Scrabble tiles splattered the tiled table at Bizbo Nursing Home. Wood squares, clattering then ticking upon flipping, signaled a flash downpour in the drought of rote hours passed in this
common room. The sound, coupled with the pleasing passing of the velvet pouch (sometimes to the others in the room, not just the four gamers) was trumped up to a trumpeting jingle, a clarion joy, not unlike, say... the exquisite bliss elicited by an Ice Cream Truck’s nostalgic hypnotic hymn. 

They played fast, a speed Scrabble that afforded three games in the allotted ninety minutes of ‘Game Time’ that preceded ‘Supper’. 

Irvin broke with LEMON, a lemon for a double word score, but it ditched five one-point tiles and moistened his tongue, as well as the sandy mouths of his opponents, or teammates, depending.

Frank had ICE down two seconds later.  

As he nestled chin in fists, Irvin guessed his friend was dreaming of desserts and liquor splashing over cubes, muddled and peeled garnishes. 

Lois jumped to play LONDON, for proper names were permitted at this table where the object wasn’t to win so much as pass the time collaborating on an original board rife with amusing patterns. Irvin thought she thought about the Europe trip that she and her late husband planned repetitively but never took. Corresponding images whipped through his brain - trains, new rain, fog, cobbles, tiny tea cups clinking saucers. 

Lois sipped lukewarm lemongrass tea. 

Roy, the only one at the table (in fact, in the room) whose a.m. meds cocktail included a painkiller (a mild one at that) laid MELLOW. 

Irvin followed with MARSH spurring each player’s stomach to rollick. 

Lois and Frank both farted. 

Roy leaned for an attempt to join the rally, failed, said, “Wonder what’s for supper?”  

Frank said, “Could care less,” and linked ICE and LONDON with RIDDLE. 

As Lois fumbled a D and an I onto the table a child’s ebullient cheer fractured the room. The four players, and the other eight residents in the room, shot their attention to the empty hallway archway before tuning into the TV screen which a blithe child ran across beneath a flock of low-flying geese. Mr. Mark, one of four day-time aids, flippantly apologized for ‘accidentally’ sitting on the remote’s volume^ button, and pressed mute.  

Roy laid HONEY, licked his blistered lips. 

Irvin chose to play CANDID instead of CANNY. As he aligned the tiles he considered how lousy and lazy their table talk had been lately. He thought about how quickly their initial interest in meeting each other had devolved to going through the motions. Apart from all being able Scrabble players the four of them had moved into the Home within a three-week period eighteen months ago for the same two reasons – loneliness and not feeding themselves sufficiently.  

Irvin asked “How are your grandchildren doing, Lois?” with the intent of initiating some purposeful give and take, perhaps brightening of spirits. But the remark only lowered their overall resolve, sinking them further from the setback of the counterfeit kid visit.  

None of their grandchildren (and few overall) had visited Bizbo in a year.  

“Oh dear,” Lois said after a pause. “I imagine they’re all fine, too busy to write their grandma. No way of knowing besides what my daughters tell me when I get to pestering.” 

While his friends added YUMMY, DOLLOP and NEXT to the columned mosaic, Irvin thought... a lot... 

Grandkids... doubt I got em, woulda had to have a wife, woulda been reminded of her recently enough by somebody, would remember that – screwy how the long’s long gone while the short term keeps a-hummin.  

He recalled his last eleven meals in minute detail – tang of sauces, formation of uneaten crumbles, absence of fish... He silently re-recited Roy’s recent complaint to Mr. Mark when residents deserted tables plated with soggy store-bought strawberry shortcakes – “Allow me the kitchen just once – my baking will shake our craving cores. Tell me you don’t recognize me - Roy Buckley – cake man of Bizbo County! Ha - but you’d know the cake – ha!” – and deemed Roy’s grimace now as he arranged racked tiles identical to his ‘Timeout’ scowl following his outburst.  

Thanks Roy. Fear basement boredom of subtracting stuff such as his random. Gotta vie for variety - every emotional vessel – but more so me – Irvin Butterby – condemned, barring some science of memory Eureka, to retire to roomy room and ruminate on Home’s days’ rheumy details... I could write a book! wouldn’t be surprised if I have... writer? may-be... feel onto something, build, borrow, boast, toast all this Scrabble practice... but nah-nah see that’s all interior too, day-to day would be different but even less involved. No! I need major chemical shake-up...  

Skipping Irvin’s turn, Frank laid TIME. Lois put SOME in front of it. Roy added an S. 

Sometimes, more the better, you gotta make a move, leap... What are we doin in here? piddlin away days. We can sign out up to seven hours a day!

