It was going to be a really busy afternoon, but he had a couple of free hours to kill that morning. The laptop was still being repaired and he had left his phone in the pub last night. This meant that he could not get online to spend a bit of time flirting gently with Sarah from the office whom he was grooming as a possible future girlfriend.
There was nothing yet on the television worth watching and he looked around to see what he could do to pass the time. He picked up yesterday’s paper. It was years since he had done a crossword and he was completely out of practice. The trouble was that you had to get inside the contorted mind of the setter and know all his usual tricks. He rapidly lost interest. ‘Agitated unarmed Marxist used at sea by the Japanese (7,3)?’ was probably ‘Harpoon gun’, but he could not link it or work out any of the other clues, so he tossed the paper aside again and picked up the book.
He had chosen it because he knew that his housebound grandfather really enjoyed this kind of book. Grandad had once said that his legs might not be able to take him anywhere these days, but that his imagination, fuelled by the books he was brought, could still carry him around the world. Remembering that, the book had leapt off the shelf. He had enjoyed the ‘Hornblower’ series himself when he was younger and he hoped that this attempt at the genre by another author might bring back happy memories. He started reading, but it was a severe disappointment. This particular effort was a bit short on the headlong dashes along heaving decks and the plunging of cutlasses into Frenchies. It had a tendency to get becalmed for pages on end as the author showed off the fruits of his extensive research into seafaring in the Napoleonic period. At the moment, the ship’s schoolmaster was explaining the evolution and use of various navigational aids and instruments to the midshipman hero as he instructed him in the arts of charting his position and plotting a course.
He was making heavy weather of reading the book and was about to give up and look for something else to do when he heard her key in the lock. He groaned. This was all he needed. She came flouncing into the flat and she was in a thoroughly foul mood. It had been going to be a girls’ day out, but Emma had texted that she had met a ‘gr8’ guy at the gym. It seemed that Emma and the guy were still involved in a deep and meaningful relationship in a bed, somewhere on the other side of town, so she had come round to see him instead. He knew that she had really only come to him for one reason.
He had enjoyed it himself when they first got together but she was insatiable. She wanted to do it at every opportunity, and she was so noisy. He disliked the excited noises she made when there was a good move and he hated the running commentary that she always gave on their respective performances. In particular, he had come to dread the exultant, raucous crowing that usually accompanied the climax.
He had two choices. He could give in and agree to her demands and run the risk of wrecking all his plans for the afternoon. On a worst case scenario, he could well end up being dragged round Ikea for a couple of mind-numbingly, boring hours. The alternative was to bring forward the break-up which he had already diaried for a week on Thursday. Using his newly acquired navigational skills, he drew a line with an imaginary setsquare along the course that he would have to steer if he did decide to end things. He realised immediately that he was sailing straight into uncharted waters and that there was a high probability of squalls of tearful pleadings or storms of angry recrimination and that he would definitely never have the time to do what he needed to do. He chose the easy option.
This time, at least, it looked like it was all going to be over quickly. He was still in with a chance of finishing first but the whole experience had been just as bad as he had been expecting. Early on, she gave a deep sigh and said, ‘Maybe I’ll be wearing one of these soon’ as she played ‘ring’ across a double word square. They had reached a stage where she only had four letters left. He had all of his last seven but he also had the hope that she might still make one particular move. Then it happened. With a deep, throaty chuckle which was presumably meant to be sensuous, she said ‘Play your tiles right and you might get at least a couple of these tonight’ and placed an ‘s’ at each end of ‘hag’. He struck, using the second ‘s’ and the first ‘e’ she had used when she turned ‘mack’ into ‘mackerel’ (snort of derision and ‘I’ve got you stitched up like a kipper.’). Bingo and game over to him.
She went through the motions and made a half-hearted challenge, but he did not even have to look for the dictionary. He showed her the page of the book he had been reading and there was the word ‘astrolabe’ in all its glory. The usual rules had been agreed before they started to play and she would now have to do whatever he chose for the next three hours. His busy afternoon was right back on schedule. He checked his watch and it was coming up to noon. Result!
He accepted the beer which she dutifully fetched him from the fridge and sprawled himself out on the sofa. With a sigh of satisfaction, he picked up the remote and flicked the television on. The teams were walking out on to the pitch for the early game. He handed her the bag of dirty washing, the empties for the bottle bank, the list of pubs he had been in last night so that she could check them for his phone, the book (which he now thought was one of the finest pieces of nautical fiction that he had ever read) and his grandad’s borrowing card, saying:-
‘While you’re at the laundrette, could you just nip into the library next door for me as well? It closes at 1 pm on Saturdays and the book will be overdue on Monday. I’d really like to finish it, so could you renew it please?’