Chapter no 46

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

The best you can wish for anyone, Sam decided, is a video game death.

Which is to say, spectacular and brief.

When he put his final quarter in the machine, Dong Hyun had been sick for nearly a year. Cancer—at first in the lung and then, fatally, elsewhere, everywhere—had reduced Sam’s strong, marvelous grandfather to a helpless lump of misfiring cells. Sam had decided to step back from Unfair during that time to take care of Dong Hyun. How could he not? Dong Hyun had spent years taking care of him.

Sam watched as Dong Hyun suffered, as parts of him were cut away. And finally, when there wasn’t anything left to take, Dong Hyun was gone.

Sam went back and forth. The fact that Dong Hyun had not died a video game death meant that Sam had been able to spend time with him before the end. The length of time it had taken Dong Hyun to die also meant he had said everything he wanted to say to Sam, his cousins, and his grandmother. Was this trade worth his suffering? Sam didn’t know.

In the last weeks of his life, Dong Hyun barely spoke. He had grown quieter and quieter, and so Sam was surprised when Dong Hyun sat up in bed and grabbed Sam’s hand. “Samson, you are a lucky boy,” Dong Hyun said to Sam in a perfectly clear voice. “You have had tragedy, yes, but you have had many good friends as well.”

Dong Hyun had been released from the hospital to die at home in the sunny Craftsman-style house that he had lived in for the last forty years of his life. It was disturbing to Sam that Dong Hyun’s familiar pizza smell had been replaced by a variety of unpleasant medical ones.

“Have I?”

“Yes, Marx and Sadie. They loved you.” “Is two considered many?” Sam asked.

“It depends on how good the friendships are,” Dong Hyun said. “And Lola? What happened to her?”

“She got married. She lives in Toronto.” Sam paused. “I wish I had what you and Grandma have.”

“You have different things,” Dong Hyun said. “You were born into a different world than I was. Maybe you don’t need what Grandma and I have.” He patted Sam on the cheek. Dong Hyun began to cough one of his endless coughs.

“Marx is dead,” Sam said.

“I know that,” Dong Hyun said. “My mind is still good.”

“Marx is dead, and Sadie has a kid now, and I don’t know the kid.” “You could get to know the kid,” Dong Hyun said.

“My point is, it’s hard once people have kids. I don’t understand kids really.”

“You make games for a living,” Dong Hyun pointed out. “You must know something about kids.”

“Yes, but that’s different. I think I don’t like children because I hated being young.”

“You’re still young,” Dong Hyun said.

“Well, she lives in Boston now,” Sam said. “So…” “You could visit her.”

“I don’t think she wants me to visit her.”

“It doesn’t take long to get to Boston anymore,” Dong Hyun said.

“It takes about six hours by plane. Same amount of time as it’s always taken.”

“Faster than getting from Venice to Echo Park in traffic,” Dong Hyun said.

“That’s not true.”

“I’m making a classic L.A. traffic joke.” “Oh, right.”

“It was a good joke,” Dong Hyun insisted. “Nothing seems that funny to me lately.”

“Are you kidding?” Dong Hyun laughed and that turned into another fit of coughing. “Everything is funny now.” Dong Hyun closed his eyes. “When you talk to Sadie, tell her there’s pizza for her. Friends of Sam’s eat free.”

“I’ll tell her,” Sam said. The pizza parlor had been renamed two years ago and had entirely new owners.

“Love you, Sammy,” Dong Hyun said.

“I love you, too, Grandpa.” For most of his life, Sam had found it difficult to say I love you. It was superior, he believed, to show love to those one loved. But now, it seemed like one of the easiest things in the world Sam could do. Why wouldn’t you tell someone you loved them? Once you loved someone, you repeated it until they were tired of hearing it. You said it until it ceased to have meaning. Why not? Of course, you goddamn did.

The memorial was held at the Korean Cultural Center, and in addition to Dong Hyun’s family and friends, many of his fellow shopkeepers and restaurateurs were in attendance. Sam and his grandmother spent hours being thanked and consoled.

As the afternoon went on, Sam softened his vision, allowing himself to be there and not there. It was a trick he’d had from the long convalescences of his youth. He could be in his body and not in his body. He looked at people, and he muttered thanks for coming ad nauseam, and without appearing to be, he gazed into the distance, as if the back wall of the KCC were a Magic Eye poster, in a train station.

At once, his eyes fixed on something. In a world of planar surfaces, someone became 3D. It was Sadie.

He had not seen her for almost five years, and the sight of her, in the flesh, seemed like an illusion.

She had called him two or three days ago, but he hadn’t thought she would come.

She waved at him. He waved at her.

She said something, but he was too far away to hear it. He nodded as if he’d understood.

She left.

Two weeks later, Dong Hyun’s will was read. As was to be expected, most everything passed to Bong Cha. There was one notable exception: “My Donkey Kong machine, which was in my pizza parlor for many years, I leave to Sadie Green. With much affection and gratitude for the years of friendship between my grandson and herself.”

Sam had not called her number for many years. He did not get her immediately, but in the evening, she returned his call. He thanked her for coming to the funeral. “But that’s not why I’m calling. Dong Hyun left you something in his will.”

“Really? What is it?”

“It’s the Donkey Kong machine.”

“What?” Sadie’s voice could not help but exude childish enthusiasm. “I love Donkey Kong! I was so jealous of you when you told me you could play as much as you want. Why would he do that do you think?”

“Well,” Sam said. “You know, he was proud of us. Proud of our games.

He always kept the posters in Dong and Bong’s.

“And you were—well, just about my only friend for a significant portion of my childhood, as I’m sure you were aware…so…I think he probably thought I would have, like, given up without you, or something. Maybe I would have, I don’t know. He was grateful to you.”

