July 1, 2011 Off By Purbarag P. Choudhury

It was pitch dark outside.

The living room was dimly lit by the candles on the antique candelabra. The old man sat reading the newspaper, avoiding the stupid conversation between his wife and his brother-in-law, Pinto. He considered him a lunatic and hated him for his irrational chatter. The white-haired old lady sat beside her husband, cutting vegetables for dinner. Pinto, playing chess with his nephew spoke,

“I’m telling you Mary, the game was cursed by the devil. Or maybe the game itself is the devil in disguise.”

“Why don’t you tell us from the beginning? We’d all like to hear….” Mary started.

Before she could complete, the old man spoke “Eh!! Talk about yourself. I don’t have patience for this tomfoolery. Whoever’s heard of something like that? It is just a game. And the accident was a mere coincidence.”

“Sid, but that was a terrible accident. Don’t you want to know what happened? How this Scrabble is cursed?” asked Mary in an intrigued tone.

“No”, he replied shortly. He picked up the box of Scrabble on the table beside him and studied it for a moment, then shot a disgusted look at Pinto.

“What?? Sid, I’m not lying. You can play the game and check for yourself.”

“Pinto, I wonder what would happen if I play that Go-To-Hell game online. Will you be sent to hell?” and laughed sarcastically.

The woman took her heavy frame off the chair heaving a heavy sigh and after declaring that the dinner would be ready in half an hour, she went to the kitchen.

The old man too rose from his easy chair. “I’m going to catch a nap. Pinto, you uh… do not try to squeeze any of this nonsense into my son, alright? Pity! He’s my son and I bet he can see right through your silly stories.” He hated his brother-in-law so much that at times he wished he had never known that such a creature existed!

Ryan who was focused on the game of chess, looked up at his father, “Huh?!? What??”

“Nothing”, the old man ascending the stairs replied.

Next morning the sun finally came out from behind the thick clouds. The fog too had lifted so cars were finally being seen on the road.

Pinto was leaving that day and so was Ryan.

At the breakfast table, Pinto asked where the Scrabble was.

“I’m keeping it. Since you’re too scared to play with words, I’ll play,” said the old man, grumbling under his breath.

“No Sid. I won’t let you have it. It has caused enough trouble for me and my colleagues. If you wish for death then you can do it by other means.”

“My God, brother”, exclaimed a shocked Mary, “Do you even hear yourself? If Sid wants to keep it, then fine. We’re keeping it”

“Your brother is a fool. Didn’t I always say that?” The old man said as a sense of triumph filled him while dismay descended on Pinto’s face. Over time even Pinto had stopped reacting to Sid’s constant slurs about him.

The rest of the breakfast went silently.

The old man went back to the living room to read the newspaper and avoid having to say goodbye to his brother-in-law. Mary went to the gate to see them off.

“Ryan, do call me at times. And try to come home early for Christmas.” He nodded. Turning to Pinto, she said “Take good care of him, brother.”

“Mary, you should not keep the Scrabble. There is still time. Bring it to me.”

“It is just a game, Pinto. Don’t worry. Nothing will happen. You go now. The train leaves in twenty minutes”

“If you say so. Okay then. Goodbye and see that Mr. Know-It-All doesn’t goof up.”

Mary almost pushed him towards the car saying, “For the last time, it’ll be all fine. Now go!”

Ryan hugged his mother goodbye, and went off with his uncle.

When she walked into the living room, the old man was seated by the fire, grinning. The newspaper was on the table beside him and the Scrabble on his lap.

“Mary,” he said, “let’s play.”

“No. I have some errands to run”, she replied calmly.

“Just one game”, he pleaded.

She hated him for that. “Would you like some tea, dear?”

“Yes. But let us play first.” He pleaded like a ten-year old, and Mary smiled despite herself.

“Okay. Just one game”

She placed the table in front of him and sat on the opposite chair facing him. Each of them collected their tiles of letters. He went first. His letters were crap. But he played appropriately.

“Let the game begin”. Declaring thus he played BEGIN. He watched his wife’s smug expression as she arranged her letters. She plays JINXED, with J on one of the double letter score. 29 points to her.

His letters were still crap. He started chewing on a U and played WARMER for 22 points. As he started picking up new tiles, he thought of words that he could make with the letters he currently had. His tiles were no better now; his rack had ZADHIM plus the U in his mouth. The heat of the sun was pushing through the window and it was getting warmer.

Using all her letters she played SWEATIER for 73 points including 50 bonus points. The old man started feeling hotter. HUMID he played on the double word score, using the D of JINXED and the U in his mouth. It made a little splash of saliva as he put it down. Another 22 points. He wished she had lousy letter and instantly she told him that her letters were lousy. He grinned.

She played HEAT and got up to turn on the heater and put the kettle on stove for tea. He played ZAP with Z doubled and she got static shock off the heater unit.

“Damn dear. The heater needs replacement.” He found it remarkably satisfying.

After putting the kettle on stove, she sat back with a renewed interest in the game and started fiddling with her letters for the next few moments, oblivious of her husband’s intense scrutiny of her. As the whistle built up in the kettle she played READY on a double word for 18 points and went to pour herself a cup of tea. While she was away, Sid replaced a V from his rack with a blank tile from the box. He played CHEATING using the A of READY, earning 64 points including 50 bonus points. She sat down with her cup of tea and put his on the table. She looked at him suspiciously for a moment and then played IGNORE on the triple word for 21 points.

Sid spotted the chance to play all his letters and played EXPLODES using X of JINXED, earning 72 points. As he put down the last letter there came a bang from the heater unit.

“Dear God. Sid, what just happened?”

“Must have been the heater. I’ll go turn it off.”

The heater was smoking when he turned it off. His heart started racing as he walked back, he played EXPLODES and it happened, he played CHEATING just when he cheated and his wife got shocked when he played ZAP. The goddamn words were coming true. But he has to test it one last time.

Mary played SIGN, with N in the triple letter for 7 points.  He looked at his rack, BAYQFEW. Not seeing much option he started chewing on the B fanatically and played FLY using the L of EXPLODES. He sat back in the chair, closed his eyes and waited for the sensation of rising up from the chair, waiting to fly. Feeling nothing he opened his eyes to see a fly buzzing around the Scrabble board. He needed to play something that was not ambiguous, something that was final and absolute. Something that was dangerous as well.

He noticed the queer expression on her face as Mary played CAUTION using a blank tile for N in double word and earned 18 points.

His rack then was AQUKEW and the B he was chewing. At first he was frustrated, unable to conceive a powerful word. Then it hit him. He played QUAKE for 19 points and wondered if the strength of the quake would be proportionate to the points he scored.  He felt the trembling energy of potential in his veins.

Mary looked at Sid with a smirk on her face and played DEATH for 34 points, just as the room started to shake. The nearby lamp stand hit his head and the B he was chewing got lodged in his throat. He gasped with surprise and vindication and tried to cough it out. But it was stuck. His face went from red to blue as the earthquake reached climax. He collapsed onto the floor as realization dawned onto him:

The whole game was – JINXED.

She had jinxed the game. Right from the start.

Mary gathered the scattered pieces of tiles as she watched him struggle. As a patina of satisfaction wrapped her she sat back sipping her tea. She finished just as he breathed his last.


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