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The Last Word

by Kylie Fennell

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‘It’s two words, not one.’

I assume she is joking but my mother-in-law’s unblinking eyes tell me she’s deadly serious.

I glance down at the Scrabble board. I was pretty chuffed when I’d made the word ‘starlight’. With the double letter and triple word, I’d score more than 40 points. But now I’m questioning myself. Was she right? Was it two words?

‘No,’ the voice of the confident woman, I usually am, screams inside my head. ‘You’re a freakin’ journalist. You know this’.

‘I’m pretty sure ‘starlight’ is one word.’ My voice is deliberately light and airy.

‘I don’t think so, dear.’ My shackles rise at her over-enunciation and the venomous edges to her words.

I appeal to my husband but his furrowed brow tells me to leave it alone.

‘Shouldn’t we check the dictionary?’ I look this time to my father-in-law but he is making a great show of rearranging his tiles. I forge on. ‘That’s what the rules say.’

A tiny muscle in her cheek twitches and my husband compresses his lips.

‘You can have ‘star’,’ she says slicing my word in half and pushing the rejected tiles toward me.

I take a large gulp of my wine, seething that her oppressive rule has contaminated my favourite board game.

She takes her turn and I choke on my sav blanc as she places her tiles in the exact spot mine had been. She has made the word ‘stargazed’.

‘Now with the double letter and triple word score,’ she says brightly, ‘it adds up to 63!’

‘Great work, Mum,’ my traitorous husband says.

It was on!

When it is my turn again, I recycle my rejected letters to make the word ‘slight’ – a synonym for disdain. The following round I make the word ‘cheat’, and it’s a double word score.

She then responds with ‘defeated’ served with a sickly sweet smile.

But I’m on fire and manage to make ‘overbearing’.

She casts an accusatory glance at me as she creates the word ‘precious’.

Unperturbed, I transform ‘hinge’ into ‘unhinged’.

We’re in equal first position when the tiles in the bag run out. I shuffle my tiles around, turning words over in my mind until it comes to me. I can use all seven letters on my next go. It’s her turn but it’s unlikely she can use all of her tiles. I’m going to win.

I hold my breath as I watch her add letters to an ‘l’. She spells out ‘last’. I smile at the symbolic nature of it, but check myself as she keeps adding letters. A ‘w’, then an ‘o’, an ‘r’, and a ‘d’. She’s used all of her tiles to create ‘lastword.’

The look I shoot at my husband clearly says, ‘WTF!’.  He shrugs in resignation but my anger has dissipated. I know I’m the real winner. I turn the stand around to show my tiles to my husband and am unable to suppress a grin as he processes the word ‘divorce’.