My daughter’s favorite board game since she was nine is AGE OF GLOBAL IMPROVEMENT. It begins roughly around the time of the rise of Third Way-ism in Blairite Britain. Continents of origin are randomly assigned by dice roll (there is an expansion pack where you can be born on the floor of a Quonset hut in Antarctica) class status and career track are determined midway through the game depending on which cards you draw/throw away. She has always loved it and, while I frankly have never understood the appeal, when it comes to things that make my daughter happy, I am a bit of a pushover. “If that girl went out without socks and shoes, you’d ruin your wardrobe laying various coats over puddles for her” Dara says.
Idurne (my daughter) was 11 when she began entering herself in tournaments on the junior circuit. Her first win was less than a year later, a come-from-behind victory playing as a Professor of Constitutional Law on the Cote D’Ivoire. Over the course of the game, she ended up rising to the rank of Cabinet Secretary in Yamoussoukro’s reformist government, nationalizing the port of Abidjan to bring a couple of rogue multinationals to heel, and effectively stamping out Malaria within the national borders by partnering with various NGOs and Aid Organizations. She looked completely calm, my 11-year-old daughter, negotiating with imaginary IMF suits for development loans, cold-shouldering the player representing a Chinese investment concern after some initial talks about Belt & Road. A representative for Calumny Games came and sat in on the finals. He studied her closely as she ate the respective lunches of the three other players, all nearly five years her seniors.
“What an extraordinary girl you’ve got here.” He pumped my hand energetically, then handed Idurne over a check equal roughly a month’s pay after taxes, for Dara and I. We had to sign a release allowing the company to use her image and likeness on promotional literature, we were exhorted to attend the next official tournament in February. We stopped on the way home for Liquid Pancakes which she had seen advertised on her Personalized Feed and had been desirous of trying, ever since. We took several photos of ourselves enjoying the Liquid Pancakes, for her to contribute to others’ Personal and Business Feeds.
Today is Bill Roberts’ memorial service. I am dressing in a dark dress shirt and black jeans to show my respects to his people. Bill was a good person with 20 years in the Tubes when he had his accident. The company will not pay out the Worker’s Comp claim to his family because they assert Bill was not adhering to proper safety protocol which is pardon my saying happy horseshit. First, Bill was more fastidious about clipping-in than most of the fellows I know who have been repairing Tubes for half as long. Second, given the nature of the events, the speed at which he was hit, it is insane to think a couple of aluminum carabiners would have saved his skin. Anyway, we are all going just to show our support and tell Carol and the boys how much Bill meant to us all, even though officially speaking, none of us are allowed to voice support one way or the other.
When we drove home from that first AOGI competition and told Dara about the winnings, she blinked.
“How much money, you said.”
“I am also doing really good traffic on a Liquid Pancakes clip.” Idurne said skipping up the stairs to her room.
We used those first winnings (and winnings from each successive tournament after) to open up a savings account for Idurne, for when she reached college age. She had a little adolescent nest-egg sitting in an account with the Am-Bev Credit Union until one night at dinner she began sobbing brandishing an article from her Feed and talking about how apparently Am-Bev was responsible for huge amounts of clear-cutting in the Amazon River Basin and was actively displacing a bunch of indigenous populations in Brazil.
“Dad!” Idurne said.
“Yeah.” I said, though honestly I was a bit lost.
“Oh Dad!” Idurne sobbed.
“Good lord, give me a break with this please.” Dara said.
I said, “It’s her money, Dara.”
“It’s my money!” Idurne said.
“I am sure the indigenous peoples of Brazil appreciate the histrionics.” Dara said.
“You are a selfish bitch.” Idurne spat.
“Woah.” I said.
My daughter looked impressed at her own boldness.
“Out of bounds.” I said.
“You will not call me that in my own house.” My wife said.
“Its not your house, the bank owns it.” Idurne hiccupped.
Dara and I exchanged a look.
“Listen to me, Idurne. If you call me that word, ever again,” she intoned quietly “you can pack your designer suitcase and I will personally put you on a plane to the goddamn Amazon where you can bravely start your life anew because you will not be permitted to sleep in this house again. Understand?”
My daughter said nothing.
“Look at me in my eyes when I am talking to you Idurne. If you’re brave enough to call your mother a bitch, it would behoove you to be brave enough to look in her eyes after.”
Idurne went and locked herself in her room.
