I admit it.  It's an addiction.  Day after day I sit at the computer telling myself I'm just warming up, just loosening my fingers and brain, so writing will come more easily.  I set myself time limits: 15 minutes or until the next load of clothes is dry or until I finish this apple.  Thirty minutes disappear, the clothes lie dry and wrinkled, nothing remains of the apple but a brown core--and still I sit, mesmerized by the bright screen.

Just one more game, cards lined up in a regimental row, point counter at zero, time counter at zero, waiting for me.  I'm in control, thumb and ring finger anchoring the mouse, index finger poised over the clicker.  All depends on me.

Taking a deep breath I click, and the cards flip.  Quickly I scan the row, looking for playable cards.  If no kings or aces show, the game will be difficult.  I won't set a new record, but I'll play it out anyway because I'm tough.

I don't recall when I first began keeping score, but I remember my excitement the first time I broke 3,000, then 4,000, 5,000, and, yes, 6,000.  My current record is 6,985 points in 109 seconds.  I post my highest scores just below my monitor--a constant inducement to play just one more game--for the record.  I hold my therapist responsible for my addiction.  When my oldest son installed my computer, he pointed out the two games that came with it and offered to teach me solitaire.  However, playing a card game by myself didn't seem very appealing.  In college, I whiled away time between classes playing bridge in the student union, cards in one hand, cigarette in the other, squinting through the smoke, trying hard to be like everyone else when I would rather have been in the library.  Although I never managed the knack of smoking, I did learn a respectable game of bridge.  However, when my husband and I tried couples bridge after we married, I inevitably got carried away by the conversation, overbidding or trumping my partner.  Bridge seemed a waste of time.

But last year I described to my therapist an odd dream in which a murderer with a knife stalked me--down the street, into my house, into my sanctum, my study.  Backing away from his advance, I ran into the computer table, and, desperate to distract him, I suggested he try his hand at computer solitaire. To my surprised relief, he dropped the knife, sat down at the terminal, and began to play while I eased out the door to safety--and wakefulness.  I ended my dreamy recital, "and I don't even know how to play solitaire."

"Does your husband?" was the therapist's response.

"I don't know.  Why?"

"Why don't you ask him to teach you double solitaire?"

Perhaps my therapist thought my dream reflected conflict between my writer's need for solitude and my woman's need for connection and relationships.  Perhaps he thought I saw my husband's occasional interruption of my writing solitude in my study a symbolic murder of a potential poem or essay.  However, what I took away from the session was the suggestion of solitaire.

Curious, I pulled it up on the computer.  Hopelessly dull at first, I couldn't seem to hold seven cards simultaneously in mind.  Nor could I see quickly whether or not a new card was playable and if so, where.  I abandoned game after game in disgust, angry at myself for being such a dimwit and for wasting so much time on a stupid game.  But stubbornly, I kept coming back.  After all, every game was a new beginning, a fresh start.  I remember my triumph when I won my first game, how I stared fascinated as the completed suits spilled accordion-like across the screen.   Then, a magic phrase appeared:  "Deal again?  Yes or no?"  Yes, yes, yes.  Let's do it again--and again.  Poetry can wait, grading papers can wait, preparing lectures can wait, dinner can wait, phoning a friend can wait while the sharp-edged cards line up, white against the lime-green screen, so neat, so crisp, so orderly, so unlike the messiness of writing and life.  I could move the mouse to "Game," click on "Exit," and close the file.  I don't really need to play.  But I want to, I want to, I want to.

I can't help it, I'm powerless.  I haven't turned my compulsion over to a higher power because I'm still in thrall to the seductive appeal of solitary solitaire.  Competition without the necessity of a human opponent.  Stimulation without the bother of companionship.  Connected symbiotically to the screen, I ignore my husband as he calls that it's past bedtime.  I never have asked him if he knows how to play double solitaire.

SuzAnne C. Cole is a retired college instructor with an MA from Stanford. Her essays have been published in NewsweekHouston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Baltimore Sun, Personal Journaling and many anthologies. She also writes poetry, short fiction and plays in a studio in the Texas Hill Country. Classic Solitaire is still her favorite computer game.