Backgammon for Beginners by Jude Higgins

The new woman said she would love some raspberries. ‘I was told to choose one small luxury,’ she said as if she were on Desert Island Discs. ‘We don’t have raspberries, but we do have soup,’ one of us said. There was the usual pot of cabbage soup on the go. Of course, she asked if we were following The Cabbage Soup Diet. Most people of a certain age refer to that when they first arrive. ‘You all look so slim,’ she said, pinching the rolls of flesh around her waist. Nobody answered. 

Billy, one of our younger members took her off saying he’d teach her backgammon. And she brightened then. ‘I always wanted to learn,’ she said. ‘Years ago, on holiday in Greece, we used to watch the old men with worry beads playing backgammon outside tavernas. What lovely memories.’ 

We heard her reminiscing while he showed her the basic moves. Then when the talking subsided, the restful sounds of the pieces being moved around the board. Playing simple board games was something we all did to take our mind off things. People can believe they have skills, are in control and there’s always a winner. We stayed quiet in the next room listening to Billy explaining things.

‘Excellent,’ he said in his reassuring way after they’d finished the first practice round. ‘You’re a natural.’ We know she’ll be bolstered by his remarks. Everyone enjoys being called a natural, especially by Billy.  

Later, one of the women gave her a tablet of rose perfumed soap and she said it smelled like the blood red rose in her garden. She cradled it in her hands as if it were a treasure. ‘How wonderful,’ she said. ‘If I can’t have raspberries, expensive soap is the next best thing. Give me raspberries, soap or new socks and I’ll be happy.’ So we did find her some beautiful hand-made socks that one of our earlier members, who isn’t with us anymore, knitted. And she was happy for quite a long time, longer than most.

Jude Higgins’ pamphlet, The Chemist’s House was published by V.Press in 2017 and her flash fictions have been widely published in magazines and anthologies. She runs Bath Flash Fiction Award and directs the small press Ad Hoc Fiction and Flash Fiction Festivals U.K. | @judehwriter