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"Waiting For the Next Move"

 Flash Fiction by Wayne Faust  

© 2009 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved

          

    Bobby stared at the chessboard. Joseph had stepped out in the middle of the game, going to investigate a noise from up above, and he still hadn’t returned. In the meantime, Bobby was analyzing every possible move that Joseph could make.
    There were a lot of things that Bobby couldn’t do. He couldn’t change the light bulb in the lamp above the table. He didn’t know or care what was making the quiet humming noise inside the walls. Smells didn’t phase him either, good or bad. He didn’t care what the temperature was. He never looked up at the clock on the mantle, nor did he notice it counting the seconds, the hours, the days. He cared only about the game in front of him.
    A mouse scampered across the floor, its nose like a vacuum cleaner. Bobby didn’t mind the mice, for they never sniffed him. To them, he might as well have been part of the chair.
    He thought of some of the things that Joseph had taught him. “Don’t be so hasty,” he had once said. “Even if you know what move you’re gonna make, it’s best to wait a little while. Let your opponent think you’re worried. Besides, when you make a move two seconds after I do it really ticks me off.” And then Joseph had laughed.
    So Bobby had learned to be patient. He didn’t want to make Joseph angry, because if that happened, then he might not want to play anymore. And then what?
    Bobby focused. There were a lot of moves that Joseph could make.
    Bishop to c4...Knight to h4...Queen to g6...
    And on and on.
    The moves cascaded through Bobby’s brain, along with all the countermoves that Joseph could make. And then there were counter moves to those. The possibilities grew exponentially. But Bobby was determined to map them all out, so that when Joseph came back, whatever move he made wouldn’t matter and Bobby would win.
    Because Bobby was a player.

***

    A loud, muffled thud came from the ceiling above. A cascade of dirt and plaster fell into the center of the room. A hole opened up and bright sunlight shone down through the stale air.
    Bobby looked up from the chessboard. “Joseph?” he called.
    “There’s something here!” cried a voice from above.
    A few minutes later, a rope came down through the hole. Two figures climbed down, a man and a woman. They brushed themselves off and gazed open-mouthed at the pictures on the wall, the single cot, and the food boxes stacked floor to ceiling. They turned their gazes toward Bobby, sitting at his table and his chessboard.
    “Where’s Joseph?” asked Bobby.
    “What?” asked the man, who was tall, and much younger than Joseph.
    “It is Joseph’s move.”
    The man paused for a long moment. Then he and the woman whispered back and forth among themselves. Finally, they approached, stepping around the fallen dirt and pieces of ceiling. The sunlight from above back-lit their faces so Bobby couldn’t see what they looked like.
    “Will Joseph come back soon?” asked Bobby.
    The man reached out to touch one of the pieces on the chessboard.
    “Do not touch that!” said Bobby sharply. “It is Joseph’s move.”
    The man glanced at his companion. Then he looked down at Bobby. “Joseph is gone,” he said softly.
    “I know that,” answered Bobby. “When will he come back?”
    The man sighed. “Joseph is dead.”
    Bobby laughed. “Joseph uses that word when he knows he will soon be checkmated. ‘I am dead,’ he says.”
    The man looked at his companion and shrugged. Now the woman spoke. “It means that Joseph is never coming back again,” she said. “Not ever.”
    “But he didn’t finish the game,” said Bobby.
    “Joseph died a very long time ago. Seventy-five years at least. During the Wars. But I guess that must seem like yesterday to you.”
    “I do not understand,” said Bobby, frowning.
    The woman examined the chessboard for a few moments. “No wonder old Joseph ran off,” she muttered. “Checkmate in five moves.”
    She turned to her companion. “This is one of the early Bobby Fisher models,” she said. “My grandpa had one just like it. Taught me to play. I always loved his eyes, so expressive, like a lost puppy. When I was little, I thought he was a real person. He kept me company. I didn’t have a lot of friends in those days.”
    “We have to go,” said her companion.
    “Give us a few minutes,” she said.
    “But…” sputtered the man, “we’re supposed to…”
    “I know,“ she answered. “It won’t be long.”
    The man mumbled under his breath and drifted over to a far corner of the room.
    The woman turned back to Bobby. “My name is Louise,” she said. “You must be Bobby.”
    “Yes.”
    “Well, Bobby, Joseph wanted me to tell you he’s sorry that he couldn’t make it back. He asked me to finish the game for him. Is that okay?”
    “But…” said Bobby.
    “I’m sure I’m not as good a player as Joseph, but I’ll try my best.”
    “Very well.”
    Louise pulled up a rusty folding chair and sat down. She was at Bobby’s level now so he could see her better. He liked her face, especially her eyes.
    “It is your move,” said Bobby.
    “Yep,” said Louise. Under her breath she muttered, “I sure hope this is a good idea.”
    Bishop to c4.
    Bobby knew the counter move, for he had been thinking about it for a long, long time. But Joseph had taught him to be patient. He whistled softly and grunted a few times. “Nice day,” he said.
    “Yes it is,” answered Louise.
    At last, Bobby made his move.
    Knight takes pawn.
    Bobby wondered if Louise knew the trap she was getting herself into. Checkmate in four moves.
    As Louise stared at the dusty, yellowed game board, Bobby planned his opening move for the next game.
 

END
 

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