Scrabble by Mary Mae Lewis
In a sombre mood, the British pensioner stoked the log-burner with a makeshift rod of iron, and held his other hand to his forehead in contemplation; his wife looked on in ominous silence from the sofa. They had run out of fire-lighters and the wood was damp; it took fifteen miserable minutes of prodding to get a bit of heat going but, that done, the gentleman sat down next to his wife, ready for a game of Scrabble.
“Take a tile, Joe.” The silver-haired woman said as she held out the cloth bag containing the Scrabble letters, and shook it impatiently. “I’ve got an ‘A’; you can’t beat that, but if you get an ‘A’ too, we’ll have to draw again.”
“I won’t bother, Aida love. You go first.” The man adored his spouse.
She took her quota, pulled her shawl tightly around her shoulders and after complaining she was going to miss Strictly Come Dancing, contemplated her first move.
The old chap checked the fire, and smiled in relief as the blaze roared up the chimney; he then picked out, and methodically ordered his letters.
Aida, savouring the aroma of the burning almond wood, glanced at the flames as they brought back so many memories. Their courting days flashed through her mind. Forty years ago, seemed like only yesterday. Her heart fluttered; the good feeling spread from her chest to the tips of her toes until she played the first word: DEVIL. “Yes, it’s a devil we won’t be able to Skype the boys tonight,” she said, sighing. The man reached out and patted his wife’s hand.
“Damn nuisance I know, but it’ll be sorted tomorrow. We haven’t ever known Southern Spain to be this cold, have we? All the heavy snow in the Alpujarra Mountains, that’s the cause of the Internet trouble. You’ll see – tomorrow it’ll be fixed…”
“Tomorrow, tomorrow. It’s always tomorrow, isn’t it? Why can’t anything ever happen today?” In a huff, Aida got up and went to the kitchen.
“You’re not getting another drink, are you?” Joe was concerned his wife was overdoing the alcohol.
Returning with a large G&T, Aida said impatiently, “You haven’t been yet!” and, deciding to plump up a cushion, plonked herself down on the sofa again.
“Oh, give me a minute, will you, love?”
“A minute, a minute. You’ve had five of those already!”
“Okay… there you are: ‘QUITS’,” Joe said, triumphantly racking up thirty-three points because his ‘Q’ was on a triple score.
“Well, what about that then!” Aida replied scornfully, as she added the word ‘LOVES’.
As Joe played ‘EVIL’, Aida followed with ‘BOTHER’ – Joe with ‘RAGE’.
“Okay, I have ‘HATE’”, snapped Aida as she slapped the letters on the board, and then took another sip of her Gin.
Joe took the glass from her hand, placing it out of her reach on the mantlepiece.
“Aida, love, are you trying to tell me something?” Joe asked, knowing the answer would not be very nice.
“Mmm… yes, you could say that,” Aida said, jumping up and staring at the Scrabble board.
“I was thinking we should ‘QUIT’. Life’s a ‘DEVIL’, pure ‘EVIL’ - such a ‘BOTHER’. I ‘HATE’ it here and… nobody ‘LOVES’ me!”
“Aida, sweetheart….” Joe stood and faced his wife, who, reclaiming her drink, took another swig.
“Joe, let’s face it. We are burnt out you and me.” Swinging her glass from side to side she went on. “We are over. Our marriage is dying, just like this fire!” Aida held up her glass. “Cheers to the end,” she shouted.
“Aida, this is the drink talking, it’s not how you really feel. Please don’t drink so much, love.”
“I like to drink. I don’t want to see my miserable world through sober eyes. Well, what do you say about a divorce, then?”
“Now Aida, I am not going down that road at my age, not after forty years of wedded bliss - NO.”
“Well, I just might go it alone. I’m young enough to find love again…”
“No, you don’t mean it. I know you don’t.”
“I do, but let’s toss a coin anyway. Tails we split, Heads we don’t.” Aida fished out a Euro coin from her purse and handed it to Joe. “You toss.”
“Tails!” Joe called out in disbelief as he revealed the coin on the back of his hand.
“There you are, Fate has decreed; we part. Now… let’s make plans.”
“Hang on a minute, I am not having that. It’s got to be the best of three.”
Aida watched as the coin landed on Tails twice more.
“There, the Gods have spoken yet again!” Aida finished the Gin with a flourish and walked towards the kitchen, ready for her next, but Joe barred her way; taking the glass from her hand.
“Typical, bloody typical.” Aida yelled. “Won’t let me do what I want! Have I to obey the master now? Damnation man, who do you think you are?” she screamed as Joe led her back to the living-room. “I really hate you!”
Joe’s infinite patience finally snapped; he threw the glass and watched it bounce across the back of the black leather settee, rebound onto the ceramic tiled floor then smash into a hundred pieces by the hearth.
“We are carrying on with the game,” Joe said as he sat his wife down on the sofa, and moved to the chair opposite. “It’s your turn.”
Aida focused on the fire. “It’s sparked up… all of its own accord.” She forced a smile, before playing the word ‘LOVE’. “It’s been a long time since we did any of that, Joe,” Aida spoke like she had in her youth. "That’s life, I suppose. It comes and goes… just like this fire.”
“Reckon it does, love,” Joe answered, moving over to the settee again. Putting his arm around his hot-tempered wife he said, “Like a fire, you just have to stoke it up sometimes.” He lopped another log on. “Come on, Aida, let’s just go to bed now. You get up those stairs while I clear the glass and make sure the fire’s banked up enough. I’ll join you before you’ve even got your nightie on.”
Aida giggled and hurried up the stairs. “I’m so sorry, Joe, darling,” she shouted down from the galleried landing.
“I’m sorry too, love, but, hey, tomorrow’s another day!”
“Yes, it certainly is and, just look at the time… it’s tomorrow already! Love conquers all in the end, eh?”
Aida undressed slowly, showered, put on her fleecy nightie then snuggled up under the feather duvet and cried to herself silently. Joe was a sincere man and had provided them both with a good life. They had three children, a house in a leafy part of England and, for the past ten years, they had also enjoyed part of each year in a traditional Spanish village house; their very own holiday home.
Aida, pressed her hands together and prayed. Dear God, please make me more grateful and accepting. Above all, please stop me drinking so much. I must count my blessings. Aida was repeating her prayer, when Joe got into bed with her.
“I do love you, my Aida, with all my heart,” he drew her close and they kissed.
Aida woke first at dawn feeling like a new woman; the events of the previous night had weighed on her mind and she was determined to stop drinking and be happy. “I’ll make the tea and then a fry up for breakfast!” She pecked her half-asleep husband on the cheek. “I love you so much, Joe.”
“Great. A new era then for me and my lovely wife?” He turned over, smiling.
“Yes, I promise. And… Joe, I’ll stop drinking. I really will.” And, she meant it.