It’s like forever later, but you win all the way to the Showcase Round.
There, it’s just you and the old granny wearing the sweatshirt from before, just somebody’s regular grandma, but she’s lived through world wars and nuclear bombs, probably she saw all the Kennedys get shot and Abraham Lincoln, and now she’s bobbing up and down on her tennis-shoe toes, clapping her granny hands and crowded by supermodels and flashing lights while the big voice makes her the promise of a sports utility vehicle, a wide-screen television, a floor-length fur coat.
And probably it’s the acid, but it’s like nothing seems to add up.
It’s like, if you live a boring-enough life, knowing the price of Rice-A-Roni and hot dog wieners, your big reward is you get to live for a week in some hotel in London? You get to ride on some airplane to Rome. Rome, like, in Italy. You fill your head full of enough ordinary junk, and your pay-off is giant supermodels giving you a snowmobile?
If this game show wants to see how smart you really are, they need to ask you how many calories in a regular onion–cheddar cheese bagel. Go ahead, ask you the price of your cell phone minutes any hour of the day. Ask you about the cost of a ticket for going thirty miles over the speed limit. Ask the round-trip fare to Cabo for spring break. Down to the penny, you can tell them the price of decent seats for the Panic at the Disco reunion tour.
They should ask you the price of a Long Island iced tea. The price of Marcia Sanders’s abortion. Ask about your expensive herpes medication you have to take but don’t want your folks to know you need. Ask the price of your History of European Art textbook, which cost three hundred bucks—fuck you very much.
Ask what that stamp of Hello Kitty set you back.
The sweatshirt granny bids some regular amount of money for her showcase. Just like always, the numbers of her bid appear in tiny lights, glowing on the front of her contestant desk where she stands.
Here, all the Zeta Delts are yelling. Your phone keeps ringing and ringing.
For your showcase, a supermodel rolls out five hundred pounds of raw beefsteak. The steaks fit inside a barbecue. The barbecue fits onboard a speed boat that fits inside a trailer for towing it that fits a massive fifth-wheel pickup truck that fits inside the garage of a brand-new house in Austin. Austin, like, in Texas.
Meantime, all the Zeta Delts stand up. They get to their feet and step up on their audience seats cheering and waving, not chanting your name, but chanting, “Zeta Delt!” Chanting, “Zeta Delt!” Chanting, “Zeta Delt!” loud enough so it records for the broadcast.
It’s probably the acid, but—you’re battling some old nobody you’ve never met, fighting over shit you don’t even want.
Probably it’s the acid, but—right here and now—fuck declaring a business major. Fuck General Principles of Accounting 301.
Stuck partway down your throat, something makes you gag.
And on purpose, by accident, you bid a million, trillion, gah-zillion dollars—and ninety-nine cents.
And everything shuts down to quiet. Maybe just the little clicking sounds of all those Las Vegas lights blinking on and off, on and off. On and off.
It’s like forever later when the game show host gets up too close, standing at your elbow, and he hisses, “You can’t do that.” The host hisses, “You have to play this game to win…”
Up close, his host face looks cracked into a million-billion jagged fragments only glued back together with pink makeup. Like Humpty Dumpty or a jigsaw puzzle. His wrinkles, like the battle scars of playing his same TV game since forever started. All his gray hairs, always combed in the same direction.
The big voice asks—that big, deep voice booming out of nowhere, the voice of some gigantic giant man you can’t see—he demands, can you please repeat your bid?
And maybe you don’t know what you want out of your life, but you know it’s not a grandfather clock.
A million, trillion…you say. A number too big to fit on the front of your contestant desk. More zeroes than all the bright lights in the game show world. And probably it’s the Hello Kitty, but tears slop out both your eyes, and you’re crying because for the first time since you were a little kid you don’t know what comes next, tears wrecking the front of your red T-shirt, turning the red parts black so the Greek Omega deals don’t make any sense.
The voice of one Zeta Delt, alone in all that big, quiet audience, he yells, “You suck!”
On the little screen of your phone, a text message says, “Asshole!”
The text? It’s from your mom.
The sweatshirt grandma, she’s crying because she won. You’re sobbing because—you don’t know why.
It turns out the granny wins the snowmobiles and the fur coat. She wins the speedboat and the beefsteaks. The table and chairs and sofa. All the prizes of both the showcases, because your bid was way, way too high. She’s jumping around, her bright-white false teeth throwing smiles in every direction. The game show host gets everybody started clapping their hands, except the Zeta Delts don’t. The family of the old granny climbs up onstage—all the kids and grandkids and great-grandkids of hers—and they wander over to touch the shiny sports utility vehicle, touch the supermodels. The granny plants red lipstick kisses all over the fractured pink face of the game show host. She’s saying, “Thank you.” Saying, “Thank you.” Saying, “Thank you,” right up to when her granny eyes roll up backward inside her head, and her hand grabs at the sweatshirt where it covers her heart.
Diana Wynne Jones
Recorded on BSQ SpeekEasi Series 2/89887BQ and discovered in a skip in London’s Regent Street
December 25, 2233
TIRED TODAY AND HAVING a lazy time. Got back late from Paris last night from Mother’s party. My sister is pregnant and couldn’t go (besides, she lives in Sweden) and Mother insisted that one of her daughters was there to meet our latest stepfather. Not that I did meet him particularly. Mother kept introducing me to a load of men and telling me how rich each of them was: I think she’s trying to start me on her own career, which is, basically, marrying for money. Thanks, Mother, but I earn quite enough on the catwalk to be happy as I am. Besides, I’m having a rest from men since I split up with Liam. The gems of Mother’s collection were a French philosopher, who followed me around saying “La vide cc n’est pas le nknt,” (clever French nonsense meaning “The void is not nothing,” I think), a cross-eyed Colombian film director who kept trying to drape himself over me, and a weird millionaire from goodness knows where with diamante teeth. But there were others. I was wearing my new Stiltskins, which caused me to tower over them. A mistake. They always knew where I was. In the end I got tired of being stalked and left. I just caught the midnight bullet train to London, which did not live up to its name. It was late and crowded out and I had to stand all the way.