FEATURE

To Capture A King: A Short Story

Fiction

by Norbert Ehrenfreund Published Spring 2012
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Illustration by Josh GeorgeOfelia showed her new lodgers the room upstairs, which was dark, even with the lantern. It consisted of a single bed and chair and smelled of insect spray. Ofelia came downstairs and examined the passports further. She had heard Kevin call the woman Skinch, but that was not the name on her passport, so Ofelia guessed it was her nickname. Besides that, all she could make out were the letters USA.

Half an hour later, Ofelia heard a rustling on the stair. She saw the men look up as the young woman descended alone. She was indeed a striking figure. This time she had on a skirt instead of the khaki shorts, and the white shirt had been replaced with a pink pullover sweater. Her long blond hair was freshly brushed and hung behind her shoulders. Her lips were brightened with lipstick. The men at the tables tried not to stare. They squirmed and coughed and looked at each other with their eyebrows raised and turned back to their games. Skinch stopped at one of the tables and stood watching the chess game. Her hair glistened in the flickering lantern light. The men tried to concentrate, but it was very difficult with Skinch there. Besides Ofelia, who stood behind the counter, Skinch was the only woman in the room. To the men, she was a creature from another world.

Muy bonita,” Ofelia said aloud to herself.

Skinch moved to another table, where Alfonso and Quilvio had been playing for a long time. When she approached, they both looked up at her and smiled, and she smiled back. Only a few pieces were left on the board. For more than five minutes the two men stared at the table like statues, without moving or speaking. Skinch watched in silence. When Quilvio finally moved his rook, Skinch shook her head.

Ofelia did not understand chess, although she knew the names of the pieces. She also knew the two words jaque and jaque mate. And she knew that when one of the players said jaque mate, it meant the game was over.

Soon Alfonso picked up his queen and with a little flourish held it above the board. Quilvio didn’t see what was coming, and Alfonso was making the most of the little drama. Finally, he set the queen down next to Quilvio’s king and said, “Jaque mate.” Alfonso’s queen was protected by his pawn. It took a moment before Quilvio recognized the painful fact of the matter. Then he laid his king down on its side and shook his opponent’s hand.

When Quilvio stood up, Skinch took his chair and tried to speak to Alfonso. She pointed to him and to herself, then to the board. He did not respond. What was this woman trying to say to him? She continued to gesture, but he still did not understand. Finally, she sat down in the chair and again pointed to him and to herself. She picked up one of the pieces and waved it between them.

Comprende?” she said. Eventually, it dawned on Alfonso. She wanted to play him. His face reddened. He had never played with a woman before.

Bueno?” she asked.

Bueno,” Alfonso replied. What else could he do? Together they started to put the pieces in place.

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