Chapter no 3

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

The Advanced Games seminar met once a week, Thursday afternoons from two to four. There were only ten spots, and students were accepted by application. The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah, surname in the course catalog, but known only by his given name in gaming circles. It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy wonders who’d programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water. Sadie, and about five hundred thousand other nerds, had played Dead Sea the prior summer. Dov was the first professor she’d ever had whose work she had enjoyed before she’d taken the class, not because she’d taken the class. Gamers, like herself, were avidly awaiting a sequel to Dead Sea, and when she saw his name in the course catalog, she had wondered why someone like him had wanted to interrupt a brilliant career designing games to teach.

“Look,” Dov said on the first day of the seminar, “I’m not here to teach you how to program. This is an advanced games seminar at MIT. You already know how to program, and if you don’t…” He gestured toward the door.

The format for the class was not unlike a creative writing class. Each week, two of the students would bring in a game, a simple game or a part of a longer game, whatever could be feasibly programmed given the time constraints. The others would play the games, and then they’d critique

them. The students were responsible for making two games during the semester.

Hannah Levin, the only girl in the seminar besides Sadie (though this was an ordinary male-to-female class ratio at MIT), asked if Dov cared which programming language they used.

“Why would I care? They’re all identical. They all can suck my dick. And I mean that literally. You have to make whatever programming language you use suck your dick. It needs to serve you.” Dov looked over at Hannah. “You don’t have a dick, so clit, whatever. Pick the programming language that is going to make you come.”

Hannah laughed nervously and avoided Dov’s eyes. “So, Java is good?” Hannah said quietly. “Some people I know don’t, like, respect Java, but—”

Respect Java? Seriously, fuck whoever said that. Whatever. Pick the programming language that is going to make me come,” Dov added.

“Yes, but if there’s one you prefer.” “Dude, what’s your name?” “Hannah Levin.”

“Dude, Hannah Levin. You have to chill out. I’m not interested in telling you how to make your game. Use three programming languages for all I care. That’s how I do it. I write some, and if I’m blocked, I’ll sometimes work in another language for a while. That’s what compilers are for. Does anyone else have any questions?”

Sadie found Dov vulgar, repellent, and a little sexy.

“The idea is to blow each other’s minds,” Dov said. “I don’t want to see versions of my games, or any other games I’ve already played. I don’t want to see pretty pictures without any thought behind them. I don’t want to see coding that is seamless in service of worlds that are uninteresting. I hate hate hate hate hate being bored. Astonish me. Disturb me. Offend me. It’s not possible to offend me.”

After class, Sadie went up to Hannah. “Hey, Hannah, I’m Sadie. Kind of rough in there, right?”

“It was fine,” Hannah said.

“Have you played Dead Sea? It’s amazing.” “What’s Dead Sea?”

“It’s his game. It’s, you know, the whole reason I’m in this class. The main POV is this little girl, who is the lone survivor of—”

Hannah interrupted. “I guess I should check it out.”

“You should. What kind of games do you play?” Sadie said. Hannah frowned. “Yeah, sorry, I have to run. Nice meeting you!”

Sadie didn’t know why she bothered. You would think women would want to stick together when there weren’t that many of them, but they never did. It was as if being a woman was a disease that you didn’t wish to catch. As long as you didn’t associate with the other women, you could imply to the majority, the men: I’m not like those other ones. Sadie was, by nature, a loner, but even she found going to MIT in a female body to be an isolating experience. The year Sadie was admitted to MIT, women were slightly over a third of her class, but somehow, it felt like even less than that. Sadie sometimes felt as if she could go weeks without seeing a woman. It might have been that the men, most of them at least, assumed you were stupid if you were a woman. Or, if not stupid, less smart than they were. They were operating under the assumption that it was easier to get into MIT if you were a woman, and statistically, it was—women had a 10 percent higher admittance rate over men. But there could have been many reasons for that statistic. A likely one was self-elimination: female applicants to MIT might have held themselves to higher standards than male applicants. The conclusion should not have been that the women who got into MIT were less gifted, less worthy of their places, and yet, that seemed to be what it was.

Sadie had the fortune or the misfortune of being the seventh student to present a game that semester. She had struggled with what to program. She had wanted to make a statement about the kind of designer she was going to be. She didn’t want to present something that seemed cliché, or too genre, or too simplistic, graphically or in a ludic sense. But after seeing her fellow seminarians be eviscerated by Dov, she knew that it barely mattered what she presented. Dov hated everything. He hated variations on Dungeons &

Dragons and turn-based RPGs. He hated platformers, other than Super Mario, though he loathed gaming consoles. He hated sports. He hated cute animals. He hated games based on intellectual property. He hated the fact that so many games were based on the idea that one was either chasing or being chased. But above all, he despised shooters, which meant he hated most of the games that were made by professionals or students, and a significant portion of the games that were successful. “Guys,” Dov said. “You know I’ve served in the army, right? Guns are so fucking romantic to you Americans, because you don’t know what it is to be at war and to be constantly under siege. It’s truly pathetic.”

