A story about communicating – or not – through puzzles.
Maybe this time she’ll notice. Each week I sit here, at this desk, compiling the crossword. Each week I fill it exclusively with clues and answers that state my feelings loud and clear. Each week I drop it into her in-tray. And each week she smiles – god, I love it when she smiles – tells me ‘another great crossword, Ernie!’, and off it goes to press with the rest of the paper.
She doesn’t seem to be getting it. I’ve been doing this for weeks now. Clues and answers about love and how I feel about her. ‘Another word for “obsession” beginning with I (11)’; ‘Hit song by James Blunt (5,9)’; ‘The saint of 14 February (9)’; ‘What Prince wanted along with your extra time (4)’.
And she loves crosswords. Every day she does the one in the Times during her lunch break. So it’s not as if she’s stupid. And she looks so beautiful, peering over those wire-framed glasses, red hair cascading down her shoulders, tapping her teeth with a biro while she thinks.
Maybe it’s me. Maybe she’s realised how I feel, but doesn’t like me like that. I am a fair bit older than her. And a fair bit balder and tubbier for that matter. But I’m sure she could see past that. We both love crosswords, The Archers, jazz. We’re the same. Ernie and Erica. Even our names are perfect together.
Or maybe she’s worried about hurting her boyfriend’s feelings. But they’ve only been seeing each other for a few weeks, and he really doesn’t seem right for her. His name is Ashton, for goodness sake. He likes football. Formula One. Surfing. Videogames. They’re hardly compatible, not like us. I mean, it’s right that she should be a bit worried. But sometimes you just have to get over that and do what’s best.
Perhaps I should just tell her, get everything out in the open. But I’ve never been good at talking about emotional stuff. I could write her a poem, but I’m no better at poetry either. I wrote a girl at school a Valentine’s sonnet once. It went ‘Roses are red, buttercups are yellow, I’ll always be your devoted fellow,’ and then she showed her friends and one of them recognised my handwriting, and then everyone at school called me ‘buttercup’ until the day I left. Even the headmaster.
No, I’ll just have to hope this week is the week. ‘A union of love (8)’, ‘Shape beginning with ‘h’ that symbolises romance (5)’, ‘Dolly Parton song made famous by Whitney Houston (1,4,6,4,3)’. I’ll hand it in now and see what happens.
‘So everyone, I have an announcement to make,’ said Erica, standing up at her desk. The rest of the staff at the Courier swivelled on their chairs to look at her, except for Ernie who already was.
‘Myself and Ashton… are getting married!’
Mass applause echoed around the newsroom. No-one noticed Ernie turning purple, but then no-one at the Courier ever noticed Ernie full stop.
‘I know we’ve only been going out for a few weeks. But I think when it’s right, you know it’s right.’
Someone produced a bottle of champagne and glasses, and began handing out drinks. Somehow, Ernie was overlooked.
‘Oh, and one more thing – we’re moving to Australia! I’ve got a job on one of the papers in Melbourne, and Ashton’s going to work as a surfing instructor. We can’t wait!’
More cheers. Cries of ‘well done!’.
‘We’ll be moving in two months!’
Amid the celebrations, Ernie left the room. No-one saw him go.
Shortly afterwards, readers of the Courier noticed a shift in tone in the crossword. ‘Too many pills (8)’; ‘Used by a hangman (5)’; ‘sharp tool used for shaving or sometimes suicide (5,5)’; ‘The end of life (5)’. A few eyebrows were raised by the town’s puzzle enthusiasts, but they were soon distracted by the Sudoku on the opposite page.
And then, soon after that, Ernie stopped coming to work. But it was a while before anyone noticed.