Honorable mention in the 2006 SNHU Fiction Contest
The Last Chess Game
by Rory J. Parnell
The walls were white as snow, which was fitting with the flakes parading down outside. It was cold inside, it was cold outside, it was cold everywhere. Why did it have to be so cold? She wondered. Her watch read ten thirty in the morning. The sun looked like it had abandoned the Earth. No hope of warmth remained for the day. She put on her gown and walked to the window and gazed at the soft blanket of snow.
“Winter is so quiet,” she said to herself. Voices of people below her could be overheard outside her window. She leaned against it. The frost melted as her warm cheeks pressed against the glass.
Cynthia hated her building. It was cold; the paint on the walls was a dreary cream color that reminder her of beef stroganoff. Yet, one lone bright spot shone on her lonely existence. Today was when she would play chess with Jaime. Jaime was her only son. He loved chess, and so did she. After teaching him to play when he was seven, his ability to manipulate his opponents was readily apparent. Soon, she had him enrolled in chess tournaments where he would fly through the field of players, drawing crowds as he mapped his moves out well in advance. Some called him psychic, some called him a phenom, but most of the people in New York called him the next Bobby Fischer. Chess was buzzing with Jaime’s name. He was a can’t-miss-prodigy, and threatened to bring chess to the mainstream markets in sports.
He would be there at noon, right when the sun hit the highest point in the sky. It helped in her ability to see him. In the dark, she was always confusing who he was, and what he was saying. She was called senile behind her back, but she made no effort to correct them. It was too late in her life to care about what some nurses muttered at lunchtime regarding their patients.
She had time to eat a little breakfast. As she walked to the door of her apartment, her food was waiting outside her door. She opened the plastic case holding her breakfast and felt the eggs inside with her index finger. Almost as cold as the window, she thought. Why did everything have to be so cold today? She grabbed the wheat toast, specifically ordered because everyone knew white toast was bad for your heart. It was cold as well, but a lot more bearable than eating ice cold eggs. After all, the eggs were probably covered in diseases anyways. She swore she could see the diseases on food that was left out too long. At times, she refused to use the bathroom in her hall because she felt it was unsanitary and cited many different bacteria that may or may not have been covering the toilet seat. No one ever investigated her claims.
With the toast now resting uncomfortably in her stomach, she decided to go down to Sven, the head nurse from Russia, or was it Vladimir? She could never remember. As hard as she tried, she could never remember. It was her belief that it was disrespectful to him not to know where he was from or how to correctly pronounce his name. As she rounded the corner of her hallway, she noticed him leaving another room.
“Sven,” she called from down the hall. “You have anything for me in there?” She motioned towards the cart he was pushing. It loaded with more medicine than a pharmacy, she thought.
“I believe I do, Cynthia,” He answered. The cart stopped, and he looked at her carefully. She was such a nice, intelligent woman, he thought. It was a shame she was here with no one left to care for her. It never bothered him that she couldn’t remember his name; it was always amusing to when she called him Sven. His hand reached towards the bottom shelf for the cup labeled ‘Cynthia’ in permanent marker. He grasped it and filled a small cup of water.
There were five pills in all; a pill for her weak heart, a pill for her heart burn (which was acting up from the cold toast), a pill for her osteoporosis, one for her arthritis, and a red pill that she never could remember what it did. The red pill was one she never liked to take when Jaime came to visit. She could never follow what he was saying when she took it. That Jaime, she thought, he could be so smart!
To prevent taking the pill, she had a method for hiding it. She would put all five pills in her mouth, and before taking a sip of water she would maneuver the larger red pill so it was above her top set of teeth and gums. After Sven left, she would spit it out in her hands and flush it down the toilet.
She waved to Sven, who simply smiled warmly and went back to his delivery duties. It was important, she had thought, to always confront him before he went to her room. She got caught once not taking the red pill, and he made her swallow it. She never saw Jamie that day, and she blamed the medicine for discombobulating her sense of time and space. So much for senility, she scoffed, and went back to her room to take a shower.
The mirror reflected her age. She hated looking at it, but now she couldn’t take her eyes off of her reflection. Am I really that old? She thought. The wrinkles had enveloped her body, and brown spots and veins ruined the complexion of her once perfect skin. This is the last visit, she thought sullenly. Jamie had told her as much before. After this day he could no longer visit her here, he had said. She had asked him why, but he left too quickly to give an answer. It had bothered her for the whole week. Sleep was at a premium, but the sheer relief of seeing her only son today had allowed her to sleep through the night peacefully.
It was almost noon now, and she decided to make her way down to the common room. Many of the members of her building were there, some watching television, while others engrossed themselves in board games. The chess set was still available. There was an understanding that was reached with her fellow inmates, as she liked to call them. The last time someone had the chess board, she had thrown herself upon it declaring she would defecate all over the board and the people playing it (in not so polite a manner) if they had ever taken it again. No one wanted to see that, and a silent agreement was reached. The chess set was Cynthia’s on Tuesday.