“Thank you for the backup just now. Glad we could present a united front.” Dara said from the table.
“Do you have to be so hard on her.” I said.
“Either I am hard on her now” Dara said “Or she becomes one of those people that life sneaks up on and clobbers to death, later.”
“That seems a bit dramatic.”
My wife laughed.
“It seems dramatic to you because you have never been a smart little girl in a world that disdains smart little girls. Because for certain people born certain ways, cleverness is about as innocuous a trait as a loaded gun hung above the mantlepiece.”
That night we watched the news. The conference of Catholic bishops was disavowing a recent string of ecological bombings. The former head of BlackRock was flogging for “structural economic changes” on his book tour. Three states had run out of water.
“Glad we’re not Catholic.” I said.
“It’s a small C.” Dara said.
“Yeah well still.” I said.
We sat a moment.
“I am sorry I snapped at you.” Dara said.
“It’s O.K. I’m sorry I didn’t help.”
“I love you, also.”
I didn’t really mean it, but I imagine that Dara didn’t mean her apology either. And that actually all apologies are unmeant, and that that is what makes them so holy, in a marriage, maybe. This was October of last year.
Today, the day of Bill’s memorial, I wake up before my alarm. Dara is already up, taming her hair. I check the mail. Coupons, scams. Someone from the bank.
I bring it up to Dara.
“Tell them that I literally spoke to them last week. If they say we can’t put payments on the card—which is absurd—then they have to wait until we get paid at the beginning of next month. When we talked on the phone they said fine, they would waive it.”
“Do you remember who you talked to.”
She rifles through a vanity drawer to get the name and information of the bank employee, assuming they did not give a fake name and number, to get her off the phone.
The official line is that poor Bill was simply the wrong graybeard, caught on the wrong side of the Bathtub Curve, on the wrong day of the calendar year. Obviously the thing nobody says is that Bill was sent-in to patch what was almost certainly an intentional bit of sabotage (even-money from those CCSMACCP lunatics) that he was doing so hastily because some Silicon Valley magnate was annoyed his Pneumatic to Glasgow had been delayed and so had begun publicly excoriating the company on his Feed, that someone from Control failed to switch-on the Tube Occupied light for Edinburgh-by-way-of-LaGuardia and so some flustered deskman in Woodside ushered in a couple of happy retirees sporting kilts and plaid socks and clutching passports and guidebooks to chests into the vacuum tube antechamber, and sent the first one, an older man, zipping across the Atlantic at conservatively 2,000 miles per hour, where he and poor Bill impacted against one another with force enough to fully rupture the Tube and spray around three hundred pounds of pulverized bone fragment and viscera and brochures about Loch Ness geysering up into the midday sky, somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland. I go into Idurne’s room to check on her but she is not even dressed.
“Honey hey, get up, we have the memorial thing today.”
She does not look at me exactly.
“I have thought about it, and I am not going” she says, engaging with her feed.
“I was thinking.” She drawls.
“Please stop looking at that thing a minute.” I say annoyed. “What do you mean.”
“Those Tubes are a catastrophe, ecologically. They are only for rich people and they shouldn’t exist.”
“You didn’t think they were a catastrophe when we got you a ride to see Euro-Disney last year, I recall.”
She shifts uncomfortably.
“Be that as it may.” She says peering through nothing in particular.
“I asked you to stop looking at that thing a second please Idurne.”
“What’s this now” Dara appears in the doorway fixing an earing “Why aren’t you dressed.”
I tamp down my pique and say,
“O.K. well O.K. we can talk about that, about how you feel about Pneumatics after, if you want but right now would you please just get dressed for my friend’s funeral.”
Dara more fully enters the room beside me.
“Do not tell me” Dara says looking whitely over at our daughter, lolling like a sickly Victorian duchess on her bedcovers “Are you so completely eclipsingly self-absorbed.”
“This doesn’t concern you, Mom.” Idurne says, a flush creeping into her face.
“Listen you want to talk about the Tubes, O.K. we can have a whole conversation about that together after the funeral.”
“No. Ludlow do not cater to this performance. This is galling.”
“The thing is Dad” Idurne explains calmly “if I go to the funeral now, I give up all my leverage and basically, whatever I have to say”
“Leverage over who? Over what?” Dara says.
“Whatever I must say about how I feel” she repeats louder “Will not be listened to as seriously. Because I gave up my leverage, Dad.”
