Too frantic

by James

The game was priced up at four pound in the British Heart shop. Dunc told the grey curls eye glass chain lady he’d had two heart attacks, and it sometimes hurt when he walked, so wasn’t he the kind their shop was meant to be helping? Off she trotted to talk to someone else’s grandmother and we both of us looked at each other, thinking the same thought.

‘Would mean a quiet life,’ Dunc said.

Sure would. Quiet, punctuated by brief moments of terror.

The old ladies gave us fifty pence off. We both chipped in two quid and Dunc used his pinched pennies to buy himself a cupcake, the kind that are all icing, lurid colours and soft teeth rot. He said he couldn’t help it – what they give us inside? Shrivelled up jam sponge, without the jam, and that was on a good day.

There were nine of us guys in that halfway home. Nine of us guys, and one television set.

It would have helped if Lenny had laid claim to the remote. Sure, there’d have been mutterings, but the guy with a single finger fatter than the remote control, who’s going to tell him to switch channels? All Lenny wanted was to plug himself into his headphones, sit there nights in the common room with a soppy smile on his face.

The board game was called Anticipation, and it said on the cover, “frANTic with ANTics”. I salved my conscience in the shop, murmuring something, was it the absolute best board game to make some peace amongst a bunch of paroled prisoners sitting elbow tight night after night in a room sized for six? But Dunc was happy, any board game’s going to do. He’d be a hero, go back with a deck of cards, but they were most definitely off limits. Cards can be gambled with, cards lead to fights. Whoever heard of a fight over a kid’s board game?

‘Only child were you, Dunc?’

Benny said he was the car, he was always the car. Luigi said he was always the car too. Six of us sitting down to play, and five of us, this dick included, always the car.

Dunc said, ‘There is no car. There’s no little dog, no top hat. This isn’t Monopoly. You have to collect these little plastic counters, see, with the parts of the ant on them? The winner’s the one who gets enough pieces to make the queen.’

Benny with the snigger, with the jerk of the head at Dutch sat across the room, his lips tonight a faintly purple colour. ‘We need another queen?’

Six of us playing. Me, I’m going to hit the floor and stay there. With luck, Dunc will do the same, but I don’t owe him nothing. Leave the rest of them fight it out, and then oh man, it will be bliss. One brief moment of terror, and then I figure at least two of them out of this place. Think about it, four of them go, and that remote control is mine.