Confined to the bedroom, he saw every afternoon as a potential adventure.
“Nathan,” his mother would harp at him as they sat by the television, eating their lunch, “I hope you spend the rest of the day on something productive.”
“Yes,” he’d reply, stonily, trying to glean taste from another cheese sandwich, ignoring the dramatic mundanity of another episode of Doctors.
“Like doing your homework.”
What’s the point?
“I would like to see your homework done,” she’d add again, in perfect monotone, popping the last piece of rye neatly in her painted mouth. Then off to work she’d go, walking the neighbourhood dogs in her leopard print coat. She’d be gone till six; it took that long to return them one by one, Alsatian, labrador after labrador, pug, schnauzer, dachshund.
She kept the leads, all seven of them, hung up on a peg by the door. More than once, Nathan had contemplated hanging himself with one of them. It was a thought that caught him, now and then unawares, standing in the kitchen with the light fading and night coming and all the world draining of potential. But diligently he’d hobble back to his room, crack open one of the cans stashed illicitly beneath his bed, turn on the GameCube.
There was always Zelda. No matter whether Ryan or Ben bothered to answer his texts, there was always Zelda. His favourite was The Wind Waker. Waiting for him, his bag full of artefacts, the hearts of life on the screen’s top left, the endless possibilities of that deep cobalt sea. Could you sail to the edge of the horizon? He’d never tried. There were other games where the horizon was just a glitch, a hazy chimera you could never reach. Sometimes when you got there you’d fall off the edge, as if the world were still flat and the abyss that consumed you wasn’t just the absent code of a console, but rather the death was real. He’d feel it, the black lump slipping as sludge from his chest to his stomach.
He hadn’t seen the real sea. He knew it would never match up to The Wind Waker’s cel shaded graphics: the beautiful white spray and ring-like ripples, the cyan skies and promise of distant greenery. That soaring accompaniment of music. He had no interest in plots, in the dungeons you were supposed to visit to defeat enemies and bosses. Rarely did he open the map. All he wanted was to sail around, let the wind catch his sails so he could taste the currents of life ripping past in saltness and coldness against the hot blue air.
By the time his mother got home from her suburban odyssey (twice right round the town it took to wear them out, to pick up their shit), Nathan was quite drunk on the feeling of drifting. Some would say seasick.
“Have you done your homework?” she’d ask, standing on the threshold of his bedroom, hands on hips. She smelt of barbecues, cut grass, clematis, summer. He curled up on his bed with the mounds of paper.
“Yes,” he said, “I’m exhausted.”
/ Maria Sledmere
(fff prompt: odyssey)