Triple Word Score
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Columbus"
Originally featured on 11-15-2007
As part of our series "Journey To A New Word"

D

I

S

C

O

Everybody knew Elaine was watching it like a dog pacing under the Thanksgiving table. When it came around to her turn, she demurely pretended to study her letters, massaging her lower lip with her teeth.

Marcy said it before Roman could. "Cut the act, hot stuff, you’ve obviously got something. Just pounce on it so we can all hate you and get on with it, miss triple word score."

Marcy was taller than Roman. Even sitting down, there was no forgetting that. Elaine did not seem bothered by her bigness. Elaine was always cold. Hugging her knees to her body beneath her sweatshirt, Elaine still looked cold. Both women were graduating next term, and neither seemed bothered by that.

Roman had two more years. Coach Raskin had him for both those years. He did not want to think about Coach Raskin while in the mountains with three women. Coach Raskin told him to eat five meals a day and include a banana in at least two of them. And complex carbs- was Coach Raskin in the mountains with three women? No. Coach Raskin could eat his bananas and go screw himself.

VERY

    V

        E

            R

               Y

V

E

R

Y

DISCO became DISCOVERY. The woman was a garden of secret weapons.

The lantern flickered as two black flies made a figure-eight about the table. Snowfall dwindled to a lazy churning of glitter outside the cabin window. The moon was a perfectly straight semicircle like somebody had cut it down the middle with a pizza slicer.

Rachel used the C from DISCOVERY to form the word MENCH. Rachel sat up straighter than most people naturally would. Even in a cabin in the mountains. He wondered if that was what turned Marcy on about her.

Marcy made the time-out gesture with both hands. "Word police intervention, can I see your license and registration, please?"

"What’s wrong with mench?"

"Um, two things." Marcy peeled the M, E, N and H off the board and handed them back to Rachel. "Number one, you can’t use Yiddish slang-"

"Racism police intervention, yes you can." Rachel placed them back on the board.

"Number two, you didn’t spell it right. There’s an S."

Rachel rolled her eyes and slid the letters down to the Y to spell HYMEN. "Happy now?"

The wood fire crackled and burped in the iron furnace.

Roman—the only male in the room—spoke up, looking proud of himself. "That’s not a word, that’s a Jewish last name." The other three stared at Roman, chastising his unsuccessful attempt at a joke. He stared back and they realized he wasn’t joking.

Elaine patted his shoulder condescendingly. "Darling, how old are you?"

He shifted uneasily. "Um, okay, it’s a word. I won’t pull out the dictionary and challenge you on it. Let’s keep playing."

"No." Elaine thrust the dictionary at him. "We’re pausing this game until you look up hymen and read to us what it means."

"Jesus' jockstrap, didn’t mean to put myself on the spot."

"You rejected mensch, now look at the trouble I’ve caused," Rachel grumbled. "Leave him alone."

"What kind of friend would let that pass? This poor man has never been educated in female anatomy. Must have been raised by puritanical-"

The shrinking back of his pupils at the words "female anatomy" made them all burst into laughter. Elaine took his hand. "Roman, have you ever, how shall I say-"

Marcy clipped her off irritably. "Used that ugly thing between your legs for something other than going to the bathroom?"

Rachel shook the board gently to divert attention. "Weren’t we going to bet money on this game?"

"I already put in fifty bucks," said Marcy.

The other two women reached into their wallets and placed bills down on the table. Roman shrugged. "I don’t have cash. How about an I O U?"

Elaine shook her head. Demons approached the surface of her lips like water coming to a slow boil. "Your virginity." The room was silent for a moment. "That’s your wager. Lose this game and you will get some tonight."

"My chastity is worth fifty dollars?"

"Do you want to play some Scrabble or don’t you?"

J

O

U

S

T

"Shut up, this is not a stupid game. I'll explain why. Remember last week at Paradigm’s when you made that professor eat his words?" Marcy adjusted her tongue ring. "And then the bartender gave us margaritas on the house the rest of the night because he happened to be a former student who flunked that professor’s class? See there’s a metaphysical grid we walk on, it’s got double and triple word scores in random places-"

"Is Marcy being profound again?" Rachel scooted her chair out from the table. "I’m popping in some reruns of Will & Grace, let me know when she’s finished."

Marcy slapped Rachel across the chest with a rainbow colored flip-flop.

