The heavens let down their tears, almost as if in foretelling of what is to come.
From where she sits on her side of the couch, watching water-droplets race each other to the bottom of the window, it has a calming effect - almost like therapy. Somehow she looks at the rain and feels less alone, so sure that there must be another soul somewhere else in the world looking out at the rain too. The weather is a shared experience just like this global lock-down. She ponders if the heavens weep for the world or for her specifically. No matter the reason, she finds it a fitting setting to rev up this story.
She breaks her trance to look at his dimple when he laughs at whatever he is watching and wonders when it lost its charm on her. It wasn’t the most attractive thing about him, no - back then it was his composure and wit and ability to quote verbatim from a movie or a book. Yes, all three were in a tie. He always remembered the cheesiest lines. But the dimple was a bonus and no one turns down bonuses.
They have been home for three full days and at first she thought it was a blessing in disguise, they would get the time to reignite that spark they had somehow managed to misplace. Maybe have breakfast together for the first time in years without him claiming he had an early morning meeting. Or a movie marathon straight into the next morning without her saying she was too tired. But they have been home three days and barely said a word to each other. Even her attempt at a candle-lit dinner last night was a sham. All communication was done through texting, it was the only way to get his attention. Did he think it was romantic, texting her ‘good morning’ while she lay awake and he was brushing his teeth? There were times when their friends had to pry them away from each other, conversation was that easy then - endless, intoxicating, invigorating.
He runs through the channels again. Watching TV with him is no longer a joy. He barely pays attention to what he is watching when he has his phone in hand and he throws a fit when she tries to change to something she actually wants to watch. There isn’t much to hold her attention anymore; the children are all out of the house, meals for two don’t take forever to create especially with their dwindling appetites, her closest friends are miles away and involved in their own lives and she grew out of most of her youthful interests. He is the one that is meant to last forever. Till death.
She goes back to rain-watching. Maybe she’ll make this a hobby and write deep meaningful articles on the serenity of the rain.
Lightning cracks the sky open and the sky groans out a thunder. There is a storm up ahead.
She looks away from the window to take in the sight of the home that is now her prison. The scrabble game box, rotting from non-use on the shelf but lined up next to his overly used video games, catches her eye. She smiles when she remembers the first time he suggested he beat her in a game. Yes, arrogant and cocky as he was, that’s how he phrased it, ‘Want to get beat in Scrabble?’
The last time they had had a good and proper Scrabble game was about two decades ago, when she was pregnant with their second child. When she failed to get any sleep, he always suggested a relaxing game was the way to go. Their games were never calm…it was cutthroat competition and she loved every moment of it. There were insults thrown in jest, words were made up to claim points and it is no wonder that their daughter is a wordsmith. Oh how the time flies!
But she finds herself ensnared by the thought of a game and can’t shake it. Maybe it will be a nice way to get conversation running again, at the very least remind him of how great they were together and what fun they can cook up on their own. She nudges him and asks if he wants to play. He grunts in reply. She sends him a text. Scrabble…want to get beat? She knows he has read it when he shifts uncomfortably in his seat.
He hesitates longer before agreeing to the game than she would have thought, can’t stand to be away from his phone. How and when did online relations become more important than her? She takes out the box and lays everything on the table. They take up their places, opposite each other. They draw their letters.
The rain picks up its rhythm, falling faster and harder.
‘You know they have the Scorekeeper for Scrabble app,’ he says as he types into his phone.
‘I’d much rather we do this the old fashioned way, pen and paper…no digital distraction.’ He gives her a look and she can scarce decipher what it means. There were days when she could guess his every thought, have a conversation without ever saying a word, knew what he needed better than himself, because they were that in sync. How low they have fallen.
She goes first.
How proper, she thinks to herself, that all effort to salvage anything must rely on her willingness to go first.
She plays the word INQUIRE with the q on the double letter to rake up a massive 102 points and beams so wide, extremely pleased with her achievement.
He lets out a whistle, ‘What a lucky draw of letters!’
She knows that it is a lucky draw of letters but coming from him, it doesn’t sound right. ‘Why must all your compliments be so back handed of recent?’ she inquires as she picks up another set of tiles. ‘Why can’t you just say that was smart and I’m brilliant. Would it kill you to give me a little praise?’ Or attention she wants to add but it all already sounds too desperate. She regrets the words as soon as they are out. She didn’t want to fall apart at the start of the game.
‘They are not backhanded.’ he says as he studies his letters, ‘They are just honest.’ To make his point, he plays HONESTY. Of course he just happened to have those exact letters with him! And she knows that its just a word from the letters he had but she still takes offense. It doesn’t fetch him as many points as those letters could and he knows it too. So it must be meant to provoke her. Even the timing of it, right after his comment, is just off.
‘Oh you are one to talk. When was the last time you were fully honest with me or yourself?’ She places her tiles to spell out the word CHEATS. Right on top of his word. Forget the points, this is a game to clear the air. He sputters and she gets a little joy from seeing him choke on his dishonesty.
‘Why would you play something like that?’
‘It’s just a word, sweetheart, calm down.’ So, she is not the only one reading into the jabs from this game.
‘I know it is, but there is a flow to this game and conversation. If you are insinuating that I have…because I’ve never…I couldn’t possibly…why would you play such a word?’
