He shuffles to the bathroom scale and steps onto it with the enthusiasm of a man mounting the gallows. He imagines metallic groans, the sound of springs straining to their limit, the creak of timbers about to crack. But how can this be? It's a high-tech scale, probably engineered by people whose native language is German and wear white laboratory gowns. It was a hint-hint present from his wife, Peaches. It tells you not only how much you weigh but also how much you weighed yesterday, and how many calories you can consume today in order to weigh less tomorrow. But all this is academic, for he cannot see the numbers, owing to the protuberance of his belly. Nor can he see his toes. Are they still there? He wriggles them. It feels as though they are, but that could be phantom limb syndrome, where you think you feel body parts no longer there. He cranes his head forward, as if trying to peek over the crest of a hill. Good news. The toes are there. But leaning forward on the scale shifts his weight, causing havoc in the scale's delicate high-tech sensors. His weight fluctuates like a stock price on a day of wild market volatility.
Finally, the number stabilizes. Cue auto fat shaming. Did you really eat an entire family size bag of Reese's peanut butter cups? After eating an entire supreme frozen pizza? You disgusting person. You pig.
"Family size," "supreme"—labeling of distinctly deceptive American coinage. The embedded falsehood in "family size" is that this rucksack-like bag will be shared with the family. "Supreme" meanwhile connotes excellence and mastery, as in the Supreme Being, the highest court in the land, Julia Child's signature chicken. Why shouldn't a pizza loaded with pepperoni, sausage, prosciutto, onion, black olives, anchovy, jalapeño, and mushroom take its rightful place in the Valhalla of Supremacy?
On the bathroom floor by the scale, he sees an empty plastic wrapper perforated with bite marks. This sad relic contained the urgently needed Pepto-Bismol chewable tablets. This, too, has become a daily ritual: the 3 a.m. ingestion of pink bismuth to calm the roiling gastric seas. How has it come to this? Can everything be blamed on the pandemic?
He descends the staircase in a bathrobe and slippers. The day's next defeat awaits him in the kitchen, but already he can feel the pounding rhythm—if it can be called that—of hip-hop booming from the Sonos speakers. SONOS. The name connotes a Greek deity, though he suspects it stands for "Sporadically Operating Network of Sound." Whenever he wants it to play Bach or James Taylor, it refuses to cooperate. When his stepchildren want it to play rap, it works. At the moment, it is bellowing at him:
"Oop, oop, we in da poop. Don' wanna be, don' lookit me, oop, oop..."
His stepson, Themistocles, has yet again neglected to turn his music off before tumbling into the arms of Morpheus. Themistocles is, yes, an unusual name for an American lad; as are Clytemnestra and Atalanta, as two of his sisters are called. Another sister is more prosaically named Polly. Peaches's first husband was Greek. On the arrival of their fourth child, Peaches finally put her foot down.
Now begins the ritual search for Them's iPhone, from which the hellish din is issuing to the eight or however many Sonos speakers. He decides that the name cannot be an acronym. Sonos was surely a god of the underworld who tormented mortals with eternal unrest.
There is no point in attempting to roust Them from his sleep to ask him where his iPhone is. Them is uniquely gifted. He cannot be awakened by human device. As a child, he slept through a 7.4 earthquake. An exchange of nuclear weapons would not disturb his slumber.
A concavity in the sofa cushions indicates with a high degree of probability that the iPhone might be wedged between them. It is. Success. But such swift victories as this are rare. One morning, it took him half an hour to locate it. Them had left it in the freezer while rooting for a midnight snack.
He silences the hip-hop. He knows Them's passcode, thank God. He briefly contemplates deleting his hip-hop playlist of 2,204 songs, but decides against it. Them can be very creative at payback. The last time he deleted one of his playlists, Them programmed his stepfather's iPhone to shriek "Allahu akbar!" Them dropped him off at the airport, waited ten minutes, then phoned him. Caused quite the sensation as he was going through the TSA line.
Blessed silence. His rattled tympanic membranes make out the early morning chitter of birds, larks of varied feather rising from sullen earth at break of day to sing hymns at heaven's gate.