“202 Checkmates” by Rion Amilcar Scott

A story about chess and fatherhood

AN INTRODUCTION BY DANIEL JOSÉ OLDER

Some stories — usually the best ones — come to life and carry you along with their own special, inexplicable gravity and when they’re over you’re not even sure what it was that pulled you in and wouldn’t let go. No literary mechanics or plot devices came into play; the writer, now magician, simply won you over and off you went.

Great stories don’t need any explanation.

This is how I feel about Rion Amilcar Scott’s writing in general, and particularly his story “202 Checkmates.” It’s a story that I started reading and then, with barely another conscious thought, finished reading. It pulled me in entirely, became the world around me, and about halfway through when I emerged for a breath of air, I knew I wouldn’t be able to articulate why. Then I just shrugged and kept reading — great stories don’t need any explanation.

“202 Checkmates” is about fathers and daughters and life and growing up and all the sorrow and joy that encompasses. It’s a series of tiny and profound turning points that add up to something much bigger than themselves: something you can’t squeeze into a simple phrase or calculation.

One time for that magic — it’s what makes stories come to life.

Daniel José Older
Author of the Bone Street Rumba series

 

“202 Checkmates” by Rion Amilcar Scott

In my eleventh year, my father taught me defeat.

I sat with my back pressed on that old, scratchy brown couch. Tom chased Jerry across the television screen and then the image dissolved into a white dot in the center. I turned to see my father holding the remote control in one hand and a crumpled cloth cradled in the crook of his other arm.

What are you doing with that rag, Daddy? I asked.

It’s not a rag, girl, he said. It’s a mat.

He unfurled the dirty checkered mat onto the coffee table and dropped a handful of chipped and faded black chess pieces in front of me. He started setting up the white ones without looking at me. I tilted my head, watching my father curiously.

I tentatively set up mine, following his lead. Each piece looked like a veteran of many battles, with nicks and gashes exposing the wood beneath the paint.

Your queen always starts off on her own color square, he said. she’s a woman like you and your mother. She likes to match. He reversed the positions of my king and queen.

When my father explained the rules, I thought I’d never be able to keep them straight, especially the rules about the horse, because he moved like a ballerina, jumping to far-off squares, or rather he galloped. I grabbed hold of a horse and moved him to a vacant square.

Now hold on, little girl, my father said. Chess is like real life. The white pieces go first so they got an advantage over the black pieces.

With that I removed my horse and he inched a pawn one square forward. I was on my way to being checkmated for the first time.

He was the god of chess each time he spread the crumpled mat and set up the pieces with his haggard, dark brown hands. I used to look at the grime beneath his fingernails and the scars on his knuckles, wondering why his hands looked older than him.

And my father’s voice crackled when we played chess. Daddy often sounded like a kung-fu master in one of those movies me and my brother watched on Saturday mornings. He didn’t speak like that all the time, but he always spoke like that when we played chess.

Once, I was so deep in concentration that I didn’t look up when my father broke our silence. Instead I chose to imagine one of my horses speaking.

I used to play this game with your grandfather when I was your age, he said sitting hunched over the board, moving around the pieces he had captured, waiting for me to make a move. Pop was good, he said. I never beat him.

How come?

’Cause he was good. Naw, really, I could have beat him had I had the chance. He got real sick. Couldn’t even finish the game we had going ’cause we took him to the hospital. He told me to bring the game with me when I went to see him. Your grandmother wouldn’t let me take it to the hospital, though. Don’t bother your father with that foolishness now. Daddy’s impression of my grandmother was a high-pitched shriek that sounded like her only in spirit, and even then it was Granny as a cartoon character. You know how your grandmother is, he continued. Every time we went, he used to ask me about the set and —

My father paused as I moved my queen to a middle square. He swooped in swiftly and tapped it from the board with the base of a knight. It bounced once it hit the carpet.

Thought you had something, huh? Let that be a lesson, little girl.

With my queen gone, I made my moves lazily, waiting for the twentieth checkmate, and then my father said this: You playing like the game’s done. the game ain’t over until that king is pinned down and can’t go nowhere.

If a pawn makes it to the other side, he told me, it becomes a queen. I imagined a little pawn magically blossoming into royalty on that last square.

It became something I longed to see. sometimes when all was lost, I’d just inch a pawn forward, but the piece would never make it. the fifty-seventh checkmate was one of those games.