Florian, the skinny engineering major whose game was currently on the chopping block, said, “Dov, I’m not even from America.” Florian’s game wasn’t a shooter either: it was an archery game that had been inspired by competing as a youth archer in Poland.

“Right, but you’ve absorbed its values.” “But you’ve got shooting in Dead Sea.”

Dov insisted that there wasn’t any shooting in Dead Sea.

“What are you talking about?” Florian said. “The girl beats a guy with a log.”

“That’s not shooting,” Dov said. “That’s violence. A little girl hitting a violent predator with a log is hand-to-hand combat and that’s honest. A man, who is represented by a hand, shooting a series of unknown henchmen is dishonest. It’s not violence that I hate anyway. It’s lazy games that act as if the only thing you can possibly do in life is shoot at something. It’s lazy, Florian. And the problem with your game is not that it’s a shooter, but that your game isn’t any fun to play. Let me ask you a question: Did you play it?”

“Yes, of course I played it.” “Did you think it was fun?”

“I don’t think of archery as fun,” Florian said.

“Okay, fuck that, who cares if it’s fun? Did it feel like archery to you?” Florian shrugged.

“Because it didn’t feel like archery to me.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“I’ll tell you. The shooting mechanic has a lag. I can’t tell where the sights are aimed. And it doesn’t at all simulate the feeling of pulling back on a bow, as I’m sure you know. There’s no tension, and the heads-up display obscures more than it helps. It’s just a game with some pictures of a bow and a bullseye. It could be a game about anything, by anyone. And also, you haven’t created any kind of story. The problem with your game is not that it’s a shooter, but that it’s a bad shooter and it has no character.”

“This is bullshit, Dov,” Florian said. He was very pale, and his skin flushed a psychedelic pink.

“Dude, dude.” Dov smacked Florian affectionately on the shoulder, and then he pulled him into an aggressive bear hug. “Next time, we fail better.”

When Sadie went to make her first game, she had no idea what Dov would like. And she started to wonder if this was the point. There was no pleasing Dov, so you might as well make something that amused you, at least. Out of desperation and with almost no time left, Sadie made a game about the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She titled it EmilyBlaster. Poetic fragments fell from the top of the screen and, using a quill that shot ink as it tracked along the bottom of the screen, the player had to shoot the fragments that added up to one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. And then once the player had successfully cleared the level by shooting several of Emily’s verses, you earned points to decorate a room in Emily’s Amherst house.

Because SHOOT

I could not SHOOT

stop for SHOOT


The class hated it. Hannah Levin was the first to offer feedback. “So…I thought some of the graphics were nice, but the thing is, the game kind of

sucked. It was weirdly violent, and also weirdly bucolic at the same time. And Dov told us not to make shooters, but a pen that shoots ink, is still a gun, right?” The rest of the feedback would continue along the same line.

Florian had one mildly positive comment: “I like when you shoot the words, it turns into a little black spot of ink, and I like the plosive sound you added, when the ink hits the screen.”

Hannah Levin countered, “I thought it sounded like a—excuse me if this is rude—I thought it sounded like a fart.” Hannah Levin covered her mouth as if she herself had just farted.

Nigel from England added, “But I think it technically sounded more like a queef.”

The class hooted.

“Wait,” Hannah said, “what’s a queef?”

The class laughed even more, and Sadie laughed, too.

“I wanted to work on the sound some more, but I ran out of time,” Sadie apologized, though no one seemed to hear her.

“Guys, calm down. I hate this, too,” Dov said, “but actually, I don’t hate it as much as some of the other ones.” Dov looked at Sadie as if seeing her for the first time. (It was the fourth week of class.) He glanced at his roster and Sadie could tell that he was learning her name, and she felt flattered, even if it was the FOURTH week of class. “It’s a rip-off of Space Invaders, but with a pen instead of a gun. At the very least, I can say I haven’t played this exact rip-off before, Sadie Green.”

Dov played another round of EmilyBlaster, and Sadie knew she was being paid another compliment. “Fun,” he said quietly, but loud enough so that everyone heard.

For her second game, Sadie felt she could and should be more ambitious. This time, she did not struggle with a concept.

Sadie’s game was set in a nondescript black-and-white factory that made unspecified widgets. Points were given for each of the widgets you assembled. Sadie had designed the mechanic of the game to be like Tetris, a game for which Dov had often expressed admiration. (He loved Tetris because it was fundamentally creative—a game about building and figuring

out how to make pieces fit.) With each of the game’s levels, you assembled widgets that had more pieces and greater complexity, and you had less and less time to accomplish the assemblies. At various times in the game, a text bubble came up, asking if you wanted to exchange points for information about the factory and the kind of products it produced. The game warned that if you received information about the factory, it would result in a minor reduction of your high score. The player had the option to skip as much or as little of this information as they wanted.

