Summary: An evening playing chess and memories hover …
Word Count: 1300
The two combatants faced one another across the chess board. The room was warm, comfortable, with the embers of the dying fire glowing in the hearth and the oil lamps flickering lazily. The old clock hic-cupped the minutes away, a not too silent witness to the battle being waged between father and son. Outside of the ranch house, there was the stillness of a pleasant evening blessed by a full autumnal moon.
In the corral, the horses stood close together, as though they also wished to partake of the pleasure of such an evening. Their day’s tasks now at an end, they nudged one another, nuzzled at one anothers necks, slurped from the water in the troughs and resumed their comradely positions. From the ranch house, the only evidence of human life still awake at such an hour was the orange halo of light shining from the downstairs windows.
Ben leaned back against the chair and waited patiently for his opponent to make his move. He wondered if his son would have noticed the error he had made, and would take advantage of it. In which case this particular chess game would soon be over – he hid his smile behind his hand as he anticipated a gleeful cry of ‘check-mate.’
The clock struck the hour and Ben leaned over to pick up his pipe and tobacco pouch. He frowned a little and, as he struck the match, he glanced over at his son. He wondered what was preventing the youth from making his move. It was glaringly obvious that all he had to do was make that one victorious move and that would be it – chess game finished. Ben struck the match and through the flare of the flame he looked once more at his son.
Adam looked thoughtfully at the board and frowned. Over the years he had naturally studied carefully how they all played this game. He knew that Hoss concentrated very hard on all his moves, but was easily distracted into making wrong assumptions about his opponent’s next move and made clumsy errors. Joe, on the other hand, could be very devious if his opponent was a worthy one, but he tended to falter at the important points of the game. He was over confident when playing against Hoss, and intimidated him and often won. But when he played against his father, his confidence waned and he often lost out as a result. Ben was the hardest to play against because he was the one who had taught Adam to play and so the tactics were very similar. Adam knew that when he played against Ben he had to employ patience and cunning, because impatience was Ben’s weak point.
But now Adam stared at the chess board until the black and white squares made him cross eyed. It was glaringly obvious that his father had made an error that had left him wide open to defeat. But, and here was the problem, had Ben made an error? Adam frowned in concentration and thought over his father’s chess prowess. Ben had been a subtle player, cunning and skilful. Was this an error? Adam licked his lips and swallowed a lump in his throat. Pa just didn’t make errors. Therefore, was he being ‘kind’?
Ben saw his son give a slight shake of the head and wondered what was going on through the younger mans mind. He puffed out smoke ceilingwards and stared at a point above Adam’s head. He had not been concentrating like he usually did on the game. He had begun to think about Elizabeth and how much they had enjoyed a quiet game of chess together in the evenings. He had been wool gathering, and made a careless error of judgement. Now he wondered what on earth was taking Adam so long to declare the game over. He cleared his throat loudly and raised his eyebrows.
Adam bit his bottom lip. Pa must have done it deliberately. Now he was clearing his throat and fidgitting. He obviously wanted the game over as soon as possible Was that why he had made it so easy for him to win? He never usually gave way, not on any account. He just didn’t believe in making things easy for the sake of – well, not for anything. Adam glanced over at his father, an anxious glance that contained a certain amount of confusion and doubt.
Ben pursed his lips and stared at the ceiling. He wondered why Adam looked so confused. Surely moving just the one piece was not too hard? How long had he been sitting there staring at that chess board now? Five minutes? He sucked hard at the stem of his pipe and sent out clouds of smoke.
Adam gulped. Pa was puffing so hard on that smelly old pipe of his that he looked like Versuvius about to erupt. If Pa had made a mistake, did he realise it now and was annoyed at himself? Or, was he expecting him, Adam, to make the most of it and defeat him? Should he take advantage of the error and …
“You know I could end this chess game right here and now, don’t you?”
“Sure – why don’t you?”
Adam’s dark eyes looked up at his father and met dark eyes in return. He looked back at the chess board.
“You made a mistake?”
“I was day dreaming and took my mind off the game for a second.” Ben admitted quietly, “Aren’t you going to end the game? You should you know, if you can see how obvious it is to end it.”
“I wasn’t sure whether you had done it on purpose. To give me an advantage.”
“Why should I want to do that? You’re too good a player for me to give you any kind of advantage. No, son, I was not concentrating and I made an error of judgement. It’s up to you to end the game.”
“If it was a genuine error …” Adam hesitated and frowned again, a small furrow that creased the smooth tanned skin of his brow.
“It was a genuine error and you have the right to take advantage of it. It’s like life, son, you have to take advantages of anything that comes your way. Don’t show any sign of weakness just because your opponent has made a mistake, could be your life at risk …” he puffed out a cloud of smoke and smiled, “Are you going to finish this chess game or not?”
Adam smiled slowly and nodded, “Check-mate,” he said quietly and then looked up at his father and raised his brows, “What were you thinking about, Pa? You don’t usually take your mind off the game.”
“No, not usually.” Ben collected up the pieces and placed them in the ebony box and closed the lid, “Your mother gave me this chess set, you know. Her grand-father had given it to her when she was a little girl. It was made in India. I was thinking about the times we used to play chess together of an evening,” he sighed and his voice drifted away into silence.
It was just a quiet evening with a dying fire, warm and still glowing, and the oil lamps created warm oasis’ of light around the room. The old clock ticked their lives away minute by minute . It seemed as though they were the only beings alive in the entire world at that time, and each of them separated by their own thoughts about the same person.