Beneath her eyelids the caravan camels winked.
"Should I add a temple in Carthage?" she mumbled in her sleep.
"Huh?" Thaddeus, also asleep, responded. He rolled over and snuggled against Magda, the hanging questions dissipating in the blankets and the slumber.
That morning Magda made a strong Turkish coffee, black and sugary.
"I think perhaps the Babylonians will act up," she said to Thaddeus before biting into a burnt piece of toast. Thaddeus put down his newspaper, briefly.
"Babylonians? You mean like in Iraq?"
"Yeah, well, same place. I think I should send a diplomat to see what's up. Establish a trade route or something. We could use the silk."
"Oh. You're playing that game again." Thaddeus went back to his paper.
"Yeah, what'd you think I was talking about?"
"Current events. And I thought maybe you'd had some head injury while I was away." Thaddeus hadn't seen Magda for two weeks. His new job called him to places like Wilmington, Delaware and Chattanooga, Tennessee on a fairly regular basis.
"No head injuries," said Magda, taking quick sips of hot coffee. "Just world domination."
"So what should I do about the Babylonians?"
"I don't know, sweetie. I'm sorry I showed you that game in the first place." Thaddeus rustled his paper.
"Too bad I'm hooked." Magda poured herself more coffee and swigged it down, just stopping at the muddy bottom. She then stood and started to move toward the computer in the den.
"Oh no you won't," said Thaddeus, grabbing her wrist. "Its never just half an hour."
Magda grunted in reply, still staring blankly toward the den, through Thaddeus's large, pale forehead.
"Why, you're playing right now in your head, aren't you? You see the map in front of you. Does my face register as topography?"
"Yeah, your nose is that useless volcano. Can't mine a single metal out of it. Bah." Magda, still not looking at her boyfriend, got up and moved away from the table toward the den. Thaddeus rose and took her gently by the shoulders.
"Sweetie, I love you. Go to work."
Magda stopped, looked at him, and pecked him on the nose. They left the house together.
When Thaddeus got home at six, she was already leaning over the desk, almost nose-to-screen.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," came flatly, robotically out of her mouth, no head turn, not even a pivot or shift in her seating.
"Baby doll. Tootise pie. I'm home. You wanna give me a kiss?"
"I'm fine." Magda slid the mouse over the pad, simultaneously finishing the road between Persepolis and Constantinople and sending the last Celtic city to oblivion. Thaddeus sighed and shook his head, went into the kitchen to prepare dinner.
Over chicken curry and cheap red wine, he told Magda about his next business trip.
"So they're sending me out to Vegas for a few days. Should be a nice change."
If I send a spy to Paris I can obtain the knowledge of Iron-making, thought Magda.
"I'll bring you back something."
Then I can build a phalanx and keep the barbarians at bay.
"All right," said Magda.
"I'll bring you back a three-headed woman and a raging case of crabs."
"Sounds fabulous, dear."
Thaddeus let out another deep sigh, cleared the plates and went out to wait for his cab.
The next morning, Magda called in sick.
"Bust be a 24-hour bug," she told her boss while pinching her nose. She worked for the marketing manager of the paper clip factory. She focused on medium-sized paper clips and had been writing copy for the company catalogue for six years. The manager grunted a feel better and she hung up.
Magda went back to her game. She had about 1,000 years left on it. After all, they couldn't very well grant you eternity to achieve your objectives. There were limits.
When Thaddeus returned three days later, he found Magda in her bathrobe, hunched over the computer. He bent down to give her a kiss on the top of her head, which gave her a slight start. She turned around and was surprised at how stiff she felt. Thaddeus couldn't help but wrinkle his nose. She needed a shower.
"Hi," she said, her voice cracking. It hurt to look at him, her eyes aching from screen-radiation.
"Hi sweetie," he said gently, as if she were waking up from some horrible surgery. "Did you go to work today?"
"Um, no, I felt a little ill." She let out a faint cough.
"Did you spend the day playing?"
"Not the whole day."
"Magda, I think we should delete that game."
"Why? I mean, its no big deal. It's just a stupid game."
"You don't have a life. All you do is play."
"Frankly, I'm sick of it, whether you are, or not."
Magda turned slightly. Her legion in Sumer was blinking. It wanted to go to Beijing. She was amassing troops for her eastward conquest.
"Magda, look at me."
"Yeah. I'm here." She turned back to him, fully.
"You're a grown woman. You have a job and a live-in boyfriend who loves you. But…maybe not for long. That game has taken over your life. What do you want to do about it?"
Win the game. Take over the world.
"I, uh, I love you Thaddeus?" She wrinkled her forehead, looking up at him as her hand struggled not to move toward the mouse. If she could just click the button. Her hand-mouse coordination had increased significantly. She could probably send off the legion without looking at the screen. She reached back and clicked.
"My god, you just can't do it. You can't control yourself." Magda let her hand fall limp. "All right. That's it then. If you don't delete the game, I'm leaving."
Magda looked into Thaddeus's gray eyes. He'd always had an Imperial quality about him. Like Napoleon. But taller.
She looked into his eyes. They sparkled in hopeful response. There was that old connection that spark of life, that wordless conversation between them. Thaddeus breathed a sigh of relief. He held out his hand. He would cook her dinner and when she got into the shower he would erase the computer. Better yet, he'd dump the whole thing in the trash and buy her a nice word processor.
A small smile crept on Magda's face.
"I love you, Thadd," she said.
Thaddeus smiled back at her, his outstretched hand waiting. But Magda turned around. She obliterated Samarkand and sent the legion to Beijing.
About the author:
Anca L. Szilágyi was born and raised in Brooklyn, where she lives today. Her work has appeared in Hotel, Montage, Scrivener Creative Review, Fire With Water, Stationaery, Southern Ocean Review (New Zealand) and on Tangmonkey.com. She has a BA in English literature and archaeology from McGill University and currently teaches English as a Second Language.