As was the procedure, Sadie distributed the 3.25-inch disks at the class before which she was to present, so that the group could play her game over the next week. By way of description, she said, “Well, um, my game is called Solution. It was inspired by my grandmother. You guys can play it, and I’m sure you’ll tell me what you think.”

Sadie got an email from Hannah Levin at the end of the weekend. Dear Sadie, I played your “game,” and I honestly don’t know what to say. It is disgusting and offensive, and you are a sick person. I’m cc’ing Dov on this email. I’m not sure if I will be able to attend class, because I’m too disturbed. This class is no longer a safe space for me.—Hannah

Sadie smiled when she read this email. She took her time crafting a reply: Dear Hannah, I’m not entirely sorry that you were disturbed by my game. The game is meant to be disturbing, and as I mentioned in class, it was inspired by my grandmother.

Hannah replied, Fuck you, Sadie.

Dov replied a couple of hours later, just to Sadie: Sadie, Haven’t played yet. Looking forward, Dov.

Dov called Sadie the next day. “So, we both know Hannah Levin is an impossible idiot, right?”

Dov had spent the last hour on the phone with Hannah, who wanted Dov to report Sadie to MIT’s Committee on Discipline. Hannah felt that Solution violated the student code of conduct, which prohibited hate speech. “I think I talked her off the ledge,” Dov said. “She is an incredibly tedious person. Who has time for people like this? But congratulations, Sadie Green, your game offended her deeply.”

“That’s crazy,” Sadie said.

“I guess she didn’t like being told she was a Nazi,” Dov said. “You played the game?”

“Of course,” Dov said. “I had to.” “Did you win?”

“Everyone wins,” Dov said. “That’s the genius of it, right?”

“Everyone loses,” Sadie said. “The game’s about being complicit.”

Genius. Dov had said genius.

The idea of Solution was that if you asked questions and didn’t keep mindlessly building widgets, your score would be lower, but you would find out you were working in a factory that supplied machine parts to the Third Reich. Once you had this information, you could potentially slow your output. You could make the bare number of parts required not to be detected by the Reich, or you could stop producing parts entirely. The player who did not ask questions, the Good German, would blithely get the highest score possible, but in the end, they’d find out what their factory was doing. Fraktur-style script blazed across the screen: Congratulations, Nazi! You have helped lead the Third Reich to Victory! You are a true Master of Efficiency. Cue MIDI Wagner. The idea of Solution was that if you won the game on points, you lost it morally.

“Listen, I loved the game. I thought it was hilarious.” “Hilarious?” Sadie had meant it to be soul crushing, disturbing.

“My sense of humor is very dark,” Dov said. “Screw it. Do you want to get coffee?”

They went to a coffee place in Harvard Square, near Dov’s apartment. Sadie hadn’t known if the meeting would be about Hannah’s complaint, but in fact, they didn’t speak of her. Sadie told him how much she loved Dead Sea, and she was able to ask him quite technical questions about rendering light with the Ulysses engine. Dov answered her questions and told her about designing Dead Sea, and how it had been inspired by his fear of drowning. Sadie spoke of her grandmother, growing up in Los Angeles, her sister’s illness. They discussed their favorite games, as children and now. Dov spoke to her as if they were colleagues, and this was thrilling for Sadie.

She didn’t care if she got called in front of the Committee on Discipline for making Solution. For this moment, with someone like Dov, it was worth it.

Dov reached across the table and wiped a bit of coffee foam from her


“I think I’m in serious trouble,” Dov said. “Because of Hannah?” Sadie said.

“Who’s Hannah?” Dov said. “Oh, right. Her. I think I’m in trouble

because I want you to come back to my apartment, and I know I shouldn’t do that.”

“Why shouldn’t you?” Sadie said. “I’d like to see where you live.”

It was the first adult relationship Sadie had ever had, though he was also very much her teacher. But as her lover, he was a much better teacher than when he’d just been her teacher. She learned so much from him. It was like having seminar all the time. He encouraged her to improve Solution. He showed her techniques he had for building game engines. “Never use someone else’s engine, if you can help it,” Dov warned. “You cede too much power to them.” She loved playing games with him, and having sex with him, and telling her ideas to him. She loved him.

She didn’t find out he was married until about four months in, as her sophomore year was ending. He said he needed to tell her something before this got any more serious. They had been planning for Sadie to spend the summer in his apartment.

He said that his wife was back in Israel. They were separated. That’s why he’d come to MIT. They both needed a break from the marriage.

“So, she knows about me?” Sadie asked.

“Not in so many words, but she knows about the possibility of someone like you,” Dov said. “Don’t worry. There’s nothing shady about it.”

And yet, Sadie did feel shady about it. She did not entirely believe Dov, and Sadie felt as if she had been tricked into behaving amorally. She had inadvertently ended up having an affair with a married man and even though she hadn’t known that at the beginning, she knew it now. And maybe, if she were honest with herself, she had known. Maybe she had

been like the player in Solution. Maybe she hadn’t asked the right or enough questions because she hadn’t wanted to know the answers.