My face grows hot. I stare. My daughter doesn’t say anything further.
“O.K.” I say inhaling. The air in the room is stuffy.
Dara throws up her hands and laughs.
“O.K. I really wish that you would come but.”
Idurne is not looking at me but nods.
My wife will not speak in the car.
“I don’t know what you expect me to do.” I say.
She does not respond.
“I’m not going to frog-march her to a funeral, Dara.”
I reach across for her hand and she withdraws it into her lap.
The funeral is quite good. Bill’s surrogate is made up to look classy and even has some kind of a corsage type deal making him look like he just came from prom or something. The fellow is a dead ringer, and we all go up one at a time to pay our respects/murmur appreciation.
“Thank you really a lot.” The surrogate says quietly eyes closed from the casket. “The mortuary pays for some of the cosmetic stuff but I also studied some old clips of Bill so I could sort of capture his mannerisms and so on.”
I silently wonder how that applies to lying still in the casket.
“Well” I say my head bowed “you are really kind of nailing it.”
The company has paid for the whole funeral including the surrogate. Carol is really happy.
“Have you met the actor they got to play Bill” she smiles at the reception afterwards, it is clear she has been crying a lot.
“He is a really nice guy.” I nod.
“He studied at Tisch supposedly.”
“Wow.” I say.
“Oh, I know it’s all to get me to settle in the Workers Comp suit but to be honest this funeral probably costs about half the total payout we’d get anyway. And I can’t be in court forever.”
I don’t say anything.
She continues “Funerals are expensive. Death is expensive. And our youngest starts Mediated Perceiving at Kenyon in the Fall.”
She says it looking between Dara and me as if asking whether it would be a betrayal of Bill’s memory to take a settlement.
Dara squeezes her arm and pulls into a sideways hug.
“Anyway where is Idurne?” Carol says, suddenly peering around.
Dara shoots me a look.
I clear my throat and say:
“She’s feeling pretty sick this morning, unfortunately.”
“Oh, poor thing” says Carol as her phone begins to ring.
“Yeah, throwing up and the whole thing, with a fever et cetera.” I lie.
“That’s too bad. She was always Bill’s favorite. Since she was a baby. Hello.”
She holds up a finger and walks away on the phone call.
The surrogate has finished with the casket portion and is up mingling with some of the guests near the bar, pretending to recall old stories of Bill’s childhood and making elliptical references to an inclusive multifaith heaven.
Left alone, I look nervously at Dara. She stares at me a minute, then her gaze relents and softens and she squeezes my hand.
The reception really kicks up a notch. The company is footing the open bar. Bill’s kids go home with an uncle, but Carol stays on with all of us. She can be a real firecracker, was always everyone’s favorite at work events. She sits on the bar and sings a Country-Western song. In a saturnine whirl of chemically augmented grief she accosts Bill’s surrogate in the hallway and throws herself at him. A couple of us have to pull her off of him as he wipes lipstick from his collar.
“Fuck me, Bill. Don’t be gone, please.”
“It’s alright dear.” He laughs, peeling Carol’s hand off his neck “Happens more often than you’d think, perfectly natural.”
“Think it is time to get going.” I say shortly after. Dara agrees and we leave.
We make-out in the front seat of the car like kids a little bit.
“If I hadn’t got pregnant” she says in my ear “would you have gone to college.”
“Oh” I say. “I don’t know. Would you, you think?”
“Yeah.” She says.
I drive back home to our house where Idurne is nowhere to be found.
“It appears” Dara remarks dryly, “The extraordinary magnetic pull of her moral compass did not prevent her from going out to socialize.”
My wife hiccups, holding her shoes in her hands.
“Come upstairs and help me out of my dress.”
I come upstairs and help her out of her dress.
Later, I call the bank person’s number on my phone, intending to give them an earful, but the number immediately clicks dead. I try it twice more. Hopefully, it’s just because it is the weekend. I’ll call again during lunch on Monday, I decide.
When Idurne still hasn’t returned, Dara goes into her room.
“Don’t be nosey Dara.” I say.
“Ludlow.” She shouts.
“Did you hear what I said.”
“Ludlow come in here.” She sounds worried.
I go in my daughter’s room, despite myself.
“Look at this.” She says.
It is CCSMACCP propaganda on a private Feed.
“We’re not even Catholic.” I whistle.