Elaine exchanged a glance with Roman.

His penis did an unexpected somersault in his pants. "No, I didn’t mean- I’m not saying the game game is stupid, I meant us playing it right now is."

Elaine looked at the score sheet and then back at Roman. "If you're losing on purpose, I'll castrate you." Her back muscles rolled and unkinked beneath her Yale Crew sweatshirt. There was a witchcraft down in there that pulled on the nerve cluster in his loins like a puppeteer.

Marcy and Rachel were off in a room to themselves before Roman noticed they had lost interest in the game. Letters, words and ghost phrases stretched outward from the nucleus of DISCOVERY like the deformed limbs of shrieking mutant children in a post-nuclear-meltdown community. Elaine was laughing and drinking vodka and Gatorade and rubbing his arm and he had the sudden urge to knock the board to the floor and run out of the cabin into the snow.

He excused himself to go to the bathroom. Watching the ribbon of concentrated yellow fluid disburse where it hit the porcelain bowl, he wondered what would happen if he aimed at the exact same spot every day for two hundred years. Would it eventually carve a dimple into the toilet like erosion cavities at the bottom of waterfalls? Was his penis a waterfall of immutable power that shaped the topography of the planet? If it was meant for things other than going to the bathroom, why did he have to hear it from Marcy the lesbian volleyball champion?

He leaned closer to the mirror and pulled his face slowly into focus. Now he was genuinely curious.

"What’s a hymen?" he asked when he returned to the table. There was no answer. He looked around and saw Elaine passed out on her side, her body tangled in a rope of unmade blankets on the floor.

He stood over her and pulled her hips, her thighs into focus. The fabric of his pants stretched and he felt the teeth of the zipper bite into his angst.

The black fly that had been buzzing around the Scrabble board lay cooked on its back on the lantern’s rim. Outside the snow had stopped falling. Wind swooped down from the trees to give the lake’s icy skin a hickey and whooshed across the glass on its way to Black Elk Hill. Roman supposed a microorganism living in Coach Raskin’s throat would hear a similar sound right before practice.

Roman descended to his knees and poured his hands onto the surface of her body like champagne into a glass. Her lips hugged each other like a snail poking out of its shell. Her body was an unformed planet.

He felt the floor planks rattle before he realized he had just fallen on his butt, startled by Elaine’s voice.

“Roman, what do you think it is?”

“You’re awake?”

Her eyelids parted and she sat up. “What were you doing just now?”

“Are we- did you want to finish that game?”

“Stop answering questions with questions. That’s so freshman year.”

Roman walked to the table, opened the dictionary, looked at it for a minute or so, and then sat down. When he turned around, Elaine was naked.

“Why are you looking at the door?”

“Was I?”

“You look like you just found a spider in your sandwich.”

“Um- wh- uh- you must be freezing.”

A grid of words materialized behind her pupils, shuffled themselves and faded into static.

And then he couldn’t breathe. That was because Elaine’s mouth was suctioned over his like a vacuum cleaner usurping his warmth.

Her arms patted and squeezed their way under his shirt quickly. He wondered if she was actually trying to get inside his clothing. There could not have been room for more than one body in there. What was she thinking?

His belt was yanked out of its loops so fast that her intent could be no other than to spark a flame. Was that something they taught in Girl Scouts wilderness survival training? He thought of the rug spreading fire to the floor, and of Marcy and Rachel frantically bolting out of the room half naked and annoyed. Marcy would be the one to take charge, and Rachel would mock and criticize whatever methods she used to put out the fire, and then they’d disappear back into that room, even more hot for each other than before.

He was probably supposed to be doing something. All he could think of was how much he would enjoy this when he played it back in his mind and processed it later. Later on the bus. Later in the library reading Walt Whitman. Later eating a sandwich. Later on those chilly nights in his dorm room. Later lying in bed on a Monday morning when the Gothic spires were capped white and the voice on the radio listed all the local schools and business that were canceled.

Now her hand was working at his zipper, clumsy from the shivering. “I’m sorry I can’t show you what a hymen is.” She look at him, grinning from left nostril to right eyelid.

Roman did not get the joke.

The wind spasmed and went limp against the window pane’s caress.

That was when she reached for her sweatshirt.

In the morning, the lake was half melted and there was one less car parked in the clearing.

S  I   C

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R    U

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Y    D

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Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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