I once won a Gameboy at the grand-opening raffle of a Walmart. I’d been gunning for the new TV because mine had been busted for months, and I had to tell the girls at work to shut up at the lunch table so they wouldn’t spoil the evening soap operas for me. I brought the Gameboy over to Jess’s house, where I’d crash half the time because he’d make us frozen pizzas and let me watch his TV and sometimes hold my hand (but never kiss me). We were sort of best friends, sort of something else.
I had figured out how to play Tetris (though I wasn’t very good), but Kirby’s Dreamland left me tense. I’d jerk back and forth as though my body movements controlled the fat little cloud on the screen. Jess had to beat the levels for me to move on. He made it look so easy. I loved watching him, his fingers dancing, eyes darting. He’d try to explain what he was doing, show me which buttons to press in which order. You’re terrible, he’d say, smiling after I died—again. I know, I’d say back. I’m the worst.
The next time I come over, there is a wrapped package on the coffee table. It isn’t my birthday. The paper is glittery Christmas trees even though it’s mid-June. I’m here to steal his air conditioning because mine’s out again.
Go on, open it, he says. I tear at the tape, unveiling a heavily packaged plastic box of some sort. What is it? I ask. The label says Game Genie. It’s to help you win at the games. When I’m not there. Here, let me show you. I hand it over, and he takes his pocket knife out to free the Genie from its cage. You stick it in here, put in a code, and ta-da! What do you want? Infinite time? More vitality bars? He’s flipping through a little book, punching numbers into the game console. Isn’t that like cheating? I ask. I guess. That’s why they call them ‘cheat codes’. But it’s just for fun. I lean closer to watch what he’s doing. I’m so close we could kiss, but we don’t. Instead he says: I’m moving. Back home. My mom keeps getting sicker. And…I’ve been talking to Mara again. Mara, his ex-girlfriend. Okay, I say. I have no other words, so he fills the silence with It might not work. Nothing is set in stone. And I’ll only be three hours away.
I feel silly, sitting there with him like we are something. I stand up. He hands me the Gameboy and for a second, our fingers touch and I know he wants me to look at him, but I can’t. I put the Gameboy and its Genie in my purse and leave before telling Jess this stupid thing I’d been thinking a few minutes ago: I want this thing to be a real genie, emerging in a puff of sweet-smelling smoke. I want three wishes. One, I want infinite time with you, two, infinite lives with you. And three, I want to be able to see the final sequence without having to play the damn game over and over until my fingers are raw: the tinkling music, the Russian dancers, the rocket blasting off, the win with a single line.