Friday, June 11, 2010

A Crossword Routine

“What are you looking for?” Duncan snapped from behind his morning paper.

“I need a pencil.” Hillary said as she rummaged through drawers and shifted papers around the phone on the kitchen counter.

“There’s a pen right beside the phone,” Duncan pointed out.

“I need a pencil. I’m doing the crossword in the paper and a pen won’t do.” Hillary continued to rummage.

“It would if you had any idea what the clues meant,” Duncan mumbled behind his paper.

“What did you say?” Hillary asked absentmindedly as she opened the silverware drawer for some unknown reason. “Aha! Found one.”

Duncan peeked out from behind his newspaper and frowned. Only Hillary could find a pencil among the spoons, he thought to himself. “Before you lose yourself in your puzzle, would you mind pouring me another cup of coffee?”

Hillary didn’t respond. She already had the paper in her hand folded to expose the blank crossword puzzle and was tapping the bent eraser band against her teeth. She put the pencil in her mouth as she poured Duncan’s coffee. “Utt’s a or-le’er urd or ha’y?” she said around the battered writing utensil.

Duncan sighed. He hated it when Hillary did the Sunday crossword. More accurately, he hated having to do it for her. “I can’t understand you with that thing in your mouth,” he admonished.

Hillary returned the coffee pot to its stand and removed the pencil. “I only have two hands,” she defended herself.

“Well I have no idea what you just said, so I can’t very well respond properly to you,” Duncan said.

“What’s a four-letter word for happy?” Hillary repeated her question.


“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“As are you.”

“For what?”

“For the coffee.”

“Oh, er, yes. Thank you, my dear.” Duncan raised his newspaper hoping it would be a strong enough barrier between him and Hillary and her crossword puzzle.

Several minutes passed in silence. Duncan could hear Hillary’s pencil scratching against the newsprint. He tried to concentrate on the golf scores in the sports section, but kept bracing himself for Hillary’s next request for assistance. He read the same score over and over, unable to concentrate.

After a while he peeked out again to find Hillary hunched over the crossword, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth and brows furrowed in deep absorption. Must be an extra, extra easy crossword this week, he thought, and, relieved to see his wife of thirty-six years finally able to do a simple puzzle on her own, returned to his sports scores. But as the time passed on without Hillary asking for help, Duncan grew increasingly irritated. He folded his own paper and plunked it down on the table.

“So, how’s it going?” he asked.

“Hmmm?” Hillary did not look up from her furious scribbling.

“The puzzle. How’s it going?”

“Oh, almost done,” Hillary said with such confidence that Duncan was stunned.

“Really?” he asked.

“Yep. Just need one more word.”

Duncan leaned forward in his chair, waiting for Hillary to tell him the clue, but she just tapped the eraser band of the pencil against her teeth a few times until at last the answer presented itself and she wrote it down.

“There,” Hillary said with satisfaction. “I love the Sunday crossword.” With that she pushed the paper aside, got up and left the room.

Duncan couldn’t help himself. He reached across the table and pulled the abandoned paper towards himself. Amazingly the crossword was indeed complete. There were a few eraser marks, but it was done. And it was right.

“By golly,” Duncan said aloud. “I think the old girl’s finally getting it.” He smiled and pushed the paper back to the spot where Hillary had left it. When he finished his now cool coffee, he decided to go out to the garage to putter for a while.

The following Sunday, Duncan and Hillary sat as usual at their kitchen table. As Duncan settled into the sports scores, Hillary started searching for a pencil. A few minutes passed before her rummaging annoyed him enough to ask what she was looking for.

“A pencil for the crossword puzzle.”

“There’s a pen right next to the phone. Use that.”

“I can’t do the crossword with a pen. You know that.” This time she opened the cereal cupboard.


“Did you just find a pencil in the cereal cupboard?” Duncan asked, incredulous.

“Yeah. Weird, huh?” Hillary returned to the table and read the first clue. “What’s a three-letter word for mischievous child?”

Duncan sighed. “Imp.” He shook his head.

Just like the previous week, Hillary filled in answers without asking for help and Duncan read the same scores over and over, waiting to be interrupted. Whenever he peeked around his paper, Hillary was either writing or tapping her teeth while she reasoned out an answer. After fifteen minutes, Duncan couldn’t stand it any more. He put down his paper and was just about to ask Hillary how she was making out with the puzzle when the phone rang. Hillary jumped up to answer it and was instantly lost in a deep conversation with the neighbour over another neighbour’s dog.

Duncan reached across the table and pulled the crossword closer so he could check her answers. The puzzle was a little more than half done and two of her answers were incorrect, leaving a couple of blank spots where her mistakes made the next answer impossible. Duncan retrieved the pencil, erased the errors and inserted the right answers. He didn’t mean to keep working on the puzzle, but before he knew it, all the answers had been filled in. Except 108 across. And Duncan had no idea what the answer was.

He was tapping the eraser band against his teeth when Hillary swept back into the room. “You didn’t finish my puzzle did you?” she asked, a little alarmed.

“Uh, well... Not quite.” Duncan put the pencil down and picked up the sports section again as Hillary approached the table.

“Duncan! How could you?”

“I didn’t do it all! I didn’t get one-oh-eight across; a six-letter word for a monarch who’s coronation took place in 1937.”

Hillary sighed. “George,” she said.

“Hmph,” Duncan said, training his eyes on the golf scores. “Before you sit down, could you please pour me another cup of coffee?”


  1. Cute - I like the interchange, the routine, the familiarity of it all - if only I could get the Sunday crossword done without help!

  2. I was expecting her to have cheated in some way.
    I hate it when my puzzles are interfered with.
    A good read.

  3. This is such a fun read, but I love the way you've shown, through this story, how two souls become one after so many years. Love it!


  4. You characterize their marriage vividly.

  5. You did an awesome job with the dialogue. I want to read more about Duncan and Hillary.
    Loved it!!! :-)

  6. So beautifully written - every word. Love the exchange between two who have been married a long time. Sounds like a good marriage ... in spite of the crossword!

  7. this darling domestic drama made me laugh out loud! Great Magpie!

  8. I kept expecting her to have saved the crossword from the week before & used the answers on the new one. Good for her for getting it right on her own!

  9. wow, sly, creative and everything inbetween.. love how you caught the relationship between the two after so many years... was beginning to think the pencil was magic and the prize was finding it...

  10. Terrific interplay and the final clue pulled the prompt into line. Greatness!

  11. I always wanted to be confident enough to do a crossword in ink.

  12. lol.....that so sounds familiar! I'm always having to having to ask the cheaper-half for clues on geography or history. I'm just glad Hillary was up on hers!

  13. ha. your magpie was a lot of fun to read...if i touch my wifes crossword though i may draw back a nub. smiles.

  14. Doing a crossword in pencil is cheating!
    Lovely insight into the crossword doer and the husband waiting for her to falter. Just as well he was glad of her developing skill otherwise I would have hated him more. He was enough of a prig for me to say he can get his own coffee!
    Loved it!

  15. Ha, great little story. Nice job with the dialogue - very natural.

  16. Ha, i think I'm like Hillary; i'd have to practice for years before I got good at crosswords! great magpie!

  17. Interesting that you found Duncan to be a prig, Staffor Ray. Upon reading the story again, I see now that he is a bit of snob. Funny how our characters take on a life of their own!

  18. such a enjoyable read...ah sweet domestic bliss! Great Magpie!

  19. An enjoyable read. Great Magpie! :)