By C. E. Stokes
Among the old buildings converted into apartments and small cafes stood the park. A perfect square block, with trees and greenery to hide people from the straight lines of the city.
Stone walkways cut through grass, dotted with simple wood benches. All the paths led to a small brick square in the center of the park, lined with short walls. The simple pattern of bricks, dark and light, matched the inlaid checkerboard on the table in front of me.
Damn John, he was running late again.
I sucked a sunflower seed out of my dentures and set each piece in its place. First, the Kings followed by their Queens. Then the rest of the pieces working out from the royal pair. Each piece centered on its square, awaiting orders for the upcoming battle. The final touch, the row of pawns at attention in front of the rest.
Game ready and still no sign of John. This same personality reflected in his play, smooth tactics dotted with abrupt chaos that made the game choppy.
With no other choice but to wait, I leaned back, still digging at that annoying seed. It came free with a pop. Satisfied, I spat it onto a tissue wad and shoved the mess in my pocket.
A couple strolled by, led by a happy dog that strained to go faster. A little girl, ponytail bouncing with each step, cut through the grass, her mother watching the antics with a smile.
A pair of teen boys, huddled near the small wall, threw glances at a gaggle of girls. The girls paid no mind, tossing their heads and giggling among themselves. One dark-haired girl sat on the short wall, her legs crossed at the ankles. Rising head and shoulders over her friends, she gestured with imperial waves to punctuate her words. The others giggled when their leader spoke, all eyes on her every movement.
With an air of nonchalance, the boys separated, moving toward the group of girls. A tactic similar to the Black Knight Tango opening, an opening I’d never found effective.
One girl looked up, her mouth moving as she informed the girl on the wall of the approach. The queen girl hopped off the wall with a scowl for the approaching attack. One of her pawns moved between her and the knight. The other knight circled around, joining the group from the right. A different pawn squeaked and stepped away from him, F2 to G3, bumping into the other knight. The knight fell back at the pawn’s attack, his hands grabbing her arm to steady himself.
The Queen’s shrill voice rang out, chastising the knight for touching her pawn. I winced, both at the tone and the fact the Queen came into play too early in the match. The knight laughed off her words, the awkward laugh of one who regretted his actions. His laugh trailed off, and he glanced around at the angry female faces. He licked his lips and glanced around, no doubt plotting his next move.
The Queen advanced, the pawns stepping back. The other knight retreated, leaving his friend alone under the Queen’s attack. The remaining knight grimaced a parody of a grin, his confidence wavering under the onslaught. He tried to regain the upper hand with another joke, but the Queen and her pawns were not easily misled. The knight’s face flushed, a creeping red that started at the base of his neck and spread over his face. He grabbed the Queen’s arm, his words becoming harder. Without missing a beat, the Queen slapped him across the face.
The pawns gasped, their faces a matched set of open mouths and wide eyes.
The knight conceded the match. He retreated from the board, the other knight trailing him. His shoulders tight and fists clenched, he stalked down the brick path and back toward the city. His friend’s comments and laughter did nothing to loosen the fury that gripped his frame.
“Sorry I’m late, Nick. Won’t happen again.” John slid into the seat across from me and adjusted the pawn on the board. Instead of centering the piece in the square, the small pawn now stood off-kilter, throwing the neat line of pawns out of sync.
“It’s okay, John. I was just thinking about chess.” I rubbed my hands together and turned my attention to my own game.