Still, she spent the summer with Dov. She loved him and was, at this point, a bit addicted to being with him. She did an internship at Cellar Door Games in Boston and she never told anyone at the company who her boyfriend was. Among game designers, Dov was famous, and she didn’t want it to get back to Dov’s wife. She was so busy concealing (and having) the affair with Dov that she didn’t feel like she made much of an impression at Cellar Door. She didn’t feel creative, and she was always the first one to leave.

It perhaps goes without saying that Sadie hadn’t only been protecting Dov when she didn’t reveal to her colleagues at Cellar Door who her boyfriend was. She had also been protecting herself. There were even fewer women in professional games than there were at MIT, and Sadie didn’t want to hobble herself before she’d begun her career. It was unfair, but attractive young women who had reputations for sleeping with powerful men acquired professional baggage. They sometimes found they had a difficult time being taken seriously when they moved on from those men. She did not want her unofficial résumé in gaming to begin with the words “Dov Mizrah’s teenage mistress.” As much in love as she was with Dov, Sadie was already imagining a future that didn’t have him in it.

In the fall of her junior year, she took Artificial Intelligence, and Hannah Levin, who she had not seen since Dov’s seminar, was in the same breakout recitation session as her. “I hope there aren’t any hard feelings,” Sadie said at the end of class. “I never intended to offend you.”

“Please. The only reason you make a game like that is to offend,” Hannah replied. “I didn’t pursue it because your boyfriend talked me out of it and I didn’t want it to come back and bite me in the ass someday.”

“He wasn’t my boyfriend when I was in the class,” Sadie said, but Hannah was already walking out the door.

Sadie hadn’t worked on a game of her own since she’d been with Dov, though she did occasionally help him with his. It was easier, in some ways, to work with and for Dov than it was to do her own work. Her work seemed

basic and uninteresting compared to the kind of work Dov was doing. Her work was basic and uninteresting. She had just turned twenty. Everyone’s work is basic and uninteresting at twenty. But being around Dov made her feel impatient with her twenty-year-old brain and the quality of its ideas.

She had been with Dov ten months when she ran into Sam in the train station. She saw him long before he saw her. There he was: his coat too big over his boyish frame, his gait lurching but determined, his eyes focused ahead—she was quite sure he would never look back and notice her, and she was glad of it. He was unchanged, pure. He had not done the things she had done. Compared to him, she felt aged and withered, and she thought, if they spoke, he would be able to sense her decay. But for whatever reason, he turned back. And when he called her name, she kept walking.

But then, he called out one more time, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN, YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!”

Sam could be ignored, but the childish shared reference could not be. It was an invitation to play.

She turned.

Before returning to Israel for the winter break, Dov had warned Sadie that he wouldn’t be in contact much. “Family things,” he said. “You know how it is.” Sadie said she was cool, though even as she said it, she wasn’t sure if she was cool. She knew she had no choice but to be cool. And cool girls definitely didn’t ask their lovers if they were planning to see their supposedly estranged wives over winter break. If she wasn’t cool, Dov might end the relationship, and Sadie couldn’t bear that. She had come to depend on Dov. She realized, in retrospect, that the one and a half years she’d spent at MIT before she met Dov had been incredibly lonely. She hadn’t made any real friends. And to go from having no friends to having Dov as your friend was an intense experience. He was like a bright, warm light over everything in her life. She felt lit up, turned on. There was no one better to talk to about games. There was no one better to run ideas by. Yes,

she loved him, but she also liked him. She liked herself when she was with him.

Recently, she had suspected he was losing interest in her. So, she had attempted to make herself more interesting. She had tried to dress better, and she’d gotten a haircut and she bought lacy underwear. She had read a book about wine, so she could be knowledgeable at dinner, the way she imagined an older lover would be. He once said, in passing, that it was amazing how little American Jews knew about Israel, and she read a book about the founding of Israel, so she’d be conversant. But it didn’t seem to matter.

She sometimes felt as if he was trying to find fault with her. If Sadie spent the day reading a novel, he’d say, “When I was your age, I was constantly programming.” Or if Sadie was too slow to complete a task Dov had assigned to her, he would say, “You’re brilliant, but you’re lazy.” In addition to working on Dov’s games, Sadie had a full course load. If Sadie mentioned this to Dov, he would say, “Never ever ever complain.” Or he’d say, “This is why I don’t work with students.” If she told him about a game she admired that he didn’t think much of, he would tell her the reasons the game was terrible. And that didn’t just go for games—it was movies, books, and art, too. It got to the point where she would never outright say her opinion of anything. She trained herself to begin conversations, “What did you think, Dov?”

