The Nix(8)

Written By: Nathan Hill

The elves’ ghosts make their way back to their bodies and one by one his friends pop up from the cave floor, resurrected in that special video-game way where you die but you never really Die. Pwnage collects the loot at the far end of the cave and hands it out to his guildies—swords and axes and plate armor and magic rings. It makes him feel benevolent and bighearted, like a man on Christmas Day dressed as Santa.

Then the others begin logging off, and he says goodbye individually to each of his guildies and congratulates them on their excellent performances and tries to convince them to stay online longer and they complain that it’s too late at night and they have to work in the morning and so he agrees, finally, that it’s time to go to sleep. And he logs out and shuts down all his computers and slips into bed and closes his eyes, and that’s when his mind starts in with the Sparkles, those hallucinatory blips of elves and orcs and dragons that cascade unstoppably through his head as he tries to rest after another of his Elfscape benders.

He hadn’t intended to play the game today. He certainly hadn’t intended to play as long as he did. Today was supposed to be the first day of his new diet. Today was the day he had vowed to start eating better—fruits and vegetables and lean proteins and no trans fats and nothing processed and reasonable portions and carefully balanced meals of huge nutritional abundance, beginning today. And he launched his brand-new eating-better lifestyle that very morning by cracking open a Brazil nut and chewing it and swallowing it because Brazil nuts were one of the “Top Five Foods You’re Not Eating Enough Of” according to the diet book he bought in preparation for today, along with the diet book’s sequel books and the diet’s associated meal plans and mobile-device apps, all of which advocated a cuisine made up largely of animal proteins and nuts—basically hunter-gatherer. And he thought about all the heart-healthy good fats and antioxidants and metanutrients inside the Brazil nut pouring through his own body doing helpful things like zapping free radicals and lowering his cholesterol and hopefully strengthening his energy levels because there was so much to do.

The kitchen urgently needed renovation: The countertop laminate was cracking and curling at the edges, and the dishwasher stopped working last spring, and the garbage disposal died maybe a year ago, and three of the four burners on the stove were useless, and the refrigerator had lately gone insane—the fridge side shutting down unpredictably and spoiling hot dogs and lunch meats and souring milk while the freezer side occasionally went hyperactive and locked all his TV dinners in permafrost. Also the kitchen cabinets needed to be cleared of various plastic collections of Tupperware gone yellow with age, and the forgotten bags of dried fruit or nuts or potato chips, and the many small, cylindrical containers of herbs and spices arranged in geologic layers formed by his previous attempts to start new diets, each attempt requiring the purchase of whole new sets of herbs and spices because in the time elapsed since the last serious attempt the old herbs and spices fused within their jars into single, unusable, dehydrated chunks.

And he knew he should open up all the cabinets and throw everything away and make sure there were no colonies of bacteria or bugs living in the farthest, darkest back corners, but he didn’t really want to open the cabinets and check for bugs because he was afraid of what he might find, namely bugs. Because then he’d have to put up plastic and fumigate and clear space elsewhere to create a kind of “staging area” in which to pile the necessary parts (the new cabinetry and planks for the hardwood flooring and the new appliances and the various hammers, saws, boxes of nails, screws, PVC pipes, and other shit necessary for drastic kitchen reconstruction), though looking around the house he understood how difficult this was going to be: The living room, for example, had to be a no-construction-debris zone in case some evening in the future he found himself entertaining unexpected guests (meaning: Lisa) who would not find heaps of tools inviting or romantic; same with the bedroom, also a bad staging-area choice for exactly the same reason, though admittedly it had been quite a while since Lisa had come over, mostly because she insisted they maintain their “distance” during this new phase of their relationship, an edict that did not stop her from asking for rides to work and to various mini-malls to complete various errands, and just because Lisa had divorced him didn’t mean he would let her hang high and dry without a driver’s license and a car, and while he knew most guys would do exactly that, he was just raised differently.

So the only viable staging area for kitchen detritus would be the spare bedroom, unfortunately also impossible because the bedroom was already overflowing with things the throwing away of which was unthinkable—the boxes of high-school awards, badges, trophies, medals, achievement certificates, and somewhere in there that black leather journal that contained the first several pages of a novel he promised himself he’d get around to writing very soon—and so he had to go through those boxes and catalog their contents before he could create the proper staging area necessary for the kitchen renovation that was required if he was going to start his brand-new diet.

Plus there was the matter of budget. As in, how to afford a totally new healthy diet plan when already he was falling into profound debt paying for his many accounts to World of Elfscape and his new smartphone. And yes from an outside perspective he could see how the purchase of a $400 smartphone and concomitant unlimited text and data plan might have seemed exorbitant for someone whose livelihood did not depend on the accessibility of electronic communication, and in fact the overwhelming majority of text messages sent to his smartphone after its purchase were from the maker of the smartphone itself—asking him whether he was satisfied with his purchase and offering him insurance plans and encouraging him to try the company’s other software and hardware products—with the few other text messages coming from Lisa saying that she was unexpectedly needed at the Lanc?me counter or was leaving the Lanc?me counter early or was staying late at the Lanc?me counter or didn’t need a ride because she’d been invited “out” by “someone at work,” and these were the texts that made him shudder with jealousy at their infuriating ambiguity and he curled up on the couch and chewed his brittle fingernails and wondered at the boundaries of Lisa’s fidelity. And while of course he could no longer expect hegemonic marital monogamy, and while he could acknowledge the divorce created a certain finality to their relationship, he also knew that she did not leave him for another man, and he was still a major fact in her life, and so a part of him thought that if he was useful enough to Lisa and helpful enough and present enough that she would never actually “leave him” leave him, hence the need for the smartphone.

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