To Capture A King: A Short Story


by Norbert Ehrenfreund Published Spring 2012
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Skinch did not change her expression. She seemed unperturbed by the whispering behind her back. She remained hunched over the board, staring at the pieces. She brushed back strands of blond hair that were blocking her view.

It was one of those games where after a long time no one could say who was winning.

Soon Ofelia heard Tomayo say, “Jaque.” The men moved in closer. Ofelia thought: Finish it, Tomayo. Finish her off. Do it, for heaven’s sake. Then we can have time together before you go. We can have a late snack alone in the kitchen. I have bacon in the icebox. I will make the eggs the way you like them.

Remember, Tomayo, how you liked my eggs? Perhaps ... but no ... she dared not imagine more. She waited to hear the word. She waited to hear him say, “Jaque mate.”

Another hour passed with no conclusion. Now it was past midnight. Tomayo continued to hold the advantage gained by taking the rook, but he could not score the knockout. Skinch’s king was tucked away behind two pawns, but it was about to be trapped. The men behind Tomayo held their breath. They sensed victory at last. One more move and Tomayo could finish her off.

But it was Skinch’s move, and she didn’t hesitate. She picked up her black knight, which was shining in the light from the oil lamps, and caressed it with her thumb and forefinger before she set it down and said, “Jaque.” Tomayo looked at her. Then he looked at the board. He couldn’t move his king. He couldn’t take her knight. For the first time he realized he was in serious trouble. He stood up and started to walk around in a little circle. The men drew back to give him space. He came back and studied the board from a standing position. Five minutes went by. Skinch never moved. She just stared at the board also. Tomayo ran his fingers through his hair and sat down again and examined the situation.

Jaque mate?” he asked. He knew the answer.

Skinch nodded and watched him lay down the old king.

Ay,” he said. “Ya acabé.” I am finished. “Ay,” said the men behind him.

Tomayo was a gentleman with good manners. He did not show anger or disgust. He got up and went over to Skinch, then bowed and lifted her hand close to his lips. When the men filed out, some of them stopped by Skinch’s table to pay their respects. A few bowed and said words she didn’t understand. Tomayo sat back in his chair, stared at the pieces on the board, and shook his head. Ofelia came over to Tomayo and put her hand on his shoulder. She could tell he was embarrassed. “Es de nada,” she said. But she was lying. It was a big thing. A king was dethroned.

Come in the kitchen, she said. I’ll fix the eggs the way you like.

I have to go, he said, and stood up.

Come, she said. She took his hand and held on tight when he tried to draw it away. He let her lead him across the room. He walked like a prisoner in surrender, head bowed. They went in the kitchen, and she closed the door. She tried to console him. She put her arms around him and caressed his neck with her fingers.

You’re still my Tomayo, she said.

He moved closer. “Mi Ofelia.”

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