And so she’d be cool, because that’s what mistresses were. Mistress, Sadie thought. Sadie laughed a bit to herself, thinking this was what it was like to play someone else’s game: to have the illusion of choice, without actual choice.

“Why does the brilliant one laugh so very ruefully?” Dov asked. “No reason. Call me when you get back,” she said.

Sadie was moody and quiet the entire time she was in California for the holidays. She felt flu-ish, permanently jet-lagged, worn out. She spent most of the holidays sleeping in her childhood bed, under faded rose-print sheets, reading the dog-eared paperbacks of her youth. “What’s wrong with you?”

Alice asked. “Everyone’s worried.” Alice was in her first year of medical school at UCLA.

“I’m fine,” Sadie said. “I think I might have caught something on the plane.”

“Well, don’t get me sick. I can’t afford it.” Alice refused to lose even one more day of her life to malady.

Sadie didn’t feel like she could tell anyone in her family about Dov, even Alice or perhaps, especially Alice. Alice, like their grandmother, had a strong distaste for life’s inevitable gray areas.

Alice studied Sadie. She put her hand on her forehead and then she looked into Sadie’s eyes. “You don’t feel hot, but I don’t think you are fine,” Alice said.

Sadie changed the subject. “You’ll never guess who I ran into in Harvard Square.”

In the end, Alice had been the one who told Sam about Sadie’s community service project. Alice always claimed that jealousy hadn’t been a motivator, and Sadie came to believe that it hadn’t been. But it was no secret that Alice had never liked the idea of Sadie doing community service at the hospital, and Alice had been disgusted when Sadie received the community service award from the temple.

About three months before Sadie’s Bat Mitzvah, Alice had run into Sam at the hospital. Alice had been there for a routine follow-up blood test

—she had been in remission for about a year; Sam had been there for yet another surgery revision on his foot. They did not know each other well, and what Alice did know of Sam, she did not particularly like. She found Sadie’s relationship with Sam to be strange. Part of this was Sadie’s fault. When Alice expressed interest in meeting her new friend, Sadie had claimed that Sam wasn’t really her friend. She had emphasized the volunteerism aspects of the relationship and had described Sam as “pretty pathetic.” There was a part of Sadie that hadn’t wanted Alice to know Sam, to offer her opinions about him as candidly as Alice offered opinions of Sadie’s other friends and classmates. Alice was clever, but she had the kind of cleverness that verged on the unkind, and this had only gotten worse in

the years since she had been diagnosed with leukemia. Sadie didn’t want Sam viewed through her sister’s acute and often unforgiving lens.

And so, when Alice saw Sam at the hospital, Alice’s first instinct was to ignore him.

“You’re Sadie’s sister, right?” Sam said. “I’m Sam.” “I know who you are,” Alice said.

One of Sam’s many doctors, a pediatric orthopedist, spotted the two kids together and mistook Alice for Sadie, who was always at the hospital. “Hi, Sam! Hi, Sadie!”

“Dr. Tybalt,” Sam said, “this isn’t Sadie; it’s her sister, Alice.” “Of course!” the doctor said. “You two do look alike.”

“Yes,” Alice said. “But I’m two years older, and my hair is straighter. But the easiest way to tell my sister from me is that I don’t have a timesheet with me.”

The conversation ended when the nurse called Alice’s name. They were ready to take her blood.

“See you around, Sam,” Alice called.

Sam called Sadie at home that night. “I ran into your sister at the hospital,” Sam reported.

“Yeah, Alice was there,” Sadie said. “Sorry, I was going to try to go, but I had Bat Mitzvah class. Guess what game I’m looking at right now?”


King’s Quest IV. I got Bubbe to take me to Babbage’s, and it was on the shelf a whole month early. I screamed when I saw it. Sam, the graphics are so much better than the last one. They’re maybe better than Zelda even.”

“You said you’d wait for me to start.”

“I didn’t really start. I installed it, that’s all. Listen, the music’s gotten better, too.”

Sadie held the phone up to the computer so that he could hear the MIDI track.

“It’s not coming through very well,” Sam said. “Sadie, Alice said this weird thing…”

“Ignore her, that’s just Alice. She’s THE RUDEST PERSON I KNOW.” Sadie yelled this loud enough for Alice to overhear. “Do you think if your foot isn’t hurting too much and you’re out of the hospital, Dong Hyun can drive you over to my house on Sunday so we can play through KQIV? If Dong Hyun drives you, I’m pretty sure I can get my dad to drive you back.”

“I don’t know. I think I’ll be here at least a week, maybe longer, this time.”

“That’s cool. Maybe I can bring the disks and we’ll install it on—” “Sadie, she said this thing about you having a timesheet, or something

like that.”

Sadie paused for a second. Though she had known this day would come, she had not prepared what she would say.


“It’s not a big thing,” Sadie said. “It’s this form I get filled out when I’m at the hospital. I think everyone has them.”

“Sure,” Sam said. “Right…But my grandparents don’t have them.” “Oh, that’s weird. Maybe they do have them, and you never noticed?

