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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

Fiction



A High Score (continued)


I set the bag on the ground and began to plan my next move. I took a few moments to catch my breath a catch my thoughts. I knew that I didn't have all day and wouldn't have much time to procrastinate. I made a decision quickly. I walked back into the room and picked it up again and nervously strapped it over my shoulder. It didnít quite match but that didnít bother me. It took me a few moments to reorient myself and I had to plan ahead for my next task. I thought of where I wanted to go, and remembered a place I hadnít gone before. It was a long distance, on the other side of the beach past the gates and Iíd probably encounter many people along the way. I decided to take the chance and risk it, hoping no one would really notice. I took a few nervous steps outside the locker room and back onto the beach. At first there was nobody around and I walked those few steps without hesitation. Slowly, I gained a bit more confidence and walked a bit faster towards my destination. I saw some of the other kids walking on the sidewalk in the distance, and I was tempted to go up to them and see if they recognized me, but I decided not to. They didnít need to find out and they probably wouldnít even know it was me unless I told them. I walked a bit further down the path and watched other people I didnít know, keeping my head down, nervously watching my feet on the pavement and trying to avoid tripping or stumbling around in the unfamiliar shoes.

I felt nervous and awkward walking on the pavement and I tried to remember some of what she had taught me during our meetings. She always had a uniquely graceful way of disappearing without vanishing but I could never quite figure out how she did it. I tried to mimic some of her movements, but it always seemed impossible. I tried walking sideways and backwards simultaneously, then moving in the other direction, all while not seeming to move. None of it worked until that day, when things slowly began to coalesce. I didnít really know what to do around at first, and I was still stumbling over my feet and making awkward backwards movements. I had another memory of the way she would move when we danced together on the island and thought of how sheíd step around with me, moving in near flawless rhythms, even in silence. I decided to take a different approach, alternating my feet and direction slowly, each step building on the last one. It took me awhile to get the hang of it, but once I found the rhythm and style, I began to feel the ground underneath me solidify and gravityís weight slowly lifting from my shoulders. I looked straight ahead and didnít have to watch my feet. This made walking easier and felt myself going forward on the sidewalk with more confidence. This was a great relief, and I felt the fear gradually subsiding replaced by a renewed energy. I was able to focus on the path ahead and moved through in a way not to draw attention I was a little hesitant but decided that I wasnít going to be afraid. After a few minutes, I effortlessly disappeared under the sun. It took awhile to get the hang of it, but I found a good, fast pace that allowed me to go in my own way and after some practice, I could felt the weight that was slowing me down gradually lifting from my steps. As I became more accustomed to this approach, I found able to slip through completely unnoticed.


Learning and using her strange techniques was strange, but it made me feel powerful. I was finally in control of my destiny and felt like I had some say in which direction thins were heading. I wasnít completely sure of this at first and needed some more practice. I put the technique to the test when a couple of older people walked by me. I walked right by them and they didnít seem to notice me at all. They might have glanced at me, but I they care at that point. Taking the clandestine approach felt almost like dancing, and it was successful. It gave me the confidence to move forward deeper under the sunlight towards more open sections of the beach. Iíd less room to hide out there but more room to explore. As I looked up towards the sky, I noticed the sun was getting a little lower in the horizon. I didnít have all day for this experiment so I decided to take a short-cut through the parking lot. I took a look around and saw some of the gaps between the vehicles. Making my way through them allowed me to conceal myself for a few moments, which gave me more reason not to worry. As I continued, my rhythm evolved with each step, becoming lighter. The heat didnít bother me as much and the soreness in my feet seemed to have subsided. The ground seemed to fall away and I had a sensation that I was almost invisible, floating over the sidewalks, leaving even my shadow unseen. By the time I emerged from the cluster of vehicles at the edge of the parking lot, I was no longer myself.

