tic tac toe

there’s so many options / all of the classics are there / pong, pacman, and others / but you decide to go with / tic tac toe / (your personal favorite)

tic tac toe
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng / Unsplash

by Pearl Joseph

you sit in your office
a stack of manilla envelopes
scattered across the desk
the clock is barely moving
and the air is tense
as if something is missing
but you can’t figure out what it is

but this feeling is ignored
swiftly shoved away
pushed deep inside.
you type on your computer,
trying to finish your work
as soon as possible
even though the keys keep
getting  jammed

and eventually you are so sick
of the clicking and clacking,
of the sound of your fingers working
you pull up a random,
ad- infested game website

there’s so many options
all of the classics are there
pong, pacman, and others
but you decide to go with
tic tac toe
(your personal favorite)

“play against the computer”
is your safest bet
since you haven’t played
this in years
plus, you must be smarter
than a bot,

you get to go first
(being the guest and all)
you take the center spot
a signature move that
you’ve always used
it hasn’t failed you yet

nostalgia hits you in waves
sure, things are different-
you’re grown, you have kids,
and computers are the newest craze
but everything feels the same
as it did years ago

on the other hand
as a teenager
you never pictured yourself
sitting in a musty, clustered
cubicle playing tic tac toe
yet here you are

for a moment you long
for your childhood again
sure, it wasn’t perfect,
but it was good.
you failed to appreciate it
when you had the chance
and now you can’t get it back
too late.

your eyes wander back to the screen
the bot had gone
half a minute ago
but you were too engrossed
in your own thoughts to even notice
the “o” in the top right corner

the rest of the game went by slowly
probably because it was a mix of you
thinking about all the things you regret,
losing track of time and
not noticing when the bot made its move

however, you were nearing the end
and it was about to be your turn
there was two spots you could claim to win
so nothing could go wrong
you smiled.

today had been a good day
and although you missed the past
the future seemed fine, too

eventually an “o” appeared
in one of the squares
your hand flew to the mouse
ready to finish-
to win-
but the screen went black
before you were able

looking up,
you realized your boss
was towering over you
holding a cord in his hand

“get back to work”
were his only words
before he walked away
leaving the plug limp on the ground

as you sit back down
you see
your life is just an endless repeat
of the same days
over and over
like how tic tac toe
is the same game
over and over

sure, there’s little things you could control
and little things you could change
but the outcome was always the same-
you get your hopes up
just to be let down again

Pearl Nice Joseph (she/her) is an Indian American writer from Long Island, New York, who spends most of her time thinking about writing rather than doing it. She is a Gold Key recipient for Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and a topical winner for American High School Poets Summer 2022 contest. She is published in volume 2 of Young Radish magazine. She is also submissions reader for Seaglass Literary, editor for Vocivia Magazine, and staff writer for Firefly Archives. When she is not procrastinating on school work, she likes to practice archery, bake desserts, and annoy her older brother.