Southern Legitimacy Statement: My South is steam rising up from the lake water and a wealth of abandoned antiquieties sitting on shelves, thier paint slowly fading from the heat. It’s an empty space that flakes like skin and haunts from a distance far enough away to be safe, but still too close for comfort and digestion.
Cliff Lasinsky first heard about Twin_Kitty_Cakes from his son. It used to be Cliff’s job to find Internet things to keep George steady at the dinner table, but the nine-year-old was clearly ahead now. The first video was an Annihilator speed run. They were pretty common, although her ability to smoothly avoid the saber conveyor struck a nerve. Cliff had played the game most of his life. He could always beat it, but started slipping after forty, something about the buttons being less responsive with each passing year.
“Can we put that away now?” Eloise instructed. His wife was really manifesting; the whole family edgy between bites.
“Sorry,” George replied.
“Don’t I get to pick one to watch?” Faith chimed in.
“After dinner,” Cliff softly replied to his youngest.
They always shared their favorite YouTiks and TubeToks at the table, although Eloise hoped to break her children of the habit. Cliff’s fingers were usually in motion, often on a keyboard except for after dinner. That was when he needed the big screen and two joysticks to navigate an endless supply of resources and mods. “It helps me relax,” he told Eloise, mid-frag.
“Yeah, me too,” George sat next to his father on the couch, both entrenched in a murky arena.
“Well, Faith and I are gonna go upstairs and have story time if anyone wants to join us,” Eloise replied.
George remained silent as Cliff glanced at his wife and shrugged. She shot him her standard stare then headed up. “You should probably go with your mom and sister for story time,” Cliff said.
“Yeah, I don’t want to tonight,” George replied. “We just need ten more kills and we win.”
“Yeah okay, but then you’re gonna go up and get ready for bed.”
“Can’t I stay down here and watch you play something else?”
“Not tonight, alright?” Cliff sighed.
They got second place before a disappointed George pouted upstairs to his bedroom. Cliff took a moment to adjust, autosave then exit to the main system menu. He listened to his family’s hushed voices through the floorboards and considered his next move. There was the home brewery in the basement along with his ever-expanding collection of Jaybird Hawkins memorabilia, except he couldn’t get that speed run out of his head.
Navigating to his download archive, Cliff pulled up the Annihilator icon and lasered in on the 8-bit title screen. He set the difficulty to Outrageous and began on the boat, before the tall grass past the first outpost of Retaliators, then the central base hub. He hadn’t been hit once when the saber conveyor snuck up. Always that one heart sacrifice to get past the bombs with half a second of invincibility. He never thought there was another way and could only wonder how Twin_Kitty_Cakes figured it out.
Cliff did a search of past runs, but hers were always at the top, each a little more precise than the last. He clicked her channel and scrolled. Galactapod, Micro-Racers, Bubble Blanch, all executed with some kind of strange finesse. Such skills were mystifying, Cliff squinting at her circular profile picture. Standard big-breasted white girl in her twenties dressed in a tight white leotard with short pink hair, giving a peace sign and smile.
Curious and alone, Cliff navigated to her VoodooGram and scrolled through the last few months of selfies, most in different costumes highlighting a toned bod. Her likes were in the thousands with no game vids of any kind. It was a completely different place to be noticed. He put his phone down and turned off the emulators, brushed his teeth and said goodnight to the children.
Eloise didn’t talk much on the mattress as both jumped between apps. The couple searched for something to say, any highlight worth mentioning in such unsavory times. Cliff considered bringing up Twin_Kitty_Cakes, whether his wife knew that their dear George followed such voluptuous curves. Best to do some more investigating first, he thought. There had to be a logical explanation to how she made those jumps and dashes almost effortlessly.
“You’re a stupid piece of shit, you know that?” Kitty shouted from the bedroom while Cliff typed at the kitchen table, ignoring the crumbs beneath his elbows.
“What is it? What did I do?” He’d felt nothing but sweat since relocating to The Keys.
“Everything is so goddamn gross around here since you came. I just don’t feel like this is going to work out,” Kitty stepped out and stood in the middle of the living room; Cliff often completely aghast by how even life’s smallest foibles exhausted her.
“You asked me to come stay with you after the convention. You said it would be the start of something.” Three months he’d been there fielding IT tickets while Kitty lied around taking selfies and recording personal messages for contributing patrons. Cliff only had a vague inkling of how she spent the money; their current living arrangement considerably more claustrophobic than her streams led viewers to believe.
“I know what I said then, but things are different now, and I need my space back. I can’t keep catering to you and all of your things.”
“You haven’t even really taken the time to learn about my things,” Cliff replied. “Actually, I’m not sure if my things ever mattered to you.”
“Don’t say that,” Kitty shifted her hip and made a sad face.
“Jesus, you haven’t even met my kids,” Cliff closed his laptop screen and sighed. “Maybe it is time I mosey out of here.” He stood from the kitchen table and tried not to look at her.
“Well, that’s just typical, isn’t it?” Kitty growled. “Once things aren’t the perfect fantasy you expect, you’re just gone,” she collapsed onto the couch. “I don’t know why I ever thought this would work. I can’t stand being with men. They’re disgusting, and they all want the same thing from you.”
“You’re right,” Cliff stepped past her into the bedroom. He breathed deep and tried to control the beat of his heart as he began emptying the two dresser drawers she’d allotted him.
“So that’s just it, huh?” Kitty leapt up again and leaned furiously in the threshold, eyes fixated on him. “You’re not going to try?”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years it’s this: you can always respawn and try again, but only with the right game.” Cliff slung the duffle bag over his shoulder and walked with intention to her door.
“You suck anyway!” Kitty cawed. “You’re too goddamn old to rank high. I don’t know why I’ve been letting you bum around here for as long as you have. I haven’t learned anything from you that I didn’t already know.”
“Well then I just feel bad for you,” Cliff replied. “Because I’ve learned way too much.”
“Okay, bye,” Kitty annunciated before slamming her door a moment after he stepped onto the hot pavement.
It was a work day, which meant there were plenty more tickets and fixes. Cliff popped the trunk and arranged his few belongings in the back. Wiping liquid from his neck, he started the engine and put the air conditioner on max before slowly drifting out of the condominium parking lot. He drove past frazzled haunts towards an unsettled future, irresolute on who to call first back home. They’d all pretend to understand and offer translucent advice as Cliff resettled into a life left behind. He’d be grateful just to hear their voices, but would still occasionally retire to the bathroom and watch Kitty’s streams with the sound off, forever pondering why she never took the long way around the crocodiles.