Playing Monopoly With the Antichrist
If I have one enduring memory of my childhood, it’s lying stretched out on my front on an ancient carpet, my head resting on my arm, staring at a Monopoly board and waiting for the dice to roll. The same memory, over and over again like a recurring, haunting dream.
The irony is, I haven’t played Monopoly as an adult. I have an old set – the one we always used – a shabby, moth-eaten maroon board and a tatty, dog-eared box that’s falling to dust. Someone spied it once on top of my bookcase and asked if I was keeping it for my kids. But I will never play Monopoly with them, or use this set again. I don’t know why I keep it.
He came to the house regularly, especially over Christmas. I hated him being there – his big red face, his enormous 6ft 5in frame, his bullying laughter, the sheer brutishness of the man.
He would always rib me for being an only child, always with a sly glance thrown at my father, a knowing smirk. He called me a loner and talked at length about what a bore I must find the holidays, how lonely I must be and how I needed a real man for a role model. That’s how we started playing Monopoly.
It was raining that day and he threw the door to my room open with a crash. I half-expected him to bellow, “Fee fi fo fum!” as he loomed over me. “I was hoping to catch you up to something,” was what he actually said, with a leer. I shrugged my shoulders; I was reading a book.
He hauled me off my bed by my arm, grabbed the Monopoly from a shelf with his other hand and dragged us both to the dining room floor. He emptied the box upside down in one great sweep, the counters shooting all over the place like bullets, the board bouncing across the floor in a storm of banknotes and title deeds.
“You’ve played before?” he asked as I scuttled on my knees, retrieving all the pieces and setting them out.
“Yes, a few times.”
“Not my way you haven’t, lad!” he thundered, plonking himself onto the carpet and slamming a glass of whiskey down beside him.
His way turned out to involve a lethally complicated set of additional rules – playing with double money, bonuses paid out by the bank at seemingly arbitrary moments, triple fines for landing on certain hotels, overdrafts, impromptu property auctions… I couldn’t keep up. He would begin each game by declaring, “I will be the sports car, you can be the old boot!” and throwing the piece at my head, rasping his whiskey-addled laugh.
How I hated these games and their ever-changing rules. My father, a quiet, affable bookworm could never give me a satisfactory explanation as to why we had to put up with this man and his terrible visits. He would just sigh and say, resignedly, “For some reason your mother likes his company.”
He was right, she did. I found his clumsy lasciviousness mortifying and crude to watch but my mother responded to it, flirting, wearing a new dress, getting her hair done when he was due.
It was as though he had a hold over us and could pick us up, shake us about however it suited him then drop us again quickly, looking on with amusement to see where we scattered and what number we rolled.
I began to fear his visits and endured them with loathing: the ritual humiliation at his hands; the way he made me feel he was winning more than just a boardgame.
That’s the reason I came home early from school that Friday instead of having tea at a friend’s house. He was visiting that night and staying for the weekend. I had reached the ripe old age of 12 and was starting to feel a deep-seated urge to kick out against him, to play him at his own game and beat him. I had worked out a theory as to which properties I should snap up first on the board or during one of his crazy, manic auctions, which would give me the best chance of winning against him, of teaching him a lesson. I wanted to look at the board before he came, double-checking my theory to see if I was right.
I could smell the whiskey and cigarette smoke as I walked into the hall and knew he was there early, a nauseous panic rising in my throat. He wasn’t in the living room, nor the kitchen nor anywhere downstairs, though the smell of him was overpowering.
I walked upstairs silently and stood for a moment on the landing. I saw a half-open bedroom door, a crumpled silk dress, a whiskey tumbler knocked to the floor. And I knew the game was over.
I’ll never play again, not that game nor any other. And one day, when I make a bonfire in the back garden with my kids, I’ll slip the battered maroon box under some dead wood and watch London burn.