Irvin said, “How bout that ice cream cake last night?”, as he laid CRUDGE, not a word, he was well aware, but word-like, which often played, and Ray was putting pencil to score it, so Irvin added ON, as less of a word, emptying his rack, adding the 50-point bonus to his tally. “How much butter you reckon in that batter?”

As Roy answered, “Couple sticks easy and they didn’t melt it all away, they left it like butter cream, got it from Ding’s Bakery, shows Rhonda’s kids care, bout birthday cake anyway,” and laid BRANDED, Irvin thought up the ice cream flavor Crudge – a crunchy fudge with toffee and coffee bean bits and waffle crumbles. More drool that usual pooled in his gums’ gutters.

Frank uttered, “pass,” but played SALT, and then said, “I’d settle for a birthday cake a decade, but there’s nothin like sittin and spittin words with three wise eyes worth their salt. Nothing fancy. Insured joy in routine, ritual... sure is nice to know where to sit when I walk in.” 

Lois played LACK, spoke, “Kids care when we remind them to. Some of us get tired of that. We expect that genuine interest reflected back. When I’m on I remind myself it works both ways. I always care, I just sometimes push myself to show it.” 

Meanwhile Irvin altered CRUDGEON so it read CURMUDGEON, thinking none of them were one or even all that salty. He let his eyes glaze beyond the table to appraise all the sweet people in the common room. He then laid BUNDYG, and for a meaning offered, “like what we have to do to get your kids to care.”

Frank followed with CYNDAV, explaining, “like the jewelry tool or the verb to abridge or fuse,” opening up the board for other non-words and offbeat banter. 

Roy added IVUP to the board, and to the conversation, “I’ve been up and down these halls, alcoves and closets, I’d admit it’d be better if there were secret passages and massage chairs, but there are less lenient digs for rummaging our imaginations.”

“Agreed indulgent one,” Lois said clipping WAF to the P curling her knuckles like snails
on the table til most finger segments cracked. “Onomatopoeia. Sound of desert wind. Getting
back to creation-tivity – ya’ll know most of the paintings hanging here, besides Roy’s, were done
by two residents. And the plants were planted by a resident who passed just before our time. I
like to think that the seeds she potted and fostered carry on her spirit as well as her stylistic
On the TV a host offered a chair to his glum pal and pulled it out from under when he
went to sit. Out of the dozen people in the room, five laughed along with the canned laughter and
the clowned rube, whose mood was instantly improved by the out-of-the-blue ruse. 
“I’m with you two, too.” Irvin played GLOB, thinking twice about whether it was a word
or not. “Not to sound knotted up in a sanatorium, it’s more a case of chronic cabin fever. I like
living here. And I want to embrace coming back to it as well as leaving for the day. I’ve been
wanting to work in more of out there. For awhile now. 
“Out there is out there.” Frank pointed, played ÉCLAIR. “Every day would be different. I
could use the clean air.”
Roy laid DAIRY, switched it to DIARY. 
Gene, a friendly, frail resident who chimed in occasionally, leaned in and laid Lois’s
letters, WHIP, and said “Woo. Two noun/verbs in a row for me. That was totally on the fly-by
too. I can’t sit still today. The open windows perhaps. Itsy bitsy tinges of Spring.” Gene rehung
on his ears the glasses he was cleaning. “I like today’s board. Bundygious!”
As Gene walked on Irvin watched him lean graciously toward a senior resident Iris, heard
him say, “A good day indeed, dear.”
Each player scooched into the table. Substantial, genial conversation clipped along while
the following words were laid fast.
“Clean air and what about different days? Irvin asked.
Lois said, “If the same day was improved by say, family company, I’d take that day after
day, after day.” 
“Yeah. Simple,” Roy said. “Like how different we talkin? Could waste a lot of energy
just to stay sentient.” 
“Could be confusing,” Frank fretted, itched flowers of freckles under his eyes. “Scary
“What are you imagining Frank?”
“Vague layers of unknown... No place to sit.”
“More specifically?”
“Right, okay.” Frank moved his empty hands above his rack as if he were arranging it.
“Maybe straying from the group at the park to get a better look at a bird or a sunbather, having to
pee, getting turned around, having to ask for help.”
“Sounds worth it. The bird and the body, and everything else. Fill in the park,” Irvin
accelerated and accentuated. “People in the happy part of their day, strolling through,
considering alluring paths, wind moving leaves, a baseball catch, planting a garden, trickling
creek, a stranger asking for directions.”
“Sounds busy. And risky. What if it rains?”
“All the better. We react to the rain. I would smell it.” Irvin breathed in and out of his
nose. “We’re out there – something happens, could be anything – we react to it. Maybe do
nothing, just watch, but we’re there, at least minimally observing. Participant. An available agent to add to the mixture and texture. More involved.”
The four players rearranged their racks contemplatively.