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The Farthermost View

Essays and Stories




R v. L


The vast Interweb and all its devices and content fill so much of our time during these Stay-at-Home weeks. Every morning I read the digital New York Times and then watch people on TV offer up statistics and prognostications and accusations; I've watched golden retrievers playing catch with wombats, and chickens in trousers trying to cross the road, and naughty cats having fun with toilet paper. The faces of friends and relations and people I haven't seen in a decade peer out from my computer screen as we drink quarantinis and laugh merrily about life.

But sometimes you get tired of screens and tiny buttons, and one day I just decided I'd had enough of virtualism! Give me physicality!


So I descended to the basement, where my mother's old Scrabble game lives in a box with my sister's Monopoly game and the Parcheesi game that my grandmother gave me when I was seven years old, and brought it up to the dining room table.


The little wooden tiles inside clattered happily as I opened the box. There they were, along with the little wooden benches that you line them up on, tactile and tangible and redolent of snowy afternoons in Indiana and rainy afternoons on the Cape. My sister didn't like Scrabble because she can't spell, and my father the poet didn't like it because no one spelled as well as he did, so my mother and I were left to while away the hours grabbing Double Word Scores and hoarding U's in case you ended up with the Q, which is worth 10 points that get subtracted from your total if you end up unable to use it. We used our own rules for what words were legal, and now and then I casually accepted one of my mother's wrongly-spelled words, because she was a terrible speller and as the second-best speller in the family I didn't like to make her feel bad.

In among the tiles was an old scorepad filled with columns of numbers.


After I left home my mother played on by herself, and some of the columns were labeled L and R, for Left and Right; others were N and S, for north and south. And apparently, after they retired my father began playing; on page after page, columns were labeled Me and Don in my mother's flowy script. I suppose he found that after a long, wearying day of reading, writing, and staring into space, it can be relaxing to sit and spell. I hope he knew to overlook her occasional idiosyncratic spelling.


As I leaned over the board and wrote L and R on a blank page, I could almost imagine that my mother was leaning over her letters across from me. She's been dead for ten years, and although I'm glad she's not here to experience this scary, crazy time, I also wish she were here. I'm grateful for the many little screens that keep me in touch with, and distract me from, what's going on in today's world; but really, I'd rather just sit spelling – and misspelling – with her, silent except for little cries of ha! when we hit a triple word score.

We'd play game after game, until the afternoon had been whiled away, and it was time to get Dad his drink and start the potatoes boiling.

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