Everybody's Rules for Scrabble: A Novel by Joanna Rose

How does a librarian from New Jersey end up in a convenience store on Vancouver Island in the middle of the night, playing Bible Scrabble with a Korean physicist and a drunk priest? She gets married to the wrong man for starters — she didn't know he was that kind of Catholic  and ends up in St Cloud MN. She gets a job in a New Age bookstore, wanders toward Buddhism without realizing it, and acquires a dog. Things get complicated after that. 

Pattianne Anthony is less a thinker than a dreamer, and she finds out the hard way that she doesn't want a husband at all, much less a baby, and that getting out of trouble is a lot harder than getting into it, especially when the landscape of the west becomes the voice of reason.

 

EXCERPT

Chapter 1: They Were Called Peeps

It was things like reading all of John Updike, and all of Elmore Leonard, and doing the crossword in the middle of the afternoon when she didn't have to work, with the all-classical station pouring out the windows of her apartment over the dry cleaners. That's what being thirty was about. That's what finally being finished with graduate school was about.

Pattianne kept her part-time job in the library of the education lab, which paid just enough, and technically made use of her shiny new master's degree in library science. And she kept her sometimes-boyfriend, Steven. Even-Steven she called him, because he was so even-tempered, which was really him not caring very much one way or another about her being his girlfriend, or them being a couple, or really anything besides arguing about almost everything.

“The only good book ever written was Under the Volcano,” he might say, or something like that, after about the third scotch. He loved that book.“Yeah, if you’re a depressed drunk, looking for a good reason to commit suicide,” she’d say, or something like that, after about the third vodka tonic. Pattianne hated that book.

He also liked having just enough drinks to have really nice sex.

“Nice?” he would say. “Nice?”

He owned a tavern with a bunch of guys who had dropped out of law school together, a laid-back, un-college type of place called the Truckyard.

On a breezy afternoon in early April, she stopped by the Truckyard on her way to work with a new find, Requiem Mass in D Minor. She was discovering she loved Mozart. Even-Steven had played violin in high school and fancied himself a musician, even though all he played now was the stereo. He poured her a glass of Chardonnay, and then he put Mozart in the CD player. He leaned against the back bar and stared through his smudgy glasses at the ceiling. It was the beginning of the part of the Requiem Mass that was called Introitus, coming on so low that she wondered if something was wrong with the CD player. Even-Steven leaned against the bar and ran his fingers through his thick dark hair. It stood up in a sexy mess. She got that dreamy damp feeling and thought about calling in sick. Library jobs are like that, a little too easy to call in sick, but, at 28 hours a week, also easy to catch up on work. About three minutes later though, Even-Steven took the CD out and sent it flying through the open door of the Truckyard like a Frisbee.

He said, “That’s a shitty orchestra.”

The two guys at the other end of the bar stared.

Then he put on a different CD. Same music. He tossed her CD case onto the bar. There was grated cheese stuck to it.

“This,” he said, jerking his thumb back toward the CD player, “Is the greatest recording of the Requiem Mass in D Minor you’ll ever hear.”

Pattianne flicked the cheese off the CD case.

“Fuck you,” she said, and the two guys laughed. She went out the door and picked the CD out of the gutter, and Mozart blared from the Truckyard door, Even-Steven jacking up the volume. He was a brat. She stuck her CD and her annoyed feelings in her pocket and walked to work.

The spring breeze blew grit into her eyes, along with the smell of the Passaic River. When she got to the library, she took the CD out and looked at it. There was a scratch. It was probably wrecked.

“Alas,” she said to Melissa.

Melissa was the intern at the table next to her, and she loved hearing Even-Steven stories. Melissa also loved black roses, had several, in fact, tattooed on her left arm, and she had a big plastic one pinned to her messenger bag. This one she now unpinned and handed over, saying, “Requiem for an afternoon of lust.”

Pattianne made a shrine in her In Basket with the CD, its case with the blue and yellow painting of Mary and Jesus propped up reverently behind the black rose.

