The mid-morning news is on. It’s the kind of news program where anchors cluster wide-eyed around brand-new recipes being prepared live on TV while a chef explains about healthy fats. During the commercial break, an advertisement for the Nintendo Wii comes on. In this particular advertisement it is being positioned as a fitness product. Sonic The Hedgehog watches the advertisement without really seeing it. The great, glassy orbits of his cartoon eyes glaze softly.
“Should I change the channel,” says Tails. His tails are twined together anxiously. Sonic the Hedgehog doesn’t answer. His feet are up on the coffee table and the long toes of his socks bow softly toward one another.
“Sonic,” says Tails, his gloved hand already ready for the remote.
“Leave it,” says Sonic The Hedgehog without particular alacrity or violence. The Nintendo Wii advertisement shows a well-lit living room with modern design. Happy, fit young people are pantomiming tennis rackets at the television. In the advertisement the characters on the players’ television screens also look happy, their movements in sync with the people’s.
The morning news program returns. Two women sitting informally on a couch are ready to discuss Spring fashions. Something in Sonic The Hedgehog’s eyes shifts passively. Tails has known Sonic The Hedgehog since 1992; a faded poster of the two of them signed by both Hirokazu Yasuhara and Yuji Naka is in a frame that leans against the wall of Sonic The Hedgehog’s spare bedroom. Tails has known Sonic The Hedgehog long enough to know that Sonic The Hedgehog is disinterested in Spring fashions but having just said “leave it” is now too proud to change the channel.
Tails changes the channel. Neither of them says anything. It is 11 AM and a program where people from Middle America enter a television courtroom to hash out embarrassing problems before a stern but compassionate judge is on. Sonic The Hedgehog does not appear to be engaged, but Tails knows it is preferable to primetime, when Sonic The Hedgehog would have been privy to a number of advertisements for Microsoft Kinect that show people running in place, very fast, in front of their TVs as a method of playing a video game.
Sonic the Hedgehog owns twelve pairs of long-toed red running sneakers, each in a different state of wear. The first pair is worn pale, the white stripe grayed and the sole nearly run through. The heel is lava-burnt from an incident that occurred briefly in Marble Zone. That was before Tails had met Sonic The Hedgehog, who had discovered him on accident when contracting a pilot. There is one pair that appears brand-new, optimally-soled, that Sonic The Hedgehog will consent to wear to the occasional publicity engagement if a provision to his satisfaction is made in his contract.
“Do you want to go for a plane ride,” Tails says in a fashion that is hopeful but endeavors not to sound too eager. Tails knows that his role as terminal optimist in the partnership chafes Sonic The Hedgehog these days. Sonic The Hedgehog has had reason to become cynical over the years. Sonic’s calendar, which is pinned to the peeling paint in the apartment’s small kitchen, is dotted with scheduled appearances, most of which involve Mario.
When Sonic The Hedgehog was young he discussed Mario often, in the fashion of a colleague. He had thrived on competition in those days, being a runner. Later it was with the aggression with which one generally confronts a rival. In those days Sonic The Hedgehog would become restless if he were made to stand in the same place for even a minute. He would tap his foot. Tails remembered that he looked angry. The first television show they had done together had been fun and they had gotten to hang out with ‘Steve Urkel.’ The second television show had been darker.
Sonic The Hedgehog frequently blamed the producers for that. Once in a while Sonic The Hedgehog will allude to that television show without provocation, murmuring something vague like “Bunnie Rabbot was always late” or talking about how the special effects team constantly botched the robot animals. At those times Tails found it best to let him discuss, because the problem in those days had always been Mario.
When in recent years Sonic The Hedgehog and Mario began to do co-appearances Tails privately hoped there would be a “comeback,” but if there was one rule to be observed when spending time with Sonic The Hedgehog it was never to say “comeback” because no one dared say that word to him. Not ever. The only word more verboten in discussions with Sonic The Hedgehog is “Dreamcast.”
“Not really,” Sonic The Hedgehog tells Tails finally, about the plane ride. On television a man is complaining that someone promised to repair his truck and then later reneged. The judge is reminding the petitioners always to have a promissory note when making business arrangements. Tails notices that Sonic The Hedgehog isn’t actually watching the program, but is eyeing the newspaper that Tails had helpfully picked up out of the hallway and put onto the coffee table. Sonic The Hedgehog still reads newspapers even though he has a perfectly excellent iPhone 3GS that was given to him as part of a Super Monkey Ball promotional effort and Sonic The Hedgehog must be conscious, somehow, that many people use their mobile devices, tablets or laptop computers to keep apprised of world events.
The headline on the newspaper at which Sonic The Hedgehog has angled his gaze reads ‘Nintendo 3DS Garners Most Console Preorders Ever On Amazon UK.’ The dark coins of his eyes have drawn a little smaller. In the background the television judge has lost her temper at one of the complainants, and the next case is beginning.
“Did you pre-order a 3DS?” Sonic The Hedgehog asks Tails in a tone that it is impossible for Tails to read, even having known Sonic for some twenty years and having carried him, clutching hands, over innumerable chasms.
Tails doesn’t know what to say. Sonic is staring unseeing at the television set. A tall man admits to the judge that he slept with the plaintiff’s wife, but claims the plaintiff stole his Xbox 360 and three games. Tails wants to pretend he didn’t hear what Sonic The Hedgehog said but ignoring is a technique that only works for Sonic the Hedgehog.
“Did you, Miles?” Sonic’s tone softens just enough that a gentling can be perceived. Sonic almost never calls Tails “Miles.” Tails’ mother, who passed in 2003, was the only other person who called him “Miles.”
“Yeah,” Tails admits. Tails experiences the sensation that he has slipped off-screen, or suddenly run out of air. The only thing that has ever really frightened Tails is the idea of letting Sonic The Hedgehog down.
“Me too,” says Sonic The Hedgehog. The once-limitless line of Sonic The Hedgehog’s mouth curls slightly as if in echo of a smile. Tails smiles. The television case is dismissed.
“Do you want me to make us some chili dogs,” says Tails, and this time he cannot keep from sounding hopeful. “There is a can of Hormel in the cabinet I think.”
“You know I don’t actually like the damn things,” says Sonic The Hedgehog. But he is still smiling. He says, “Why not. Go for it.”