Death of a Scrabble player


Help me. I am going to die. I’m not sure how exactly I got locked in this bathroom, it all happened so fast. I can’t remember much.
All I know is that we are staying in a rental house for the weekend. It’s an old home that was built back before the Babylonians discovered WiFi. My wife went into town to go shopping and I chose to stay home because I would rather be stabbed in the thigh with a BIC pen than go shopping.
Anyway, I was in the bathroom and when I tried to turn the doorknob to open the door, the knob snapped off.
Thus, I am trapped without food or technology. I’m shouting for help, but my wife is long gone and the cleaning lady isn’t due for another several hours.
The gravity of this nightmare finally hits me all at once. I am stuck in this tiny hellhole without access to the outside world. I will never see the sunshine again. They will find my body covered in cobwebs. The coroner will shake his head and say, “Looks like he got so hungry he ate a bar of soap and choked.”
Also, my cellphone is in the other room. This means no texts, no calls, and—here is the worst part—no Scrabble.
I am officially dead.
Scrabble has always been my game of choice. It was my grandmother’s favorite game, my mother’s favorite game, and it is the only game I voluntarily play. Unless of course I am in Biloxi, in which case I voluntarily visit the roulette table and play Let’s Set Fire To All Sean’s Twenties.
If someone were to ever put a competitive Scrabble table in the Beau Rivage Casino, I would have to reverse mortgage my house.
I play Scrabble every day on my smartphone. I keep 10 or 12 games going at a time. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m a decent player. This doesn’t mean I’ve got a big vocabulary. Far from it. It just means that I’ve played enough games over the years to know all 107 of the legally recognized two-letter words according to the Official Scrabble Rules.
“AY,” for example, is a great word. The letter “Y” is four points. You spell this baby on a triple-word score and you have yourself 15 points. As it happens, “AY” is a Spanish word that means, literally, “¡AY!” As in: “¡AY! I win again, banditos!”
And any veteran Scrabble player will tell you that the game is not won with long words, but with small, strategically located two-letter words, often strategically shoved into the nasal cavities of your opponent if he happens to be winning.
These are words that casual players never knew existed like: “AA,” “AB,” “AE,” etc. The greatest of these is “ZA.” The letter “Z” is a ten-point letter.
‘Za is permitted by the official rulebook and always gets a big reaction from novices. Most times, rookie players will challenge this word. Especially if you stress over and over that you’re not sure whether ‘za is a real word. When they challenge your word and find out that ‘za is in fact a word, the rules state that they lose a turn and (¡AY!) I win again, banditos!
So ‘za is a great word. Apparently, in some American regions ‘za is slang for “pizza.” These regions must be way up north somewhere. Because if you told someone in the South you were looking for ‘za, they’d think you were with the Watch Tower Society.
I think I’m losing my mind in this bathroom.
It’s been an hour and I am sitting in the corner beside the toilet thinking deeply about slang words for pizza. There is a little strip of daylight beneath the door. I am hoping to see a moving shadow to indicate someone is nearby. But nothing.
If you can believe it my wife has beaten me at Scrabble exactly once in her life. The game lasted two days. Her winning word was—this is no joke—“axe.” She plopped that thing down on a triple-word score and the game was over.
That was fourteen years ago. After that she vowed never to play against me again because she didn’t want to tarnish her victory. I tried to get her to play Scrabble on my birthday once, but she refused. Instead, she wanted to play UNO. She beat the Shinola out of me.
After that, she was always wanting to play UNO. She’d come home from a long day at work and say, “Hey, I have an idea, let’s skip dinner tonight and play UNO!” It was her new obsession, horsewhipping me. She couldn’t get enough UNO.
I hate UNO, but right now I’d give anything to play that godforsaken game rather than be stuck in this little room where God knows how many people have pooped.
I hear the back door open.
Female voices.
I’m saved.
More footsteps.
The bathroom door swings open. Standing before me is my wife and a small Hispanic woman holding a bucket of cleaning supplies.
“¡AY DE MI!” the small woman says.
And I start crying. Not because I’m free, not because I’m grateful to be alive, and not because life is precious. But because this woman’s sentence is composed entirely of Scrabble-legal two-letter words. I could really go for some ‘za right now.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life on the American South.


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