To Capture A King: A Short Story


by Norbert Ehrenfreund Published Spring 2012
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Illustration by Josh George

Ofelia stood behind the bar and made a face as she watched the chess players hunched over the tables. El juego de ajedrez. She had lived all her life in this remote village of Ibiza in the middle of the Mediterranean and had never heard of chess until Tomayo came back from Madrid three years ago. Then everything changed.

Ofelia had inherited the inn from her father when she was still a young woman. The inn had always been the center of activity in the little village on the Ibiza coast, population 473. But how different it was before Tomayo went away. Then the men came to play cards or dice. They talked and drank wine and beer, and the inn made money. Now the men still came, but they hardly talked. They would sit for hours staring at that stupid board with the squares on it without saying a word to each other. Instead of wine and beer they drank coffee and Coca-Cola. When you play chess, they said, your mind must be clear. Ofelia’s business suffered.

Ofelia looked for Tomayo, but he was not here tonight. Once the game caught on and the men learned to play by themselves without his help, he came less and less. She knew where he was. His bride didn’t want him to come. Ofelia tried to shut out the picture that forced its way into her mind. She knew his bed well, knew how it creaked when the activity on the mattress became tempestuous. She remembered the morning three years ago when Tomayo sat up in bed after they made love, when, without warning, he announced that he was going off to a new job in Madrid. She was almost sixty then. A widow with no children. He was ten years younger and had never married.

What about us? she said.

What about us? he said.

Don’t I count?

I’ll be back, Tomayo said.

Before he boarded the boat to Valencia, he took her in his arms and said the same thing: I’ll be back.

Ofelia almost answered, We don’t have much time, but she bit her lip and said nothing. When the ship’s horn blew, she expected him to kiss her, but he did not. She felt his long mustache brush her cheek. Tomayo returned to Ibiza three years later with two new things, both of which brought sorrow to Ofelia’s heart.

First, he brought the game of chess, which he learned in Madrid. He taught it to all the young men in the village, and it caught on. Now it was their favorite pastime. The women, of course, never played. It was strictly a man’s game. Second, and more devastating to Ofelia, was the young madrileña who came off the boat with her arm through his. The woman was more than twenty years younger than Tomayo. She had bleached blond hair and fair skin that made her stand out like an electric light among the villagers. She spoke Madrid Spanish that was hard to understand for Tomayo’s people. Their tongue was Ibicenco.

Suddenly a loud voice outside drew Ofelia to the window. In the courtyard she saw a young couple in khaki shorts straddling their bicycles. The woman glared at the man and spoke to him in a foreign voice.

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