kitchen. I imagined demons to be wonder-chefs. All that fire with which to cook. Jacob prepared consommé au vinaigre de la Guinelle and filets de sole Cardinal. Kraft Mac & Cheese was the starch. We’re not completely stupid.
“How’s the new game, Son?”
I combined vinegary bites of salad with the macaroni and listened. Some sort of problem with the canonizing and the twitch-fueling but Tommy figured it out. Clever kid. Level 2 had been attained. In record time, he said.
“How do you know that?” Jacob asked him.
“Online, Dad. We’re all connected.”
Tommy loaded the dishwasher. Dishes in. Flack, flack, flack! He was eager to return to his zombie world. Level 2 was infested. Jacob goosed me under the table. I put my foot between his legs.
After Tommy went back to the playroom, Jacob and I watched our series. I placed an afghan over our laps, in case, well, you know. The show ended with all the major characters dying. Episode 3. [End Page 37]
Upstairs. American toothpaste, how I loved it. It’s like a second dessert you spit in the sink. Roman style. Don’t run the water while you brush your teeth. I hate it when I mother myself.
“Is he still playing the game?” I asked Jacob, my mouth foamy. I...