We woke early in the morning before I went off to school to continue a game carried over from the night before.

While we played, my father told me that when he was my age he imagined he’d be the first black grandmaster. He was the best chess player in school, winning casual games as easily as drinking a glass of water. He became king of the tournaments.

Yeah, figured one day everyone would call me Grandmaster Rob.

What happened?

Just didn’t work out that way, I guess. After a while, I wasn’t worrying about being no grandmaster or nothing like that. You stop thinking about these things at a certain age.

I’m going to be a grandmaster, I said.

My father stared hard at the board.

You know, Daddy, it’s never too late.

He chuckled, and in less than two minutes my king stood pinned by a bishop, a rook, and a pawn.

Checkmate!

He jumped and shuffled across the floor like the Holy Ghost had slithered up his pant leg.

Robert, she’s eleven years old, my mother said, passing by.

The girl ain’t too young to learn, he replied. Then he turned to me. Ain’t that right?

I nodded, thinking about my loss rather than whatever I was nodding about. My impotent pieces stood meekly, no longer any use.

He stuck his hand out for a victory shake.

You cheated me, I said, raising my voice a little, ignoring his hand and frowning, damning him for phantom moves I was sure he had made in my absence. Daddy, you cheated.

Don’t blame me because I’m better than you. You gotta start thinking two, three moves ahead. then you can challenge me. Don’t worry about me. Worry about your game.

My mother called out from the next room. Said I was going to miss the bus. My little brother had walked off to wait without me. My mother stood before us talking fast and loud. She got this way sometimes. My father placed his hand softly on my head.

Come on, baby girl, stop pouting and get your stuff together. I’ll walk you to the bus stop.

My father never walked me to the bus stop in the mornings. Most days he’d leave for work early before I even got out of bed. He’d return late in the evening long after I had come home from school, his clothes and skin covered in black grease. After a half hour he’d walk out of his room looking immaculate, his face clean and smooth, each hair lined up waiting on my inspection. His hands, though, were always stained with traces of thick oil and dirt that rested beneath his fingernails. He’d sit on the couch with his scarred hands wrapped around a green beer bottle that rested on his thigh.

As I stood from the game, Daddy took my hand in his, and there sat the grease, nesting beneath his nails, as much a part of his hands as the creases and veins.

Even though in my little girl mind he had cheated me, the thought of walking with him filled me with pride, making me the happiest girl in all of Cross River.

Dammit, Robert! my mother said. You made her miss the bus.

I peered out the window to see its yellow tail pulling off.

Well, baby girl, we’re going to have to take the l9 downtown to Ol’ cigar Station, my father said. But we got to leave right now, because I’m sure the buses are behind schedule.

We stepped out the door and I forgot to wonder why he wasn’t at work.

That was my fifty-seventh checkmate at my father’s hands. I refused to play with him after that and instead taught my little brother the game. He was six at the time and had a short attention span. I got tired of beating him, though. He never figured out how I could mate him in three moves.

Soon my father and I returned to the board. Around this time it became clear that my mother didn’t much like chess. She used to say things like, Chess ain’t gonna get your homework done. One night when she thought I was asleep I heard her tell my father, Chess ain’t gonna get you work. That was in the middle of a bunch of hollering from both of them. Then the front door slammed. my father was back in the morning to finish up the previous night’s game.

Sometime around the hundred-and-first checkmate, I cut through the park on my way home from a friend’s house late in the afternoon. There hung a sharp chill in the air. Around a picnic table stood a silent crowd looking severe and intense. Everybody pulled their jackets closer when the cold breeze blew in, but even as the heat left their bodies the people’s eyes stayed fixed on the game. Two guys — an older man with a white Afro and yellowish-brown tobacco stains soiling his white mustache and a younger man with smooth dark skin and thin, trimmed black hairs neatly resting on his upper lip — sat at the picnic table with its black graffiti on flaking maroon paint. The men were face to face, staring at a crumpled board more tattered than my father’s. A pale brown time clock sat near them, and after each move one of the men slapped a button atop the timepiece. The elder man had a grizzled face that looked as if it had been punched too many times, while his opponent’s was young, strong, and handsome, dimples passing over his cheeks when he flashed a transient smile.

Brilliant, a tall guy whispered loudly after the older man moved a pawn one square forward. then a few minutes later: Man, fuck a Bobby Fischer. We got two Bobby Fischers right here. And these Bobby Fischers ain’t crazy.