Or maybe…Maybe it’s so kids can visit other kids at the hospital.” “That makes sense.”

“For security,” Sadie improvised. “Sharyn’s calling me to dinner. Can I call you back?” Sadie did not call him back. Five minutes before nine, the latest time he was allowed to call her house, he phoned her again. For a moment, she considered telling her dad to say she wasn’t home.

“But Sadie, Alice called it a timesheet,” Sam said.

“Sure, it’s also a timesheet. It says how many hours I was at the hospital. Why are you fixating on this? Did you ask Dong Hyun about this weekend?”

“But why would you need to know that?”

“I…” Sadie said. “To keep track of things, I guess.” Long pause. “Are you some sort of a candy striper?”

“If I was a candy striper, I’d have to wear that dress, and I’d never wear that dress.”

“Other than the dress?”

“Samson, you’re being incredibly tedious. Can we talk about something else?”

“Was I some sort of community service project to you?” Sam asked. “No, Sam.”

“Were we friends, or did you just feel bad for me, or was I a homework assignment, or what, Sadie? What was it? I need to know.”

“Friends. How can you think otherwise? You’re my best friend.” Sadie was near tears.

“I don’t believe you,” Sam said. “You were never my friend. You’re some rich asshole volunteer from Beverly Hills, and I’m a mentally ill poor kid, with a screwed-up leg. Well, I don’t require your patronage anymore.”

“Sam, it’s hard to explain, but it had nothing to do with you. The form was a game to me. I…Well, I guess I liked seeing the hours add up.” She suddenly had an insight that she thought Sam would respond to. “I was going for the high score. I got up to six hundred nine, but I think it’s more than—”

“You’re a liar and a really bad person and…” None of this seemed strong enough. “You’re a…a…” He searched his mind for the worst word he had ever heard. “Cunt,” he whispered. He had never said that word before, and the word felt exotic, as if he were speaking a foreign language.

“What?” Sadie said.

Sam knew “cunt” to be a Rubicon. He had once overheard his mother’s boyfriend call her this word during an argument, and Anna had transformed from a woman into an obelisk. After that night, he had never seen this boyfriend again, and so he knew those four letters possessed profound, magical properties. “Cunt” could make a person disappear from your life forever, and he decided that indeed, this was what he wanted: to forget he had ever met Sadie Green and that he had ever been so pathetic and cretinous as to imagine she was his friend. “You’re a cunt,” he repeated. “I never want to see you again.” Sam hung up the phone.

Sadie sat on her rose-print comforter, holding the telephone by her burning cheek. “Cunt” wasn’t Sam’s typical diction, and when he said it, his

reedy voice had sounded comical to Sadie. Her impulse had been to laugh. She was not popular at her school, but she was a sturdy, weatherproof individual, and most insults didn’t feel like anything. Ugly, annoying, nerd, bitch, stuck-up, whatever. But Sam’s words, she felt. The phone began to chirp adamantly, but she could not bring herself to hang it up. She wasn’t even entirely sure what a cunt was. She only knew that she had hurt Sam, and she probably was a cunt.

The next day, Sadie’s father drove Sadie to the hospital. She went to the desk, and the nurse went to get Sam, but he refused to see her. “I’m sorry, Sadie,” the nurse said. “He’s in a mood.” Sadie sat in the waiting area and waited until her mother would pick her up two hours later. She wrote Sam a note, using a couple lines of BASIC, the rudimentary programming language she and Sam were both learning:


20 FOR X = 1 to 100








100 NEXT X

110 LET A = GET CHAR ()

120 IF A = “Y” OR A = “N” THEN GOTO 130

130 IF A = “N” THEN 20

140 IF A = “Y” THEN 150


She folded the note in half and wrote README on the outside of the paper. If he put the program in a computer, the screen would fill up with IM

SORRYSAMs. If he accepted her apology, the program ended. But if he didn’t accept her apology, the program would repeat until he did.

The nurse brought the note to Sam’s room, then came back several minutes later: Sam had refused the note. And that night, when Sadie inputted the program into her own computer, she realized she’d made a syntactical error anyway.

A week later, it was Freda’s turn to drive Sadie to the hospital. Sadie did not want to confess to her grandmother what had happened. She did not want to admit that Freda had been right. She let Freda drive her all the way to Children’s Hospital, but when they arrived there, Sadie did not get out of the car.

“What is it, mine Sadie?” Freda asked.

“I messed up,” Sadie said miserably. “I’m a terrible person.” She worried that Freda would yell at her, say I told you so, insist that Sadie go in and try to apologize to Sam, which Sadie knew would be pointless. Adults always thought they could fix children’s problems.

