Short Fiction, Honorable Mention: "Checkmate"

by Stella Gilgur-Cook ’98

David walks down Ocean Parkway: benches full of old geezers like himself on one side, highway traffic on the other. The neighborhood children are running amuck, making their grandmothers shake their fists and predict inevitable deaths by truck flattening. In the past, he would have stopped by the throng of men surrounding the concrete chess board table, but not today. And not tomorrow. And quite frankly, he isn’t sure he’ll ever be able to step out-of-doors on a crisp autumn day like today and join a heated chess match again. Clapping and shouting with these elderly men, while their wives watched the grandkids, while their own kids propelled their careers in their corner offices, is a life he no longer has claim over.

Fifteen years ago, David and his wife, Rita, took their first walk down this street. They had moved in, dropped their things, and went out to celebrate their newfound freedom. Their daughter and her husband had finally saved up enough to buy a house in the suburbs. When they at last had their own place, they were newlyweds again. Their first night alone was no comparison to their original first night, which was full of awkward moments and failed expectations.  

David thinks of his wife, lying in her casket, wearing the silk green dress custom-made for their 50th anniversary. They were going to have a huge party with 300 people, “The Wedding of the Century,” as the grandkids had started referring to it; he had hoped to surprise her by proposing again. He pictures her pale, lifeless body, the coffin being lowered. The handful of dirt that he threw in materializes again in his head: cold, gritty, and moist. He rubs his fingertips together, playing with his regret like he used to play his violin — slowly, steadily, and with precision.

A deafening roar explodes from the chess table behind him, and the crowd starts congratulating the satisfied victor. David looks, and then walks over, desperately trying to catch the excitement. He stands by the crowd, waits for someone to pat him on the shoulder and invite him into the circle, if only for a moment. “Checkmate,” he says aloud with the others, “Checkmate.”