From the chatter I learned that the younger man was Manny, his opponent was Chester, and nobody had ever seen anyone defeat either of them.

Eventually Chester pinned Manny’s king. He didn’t get up and dance. Manny didn’t rip the black hairs from his upper lip and storm off in anger. The two slapped hands, complimented each other, and left in opposite directions.

When I reached home, I told my father all about the match. Speaking breathlessly, I mixed up parts of the story and corrected myself into an incoherence I knew only my father could understand. And he did make sense of it, even if he had to ask me to slow down a few times.

I heard about them dudes, my father said.

We should go out to the park, Daddy. You can beat Chester.

Baby girl, chess ain’t about who can beat who; it’s about life. He unrolled the board and set up the pieces. Now come let me beat up on you.

It wasn’t until checkmate one hundred twenty-one, or perhaps one hundred twenty-two, that I convinced my father to come watch the men in the park play. It was a mild day, coming off a string of cold ones, and he agreed that it would be a shame to waste the shining sun and pleasant warmth by playing indoors.

When we got to the park, Chester sat blindfolded at a picnic table. He had three games going at once. He’d make a move and then a woman would guide him to the next table to make another move. The crowd looked on silently.

He’s just showing off, my father said.

You can beat him, can’t you, Daddy?

He’s a showboat, my father said as if he didn’t hear me. Chester vanquished an opponent and walked slowly to a different picnic table to make a move as another challenger set up a board for defeat. My father said, He a good showboat, though.

You can beat him, right?

My father grabbed my hand and we walked downhill, away from the action, to a maroon picnic table of our own. He unrolled the crumpled mat and set up the chipped pieces. I played with the black ones as usual. He said I could be white when I beat him. My father took one of my knights and taunted me.

Now, little girl, you know you can do better than that. You gotta protect them pieces, girl.

I took his queen and laughed at him. He clenched his jaw, and his whole face became tight. Playing my father was no longer as hard as it had once been. I was getting used to his rhythms and seeing weaknesses in the creaky stiffness of his gameplay.

Now where did you learn a move like that? he asked.

Don’t worry about me, worry about your game, I replied, which made him laugh.

We both hunched over the board. There was no world outside the both of us, outside of this game.

Hey, little lady, you missed a chance to take back the game from your old man, a voice called out. My father looked up and frowned. It was Manny. He sat on a nearby bench studying our board, his right hand rubbing against his smooth dark chin.

Move your queenside knight —

Come on, man, let me and my daughter play in peace.

All right, brotherman, I’m just saying that if I was her, I’d move that queenside knight so I could castle and set up some opportunities to put you in check, otherwise the game is over in three.

Whatever, man, worry about yourself, my father said. I hear Chester did you like that computer did that Russian.

Aw man, fuck Chester —

Could you have some respect for my little girl?

Sorry, man. I ain’t mean to disrespect the little lady. Let me play winner, Manny said, and then he winked at me. I smiled.

Staring at the board, I could see Manny was right. My father knew it. His annoyance showed in his stiff brow and the nests of wrinkles at the corner of his eyes. There was only one way out. But winning wasn’t as important as doing so gracefully and on my own. The knight stayed in his position and I moved a pawn instead, hoping to get it to the other side of the board before the game ended.

Aw, little lady, you just signed your death warrant, Manny said. let me play winner.

Man, my father said, let the girl play. With a quick maneuver of his fingers he trapped my king. It stood there lonely and helpless, cut off from all its allies.

Checkmate! my father called with the drunken excitement of a midnight partygoer. You’re getting better, but you’re still not good enough to beat your old man.

My father gathered the pieces, snorting and grunting in a way that let me know he was pleased.

Come on, man, let’s go a round, Manny said with a dimpled smile.

Naw, man, I got to take my little girl home.

What you scared of? he asked.

My father barely even bothered looking up at Manny as he rolled his board and cradled it in the crook of his arm.

My dad’s not scared of you.

Looks like he is, Manny replied.

Come on, Daddy, you can play one game.

Naw, girl, we got to go.

Yeah, little lady. Y’all gotta go, Manny said. The way your pop plays, I’ll have him mated in two. He doesn’t want to embarrass himself in front of you.

My father unrolled the crumpled board and set up his pieces.