Freda simply nodded and took Sadie in her arms. “Oh, my love, this must be a very great loss.” She got on her enormous cell phone, and she canceled her afternoon, and she took Sadie to lunch at her favorite restaurant, a divey Italian place in Beverly Hills, where all the waiters flirted with Freda. They ordered chicken parmigiana, Sadie’s favorite, and ice cream sundaes. The only mention Freda made of the whole situation was when she was paying the bill. “There are people like you and like me. We have bad things happen to us, and we survive them. We are sturdy. But with people like your friend, you must be exceptionally gentle, or they may break.”

“What have I ever survived, Bubbe?”

“Your sister’s cancer. You were very strong during that, even if your mother and father didn’t mention it as much as they should have. But I noticed, and I am proud of you.”

Sadie felt embarrassed. “That’s nothing like what you survived.”

“It is no easy matter being the little sister, this I know. And I am also proud of you for befriending that boy. Even if things ended badly, it was a

good thing you did for him and for yourself. That boy was utterly friendless, injured, alone. You were not a perfect friend, but you were his friend, and he needed a friend.”

“You told me what would happen.”

“Meh,” Freda said. “Bubbe-meise. An old woman’s guess.” “The thing is, I’ll really miss him.” Sadie held back tears. “Maybe you’ll see him again.”

“I don’t think so. He hates me now, Bubbe.”

“Always remember, mine Sadie: life is very long, unless it is not.” Sadie knew this to be a tautology, but it also happened to be true.



Dov did not call when he returned to Cambridge. The day of his scheduled arrival had come and gone, and it was almost the middle of January, and classes were about to begin. She hadn’t wanted to call him, and she thought it would be rude to go over to his apartment. She decided to send him an email, which she revised extensively. In the end, the revisions did not lead to a sparkling result: Hi Dov, Started playing Chrono Trigger. Some interesting elements there.

He didn’t reply for an entire day: I’ve already played it. We should talk, though. Do you want to come over tonight?

Sadie knew she was dressing for her funeral, so she wore black: dress, tights, Doc Martens. She wanted to look sexy. She wanted him to feel bad about what he would be missing, but she didn’t want to be obvious about it. She took the train to Harvard Square, and when she arrived, she found that the Magic Eye advertisement was still up, though lightly graffiti-covered and peeling on the sides. The rest of the world had apparently lost interest in it since Christmas. She decided to delay her arrival to Dov’s place by looking at it again: Walk up close, and back away. Let your eyes relax.

She went to the magic place, and she felt her mind go clear. She told herself that no matter what Dov said, she wouldn’t argue, cry, or complain.

When she arrived at Dov’s apartment, she didn’t let herself in, even though she had the key. She rang the bell, and he came down to get her. He kissed her on the cheek, and he started to help her off with her coat. But she didn’t want to take off her coat. She wanted to have the armor of the cashmere wool blend Freda had bought her at Filene’s Basement in the fall of her freshman year. At the time, Sadie had worried that the coat was too bulky, but Freda had advised, “Winter will be colder than you think, mine Sadie. This I promise you.”

“Let me have it,” Sadie said. She looked him in the eye and she crossed her arms over her breasts. I’m brave, she thought.

“Batia and I are going to try to make it work,” Dov said. “I’m so sorry.” He was taking a leave from MIT, packing up—suddenly, she became aware of the boxes—and subletting his apartment; he would need the key. He was going back to Israel to work on Dead Sea II.

Sadie would not cry. “When I didn’t hear from you, I thought it was something like that,” she said in an easy, practiced voice. Be cool, she thought. Her brain furiously ran through all the reasons to be cool. She might want a recommendation letter from him some day, if she decided to go to grad school. She might want to work at a company that he worked for. She might want to design a game with him. She might end up on a panel with him, or he might be the judge for a gaming award. Sadie, like Sam, had a gift for imagining herself in the future. She saw a future in which she would not be Dov’s lover, but she still might be his colleague, his employee, his friend. If she was cool, this time won’t have been a waste. Life is very long, she thought, unless it is not.

“You’re being very good about this,” Dov said. “It’s making me feel awful. I think I’d prefer if you screamed and yelled.”

Sadie shrugged. “I knew you were married.” Had she? Yes, she had known even if she had tried to pretend to herself and to Dov that she hadn’t. She had seen his biography on a nascent gaming website, long before she had taken the class. She had looked him up on the internet after she’d played Dead Sea the summer before her sophomore year. A wife had been mentioned, as had a son. They didn’t have names, and so they weren’t

characters to her, but that didn’t mean they didn’t exist. He had never told her about them himself, and so she rationalized her involvement with him by thinking, Until he tells me, it’s not my business. “It’s my fault,” she said.

“Come here,” he said.

Sadie shook her head. She didn’t want him to touch her. “Please, Dov.”

Now that Dov knew Sadie wouldn’t make things difficult for him, she could see his eyes soften. She could see them fill with love and regret for her. Sadie wanted to remember Dov’s face like this. She began to edge toward the door.

“Sadie, you don’t have to go. Let me order some Thai for us. A colleague sent me a press copy of the new Hideo Kojima. It won’t be out here for at least a year, maybe longer.”