‘It’s your turn. Don’t turn this into a big deal.’
‘It is a big deal. I take offense at that word and it appears to be an attack on my character.’
‘I have found, darling, that cheating doesn’t always have to be physical to qualify as cheating. It could be financial…or emotional…or subtle.’
‘Really? Give me one, just one instance where you’ve felt cheated.’
‘I feel cheated out of my time. I've been at everyone's disposal for years. You, the children, work, here. There's never enough time left for myself while you idle away and let me do it all on my own. And now life is taking on a new rhythm, slowing down in a way for me to redeem the lost time. These are supposed to be my best years with my best friend and I’ve never felt more alone in all my life!’
The thunder rumbles again, providing the right backdrop.
He stares at her for a while, whether in dismay or resignation no one can tell, his mind racing every which way, then plays SECRET adjoining his first word
‘So much for a best friend, if you can’t be honest with them. How am I supposed to know these things if you never speak up?’ Why is his composure just adding fuel to the fire? And how can the man who used to hang onto every word she said and didn’t say, like they were his oxygen, fail to notice she was falling apart by his side!
Rather than dignify that question with an answer, she plays the word PHONE, affixing it to her first word. This is her biggest problem, that she has been reduced to fighting against an object. It is really lucky that they all happen to have the right letters for what they want to convey. He has the good sense to look embarrassed when he reads the word. He doesn’t even raise up a defence, instead he adds an S to SECRETS and drops the word SELF. He doesn’t offer an explanation as he replenishes his tiles and she is forced to ask.
‘What is that supposed to mean? Is that an improper apology, admitting your selfishness?’
He scoffs. ‘No. I was tired of playing second fiddle to your tune.’ There was a time she loved that he wouldn’t raise his voice, this was not it. She wanted him to rage so that she would also have a reason to go off without restraint. This was a conversation that wasn’t meant to be civil. There should be name-calling, threats, smashing and breaking of some utensils - all the drama she had drawn up in her head.
‘Second fiddle?’ She asks just as the lights go out. They should have prepared ahead since this is a common occurrence in a storm. Without missing a beat, he pulls out his phone and switches on the torch. He catches her looking at him with that look, the one he always made sure to avoid.
‘It’s just for the light, it’s a practical move…so that we finish this game.’
‘Fine. We are at that part where you explain playing to my tune.’
‘I don’t know, babe, you just started running the show and life became all about you. What you had to do, what you didn’t do, what you wanted to do…there was hardly any room in the picture for me. You always made it seem like I was in the way when I tried to help. To be honest, you seemed to be happier to do everything on your own, be a martyr when no one was asking you to and I got tired of listening to your self-righteous comments. Somehow I just…didn’t feel enough for you and I…found a place I would always be enough.’
The silence that follows that admission allows the rain to show off its climax. It sounds like it’s in the room with them. Yet they are managing to have a conversation and forget the rest of the world…almost like the old days. Almost. They can hear the wind howling and for a moment she fears the windows may break. A dog barks in the neighbourhood and pulls her mind to what’s at hand.
What nonsense for him to spit! She appreciated help whenever she could get it and of course she needed his help. She didn’t want to be a martyr but if she waited to be asked to do anything, nothing would get done in this house.
She plays IRE creating IF as another word and he is a little lost at which word he should be focusing on. Should the two of them be read together? If-angry or angry-if? He waits for her to explain. She doesn’t.
He plays LIFE to her IF. She reads it and feels like this should be a sufficient reason for what went wrong, where they went wrong. Life happened and slit them almost apart, the same way life is happening and forcing them together in this time. Isn't it funny how life changes? Maybe she needs to be a little more understanding and forgiving. After all, it takes two to tangle.
She plays REMINDER and he immediately breaks into their song. Their song in the truest sense, they wrote it together. Having written it without any musical background, they know it might sound horrible to intruding ears but to them it is perfect. She finds her self humming along.
He adds S to REMINDER and drops SO.
The rain recedes into a lull but they hardly pay attention.
Their best moments come rushing in, almost as though they were being held back by a dam and it just broke. From the look he gives her, she can tell they are coming back to him as well.
Maybe she was exaggerating about not getting any attention, she is the most frequently contacted person in his phone. And he did stock all her favourite snacks for this time and brought her flowers every Friday like clockwork.
Maybe he was looking for excuses pinning his faults on her, he enjoys being taken care of without having to ask. And she always gets his thoughts on important decisions first like when she thought of going into self employment that would dip into their savings.
She writes TALK connecting it to CHEATS. ‘Let’s not lose this, love, and have to wait for the next rainy day to pull out a game to get us talking. And maybe we can find a balance, you don’t spend all day on your gadgets and I don’t stay too busy and miss it all. I want to know everything, you know. Everything I possibly could know about you.’ He nods vehemently. She laughs.
He plays AFRESH with a blank for H across CHEATS too. The ugliest word on the board had to lay foundation for the sanest. There must be something to that that they just can't point out. He reaches for her hand across the table. She can see the invitation in his eyes, the unsaid apologies as clear as day to both of them - the plea to start again. She nods and the game lies forgotten. It has done its job. Lost in each other, they don’t see that the sun has chased the storm away.
There is barely any sign that there was a storm except in their memories…and sometimes memories fade too.