I was walking over the hot pavement unseen and unknown. It changed my perceptions in a way I didnít expect. As I moved around, I felt the pressures Iíd been carrying seemingly dissolve. I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath Ė I was finally free, even for a short time. This strange approach to things seemed to make sense. I had almost become a different person and this actually made me feel free. I was relieved of the normal expectations and could actually do what I wanted without expectations. This gave me a strange new energy that moved me forward and I felt rejuvenated when I finally reached the edge of the lot. I stood across the street and looked around, no one was following me, no one was watching. I was happy and I decided that it was time for me to have some fun like a normal kid. I ran across the street quickly, almost jumping onto the sidewalk and past the metal fences. Something Iíd been holding back from doing was waiting for me just around the corner. I walked around past the gardens and miniature golf course and finally arrived at driveway leading to the arcade. When I entered the door, I looked around nervously. Fortunately for me, it was much darker inside than on the beach and more importantly everyone seemed mostly focused on the machines, not the other players. I was also relieved to see that there was a different attendant on duty who I didnít know. I went up to the exchange booth and gave him the loose change and he handed me a bunch of tokens without much of a reaction. He didnít ask any questions, not even my name. I was a bit surprised by how easy it had been to that point. That part of my mission was successful, no one was suspicious. This let me concentrate on what I really wanted to do with my afternoon.

I looked over the machines spread around and it was hard to choose which one I wanted to play. I saw most of them in their familiar places but they felt different to me for some reason. I stood there and some of the motivations that had moved me in previous visits no longer seemed to matter. I was happy to be out of the sun, and away from the diving board. I was tired of competing with the other kids, and the macho postures got on my nerves. I was getting tired of swimming all the way out there, having to show off and then worrying about someone else upstaging me. Here, I could play and enjoy things just for myself, but on that day, things felt different for me. I looked over at the machine I had mastered only a few months earlier, it felt a bit stale, I had already covered that ground. I walked over to it anyway and checked to see if it still tempted me. It didnít seem to have the same pull and while I knew I could play it for a long time, I wanted something different. I looked at one of the older machines, which was still fun but its limited horizontal movement felt a little confining. A few rows over, there was another one I remembered, and while it was a challenging machine, I didnít want to feel like I was trapped in a maze where everyone was out to get me. I walked up and down some more and tried to decide on which machine to play. This wasnít as easy as it sounded and I had to think about it for a moment. I looked around and saw the other kids transfixed and not paying me much attention to me. Finally, I decided to try something simpler and enjoyable, where I didnít have to worry about the competition. One of the games that always caught my eye was a little bit older and less complicated but also a game that I was fairly good at playing.

I contemplated playing some of the other cabinets on the floor and for some reason, that one stood out from the crowd. It wasnít something Iíd really thought too much about when Iíd played it in the past, but it was a fun sequel that improved on the first game. It wasnít the most ground-breaking game but it meant something different to me that day. I liked playing it and its twists on the old formula made it fun to play and still challenging, at least once you got to the latter stages. After the earlier stages which were easy practice runs, it became more complicated. Making things harder, the foes moved faster and there was less time to fight back as the levels progressed. The world that bothered me seemed to evaporate as I played onward. As I played deeper into the game, I could almost feel the pressure slowly lifting from my back. I liked the challenge of finding its rhythms and secrets, and was getting good enough to make a run at my objective: to beat the high score, which was relatively low. I knew it wouldnít be a cakewalk. I needed to concentrate without distraction so I wouldnít waste my lives in the earlier stages. I tried not to play it safe and cleared a few of the earlier stages in quick succession. It was easy to avoid my opponents at first, since they clustered together early on. This made it easier to anticipate their moves and stay out of their way. Once I got past the fifth stage, things got interesting. The enemies would split apart from each other and I had to master the gameís timing and patterns in order to get a high score. It wasnít as easy as it seemed and I spent a few tokens before I got myself a good rhythm going. I practiced eating the blue ghosts quickly and partially memorized the various patterns on the early stages. This was relatively easy to do, and I hadnít realized what I was doing until Iíd played a few more rounds.

