I. Mother Brain
I sat on the edge of Craig’s bed, legs dangling off the edge.
It was a single. Narrow. Just five feet away from Alan’s. Another single, pushed against the far wall.
Craig was 12. Old enough to cruise the neighborhood at all hours on his bike.
Alan was 17. Old enough to drive. Old enough to procure a fake ID.
Their dad worked second shift at the hospital as a male nurse. So every night was a sleep over.
In my hands was the controller. The black plus. The black dashes. The two red, round, cartoonish buttons I learned to tap frantically with my thumb.
To jump mushrooms as a fat, mustachioed, stereotype of an Italian. Or, to hit golden pyramids on that little orange motorcycle. Not to land smooth by any means. But to launch as far as possible and land with crushing momentum. To tumble head over heals, a mechanized cartwheel that in reality, would instantly kill a human being.
Or, in this case, late at night, as Samus Aran. The secret female space warrior. The lone survivor of an intergalactic monopoly controlled by a giant evil brain in a glass jar.
I trudged through each level. For months. Living in a space suit. Flipping. Rolling. Shooting a pellet-like gun that propelled projectiles at mutant bats and cosmic porcupines.
Each night, Craig would remain in the sunroom while I hammered away on the controller.
There, very late at night, in that shoddily crafted addition, were when the erotic, X-rated movies were scheduled on cable. As ritual, Craig placed into the microwave a family sized, pre-cooked, frozen entree of Mac and Cheese. Sitting there on the couch, he’d fork out morsels of the processed orange goo, dripping off those stubby, curved, phallic bits of gluten.
The erotic themes were always the same. A hyper sexual successful business man banging a lonely housewife on the side. The plot was peripheral. The slow and long sex scenes were what counted.
Craig idolized Alan. His bigger, bad ass brother. The sex shows were a pre-occupation, a segue until Alan arrived home. Craig wide eyed. Always anticipating Alan’s stories of conquest. Of the club scene. Who he battled in a dance-off. Who he picked up, afterwards. Who he banged somewhere else in town, knowing, the two of us, always squatted their house after hours.
On that night, Alan’s crew rolled in close to daybreak. The House scene. Dance music. Pre-Rave. It was 1988.
The mandatory get-up: Running shoes, a tucked in colorfully embellished polo, pants hugging half way down an ass cheek cinched by a designer, twined leather belt. Although Alan’s crew were almost half female, everyone dressed the same.
III. Golden Watch
There were no drugs. The crew didn’t do drugs. And there was no alcohol.
They worked out during the day. Bench press. Dumbbells. Then danced late into the night. Craig and I knew this. But what we didn’t know at first, was that they ended, whenever opportune, robbing known dealers.
In Alan’s crew, the booty was split democratically amongst the fellow perpetrators of the perpetrators. They were the behind the scenes Robin Hood of our suburbia, but gifting only onto themselves.
On each return, the crew would divvy up the confiscated, spreading it out on Craig and Alan’s beds next to where I was playing video games, making sure to stash it away well before their dad made it home from work.
Cash. Jewelry. Gold. One night, Alan had a new gold watch on his right wrist. It had diamonds inlaid.
He was 17 years old. 5 years older than me.
For the first time, I perceived that.
The polaroid was faded. Craig handed it to me, thumb and index finger hugging it from below so as not to damage the totem.
The square photograph was as if it was left in the sun, an archeological remnant, brown and gold, watered down to one dimension.
It was point of view. An older woman on her knees, mouth slightly agape, lips curled around the dealer’s penis, committing only what we saw on paid cable.
I leaned over Craig’s shoulder to see it as if the barrier of his torso protected me from the odd guilt I felt, gawking at the victim’s intimacy.
In offense of my emotions, I went back to imbuing my closeted female superwoman. Flipping her. Rolling her. Allowing her to pull the trigger of her semi-automatic weapon.
Up, down, up down, left right, left right, start. Only to lose again. Far along within the game. Hours wasted. A feeble attempt to save what was left of the puerile idea of civilized society.