Sadie considered this. “No, I can’t accept this. You should have the machine.”

“Why would I want it? You’re the one who loves Donkey Kong. Just tell me what you want me to do with it. We can leave it in my

grandmother’s house, if you don’t want it. I think it probably weighs a ton, literally.”

“I’ll get it shipped,” Sadie said. “I definitely want it. It’s a classic. Give me a couple of days to figure it out. I’m probably going to put it in my office at MIT.”

“Dong Hyun would have loved his machine ending up at one of the best schools in the country.”

“How are you?” Sadie said.

“I’ve been better. I’ve decided…I prefer video game death, all things considered.”

“Short, sweet, with the possibility of imminent resurrection,” Sadie said.

“Video game characters never die.”

“They die all the time, actually. It doesn’t mean the same thing.” “What are you working on?” Sam asked.

“Raising a kid, teaching my class. That’s about it.” “Are you harassing your students like Dov?”

“No,” Sadie said. “I honestly can’t imagine wanting to sleep with anyone in their twenties, forget about their teens. I always feel like I should add, Dov was a great teacher. I don’t know what my impulse to defend him is.”

“Do you like teaching?”

“I do,” she said. “A kid wore a Mapletown jersey the first day.” “How’d that make you feel?”

“You mean, because Mapleworld was the phoenix that rose from the ashes of my failure?”

“Something like that,” Sam said.

“The kid didn’t know. It was a compliment. They think Mapleworld is my game.”

“It was your game, wasn’t it?”

“More yours,” Sadie said. “I think that’s been established. Considering my many concerns about credit, it turns out that no one remembers who’s responsible for anything.”

“Someone on the internet probably knows the truth,” Sam said.

“Wow, that is amazingly naive,” Sadie said. “The belief that someone on the internet knows the truth about anything.”

“I’ve been blue, lately,” Sam admitted. “And I wondered, how do you get over that sort of thing?”

“Work helps,” Sadie said. “Games help. But sometimes, when I’m really low, I keep a particular image in my mind.”

“What is it?”

“I imagine people playing. Sometimes, it’s one of our games, but sometimes, it’s any game. The thing I find profoundly hopeful when I’m feeling despair is to imagine people playing, to believe that no matter how bad the world gets, there will always be players.”

As Sadie spoke, Sam was reminded of a winter afternoon, many years ago, and of commuters clogging up the train station, blocking his path. At the time, they’d seemed like impediments to him, but maybe he’d been thinking of them the wrong way. What makes a person want to shiver in a train station for nothing more than the promise of a secret image? But then, what makes a person drive down an unmarked road in the middle of the night? Maybe it was the willingness to play that hinted at a tender, eternally newborn part in all humans. Maybe it was the willingness to play that kept one from despair.

“I received the Magic Eye book, by the way,” Sam said. “So…? Did you do it?”


“Come on, Sam. What the hell? You have to do it. Go get the book.” Sam walked over to his bookshelf, and he took the book off the shelf. “I’m going to stay with you on the phone until you see it. My five-year-

old can do it. I’ll take you through it.” “It’s not going to work.”

“Hold the book up to your face,” Sadie instructed. “Right against your nose.”

“Okay, okay.”

“Now let your eyes go soft focused, and slowly pull the book back,” Sadie said.

“It didn’t work,” Sam said.

“Do it again,” Sadie commanded. “Sadie, these don’t work for me.”

“You have so many ideas about what works for you. Just do it again.” Sam tried again, and Sadie listened to Sam breathe.

“Sam?” Nearly a minute had passed.

“I can see it,” Sam said. “It’s a bird.” His voice sounded shaky, but Sadie couldn’t tell if he was crying.

“Good,” Sadie said. “It is a bird.” “What now?”

“You look at the next one.”

Sadie heard the rustle of a page being turned. “We should make something together,” Sam said.

“Oh God, Sam, why would we do that? We make each other miserable.”

“That isn’t true. Not always.”

“It’s not just you. It’s me. And it’s Marx. And too much has happened, I think. I’m not even sure I’m a designer anymore.”

“Sadie, that’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” “Thanks.”

“And there’s no way it’s true. Well, I had to ask. I always have to ask.

Let me know if you change your mind.”

Naomi came into Sadie’s bedroom. “It’s bedtime!” she announced. Sadie had invented a game where if Naomi called bedtime before Sadie did for seven nights in a row, Naomi received a prize. Yes, it was manipulative and basically bribery, but it was also effective at getting her five-year-old to bed. “Who are you talking to?” Naomi asked.

“My friend, Sam. Do you want to say hi to him?” “No,” Naomi said. “I don’t know him.”

“Okay, run along to your room, and I’ll be there in a second.” Sadie returned to Sam. “I’ve got to put my kid to bed. Good night, Dr. Daedalus.”

“Good night, Ms. Marks.”



Donkey Kong cabinet weighs approximately three hundred pounds. The crate, which will have to be specially built, an additional fifty. Freight shipping from a residence in 90026 to a university office in 02139 will run you about $400, or a little more if you want someone to carry the machine over a threshold.

Locally, you might find a classic Donkey Kong for cheaper. This will save you significantly in shipping, but the machine won’t have the same memory. It will not know, for instance, that the best Donkey Kong player who ever played at Dong and Bong’s New York Style House of Pizza on Wilshire Boulevard in K-town, Los Angeles, had the initials S.A.M.

When the cabinet arrived in Cambridge, the machine was still functioning, but the high scores were wiped. Memory on those early machines could be volatile, even when they were supposedly non-volatile. The backup battery, if it had ever one, probably died long ago.

When Dong Hyun’s machine loaded the now empty high scores screen, Sadie could still faintly see S.A.M. The score had stood so long, it had burned into the monitor.

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