“Metal Gear III?”

“They’re not calling it Metal Gear III. They’re calling it Metal Gear Solid. Kojima is disappointed with the sales of the previous Metal Gears in the States, so he doesn’t want it to be a sequel.”

“But those games were great,” Sadie said.

“He’s being smart actually, if he thinks he has a hit on his hands,” Dov said. “It’s not only being a good programmer or a good designer, Sadie. You have to be a marketeer and a showman. You’ll learn that eventually.”

Though she was not in the mood to be taught, Sadie found herself taking off her coat.

“I like the dress,” Dov said.

She had forgotten she was wearing a dress, and now she felt sorry for the Sadie she had been an hour ago who had decided to objectify herself by wearing a dress. She sat down at Dov’s desk. He loaded the game, and then he handed her the controller.

Metal Gear Solid was a stealth game, which meant it was strategically advantageous to avoid being seen more than it was to engage someone in combat. The player spent a great deal of the game bored—hiding and waiting. Sadie found the relative boredom of Metal Gear Solid comforting. As Sadie made her character crouch and hide behind boxes or walls or doorways, she realized stealth would be a good strategy for her, in this

particular moment. She would be here, in this room with Dov, but she would not provoke him or engage him unless she absolutely had to.

Sadie had reached a part in Metal Gear Solid where the player character was spying on a female non-player character exercising in her underwear. The NPC’s name was Meryl Silverburgh, which also struck Sadie as ridiculous.

“Come on,” Sadie said. “Meryl fricking Silverburgh in her underwear.” “Maybe Kojima’s into Jewesses?”

Sadie wondered if most gamers would be turned on by this. She often had to put herself into a male point of view to even understand a game at all. As Dov was fond of saying to her, “You aren’t just a gamer when you play anymore. You’re a builder of worlds, and if you’re a builder of worlds, your feelings are not as important as what your gamers are feeling. You must imagine them at all times. There is no artist more empathetic than the game designer.” Sadie the gamer found this scene sexist and strange. At the same time, Sadie the world builder accepted that the game was made by one of the most creative minds in gaming. And in those days, girls like Sadie were conditioned to ignore the sexist generally, not just in gaming—it wasn’t cool to point such things out. If you wanted to play with the boys, they couldn’t be afraid of saying things around you. If someone said the sound effect in your game sounded like a queef, it was your job to laugh. But on this evening, Sadie wasn’t in the mood to laugh.

“I don’t want to play a game that’s a collection of some guy’s fetishes,” Sadie said.

“Dude, Sadie, you described ninety-nine percent of all games. But the boobs are a bit much, I’ll give you that. How does she not topple over?” Dov said. “Kojima’s brilliant, though.”

“Yes,” Sadie said, wedging her character into an air vent.

The Thai food arrived. Dov made conversation as if it were a normal night, and not their last supper. She didn’t have much of an appetite. She drank a bit of the wine he poured her—she would never be much of a drinker—and she felt light-headed, distantly nauseous, but not drunk. She

felt too light-headed to make any of the clever comments about wine she’d learned.

“You look beautiful,” Dov said. He leaned across the table and he kissed her, and she felt too tired to insist that if he was breaking up with her, the least he could do was let her go without a final fuck. Because she was cool, but she wasn’t sure she was that cool. But it was hard for Sadie to talk without being angry or sad, and she’d come this far without being either of those things.

“Dov,” she said. She wanted to say no. But her mouth didn’t make the words, and in the end, she decided, what was the difference? She had had sex with him many times before. And she had liked having sex with Dov.

He took off her tights and her dress and her underwear, and he ran his hand up and down her body, in an appraising way, like a farmer inspecting land he was about to sell. “I am going to miss you,” he said. “I am going to miss this.” She imagined she was not in her body, but back in the world of Metal Gear Solid. The character you play in Metal Gear Solid is called Solid Snake, whose main antagonist is Liquid Snake, who is constructed from the same genetic material as you. The profundity of this struck Sadie in this moment—yes, what greater enemy does one have than oneself? And wasn’t she to blame for all of this more than Dov? He had said it would be trouble if she came to his apartment, and still she had gone. If someone tells you there will be trouble, believe them.

When the cab arrived, he walked her down to the street. “Friends?” he said.

“Of course,” Sadie said. She handed him his key, without waiting for him to ask for it.

He hugged her, deposited her in the cab, and closed the door.

As the cab headed down Massachusetts Avenue, she felt hot in her winter coat and like she couldn’t breathe, so she asked the driver if she could roll down the window. From the window, she could see the water tower of the New England Confectionery Company’s factory, which had recently been painted to resemble a roll of Necco wafers, those barely flavored, pastel-colored, vaguely religious-looking chalky disks. As they

approached the factory, the air increasingly smelled of sugar, and the scent made Sadie nostalgic for a candy she had never even tasted.

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