She walked over to grab the set, and heard whispers as she walked. Many of the residents thought she was crazy, but that suited her just fine. The rest of the inmates would leave her alone if she was thought mad.
She walked to an open table, giving people odd looks with her tongue hanging out. It always made her giggle the way they would shake their heads in disgust. Jamie was going to be there any minute, so she started setting up the pieces. The black pieces were hers, and Jamie’s were always white. It was easier, she thought, for him to see the white pieces. He was too good of a son to have to play with the black pieces, which she thought were symbolic of evil.
As soon as the last piece was placed, Jamie appeared at her side. “You gave me a start,” she said. “Sit down, sit down, we only have so much time.”
“You don’t have as much as you think, mom.” Jamie managed to say.
“What do you mean?” she asked. His tone was serious and alarming.
“Let us not concern ourselves with that now, its chess time.”
The other inmates looked over at her and laughed. “Don’t worry mom,” Jamie said, “They only see what they want to see.” He moved his pawn two spaces.
“Kings Indian,” she said. “I know you love that defense, but I’m prepared for you this time.”
She could feel Jamie’s smile as her knight was moved beyond her pawns.
“If only it were that simple,” Jamie replied. His motions now were slow and methodical. He was like a general canvassing the landscape as his army prepared for battle. She understood his first ten moves were already planned out, but she also knew he would try as hard as he could to let her win.
She moved her other knight to flank her advancing bishops. “Why do I not have more time?” she was curious as to her son’s comment. Jamie never said anything without having some meaning behind it. Every sentence he had ever uttered was as planned out as his chess moves.
She heard more laughter behind her and turned around to see two of the women on her floor whispering and pointing at her to great amusement. Blind, she had thought, those women were as blind as the rest of the world.
Jamie had stopped playing; it was clear to her now that this was his last visit to the nursing home. Fear rose up in her stomach. She dreaded the notion of being alone more than any other thing in the world. Jamie was all she had left, he was connected to her deeper than any other soul in the world, and the thought of losing him made her bones shiver.
“You’re not leaving me, are you Jamie?”
“No,” he replied sullenly. His dark blue eyes bore into hers.
“Then why the long face?” her voice quivered slightly, and Jamie leaned over to kiss her on the forehead. He reached down to his queen standing guard next to her loving king, and placed his middle finger on her crown.
“It’s your time to come home with me.” His voice cut through the murmurings surrounding her. “It’s your time to go.”
Her eyes welled with tears, but she nodded and looked at the Queen. As he pushed it over, she watched it fall slowly to the board. Visions of Jamie being born flashed before her eyes; it was the happiest moment of her life. Then her husband’s soft brown eyes came into view. Those eyes always had a way of making her knees weak. She reached out into the air and whispered his name. As her hand fell, so did her body. She hit the table hard and fell limp to the floor.
Sven, who always enjoyed watching her play chess with herself, rushed over towards her fallen body. His fingers were placed upon her neck, but he felt no pulse. Calls rang out for the nurses to get her to the acute unit of the nursing home in an attempt to revive her.
“What happened?” the head doctor asked.
“She was playing chess with herself, per her usual Tuesday routine, and she just fell forward onto the table.” Sven had always kept an eye on her on Tuesdays, because he felt it was so odd for such an intelligent woman to do something as irrational as play chess with herself. His heart always cried for her, because he knew it was her son she kept mentioning. One Tuesday he had looked it up after hearing her mention the name several times during the course of her chess match. It was a tragedy. On his way to the New York Chess State Championships seven years ago, a truck had hit her son’s car and killed him.
Sven looked back towards the chess table. Only the Queen had been knocked down. He walked over to the table to pick the set up. One by one he picked each piece up, but he left the queen for last. It faced towards the door to the outside. As he placed the last bishop back in the box he turned towards the fallen queen. He gazed at it, and a shiver went cascading down his spine. It was pointing at him now, and away from the door. Yet, what was more chilling was that two other pieces were now next to them, the white king and the white knight. They were flanking her as if they were standing guard over the fallen lady in white. He quickly scooped them up and placed them back into the box.
He stared at the seat in front of where Cynthia had been sitting. He shook his head, and muttered to himself, “There’s no way”. His steel blue eyes were fixed on the empty metal chair opposite Cynthia’s. Sven reached down slowly and placed his hand upon it, and abruptly jerked his hand away He walked swiftly towards the acute unit where Cynthia’s body was being taken. ‘Warm,’ he thought to himself, ‘how could that chair possibly be warm on a day like today?’ He didn’t want to think about it anymore, and turned his heels towards the bathroom.
He ran the cold water over his hands, and his thoughts traveled back to Cynthia. The steel eyes found their reflection, and he stared at them for a few moments. Sven muttered a quick prayer for Cynthia and walked out towards the acute unit where her body had been taken. He shivered as he walked. It was too cold, he thought. Winter had come sooner than he had expected.