Martin hunched over the bar, poring over a lifetime’s puzzle; an untouched pint and a recently lit cigarette perched on an oversize ashtray were his only companions. As he lifted his hand to write the skin on his arm adhered slightly to the tacky wooden surface and he sighed; did they ever clean this place? There was little point complaining, if he did water would be sloshed across the surface and he’d be unable to continue the completion of the matrix. Brittney constantly played on his mind.
M _ _ _ I _
There were no clues; it was a simple computation puzzle, the type where every possible combination of letters must be attempted. Martin, bored with the mechanics of the process, speculated on the actual number of possibilities available to him. He wasn’t a mathematician but, after a little multiplication and drawing on distant memories of Daddy Cunningham, his Eighth Grade Maths teacher, he came up with the figure of nearly four hundred and sixty thousand combinations.
MULTIPLY was simply too long...MARTIN was too obvious. But that was Brittney all over; and she’d had all the numbers...big time.
Of course that was maths and what he was interested in were English words; this narrowed down the field and took his mind away from hurts to grievous to bear; Martin guessed there’d be around twenty or so real words. The M would have to be followed by a vowel; that much was evident, although the name Mhari, a distant ex, kept waltzing around his head, confusing the issue somewhat, until he realised that a Y was a definite possibility, if his lover and quiz master had been sick enough to have included a double word answer. As he had stared myopically at the mosaic, or the series of spaces representing it, for some ten minutes now, his frustration was growing. Why had she gone? A thick crust of grief shaded his thoughts.
Martin knew he was on the margins of sanity, his girlfriend had told him often enough, but who was she to judge, any girl who claimed descent from both a member of the maquis and a great chieftain from amongst the Maoris had probably been screamingly insane. It was even more ridiculous when you considered her features which were decidedly Chinese. He’d named her Brittney after his childhood fantasy; it had also been amusing that she had trouble with the pronunciation. Somehow it garbled itself into four syllables, Bwi-it-en-ee, when she had told people her name, and was constantly asked to repeat herself.
It was Brittney’s last gift that perplexed him now; she had learned English from her Mother and a battered 1976 edition of the Pocket Oxford English Dictionary. Martin wished he had the latter to hand and then sorrowfully reflected that he wished he had Brittney on hand also; he missed his missis. They’d met while he was on a trans-Asian rally for Morris Minor owners and it had been in Xi’an that their world’s had collided. She had been the petite guide who herded the drivers around the Muslim quarter and sat them down with roasted lamb kebabs and cheap Chinese beer.
Martin had eyed her body, silhouetted clearly, through her thin muslin dress by a low sun that streamed fierce light through the open doorway. It had taken him longer to notice her face, but when he did her pinched pixie looks had thrilled him. It was then that he noticed she had stolen his lamb pie. That had been his loss and his entrance to a new world; oriental and passionate, loving and sensuous. Martin, in one moment, had abandoned his senses and opened himself, not only to the East’s vice like grip, but to Brittney’s also.
It had been a mystical moment, one that changed his life forever. Later, when they had been exploring the menhirs, some hundred kilometres north of Xi’an, he’d taken by the hand to lift her onto one huge monolith and had quite simply not let go again. When he came to write his memoirs this would be the climactic moment of his life.
By that evening her dress had been partly covered by a huge mohair sweater, one so soft to the touch that Martin had almost inclined to keep his hands on it rather than in it. If she had been beautiful to look at she was even more beautiful to feel; her skin a sensuous silky sheen, firm yet pliant.
Now the megrim had him, his mind filled with low swirling thoughts, for Brittney would not fall into his arms again...ever. The morbid thought would not leave him. His soul directed his semi-conscious thoughts to that last day, his mind fighting against the memories. The flash of lightning and instantaneous crack of thunder had been terrifying; Brittney’s mashie had been raised as she attempted to chip the bunker on the third hole and it was this that attracted nature’s wrath. It had been a Ben Molner sort of moment.
Brittney’s last gift lay in front of him. Would he ever unravel it? If he could solve the word maze he knew he’d get to the bottom of the numbers underneath...an impossible task. He had a lifetime.
4/3, 13/3, 13/4, 13/3, 10/6, 5/7, 7/4, 9/17, 13/10, 7/4, 6/7, 5/7, 5/17, 8/15, 13/12, 2/15, 9/17, 15/6, 5/15, 8/15, 7/4, 5/4, 10/17, 1/13, 7/12, 9/10, 7/12, 4/10, 9/17, 9/17, 10/6, 13/3, 5/12, 13/10, 8/3 10/8, 9/17, 15/5, V, 1/13, 10/6, 6/1!