To Capture A King: A Short Story


by Norbert Ehrenfreund Published Spring 2012
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At the counter, Ofelia gasped. How bold! Was this woman really going to play chess? Against a man? Against Alfonso? It was unthinkable. Never in Ofelia’s inn had a woman done such a thing. Chess was a man’s game. It was too intellectual for a woman.

As the game started, the men gathered round. Skinch looked up and smiled at them and showed her gleaming white teeth, and then hunched forward with her elbows on the table, her chin resting on her folded hands, and concentrated on the board.

She knew that when one of the players said “jaque mate”, it meant the game was over.

Ofelia assessed the lady’s chances. Alfonso was one of Tomayo’s best pupils. But Ofelia also knew him for his gallantry toward the weaker sex. He would defeat the lady. He had to do that. But he would not embarrass her.

Meanwhile, Skinch’s husband had come downstairs to join the social activity.

He did not approach his wife when he saw her engrossed in the game, but remained at the counter behind the circle that had formed around her, hidden from her view.

The game with Alfonso did not last long. From the outset Skinch took Alfonso by surprise with the way she attacked with her knights. After just a few moves, she said: “Jaque.” Alfonso looked trapped but he got out of it. “Jaque,” she said, again and again. Always in a quiet voice, almost a whisper. As if it meant nothing. He knew he was doomed. In desperation he moved his king one square to the right. She moved in with her rook and it was all over. She didn’t have to say it. He kindly said it for her: “Jaque mate.” He stood up and kissed her hand in the Continental way, without actually making contact. The men turned to each other and shook their heads. Can you believe it?

In the circle looking on was a young man named Esteban. As soon as Alfonso got up, Esteban sat in his chair and rolled up his sleeves. He nodded, Skinch nodded, and a new game began without a single word passing between them. This will be different, Ofelia thought. Esteban was the best after Tomayo. Once he had even beaten the master. He would not let himself be embarrassed by this foreigner.

Again a circle gathered around the players. Ofelia was busy with new orders for beer and wine. The men could drink now because they weren’t playing. Ofelia served the drinks, washed the glasses, and went outside to feed the chickens. When she came back, the game was still going and the circle around them had grown. Esteban did not look happy. Oh, no. Could he be in trouble too? Not Esteban. Ofelia stood at the counter hoping to hear Esteban say, “Jaque mate.” But he said nothing. He looked around at his friends as if to call for help. Skinch never changed her expression. She did not look at Esteban. Her attention was on one corner of the board. She put down her queen, and the game was over.

Ay,” Esteban said, as if in pain. He laid the king down on its side.

Increíble,” Ofelia said.

Suddenly a murmur traveled across the room. The voices came from all sides. Call Tomayo! Call Tomayo!

Dónde está Tomayo?

Llame a Tomayo!

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