I’m first to play. Loosen the ties, plunge my hand deep into the bag. Pluck seven letters from inside. I pull out an A first: one point, then S – always useful for making something singular a plural, but a lazy way to gain the advantage. Then T. I, L, O, and E follow. It’s not a great hand. Even with the advantage of going first, crossing the double word score, it won’t amount to much. I place the tiles on the plastic holder, move them around, consider my options.
SAIL – to move along or travel over water. Remember that first time? Looking out from the glass-fronted lobby, beneath chandeliers that hang like constellations, you point at the boats bobbing on the water. We agree, we’d both rather be out there looking at the stars, sailing on the sea, instead of in this generic hotel at another bloody work conference.
LATE – after the usual or proper time. Late that evening in the bar, long after our colleagues go to bed, you confess you can't sail, and I tell you I can’t either. Not that it matters.
SIT – be or remain in a particular position or state. For this conference and every future one – in cities around the world - we sit each night, talking. Sometimes the others try to join us, but we know we’re the only ones who really know the rules. One night you suggest a board game. ‘We’re less likely to be disturbed,’ you say, reaching for a Scrabble set stacked away behind books leafed by other lives.
LAST - occurring or coming after all the others. Since the first day we met, we have known this will be the last. Each time we meet in future, we will know there will be one final time. Right now, this is the first of those lasts. I follow you to your room and between sheets that have seen many stories, we explore our pasts and our futures.
EAST – a cardinal point on the compass, equidistant at 90 degrees between north and south. I watch the sun rise through the curtains of your room, left open so we could map the stars and remind each other that the same constellations will shine above our heads no matter the physical distance between us.
AIL – to cause, or to feel, pain. There is an emptiness that I cannot shake; an all-consuming ache that haunts me as I kiss you one last time at the airport and we head to our separate gates. It happens every time we say goodbye, every time we go back to our individual lives, after every conference, work meeting, excuse we make to spend time together.
AISLE – a walk way between; as in plane, or church. Through the air we both fly, and that narrow space grows and grows until in a small matter of hours we are worlds apart; you back to your life and I to mine. I cling to what you told me between those sheets, how you wish we could have done this differently.
STEAL – to move secretly or unobserved. By day, by night, we text, we steal precious moments to talk when nobody else can hear us.
LOSE – to come to be without. Your children are grown, mine are still at home. Whole years pass when we don’t see each other. Then out of the blue, you text to tell me there’s something I need to know.
LOST – no longer to be found; being something, or someone that something or someone has failed to win. We meet. You are the same, but different. You tell me I haven’t changed. I cannot bring myself to say the same. As we kiss, you pass me a box wrapped in paper, make me promise not to open it until after you’ve gone.
SO, I, SAT….. TALE. This is our tale, where it ends. Even now, it’s hard to find the right words.
And then I see it, the one I have missed this whole time: the word that will give me 50 extra points because I’ve managed to use all my tiles.
I lay the little squares down carefully, I- S-O-L-A-T-E
ISOLATE – cause to be or remain alone or apart from others.
As I reach for the tiles, they scatter on the board you bought me, consonants and vowels separating.
I order the vowels in front of me A.E.I.O. No U.
Hannah Storm writes flash fiction and creative non-fiction after 20 years travelling the world as a journalist. Her writing has been published widely online and in anthologies. She won this year's 'I Must Be Off!' travel writing contest, was second in June’s Bath Flash Fiction Award and highly commended in the TSS flash competition. She lives in the UK with her family, and is the director of a journalism charity. Her Twitter handle at @hannahstorm6