April 25, 2010
Your Best Possible Move
Stephen could take Cynthia’s Knight with his Rook. Cynthia will probably counter by taking his Knight. This will leave her King exposed and Stephen will have her in checkmate with his two Bishops and a Pawn.
Instead, Stephen could take Cynthia’s only remaining Rook, exposing his Queen. Cynthia responds by capturing his Queen. In five moves, she will have him in checkmate using—among other things—her Rook and both Bishops. He thinks this might please her.
Stephen could take one of Cynthia’s Pawns, the closest one to his side, which has the capability of bringing back one of her lost Rooks. If he makes this move she might smile because she has told him she almost prefers being able to bring something back to life than winning the game.
Stephen could pretend he doesn’t see that his Queen is in danger via her Knight. She takes the Queen, sets it on her side slowly, and she might question whether or not he is trying to let her win. It has been one week since her boyfriend left her to live with his mother in Denver while he sorts things out. They both know he is not coming back. Now, sitting in the country club her family belongs to, watching her he thinks, Cynthia needs something to go right for her. He has been thinking this all week. However, he cannot let her think he’s simply trying to hand her something out of pity. He is a guest, a friend of the family. But he wants more.
Stephen could advance one of his Pawns and say to her, “I bet I can bring my Rook back faster than you can bring back yours.” She might see this as humorous but she probably will see it as an indication that he is not taking the game seriously. She has been, after all, fairly quiet which is either a sign that she is focused or that she does not feel like laughing very much. Either option probably leaves Stephen telling a poor joke to this audience of one who is uninterested in laughing.
Stephen could take the Knight with his Rook—as in keeping with Move 1—but she may foresee the trap ahead: that taking his Knight will leave her King exposed. In noticing this, she will counteract with some other move and, no matter how innocuous it is, will feel proud of herself for having prevented tragedy.
Stephen could reach across the chess board, pull her chin up, and say, “I love you. I always have. You are gorgeous and funny and it pains me than you are in so much pain. I love the way you compare people to food—calling someone’s nose a piece of popcorn, calling someone’s cheeks a donut hole. And I love the way you bite your nails regardless of the fact that I always tell you not to. It’s the way you can’t stop damaging yourself out of habit, that is why I will appreciate you however you are—more than anyone else ever will.”
Stephen could reach across the chess board and say nothing. He only makes the action. Perhaps the action will be enough. He justifies this to himself, thinking, Actions are louder than words. He contemplates, If something is cliché does that make it untrue?
Stephen could lunge across the chess board and say nothing. But he knows he only wants to reach and say nothing because it will be easier on him. He will have to do less. It won’t require him to think about his words. But here I am, he thinks, obsessing over a game where nothing is ever lost, where the only consequence is a momentary loss of pride. I’m here over-thinking the situation, over-thinking your best possible move, over-thinking my options with these figures on the board—plastic objects so much smaller than the things they stand in for.
Stephen could sit for a long time. Sit and wait for her to look up. She has been staring at the board incessantly, hardly looking up to check the grandfather clock or to look at the paintings in the country club’s game room—or let alone look him in the eye. When she finally looks up he will be smiling. Something could happen.
Will Pewitt’s fiction has been published in several journals including Avery, Pindeldyboz, Avery, The Claremont Review, and Word Riot. He received the Foundation Award for Fiction from the MFA Program at the University of Arizona, where he teaches composition. His current work-in-progress is Clear Skin, a novel that investigates the disparate topics of pornography, sports, and small-town gossip.