Manny removed a cigarette from the right breast pocket of his black leather jacket and made a ceremony of lighting it. then he took a long pull and blew out a cloud of formless gray smoke.

I’ll even let you be white, he said.

It’s my board, boy. I’m the defending champion. You can’t let me be anything.

Turn your head, little lady. I’m ’bout to beat your daddy like he stole something.

They didn’t just play one game. They played three, my father staring into the crumpled board as if that vinyl square held an opening to the abyss and the chipped pieces were Satan’s own demons flying out to wreak havoc. He was so still at times it was as if he had become one of his chessmen. But his face tightened with each falling of his queen, his bishops, his knights; and it dropped each time Manny calmly said, checkmate, and blew another plume of smoke.

Manny smiled in my direction after the last game, dimples sitting again on his cheeks. Then he winked. I looked away.

My father clutched my hand as we walked home in silence. I replayed each of his three games, mostly the endgames, in my head, still not believing what I had witnessed. All I could see walking up the streets were my father’s scarred thick hands clumsily moving pieces and Manny’s smooth brown hands, with their feminine fingers and strong snake veins, nimbly moving in confident counterattack. I couldn’t beat either of them, but I could see just where my father had gone wrong. For all his talk of thinking ahead, Daddy didn’t do it very well. And he couldn’t adapt to changing circumstances, always protecting his queen while his king stood exposed. Why did I never see his sloppiness when he was my opponent? As the image of my father’s leathery hand laying his king flat in surrender played in my head, my father spoke:

Sometimes you lose. A lot of times you lose. Sometimes you lose more than you win. That’s all.

My mind now drifted during our games, thinking about my father pushing over his king while Manny folded his arms across his broad chest and nodded in satisfaction. It was that slight nod, more than anything, that drew me back to the park day after day to watch the neighborhood chess heroes inch pieces forward and stare at their boards as if the world depended on each of their moves.

Manny sat before a board every time I wandered through Ol’ Cigar Park. He was as much a part of the place as the maroon wooden benches, the crumbly blacktop of the basketball court, and the dark green weather-beaten statue of the serious-faced man atop a galloping horse — sword in one hand, reins in the other, and a cigar between his lips — that sat in the center of things and watched over the whole area. Sometimes Manny would look up from a game while waiting on an opponent’s move. He’d smile or wink and then return his gaze to the board before I could respond with a smile or a wave of my own.

Manny checkmated a man once just as I showed up to watch the afternoon’s matches.

Little lady, he called, and waved a raised hand as his opponent slinked away. He returned the chessmen to their starting positions and offered me the white pieces. His board was vinyl like my father’s but smooth and new. When I made my first move, he told me it was all wrong. Manny had a comment after each of my turns. I clutched the head of a knight. He guided my hand instead to a pawn I hadn’t considered. When he removed his hand from mine, I slowly eased my arm back, knocking over my king and queen, and felt myself blushing. Manny laughed and placed them back on their squares. Chess had never made more sense; the game had never been more beautiful. I watched his smooth hands dance as they conducted the lesson. He took his eyes off the board to look up at me when I spoke and complimented me each time I did something unexpected.

As I moved my queen, a woman, tall and brown-skinned, holding a silver purse over her shoulder, walked up behind him and placed her hand on his back. He greeted her without turning from our game. Just after her arrival, he took my queen. The woman smiled at me. I kept a serious face and stared at the fallen piece. He mated me with his next move.

Manny placed an unlit cigarette at the corner of his mouth, lit a match, and cupped his hand around the flame to protect it from the wind.

Good game, little lady. He stood from the table, scooping up a handful of pieces and dropping them into the woman’s purse. He rolled the floppy vinyl board, and the woman stuffed that too into her purse. You’re going to be real good one day. Go home and show your daddy what I taught you.

Manny winked at me over his shoulder as he walked off with the tall woman. A board sat empty on an adjacent table. In my mind I filled it with pieces, reliving the game I had just played, trying to make all I had learned a part of me.

My twelfth birthday neared. It landed on a Sunday, so my father let me stay home with him on the Friday before the day. I floated between sleep and wake as my little brother rustled around, packing his stuff for school.

How come she gets to stay home? he asked. It’s not fair.

Life’s not fair, my father replied. Hurry up, boy, and get your stuff together before you miss your bus.

