The reckoning of time always poses challenges for SimLit writers, especially those of us who tend towards game-driven stories. The feel of a day in the Sims 4 is quite realistic, with familiar patterns of preparing meals, cleaning up, garden and household tasks, work projects, hobbies, development of skills, socializing, and leisure–it all fits into a day. The one-to-one correspondence breaks down when it comes to seasons or what we might try to interpret as a year. A Sim may enter the first day of autumn a young adult and emerge from spring in their late thirties.
Enter the gap, which is how many SimLit writers account for this ellipsis in time. So, let’s say several years have passed, maybe five. In this time, Case and the NGO team completed the community planting project, and the ornamental and native trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, grasses, and ferns have become established. Case is hard at work on his new assignment, which is promoting and implementing sustainable energy sources in local businesses and residences. He’s been working so hard that, to him, it feels more like 10 days have passed than five years.
To celebrate the greening of the community, the board of directors for the garden center decide to host a Winterfest celebration, at the center, of course. Moira, the board president, coordinates the event. Case wants to go, of course, but he doesn’t want to have to worry about what to do while people are standing around talking, so he volunteers to cook the brunch and evening feast. He’s become a skilled chef in these past five years.
The best time is before people arrive, when he has the kitchen to himself, and he can plan the special touches–cranberries in the walnut bread, fresh sprigs of rosemary from the garden on the roast veggies, a drizzle of honey from his hives in the berry sauce.
But soon the center is full, and as people tend to do, they wander into the kitchen to see what the chef is up to. Maybe there’s a pretense of offers to help.
Case has it under control.
“I could make the tea,” Jesminder Bheeda offers.
“Sure,” Case replies. It’s easier than saying, no, you might be in the way when I need to take something out of the oven. Besides, it’s WinterFest. More the merrier.
“That smells so good,” Catrina says. “I admit, I was worried at first. Cranberries in the fruit salad? But I think it will be fine, right? I mean, you know what you’re doing.”
Case can’t really reply. He’s right in the middle of about five processes, and if he pauses to listen, process, and think of something appropriate to say back, he’ll forget the next step of the twelve queued up for completion.
But brunch turns out beautifully, and Case has the excuse of preparations for the evening meal to be able to eat his in the kitchen.
Aadhya washes the dishes, her own handy excuse to spend some time in the kitchen, where Case is, and after she dries and puts away the last Blue Willow plate, she turns to Case and says, “I’m supposed to decorate the tree, and I need some help.”
“Oh,” Case says. “I see. There are lots of people out there, so I’m sure that someone will help out.”
“Ah, well,” says Aadhya, “They are all playing board games or chess or cards or dancing.”
“OK,” Case says.
“No,” says Aadhya, “I mean, would you help me?”
“Oh, sure,” Case replies. “I would be happy to.”
Decorating a tree is a satisfying project. You can arrange the ornaments, just so, in patterns or lined up or seemingly strewn at random. Of course we know that there’s no such thing as random and that patterns will emerge regardless, but the skill, the art, lies in letting the patterns emerge organically, noticeable on a level that lies beyond our conscious awareness but is detectable, nonetheless.
If Aadhya says anything to Case while they work together, he doesn’t hear. He is fully in it.
“It’s a beautiful tree, Case and Aadhya,” Ira says when she and the others come to admire it.
Fortunately, there’s the supper feast to prepare, and this time, everyone is too occupied with the tree and the games and the carols and the pots of tea and coffee and the sweet rolls and plates of chocolate, cookies, and confection to wander into the kitchen.
But after the feast, after the last bubbles from the dishwashing soap have expelled their tiny bursts in the big stainless steel sink, after the pot of water for the evening tea has boiled and the tea has steeped, there truly is no excuse to remain in the kitchen.
Case finds refuge at the chess table.
But the thing about chess is that it’s a two-person game, and soon it’s Clement Frost, in his Father Winter get-up, who joins him.
“Well, I know you’ve been a good boy this year,” Clement says. “In fact, we all chipped in to get you something!”
It’s a fridge. Which runs on electricity. Which won’t be much use on Case’s off-the-grid lot. But, he can recycle it, and it’s sure to provide all sorts of components that can be reused in ways that would be practical for an off-the-grid home.
“Thanks!” Case says, and he means it.
Soon, everyone shifts seats again, and now Case is sitting across from the mom of that little girl who, way long ago, wished she might see butterflies here in this neighborhood, and the mom, being a nice mom, is talking with some other person’s little kid, who, like most kids, is being cute enough to bring a smile to everyone within his radius, but Knox, just outside his radius, looks sad, from remembering Geeta, and Ira and Aadhya, sitting at the same table with him, both try to cheer him up.
No one is trying to talk to Case just then, so he does what he loves best when he has to be in groups–he lets his focus diffuse and he floods his senses with the rhythm of chat, the carols on the stereo, the lingering scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, and rosemary, the flickering lights from the tree, and he can make sense of it in his own way, with the patterns overlapping to make a whole that creates meaning for him.
And then suddenly, he’s tired, from the full day and all of it, and the sound picks him up and carries him towards the door, out into the frosty night sky, and the walk through the town that he helped transform, back to his own cozy down sleeping bag, in his own tent, on the NGO’s off-grid lot.