“It’s fine,” says a voice I recognize. It’s Linus, but I can’t see him through the crack. “I’ll go home. Thanks for having me.”
“Don’t go home!” exclaims Mum, in her best charming-to-visitors voice. “Please don’t go home, Linus. That’s not what I meant at all.”
“But if we can’t play games…” Linus sounds flummoxed.
“Are you saying the only form of socialising you boys understand is playing computer games? Do you know how sad that is?”
“Well, what do you suggest we do?” says Frank sulkily.
“I think you should play badminton. It’s a nice summer’s evening, the garden’s beautiful, and look what I found!” She holds out the ropy old badminton set to Frank. The net is all twisted and I can see that some animal has nibbled at one of the shuttlecocks.
I want to laugh at Frank’s expression.
“Mum…” He appears almost speechless with horror. “Where did you even find that?”
“Or croquet!” adds Mum brightly. “That’s a fun game.”
Frank doesn’t even answer. He looks so stricken by the idea of croquet, I actually feel quite sorry for him.
I give a snort of laughter and clap my hand over my mouth. I can’t help it. Hide-and-seek.
“Or Rummikub!” says Mum, sounding desperate. “You always used to love Rummikub.”
“I like Rummikub,” volunteers Linus, and I feel a tweak of approval. He could have legitimately laid into Frank at this point; walked straight out of the house and put on Facebook that Frank’s house sucks. But he sounds like he wants to please Mum. He sounds like one of those people who look around and think, well, why not make life easier for everyone? (I’m getting this from three words, you understand.)
“You want to play Rummikub?” Frank sounds incredulous.
“Why not?” says Linus easily, and a moment later the two of them head off towards the playroom. (Mum and Dad repainted it and called it the Teenage Study when I turned thirteen, but it’s still the playroom.)
Next moment, Mum is back in the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of wine.
“There!” she says. “They just need a little guidance. A little parental control. I simply opened their minds. They’re not addicted to computers. They just need to be reminded what else is out there.”
She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to the Imaginary Daily Mail Judge, who constantly watches her life and gives it marks out of ten.
“I don’t think Rummikub is a very good game for two,” I say. “I mean, it would take ages to get rid of all your tiles.”
I can see Mum’s thoughts snagging on this. I’m sure she has the same image I do: Frank and Linus sitting grimly across from each other at the Rummikub table, hating it and deciding that all board games are rubbish and total pants.
“You’re right,” she says at last. “Maybe I’ll go and play with them. Make it more fun.”
She doesn’t ask me if I want to play too, for which I’m grateful.
“Well, have a good time,” I say, and take out the Oreo packet. I scoot through the kitchen into the den, and it’s only as I’m zapping on the telly that I hear Mum’s voice resounding through the house from the playroom.
“I DIDN’T MEAN ONLINE RUMMIKUB!”
Our house is like a weather system. It ebbs and flows, flares up and subsides. It has times of radiant blue bliss, days of grey dismalness and thunderstorms that flare up out of nowhere. Right now the storm’s coming my way. Thunder-lightning-thunder-lightning, Frank-Mum-Frank-Mum.
“What difference does it make?”
“It makes every difference! I told you not to go on those computers anymore!”
“Mum, it’s the same bloody game!”
“It’s not! I want you off that screen! I want you playing a game with your friend! IN REAL LIFE!”
“It’s no fun with two players. We might as well play, I don’t know, bloody Snap.”
“I know!” Mum is almost shrieking. “That’s why I was coming to play with you!”
“Well, I didn’t bloody KNOW THAT, DID I?”
“Stop swearing! If you swear at me, young man…”
I hear Frank make his Angry Frank noise. It’s a kind of rhinoceros bellow slash scream of frustration.
“Bloody is not swearing,” he says, breathing hard, as though to rein in his impatience.
“It’s in the Harry Potter films, OK? Harry Potter. How can it be swearing?”