If he were given the choice, Brian’s idea of a relaxing night at home in the company of friends would be to loaf in an armchair with a glass in his hand. Once again, with friends round, they were sat at the dining room table with a board game that was more suited to his wife’s intellect than his own. “That’s 3 for the B, 1 for R and 10 for the Z.” He declared as he sat back with a bright smile lit his face.
“Hang on, Brian, you can’t have Brazil. It’s a proper noun.” Sherri proclaimed with that ‘I’m a teacher of English which means, in word games, I’m always right’ tone in her voice.
“No it’s not,” he argued, already sensing that once again, he was going to be defeated by the domineering party in his marriage. “What about Brazil nuts?”
“It’s still got a capital B,” Malcolm intervened. “That makes it a proper noun.” Malcolm and Brian had remained friends from their schooldays, but like Sherri, Malcolm had gone off to university and now they worked in the same English department at the local school. When it came to an argument, Malcolm invariably swapped between supporting his work colleague and then his friend.
“Wait, though, Sherri.” Brian felt himself sigh as Anne began to speak. Malcolm’s wife was so quiet that it always seemed that she was seeking his permission before she uttered a word. Anne was well meaning but like Brian, always made to feel educationally inferior to their respective partners. Brian shook his head to no avail, as once again, Anne seemed determined to argue on his behalf. “If it is a proper noun, doesn’t that make it a proper word?”
“No, Anne, it just gives it a capital letter.” Malcolm always spoke to Anne as though he was correcting a third former.
“Brian you can’t have it,” Sherri snapped. “Change your letters.”
In contrast, Anne’s voice was hardly more than a whisper, “Let him have it for goodness sake, we’ll be all night at this rate.”
“Anne, he’s my husband. I’ll decide what he can and can’t have, thank you.”
Malcolm patted Sherri’s hand, “It’s only a game, Sherri, lighten up.”
“I’m just saying that he can’t have Brazil, that’s all.”
For some reason that, if asked, he would never be able to explain, that touch on his wife’s hand gave Brian an uneasy feeling, especially as it seemed that his old school friend was reluctant to let the hand go. “No you’re not,” he spoke slowly, sensing that his temper was rising. “You’ve just said you’ll decide what I can have. You’ll decide…”
“Oh for goodness sake, Brian, do you think I haven’t noticed?”
“Noticed what?” Genuinely confused, Brian continued, “I’d better change my letters”
Sherri stood up suddenly and scowled at her husband. “The way you look at Anne. Brian, I am not naïve.”
“Sherri,” Malcolm was treating the episode as a humorous interlude and smiled inanely as he poured more wine into the four glasses, even for his wife, ignoring her protest. “Are you suggesting there is something going on between Anne and Brian? That is so unbelievably funny.”
“You know what I’m suggesting, Malcolm,” Sherri snarled. “Ask your wife. She can’t take her eyes off him.” Anne lowered her eyes and blushed scarlet. “God,” Sherri swayed, “She’s got guilt written all over her face.”
“I haven’t,” Anne whispered softly. “Brian, change your letters, please.”
Brian reached for Sherri’s hand, but she snatched it away. “Sherri, you can’t imagine for one minute that I’d fool around with someone like Anne.”
Now Malcolm jumped to his feet with the wine bottle still in his hand. He was still jovial of course. It amused him to wonder why any other person might find any attraction in the unimaginative creature he had the misfortune to marry. “I beg your pardon,” he sneered mockingly, “Brian, but that’s my wife you are insulting.”
“Yes, Brian, that wasn’t nice.” Sherri suddenly became quiet again. Taking the wine bottle from Malcolm, she found it was empty. “Sorry Anne,” she continued as she replaced the bottle with the first that came to hand, “there was no call for rudeness. Brian, apologise to our guests.”
“I only meant that I wouldn’t have an affair with Anne, that’s all.” Brian tried to sound apologetic.
Anne was a little louder than usual. Frowning, she spoke directly at Brian. “I’m not good enough for you either; is that what you’re saying?”
“No Anne,” Brian hastily replied, “I’m just saying I wouldn’t screw my best friend’s wife. Pass me the bag, I’ll change my letters.”
“Ha! I was right. You do fancy Anne.” Sherri snapped as she topped up the four wine glasses with Vodka.
“Of course I do.” Brian admitted demurely, “She’s an attractive, friendly, considerate woman. I’ll change my letters.”
Malcolm still had that broad smile. He knocked his drink back in one gulp and took the bottle from Sherri, topping up his own and Anne’s glasses before handing it back. “There’s no need to sulk about it,” he laughed. “It’s just a game. Sherri, let him have it.” It was always this way with Malcolm. Condescending is the word for it but Brian wouldn’t say it. Four syllables he thought. I’m bound to be wrong.
“No. Malcolm,” Sherri snapped as she leaned heavily towards her work colleague. “Brazil is a proper noun. Brian, change your letters.”
“I’ve said I’ll change my letters. Anne, give me the bag.”
“No, Brian, it’s not fair.” Anne spoke so quietly that everyone strained to hear what she said. She took a large gulp from her glass, seeking courage from the vodka. “I would let you have it.”
“Brazil you mean. Thanks but if it’s the rules, I’d better change my letters.”
“No Brian, I’m not talking about Brazil.” She stood with a sway and dropped her arm onto Brian’s shoulder. “I’m talking about their rules. It’s Okay for them to screw each other every time our back is turned. Oh don’t try and deny it Sherri. I might not have a degree, but you don’t need an education to add two and two.”
“Anne!” At last, the ingratiating smile had left Malcolm’s face.
“Oh shut up, Malcolm,” Anne slurred. “You’ve had your share of affairs. And Sherri isn’t the only one.”
“Anne, behave. You’ve had too much to drink.”
“Give me that bottle. I haven’t even got started.” Anne grabbed the bottle and put it to her lips.
Brian collected the L, I and Z from the table. “Pass me the bag. I’ll change my letters.”
“No, Brian.” Anne scooped all the remaining letters from the board. Tipping all the letters from the bag, she started to rearrange them. “You missed your turn before. I’m not letting you miss another.”
Malcolm had never seen his wife take action without his prompting. In truth, she was generally forbidden to express an opinion without his permission. There was a curious note of concern in Malcolm’s voice. “Anne, what do you think you are doing?”
“Changing my letters.”
“But it’s not your turn,” Malcolm pleaded as Anne laid row after row on the board.
I WANT A D I V O R C E.
“There you are Brian,” Anne proclaimed. “I am yours if you want me.”
Brian nodded, but reached out and changed the first I for W and E. After studying the words for a few seconds, he smiled. “That’s definitely worth a double score.”
About eight months later, Malcolm picked up the postcard from the hall floor. “They’ve got married then. It’s only been four weeks since the decree absolute. I suppose they’re happy together.”
Sherri was always abrupt in the morning, and Malcolm timidly winced as she said, “Why shouldn’t they be, Malcolm? We are, aren’t we?”
Malcolm no longer smiled in that condescending way. Sherri had been promoted to head of department. Even at home, it sounded as though she was addressing an inferior. “Yes, Sherri dear, I meant, I suppose they are happy going to that place for their honeymoon.”
Taking the postcard from him, she looked at the “we are here” arrow drawn on the front. “Brazil, you mean. I can’t see what’s significant about that.”
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Novels by Philip Catshill
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