The garage door opened. The chain on the ceiling rattled, pulling upwards that flimsy corrugated aluminum door. Headlights blinded us, and once switched off, we saw Alan behind the wheel.
The garage door shut much slower than it came up, somewhat hermetically sealing a soon to be operating room. It was 3am. Alan had three hours left to accomplish somewhat of a surgical procedure.
In other games, it was less seeing the evil boss incinerated in a ball of flames. But much more, what came after. Last. The very end. Like the hyper dramatic intro to Star Wars, except here, there was minimal narrative, but rather a boring list of programmers scrolling slowly down the tiny TV screen.
Not a single one was not Japanese. Yoshi Sakamodo. Hiro Kiyota. Yoko Gunpe. Kano Mokato.
This is what I wanted. To see that list. To see dozens of names of incredibly intelligent people who I’d intellectually beaten.
I treaded on, locked up, back in the furthest bedroom. I led Samus through those purple and red stalactites. Darted between glass thresholds, opening and closing onto the untapped tunneling, the abominable underworld that was planet Zebes.
Up down. Up down. Left right. Left right. Start.
The metallic pounding reverberated from the garage, down the hallway and into the bedroom.
There, I pounded away at the controller. A synthetic muting to the felonies committed just beyond the kitchen. Alan was, by then, deep into the carapace of that champagne colored cadillac. Devoid of drugs, rather, he was stripping out the high end sound system. The speakers. The cassette player. Whatever auxiliary equipment could be plucked without compromising a get away.
I had entered mother brain’s chamber. There was her glass jar, easily cracked with one shot. It was a bone thrown by the programmers. A glimmer of hope.
Yet her minions showed little hesitation to kill. As before, so many times, I dodged those crimson, donut like fireballs rising from the molten lava below.
From above, rotating turrets sprayed celestial napalm. Down, often hitting Samus’ helmet and spacesuit.
When opportune, I somersaulted her into the gallery’s threshold, lining face to face, female to female, and let go button “B,” firing missiles into the naked brain.
B–B–B. Missile after missile. Her oxygen system, the tube enveloping her with life, shuttered on each connect. The lava donuts increased. The napalm no longer sprinkled, it poured.
The electronic clock next to Craig’s bed blinked 5:45am in neon green. Its radio came on, piercing the room as an alarm.
In synchronicity, metal clashing, metal banging, amplified through the house from the garage:
A crescent wrench cracking down on an unyielding electronic box.
The Cadillac, physically beaten, voided of its electronic sinews.
There, Alan’s tools in motion and here, in the dark bedroom, mine.
Rockets fired into the hateful brain. Flipping backwards to reassess. Assuming position. Again.
The brain, beating rapidly, missile upon missile, convulsing in a cosmic death rattle until the screen faded to a pixelated and snowy white.
The royal gallery gave one last tectonic shake, and then what was once the mother of Zebes, exploded into a thousand fibrous pixels.
I heard the garage door open. I heard the ignition start. Sprinting from the room, I headed down the hallway, through the kitchen and past the family sized container, the dried remnants of Mac and Cheese.
I opened the flimsy, wooden weather worn door into the garage.
Alan was gone.
The Cadillac was gone.
The garage was cavernous, almost completely organized as Craig filed away the last of his brother’s felonious tools.
It was 6:15am. The sun was rising to the left of the garage’s ingress.
There was no reason to shut it. In this early morning, we’d fallen into ritual.
I looked at Craig, almost invisible against the shadowy void.
And the silence set in for just a minute, no words from either of our mouths as Craig and Alan’s dad rolled, slightly uphill, onto the driveway, perfectly fitting into their one-car garage.
The ignition turned off.
He opened the door, heaved out: a solid man.
His hair, always perfectly coiffed with sheen. His tan scrubs, smelling potent of cocoa-butter.
“Mornin boys…” He reached over to give Craig a daily, farewell hug.
“You guys have a good day now…”
This was a repeat of the only interaction I’d ever see between them. Father and son.
Our daily, morning affirmation.
And on this day, the seemingly uneventful denouement, left behind us as we walked out of the garage, onto the sidewalk and towards the rising light.
Our bus stop was two blocks away. We were late as usual.