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Cryptic

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Seventeen across, two words, seven and five letters. “The part after a mixed nag fill, disintegrating”.

It had been three days, and still Bailey was struggling to puzzle this particular clue out. He already knew that the fifth letter was i. He knew that. Thirteen down was “disappoint”. That much was obvious.

Perhaps they were all “disappoint”. Here he was, crouching yet again over possibly the only thing keeping him alive, and he was at last able to see a certain irony in the fact that “disappoint” was the first word he had spotted in the crossword. It was also, coincidentally, the only word he had found. But Bernard Bailey was not the type to give up on a problem. He had spent his life seeing things through to the end, and he was not about to stop, even if the threat of another meagre night’s sleep was looming ahead. He had to be up at 6am, which was not so bad in the grand scheme of things, except that it was now past 2. Yes, he had seen things through to the end. Always.

Sometimes even before they had begun.

He took another sip of whiskey and wiped his mouth. A rough stubble? It had been three days, he supposed. No sleep, and no shaving. He was becoming, perhaps because of…

No. Back to the puzzle, Bernard. Focus.

What if it wasn’t “disappoint”? In three days, how had he not taken into consideration anything other than “disappoint”? Other words, other words with a d-i-s… disenfranchise? Disillusion? Discourage? Distorted? Disgusted with oneself. Distraught. Dismal.

Get back into it Bernard. Stop it.

The whiskey helped him concentrate on the crossword, even if it didn’t help him complete any of it. Nothing helped him with the puzzle. Do you improve at cryptic crosswords over time, or will you always be just as bad as three days after you start your first one? No-one was there to help him with this problem.

The electric bulb flickered overhead. There was no sound. Bailey stretched. A vertebra clicked.

What am I doing? This is dismal. Dismal. I feel like death. I’m just sat here, like the sad man I’ve been for three days, staring at… at what?

The flat was empty. There was no sound. Bailey felt his eyes drift as he continued to concentrate on seventeen across. There was a clatter as his pencil fell to the wooden floor.

Without looking down, Bailey bent over his chair, picked it up, and brought it back up to nibble nervously in the corner of his mouth. After a few seconds he pursed his lips, stuck his tongue out and groped around with his fingers to extract a long hair from his mouth that had evidently come up with the pencil.

Drawing it out to its full length, about a foot, Bailey did not recognise it as his own. It was too long. A cryptic hair, drawn from the flooded crypt of his memory. He needed to shave. He needed to move on. It was already Day 4, and he wasn’t coping on his own any more.

Drain that crypt Bernard. That hurricane, she left you waterlogged; dry yourself out.

There was still no sound about the flat. There was a smell of spilt coffee and whiskey, and the artificial rays of the dim bulb overhead casting shadows across those parts of Bailey’s face that they were unable to illuminate. You could almost taste bachelor in the air. But there was still no sound. No humming radiator, no breathing dog, no cars outside, no-one turning over in the bed or whispering in his ear. Not for three days. Not even for some time before that.

Back to the cryptic crossword. Why was he so preoccupied with it? Perhaps it was his remnant. The debris of his shattered home. Perhaps it was the crypt, flooded with memory. The crypt in which he had drowned, had been drowning in for three days, and the depths from which he could never surface. Perhaps…

…Seventeen across, two words, seven and five letters. “The part after a mixed nag fill, disintegrating”.

It was coming up to four days, and still Bailey was struggling to puzzle this particular clue out.

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