How to Play Old Maid
Somewhere on Gallifrey, the sound of a hard clack can be heard.
In a sealed white room, the pinkish, white-tipped nails of a French Manicure tap softly to on a laid bare wrist.
The wrist is on a table. There is a leaning shoulder -wrapped in a bit of temperature-controlled grey blanket- attaching the wrist to the man and the man to the wrist.
The man is sitting in a chair, his hunched form covered by the grey blanket and others. Near the edge of the circular table, balanced in the man’s open fingers like a cigarette, there is a silvery packet the size of a playing cards deck; twenty-three uniform tiny chads are busted and broken along its lined surface, and would dangle if the thing were picked up, perhaps even flutter to the floor like bits of foil, which is what they are.
Bits of foil.
In the center of the table is a hand-size white pyramid, floating above the table face at just the height of a man’s nose. Below it lies an inset game board with an intentional crack, surrounded on all sides by black and white little round pieces, still slightly shiny despite their obvious age.
A small shadow falls across the board; another body holding a cup has entered the small white stone room; the door floats shut behind this new wrinkled one, growing into the wall as though it had never been there.
The cup is carried to the table, and is set beside the woman in white with the clean, tended hands.
She takes it, wrapping those lovely bones around the warmth of the steaming cup, then savors a sip.
Her half-closed gaze looks up to see the old man who brought her the tea deciding on a chair, near a wall where a single blue-green, paper rose-shaped succulent stands happily in a yellow pot.
“The Little Prince is out of commission, it seems.” she murmurs, drawing one grey eye away from heavy thoughts of seating as she considers the small white piece that just fell into the crack in the board. It had first tumbled, she remembers, a small, impetuous human week ago. He’s kept it floating on the rim of the crack for an entire week, and not just that one- he’s controlling almost every piece. But now the little tumbled white stone has fallen into the black hole at the center of the board.
The rest of the old man follows from his study of the colored chairs; River half expects a creak from the branchy limbs and vanished teeth, but he flows about like a watery tide splashing expert and hither on the rocks.
“Indeed, my little Songbird, and there are not many pills left in that last pack.” the old man parries with a warm smile that, though genuine, affords his dry-mud countenance no favors. “If he does not break concentration soon, we may have to venture outside the room, and…”
“There’s no need for that, Pasmodius, we’ll all be leaving this little cubby soon enough, now,” the young man croaks from a bullfrog throat. His fingers clench convulsively on the packet, crunching it, crisping the foil and freeing the last three pills, which trickle out of the bubbles then plummet to the tabletop in a series of thick clacks.
They roll, those pills, off the table top and to the floor, smacking against the back white wall in a powdery thick cloud.
The young man’s once floppy brown hair is plastered to his forehead, just like it was last week. His free hand is still where he left it, too; wrapped close around his body, splayed against his still-modest girth as though his bump might detach and run away.
“That’s enough, Theta- go to bed. Sleep for an hour, at least!” the woman says, rubbing down the front of her white dress.
Pasmodius sighs and lifts a spidery hand, settling it on the man’s back. “She’s right, my boy- you mustn’t tax yourself by getting up after so long a vigil. One of us will fetch you something with more culinary spirit than that hard-packed dry millet you’ve been forcing down.”
It’s the Doctor’s turn to sigh, now. He licks his lips, even after River puts a small cup of water to his lips and glares at him over the rim.
“They’re vitamin capsules, Pasmo… for the baby. Made them myself, after I realized things might turn pear-shaped.”
River holds the cup to his lips again, silently willing him to drink so she can bundle him off to the comfy little bed-chair in the corner.
Those pretty peridots meet her hazels though, and then, it’s all over.
“Hey there, pretty girl…” he says, taking the stone cup in hands shaking with exhaustion and tipping its contents down his throat, “… think I could… get a hand up? I fancy a quick walk before I get what’s coming to me.”