The two-hundred-and-first checkmate came that morning after my father made breakfast. The doughy scent of pancakes mixed with the sticky, sweet smell of maple syrup and filled every inch of our apartment. My king lay flat on the crumpled mat as my father jumped up and shuffled across the floor in celebration. He called it his James Brown dance.

What? Did you think I was going to go easy on you because it’s your birthday?

Watch out, Daddy, your dancing days are going to be over soon. Just wait.

It wasn’t idle talk for me. His game was weak and strained, and I could see his king toppled and defeated, lying at the feet of my queen.

He cooked us hamburgers for lunch, and while I ate I heard him on the phone arguing with my mother.

He disappeared for a long stretch in the afternoon while I watched Woody Woodpecker and Droopy and Bugs Bunny, and when he came back his eyes burned fiery red and puffy folds of dark loose skin bunched beneath them. His breath burned with the harsh-sweet scent of alcohol. He moved slowly, as if his joints had stiffened with weariness and pain.

He sat on the couch next to me and we watched the Roadrunner outsmart Wile E. Coyote.

This used to be so funny when I was your age, he said.

It’s still funny, Daddy.

I got something for you, baby.

He pointed to a rectangular box on the dining room table. It lay wrapped in two different types of paper that puffed out and wrinkled at the edges. My father had wound several strips of black electrical tape around the box. Daddy’s wrapping job was so pathetically cute I almost didn’t want to open the gift.

I know your birthday isn’t until Sunday, but you played such a good game this morning.

When I ripped the paper from the box, I could do nothing but stare at my gift. It was a green marble chessboard. I ran my fingers along the clear glass that covered the thick emerald base. the white pieces were a shiny crystal, the dark pieces a frosted gray. It was heavy. My father grunted as he moved it to the center of the table for us to play.

When my mother came home we were on our way to the two-hundred-and-second checkmate.

Look what Daddy got me, I said as she closed the door.

That’s nice, baby, she replied evenly and blandly, and her lack of enthusiasm irritated me.

My father and I played a long game, neither of us dominating. I had just taken his second rook when my mother made me go to bed. It was early. I frowned and sighed loudly in frustration, but I dared not talk back. There was no checkmating my mother.

The walls in our apartment were as thin as bedsheets. It didn’t appear as if my parents cared that night. It was long after I was supposed to have gone to sleep, but I lay awake thinking of my next moves. this time I was sure I’d defeat my father. An army of pawns would become queens on the far side of the board.

The soft drone of my parents’ conversation grew into muffled screams. I held myself still so the creaking of the bed wouldn’t obscure their bickering, and I even took shallow breaths so as not to miss a word. my brother slept in a bed across the room, not stirring a bit even when the shouting grew so loud it seemed as if we had no wall to filter the sound.

How the hell can we afford that? my mother screamed. It’s not even her birthday yet. I thought we talked about this. I told you we couldn’t afford it. You don’t think.

My father’s response sounded like muffled grumbling, forever lost between the paint and plaster of the walls.

We haven’t even paid the rent this month, my mother yelled. I got to go grocery shopping this week. Robert, you don’t think.

Why is everything such a big deal for you? I didn’t do anything wrong. I got the girl a nice gift.

You didn’t get that for her. You got it for yourself. When are you ever thinking about anybody but yourself?

We always pull through. You’re always predicting the worst and we always pull through. It’s never as bad as you say it is.

You don’t even know how we pull through.

Silence.

You want me to take it back? Fine, I’ll take it back.

It’s too late; you can’t take it back now. You already gave it to her like a fool. You’ll just be disappointing her. God, Robert, you apply for two jobs and then give up; got the nerve to spend the money I make on expensive gifts. I don’t understand you. It’s just like the garage. You never think anything through. All you had to do was apolo —

Could we not talk about that? I’m done talking about that.

Silence.

I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this one. We can’t live on that chessboard, Robert. Did you even try to think this through? I’ll tell you this, Robert, you’re not going to have Bobby out of school on his birthday so he can grow up to be like you.

Whatever —

You’re not a man, Robert. You don’t. . . .

Think.

At least, I believe she said think, but I can’t be sure because the door slammed on that word.

A moment later my door cracked and a sliver of light expanded into the room.

Baby, I heard my father’s voice say. The gentle tinkling of wooden chess pieces bouncing against one another accompanied his voice. Baby, are you awake? Want to play chess with Daddy?