And then, not an hour later, on a warm, windows-open-for-the-first-time kind of spring day, he came in to the North Jersey Regional Education Lab, wafting in on a scent of soap. She'd seen him around. Him with his pretty face and black hair. She didn’t know his name until she saw it written there, on the pink request form, in perfect cursive. A breeze started to lift the request form off the desk, and they both reached for it. He touched it first, and held it down with two fingers. “Hello?” he said. “They told me at the front desk that you could help me access this database. Are you Patty Anthony?”

“No,” she said.

He had red lips, shaped like a bow.

“I mean, yes. Database, yes, Patty, no. It’s Pattianne.”

She was thinking, Access is not a verb, it’s a noun.

She said, “Let me set you up with an access code.”

She was thinking, If I move my hand one inch, our fingers will touch.

Michael Bryn. The neat peaks of his Capital M. The round loops of the B. Michael. Not Mike. They probably knew some of the same people. Montclair was a small town. There were nodding acquaintances, people to say hello to, or perhaps knew to avoid, if they’d been at certain parties where there had been too much to drink maybe. There was that argument about Genesis and penises. There was going home with the wrong guy and then his real girlfriend dropped by with bagels and flowers to make up in the morning.

Mostly she stayed kind of invisible, sitting at some bar, on the end stool, and chatting up some bartender, eavesdropping on witty people telling witty stories, the way some people could hold all the words together until it was time for everyone to burst into laughter like applause. Michael Bryn was like that. She never even really followed his stories when she’d see him with some group of people from the Ed School who stood around him, waiting to laugh. She’d watch his mouth, the way he flicked the tip of his tongue across his lips.

Melissa’s message appeared on her screen: Ask him out!

Pattianne copied the access code on the pink request form and slid it toward him.

"Thank you,” he said. “This is all I need?”

There was Chardonnay in her head, and warm spring air. She pulled the pink slip back and wrote her phone number under the access code. “You need this too.”

“I do?”

A tiny crease appeared between his eyebrows.

“Well, and this.” She wrote Pattianne Anthony. Not quite perfect cursive

“Oh.” He looked at the form, then looked up at her. He had blue eyes, dark blue.

Her face got warm, and she just knew it, those two round pink spots were showing up on her cheeks.

"We should get together," she said in a rush. "Sometime."

Her cheeks felt that special shade of Chardonnay pink, and she was just thinking oops, wrong move, when his wide forehead smoothed out.

“Well,” he said. “There’s a film festival at the State Street Cinema. Tonight is the last night.”

She loved that place. It was a funky little movie house with an actual curtain that opened and closed. They showed cartoons before the feature film.

"Great," she said. “I could meet you there. I get out of here at six.”

“Okay.” He stood there and looked at her. She wondered if she had brushed her hair lately. She tried to remember what earrings she was wearing.

“Well, good. And, well, so, I have to print out some grant applications,” he said. “How easy is this database? I need numbers on state test scores from Bergen and Passaic counties, from the last five years. By grade.”

“Graphs,” she said. “Simple.”

He laughed. “You think graphs are simple? Awesome.”

He had a nice laugh, kind of quiet. And so what if he used the word awesome?

“Melissa?” Who was of course paying close attention. “Can you put together some numbers? Test scores? By grade?”

“How soon?

“Now?”

Melissa kicked her messenger bag under her work station and came over. “Now works.”

Michael Bryn looked back and forth at the two of them. Melissa had pierced eyebrows as well as many tattoos. He avoided looking at Melissa's tattoos. It was harder to not look at her pierced eyebrows.

“Follow me,” she said.

“See you around six," Pattianne said.

He said, “Okay,” and followed Melissa into the maze of cubicles.

He didn't often get asked out by girl, mainly because he usually did the asking. When it got to that point in a conversation, or an encounter, where it seemed the logical next thing to do, he just did it. It wasn't like it was an issue with him. Although now he wasn't sure about who should buy the tickets. He'd get there a little ahead of time and just buy them.

Melissa set him up and left him at a desk. He took out the piece of pink paper. Pattianne. Not Patty.

She wasn't at her desk when he left. The Melissa girl was though, she said, “Bye-bye now.”

He said, “Thank you.” The little picture of the Pietà in the InBasket with the Lenten rose was the one by Van Gogh. His mom had sent him an Easter card with the same picture his first year away from home. His mom loved the Pietà.