R ose entered her house heavier than when she had left it that morning. The calm of her home now felt quiet and barren and the sun-filled sky spotlit regrets from the night before. Crumpled napkins and sticky rims strewn about. The perpetually unfinished game of chess her and her father always had on the go on the table in front of the stone hearth. Rose wondered if they’d ever get to finish this one. It was her move with the black pieces.
“Do you know what the most powerful piece on the entire board is?” he’d asked a young Rose during one of their first games together. Rose had scoffed, muttered ‘the queen, of course’, even punctuating it with an eye roll for good measure. Her Father shrugged his lips and nodded his head.
He leaned across the board, his hands clasped shut.
“But there’s one piece that you, and almost everyone else forgets.”
Rose smiled and lifted her eyebrows. Her dad had a flair for drama that was not lost on her. His fingers unfurled to reveal: “The pawn?” Rose’s deflated tone said everything. He jerked his hand back.
“You judge so quickly!”
His free hand gestured down at the board.
“A knight can jump, yes, but it will always be a knight. We know who he is. But a pawn,” he hovered the pawn over the board in the palm of his head. “The pawn can become anything it needs to be in order to win.”
He closed his fist and shook it at Rose.
Rose leaned in and obliged. Her Father wiggled his free hand over top of his fist.
“A rook perhaps?”
He unfurled his fingers once again and the pawn was gone. In its place stood a rook. Rose’s face lit up.
“How about a bishop?”
In a flash the rook had turned to a bishop.
“Or yes, even the powerful queen.”
This time, when he opened his hand, there was no queen. No rook, no bishop, no knight. Simply a black pawn.
“Can you see her?”
Rose took the piece from his flat palm and rolled it around in her tiny hands.
“I can see them all.”
Her father smiled the way only a father can when his kid makes a breakthrough.
“In a world full of queens my sweet angel, be the pawn. They’ll never see you coming.” He tousled her hair. “Oh, and before I forget.” He glanced down at the board for a moment, pondered, then moved one of his pawns up a square.
He laughed uproariously, his head back and pulled her in tightly for a bear hug.
“Keep practicing honey. It’ll be a few moons before you take down your old man.”
Hours later, while he slept in his chair, Rose moved queen and pawn by firelight, careful to set the pieces down each move so as not to wake him. What she didn’t know, and what she couldn’t see, was a half squinted eye watching her with pride. He threw in a loud snore for good measure ever so often, especially when she was about to make a bad move. Even from his slumber he guided her. Rose felt a tear building in the corner of her eyes as she stood now in the empty mess of a house and wished he was here now. The board seemed to stare back at her. Something about it felt different than the night before. The arrangement of the pieces had taken on a peculiar pattern.
Rose crossed over to the table and cocked her head. The pieces were indeed in an impossible position. A black pawn surrounded on all six sides by white pawns, an unreachable point in a normal game. Perhaps in their drunken stupor the night before the rules had gone out the window and neither had noticed. Rose plucked the black pawn from its prison and rolled it in her fingers, the weight of it heavier than ever in her hand; the lacquered wood glowing in the morning light. She stuffed it deep into her pocket and began to prepare for the night ahead.
TO BE CONTINUED…