After a few games, I began to become proficient, gaining more skills with each round. I was getting better at the game and slowly climbed up towards the later stages, which further motivated me to keep going. With each play through, I was able to get further along until I began to rack up serious points. Unfortunately, this took a bit more practice than I expected and before I knew it, I was down to only a few tokens. I decided to make the last few chances count for something and really began to put my mind to things. This increased level of concentration helped me and I breezed through most of the earlier stages until I had reached the more complicated areas again. I kept pushing myself until I saw the number at the top of the screen surpass the previous high score Ė first by only a few hundred then quickly building towards several thousand points ahead. I kept pushing myself to go even further, but things became too frenetic even for me, and I quickly succumbed to their tricks. I was satisfied with my progress and thrilled that I had achieved that success despite my odd disposition. I took a moment to enjoy my triumph but was then presented with an interesting choice. I had the high score, but I didnít want anyone to really know who was there. I remembered that my goal was to have fun, not show off. I was only playing for myself, not to compete with other players. While I usually would have jumped at the chance to claim credit, I felt differently than I usually did. Instead of following my usual custom, I decided to type in someone elseís initials, not my own. It wasnít something Iíd ordinarily done, but it seemed to be the best way of keeping a low profile. Maybe, someone else would walk up to the machine and wonder who had set the record. They wouldnít know it was me and I was happy to keep it a secret and that was all I needed.

I stood in front of the machine and reveled in my triumph for a moment. I decided not to stay too long and took one last long look at the initials on the video screen before turning back. I looked around at the other machines and tried to figure out what the next challenge would be. It wasnít long however, before reality set it. I reached inside the bag and realized that I had only two tokens left out of the stack I had started with. That was enough to have some fun, but not enough to conquer another machine. I decided that Iíd accomplished enough for the day, and would save the remaining tokens for another day. There was still plenty of summer left go. I put them back in the bag, zipped it up and pulled it close to me. I felt a new energy and quickly walked back towards the front door, going past everyone quickly. Looking around, no one seemed to have noticed me. I turned around again to look around but I didnít recognize anyone. I headed towards the doorway and felt the heat of bearing down on me as I stepped back outside into the sun. It was still burning hot in the sky overhead, but it felt different. It wasnít nearly as oppressive as it had felt to me earlier. I didnít feel as confused and afraid. I had a renewed energy and purpose. I felt less afraid and the events I had been through gradually become clearer. I felt that everything Iíd been through was starting to form a bigger picture that I hadnít been able to see before that day.

Things were finally moving in the right direction, though it took some time to get the hang of being someone else. I had made some progress and figured out how to vanish, even though I knew it would only be for a short time. It was still more enough to keep me going. I looked past the street, over the expanse of vehicles and towards the tranquil ocean. I realized just how much my perception of everything had changed in just a few short hours. The outside world seemed to have expanded, allowing me to more freedom to explore and welcoming, like I had become someone else. I didnít feel completely distant from the world, but there was enough distance that let me see things in a different light. I wasnít worried about who was watching me or whether I was being followed. I could instead concentrate on finding things and exploring on my own. I still had a lot of questions, but I had figured out a new technique that allowed me to see things in a way I hadnít before. No one else seemed to be aware of this and I used it to my advantage, slowly moving back towards the ocean in a clandestine path, unseen and unbothered. I smelled the ocean air coming back over me as I moved back between the cars, but my return trip felt different. I walked with a new energy that made my worries evaporate with each step forward. I was no longer felt afraid of the crowds or hesitant to traverse the beach. I no longer felt like an awkward kid stumbling around without direction. As I walked towards the ocean, I felt a completely different sensation. I no longer felt like I had rocks in my pocket, my feet no longer weighed me down, dragging through the mud. Instead, I was gliding over the pavement unimpeded, as she taught me.

I was a shadow under the hot sun, moving unseen, like a phantom at
midnight.

- Michael Palisano