I pretended to be asleep. My bed shifted and creaked. My father sat on the edge by my feet. He said nothing for a while, sitting still. He sighed. He whispered something angrily. Before long he was taking short, tortured breaths and whimpering like an infant or a wounded horse. I cracked open my eyes and peered at him through slits. A glint of hallway light landed on half his face; the other half sat draped in darkness. A dampness slicked his cheeks. I burrowed my head between pillow and sheet and tightly shut my eyes.

Neither of us said anything about that night as the days passed. the marble chess set sat in the living room, our last game frozen on its face. Both my father and I barely acknowledged its presence most of the time. every week, though, he removed the pieces, cleaned the dust from the board, and set them back just as we had left them that night.

One day it sparkled under the ugly yellow apartment lights while I sat across from it doubled over by an aching in my belly. My mother had cooked spicy wings for dinner; maybe that was the cause. I tried to ignore the pain by sitting on the scratchy brown couch and writing in my journal. As I wrote, I felt a new wetness between my legs. And there it was, a streak of brownish-red blood staining my underwear.

My mother knelt over the bathtub washing my underpants in warm soapy water, talking to me about babies and blood and all the ways my world would change. most of it passed over me, disappearing into the universe.

A few days later I went to the park by myself, though my mother now forbid it and my father sided with her, saying, What are you looking at me for? You heard your mother. I slid into a seat across from Manny. He slowly took my pieces, finally checkmating me after the tall brown-skinned woman showed up. Manny walked off with her, leaving me with a dimpled smile and a wink as he had done before. I shrugged, sitting there by myself wondering if all that talk of my world changing was just another one of those empty things adults say to children.

My father barely spoke during this time. He usually disappeared after dinner, and I would hear him return late at night, taking heavy steps, loudly banging into furniture and cursing in pain. In the darkness I stared up at the ceiling, thinking about games I watched in the park or something else entirely. He would be gone again in the morning when I awoke for school. In the afternoon there was my father, sitting on the couch, red-eyed with a green bottle of beer in his hand.

The day we returned to the board was an unusual one. It must have been a school holiday, because my brother and I were both home, but my mother wasn’t there. I remember my father’s coarse hands gripping a folded newspaper to his face as I ate soggy cereal. His hands made me think of his loss in the park.

After I had cleared the table and washed the dishes, I spread the crumpled chess mat on the table next to the marble board. Without saying a word to my father, I set up the pieces, both black and white. my father put down the newspaper and approached the table cautiously. He suggested I be white and started to take a seat before the black pieces, but I shook my head and spun the mat so that the white pieces sat before him.

We stared at the evolving board, barely speaking, feeling for the fallen pieces almost as if they were dead family. my father made a mistake and grunted angrily. one of his bishops went down, and his king stood exposed.

Who taught you a move like that? my father asked. I was too deep in concentration to respond.

He made a helpless move and hid a crestfallen brow behind a false smile.

I imagined my father’s mind racing, cataloging everything that had ever tumbled down around him. I put my hand on a bishop, my would-be assassin, and thought of my father’s heights when he won, how he galloped around. The depths of his despair at losing, I expected, would be equal to the peaks. He’d mope about, his face fallen and miserable, his posture stooped as if his back ached. I took my hand from the piece and leaned back in deliberation. He ran his left hand over his cheek and his upper lip as a sort of nervous gesture.

My bishop moved to an out-of-the-way square where it died at the hands of one of my father’s pawns, and my father chastised me for missing an opportunity to take the game.

It’s not over, I said. That’s all part of the plan.

His tight jaw eased. His eyes danced with life, and his down-turned mouth became a straight line.

I inched a pawn forward, anticipating that moment when it would reach the other side and take the rank of queen. We went back and forth trading pieces. My queen fell. The pawn I had been grooming fell, and I inched another one forward a single square at a time. My father’s moves were now of little interest to me as I eyed that determined black pawn. If it became a queen, I could still pin his king in three or four moves. I watched his spare pieces as he studied the board. He angled them into position, maneuvering his bishop and a pawn to kill my king. Doubling back, I blocked him. He made another move, and I focused again on my pawn.

It danced to the last square, transforming into royalty, that most powerful lady of the board.

And as I smiled at the pawn’s triumph, my father used a knight and a rook to seal my king’s fate. He slapped his hands together and rocketed to his feet, announcing his checkmate with a shriek while he paraded around the table laughing and applauding. I gave the victor the slightest nod and tipped over my dead king.

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