Dara says, “We’re going to get put on an FBI watchlist.”
“We don’t necessarily know why she was looking at this.” I say.
“I do.” Dara says. “I know very well, and it’s just lucky for her I don’t believe in slapping the hell out of my daughter, like my mother would have.”
I stare at her.
“I said lucky for her I don’t.” she says.
When Idurne finally arrives home we call her in the kitchen.
“What on earth is this Idurne.” Dara says waving my daughter’s Feed in front of her face.
Idurne’s expression turns childish and ashen.
“That is private.”
“Do you have any idea about these people?” Says Dara.
“Yes.” Idurne’s voice shakes.
“Of course not, you’re a child. You’re selfish like a child. You’re small like a child. But you want to be afforded all the privileges of adulthood.”
“Idurne” I say “We’re not even Catholic.”
“The Catholic part is vestigial Dad.” Idurne says. “They’re not literally a religious organization. They changed it to a small c, in their literature. They’re catholic Citizens with Serious Misgivings About Current Climate Policy.”
“They explode bombs in Pneumatic terminals.”
“People shouldn’t be travelling in Pneumatic terminals when fishermen in the Maldives—”
“—Your father works in Pneumatic terminals.”
“Yeah well.” Idurne scratches her chin “Obviously just because I am interested in an organization does not mean I support every single thing they do.”
“Idurne” I say.
“Do you realize—forget acts of violence for a second—do you realize your Father if someone from the company found this connected to our IP, that he could be questioned? That he could lose his job, Idurne?”
She looks between us.
“They wouldn’t do that.”
“You are a child, you have no idea what they would or wouldn’t do.”
“Well” she shrugged “Maybe he should. Maybe we—”
I get dizzy and walk out of the room. I pace the hallway outside and hear my daughter calmly telling my wife about my, and our, and our house’s complicity in mass extinctions, bleached coral, collapsed ecosystems, famine in Madagascar, drought in Iraq, wet bulb temperatures and refugee camps. I am not a dolt or a rube. I have heard these things said before. Rich hobbyists zipping around between continents while sharecroppers’ soil acidifies, and longliners starve at the hands of fishing trawlers, and people like me helping every day to patch the Tubes. I am not saying my work is good but I cannot be any worse than anybody else. I am here trying to care for the people I love.
Sunday passes in an instant. Idurne will not leave her room. Her mother has limited her access to her Feed. I go up knock on her door, offer to play AGE OF GLOBAL IMPROVEMENT but she does not come out, says it is a stupid game. A news report confirms: two more exploded Pneumatics the work of CCSMACCP members. An organizational spokesperson standing smiling in a scrum, says “officially the organization detests all acts of violence.”
Monday at work the fellows are kibbitzing outside and Hal Garcia comes out looking grim.
“Bill’s Carol called last night.”
“Seeking another neck to nibble on.” One guy quips unfunnily.
“Apparently some company legal guy got a hold of the video of her, er, waylaying Bill’s surrogate at the funeral.” Hal says. “She’s in tears. Her lawyers say it might not prejudice a jury. But Carol’s scared her kids will see. Or Bill’s family.”
“Can she still settle.” I say.
A couple of the fellows look at me.
“The proposed settlement” Hal says. “Has mysteriously gone down in dollar amount, since last night.”
Nobody says anything. We adjourn and I try the bank again from my phone. No response.
When I get home from work my daughter is at the kitchen table running strategies for the next AGE OF GLOBAL IMPROVEMENT tournament.
“I thought you said it was a stupid game,” I say.
“It is.” She nods “but I can still win a lot of money at it. If I have enough money I can be more independent.”
“Oh.” Because I don’t know what else to say I say “Do you want to play.”
“Sure” she nods.
She makes easy work of me. We are dealt our cards and roll our dice and I am born in North America in the 90s and she on another continent entirely. And as the game progresses and more cards are dealt I begin to lose some of my options and am forced by my daughter to discard some things that I had hoped might prove useful. In the middle of the game my status is determined and my fate is whittled down by the game mechanics and I have less and less avenues for advancement until finally I am reduced to drawing and redrawing from the deck, looking for a handful of lucky breaks just to keep even. Growing more and more frustrated, I do not speak and she smiles kindly. I force a grin while on the other side of the board my daughter expands quickly, ruthlessly, building a beneficent empire of the mind.