Arnold liked routine. His working day followed a familiar pattern beginning with two medium-sized soft boiled eggs consumed with brown bread soldiers, each one cut with military precision to the same size and shape. Next came his thirty-three minute walk to work, for an 8:45am start, where he conducted his daily administrative duties with an efficiency that made his co-workers seethe with jealousy. He paused from these duties at 12:30pm to consume his regular ham and cheese sandwiches (the cheese was a mild cheddar – number 3 according to the supermarket classification. He had once dared to opt for a slightly more mature variety, the number 4, but quickly regretted this dalliance and returned to the comfort of the number 3 with haste) before continuing with his duties until 4.45pm when he re-traced his morning commute, adding an additional seven minutes to purchase a microwaveable evening meal from the mini-market near his flat. Upon his return home he would consume said meal at 5.45pm, washing it down with a glass of weak lemon squash and would then spend the evening ensconced in a video game of his choice. This Monday to Friday regime was nirvana to Arnold. The only issue that periodically threatened this state of bliss were the occasions when a well-meaning but misguided colleague elected to invite Arnold out with the rest of the team for a few post-work drinks on a Friday. Arnold would patiently explain that he didn’t like drinking and if that didn’t work he would further explain that he didn’t much care for people either. That usually worked.
Weekends were a touch more problematic.
Arnold would gladly have spent the entirety of Saturday and Sunday playing video games, occasionally punctuated by trips to purchase more microwaveable meals. There had been a time when he might have ventured into town to purchase a new game, but online shopping had long since rendered that unnecessary.
Unfortunately Arnold was not permitted to keep his family at quite the same distance as his colleagues. For whatever reason (and it was a mystery to Arnold) his parents and sister demanded that he spend time in their company.
None of them had the slightest interest in video games and he had not the slightest interest in any of their hobbies. Indeed he had so little interest as to be largely unaware of what any of their hobbies were.
He was vaguely aware that his father liked sports of some kind. Ones involving teams of men and balls mostly. In his youth there had been an attempt of sorts to encourage Arnold to take an interest in both playing and watching these sports but his total antipathy had finally been accepted.
No there was very little common ground between Arnold and his family. He supposed, if he thought about it, he did quite like them. He was glad they existed. He just didn’t really see the need to actually spend any time with them.
Yet there was this insistence that he join them for a meal every weekend. Even more annoying, the time and day of that meal was subject to change. Sometimes it was lunch, sometimes tea, sometimes Saturday, other times Sunday. Sometimes it would be hosted by his parents, at other times by his sister and more recently by his sister and that other person that seemed to now live with his sister, whoever he was. There were even times when Arnold was expected to go and eat with them in a restaurant.
It was intolerable really.
But one Saturday things got immeasurably worse. He was sitting in his kitchen staring hard at his mobile phone, as he tended to do when awaiting the inevitable message from his mum, which would let him know his fate for that weekend, when there was a knock at his door.
Arnold was not accustomed to visitors and it took a second knock for him to realise that the person on the other side of the door expected him to answer.
With a sense of trepidation and extreme irritation at his routine being so flagrantly disregarded by the knocker, he made his way to the offending entrance and opened the door.
Stood there was a man who he had met multiple times. Nonetheless it would be a stretch to suggest he actually knew the man. Yes they had sat at the same dinner table for many a weekend now, but the man was his sister’s friend. Arnold had no reason to bother with him.
“Hi Arnold,” said the man, “how are you?”
“I’m ok,” replied Arnold with suspicion.
“Er, I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here?”
Arnold nodded his confirmation of that theory.
“Well, it’s just, what with me marrying your sister next June, I thought it might be nice if we got to know each other a bit better.”
Arnold took a deep breath. He could see it was going to take him some time to explain to the man why getting to know each other would not be ‘nice’ at all.
Then he noticed what the man was holding.
“Is that Bonecrusher 3,” he asked.
“Yes,” replied the man, “it’s just come out. Your sister said you might be up for playing a few levels with me.”
It was unorthodox to be sure. Arnold much preferred gaming alone. But pay day was still several weeks away and there was no way he was going to get a copy of Bonecrusher 3 before then.
“You’d better come in,” said Arnold.