Lewis Cypher shook his head as he watched the old man shuffle his way down the litter-strewn sidewalk. The cracked cement lead into the empty pocket park where he was hurriedly setting pieces onto the foldable chessboard he had only moments ago laid on the scarred, rain-bleached picnic table. The old man never hurried, he just ambled toward his destination putting one foot in front of the other not at all concerned with the pace at which he arrived there, almost as if time had no meaning to him. Lewis on the other hand was acutely aware of time. He understood that every hour, every minute, yes every second was eternally lost once it passed and that he was only allotted a certain amount before he was simply out. The finality of that realization kept him in constant motion because there was so much to do. The game for example, while something that seemed to take him away from his carefully orchestrated schedule was important and unavoidable in it’s own way.
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He laid down the pieces with hardly a glance. Rook here, Pawn there, Queen back here, King placed just so. Lewis wasn’t surprised to see the old man had stopped, with a bemused expression on his lined face. He watched the progress of a cluster of sparrows as they systematically disassembled a discarded crust of bread, with his hands thrust deep into his rumpled gray overcoat. Once again, Lewis shook his head growing more and more agitated. In fact it was all he could do to stifle a cry of frustration, but he needed to mind his manners after all. Unwilling to give in to his growing sense of impatience, he settled with drumming his slender, well manicured fingers on the table top, and leaned over to study the board.
As if they could sense Lewis’ growing agitation the sparrows scattered, tiny bits of bread forgotten in a shudder of wings. At that the old man looked up, seeming to notice Lewis for the first time. He nodded once, an almost unperceivable shifting of his chin and shuffled over to the table where the younger man waited fingers still tapping out a rapid beat on the whitened pine planking.
Lowering slowly into the bench seat, one age gnarled hand resting beside the game board the older man spoke. “Same place we left off last time?” It was more of a statement than a question. With that said he began to survey the scattered clusters of pieces as well as the neatly arranged row of Lewis’ pieces sitting on his side of the board.
“Of course.” Lewis snapped finally growing tired of the pace his opponent was setting. “That’s what we agreed to, what do you say we get on with it?”
“Its your move.” The old man muttered his eyes never leaving the board. One liver spotted hand aimlessly tracing over the countless scarred declarations of love and hate that had been cut into the top of the table.
Immediately Lewis reached for his bishop, taking the old man’s rook from its place in the backfield of his defenses and dropping the captured piece into the left hand pocket of his suit jacket. Smiling he loosened his tie. In their last game the codger had sacrificed his Queen to take one of Lewis’ knights. That exchange of pieces had ended the last round, but Lewis had been planning his next move ever since. The speed at which his opponent had taken yet another of his pieces didn’t seem to ruffle the old man. He simply sat there tracing one carving after the other with a yellowing fingernail, staring at the board through hooded eyes, barely seeming to even breathe. Lewis was used to his opponent’s pace, and drew a cigarette from the pack in his breast pocket, lit it and resumed drumming a familiar patter as he waited.
The game went on for hours, neither man speaking. Lewis continued to smoke as he waited for the old man to formulate his strategy first then move the selected piece. Lewis was winning easily dropping eight more white pieces into his coat pocket, leaving the King, a bishop and a scattering of pawns. He leaned back, his cigarette sending tendrils of smoke curling about his head like some ephemeral halo. While the old man studied the board, humming quietly to himself Lewis spoke.
“Did you hear about the shooting at Calvary Elementary? It’s right around the corner if I remember correctly. An eleven year old boy, got tired of being teased and bullied by the other kids, brought his dad’s nine millimeter to school, and started blasting. I blame rap music myself, that Eminem guy in particular. Talking about guns and shooting, calling women bitches, rotting the minds of the young people. Six kids dead, six more injured and from what I hear six teachers are talking about transferring to another school district. It’s a goddamn tragedy, I say. Kids these days.”
Throughout this monologue the old man didn’t take his eyes from the board. As he moved a pawn to the back row of the board, he caught Lewis’ eye, his eyes flashing a steely shade of blue that matched the cloudless autumn sky overhead.
“It’s not the rap music, or the television, or movies that cause kids to do things like that. It’s feeling misunderstood and alienated that leaves them feeling they have nowhere to turn, and they lash out. Parents are too busy with their careers and Oprah’s Book of the Month Club to pay attention to what’s going on in their children’s lives. Eminem’s a scapegoat. I’ll take my Queen, if you please.”
Lewis was stunned, both by the fact that he had missed the solitary white pawn creeping it’s way into his back field, and by the lengthy soliloquy. The old fart hadn’t said more than ten words to him in as long as he could remember them meeting in the park to play. He hated to admit it, but it made him more than a little nervous. There was hardness in the old man’s voice that he hadn’t heard before.
Trying to hide his discomfort, Lewis launched a counter attack trying to box in the newly recovered Queen before the old man could put her to good use. This tactic lost him both a knight and two pawns. Changing tactics, he retreated trying to build a defense to keep the old man’s Queen and bishop from trapping his now harried King. Even with Lewis on the run, trying to find some hole in his offense through which a definitive strike could be made, the old man never rushed. He studied each move carefully, debated and never showed even the slightest hint of a smile. In fact as he systematically demolished Lewis’ defenses, lining piece after black piece off the board on his side of the table, he seemed to be saddened as if he regretted the need for the game to end.
“So it is.” Lewis admitted still reeling from the sudden turn of events. He had been sure that the game had been his, only to have his strategy thwarted by momentum generated by a single forgotten pawn.
“Lew, even though I knew how it would turn out in the end, I find myself wishing we could play just a little while longer. As strange as it may sound I’ve enjoyed this time we’ve spent together.”
“Me too, Dad. Me too.” Lewis responded with just a touch of resentment creeping into his voice.
With that both men stood up walking in opposite directions. The old man returning as he entered, shuffling along the cracked sidewalk pausing from time to time to watch the children that had entered the park while he and his son finished their game. Engrossed in games that their spectator didn’t recognize, they laughed and called to one another across the small playground as he smiled at their antics.
Lewis left by a path though the trees at the back of the park not far from the elementary school he had mentioned during the match. Unlike his father Lewis walked with his head low, cigarette drooping from the corner of his pursed lips never looking back, dropping white chess pieces in an intermittent rain on the ground as he walked.
The chessboard remained on the table, captured black pieces standing single file beside the board, the white queen and bishop bracketing the black king as it lay forlornly on its side.
A/N: There is a hidden level to this story. I'm interested to see if I left enough clues for the reader to figure it out. Any and all speculation is welcome.
Smile if you're stupid,
laugh if you understand.