Waymond, I decided, was an idiot.
Yes, his name was Waymond, NOT Raymond. I figured his father was Elmer Fudd; that’s why he was such an idiot.
I was never a brilliant chess player, but I was okay. I learned some from my father. One day, when I was probably nine years old, I was being baby-sat by someone, and the man showed me a way to put someone in checkmate in four moves. It was pretty simple, provided the player didn’t know jack about the game. Once you do, of course, it’s an easy strategy to stop, but if you’ve never seen it before and don’t do something instinctively to stop the set-up, it looks amazing.
It’s easy to do; move the pawn out of the way so that the queen and the bishop on the other side of the king can be positioned diagonally in front of the other player’s king. When the time is right, move your queen in front of the opponent’s king and bang! Checkmate. If the king is moved to take the queen, the bishop you’ve positioned is there covering so the game is over.Like I said, it’s a simpleton’s trick, and it’s easy to stop. If you don’t know it’s coming, it looks like voodoo.
So, when my dad came home that night with a guy he worked with at the M&M Mars plant in Cleveland, TN, I was introduced for the first and last time to Waymond, idiot extraordinaire.
He was a tall, dark-haired man with an accent so thick I found myself saying “huh?” almost every time he spoke. Poor bastard must have repeated himself about a hundred times over the course of the night. I couldn’t take my eyes off the tiny stump of bone that poked up through the stubbed off thumb on his right hand. I wanted for all the world to ask him how he lost the first segment of that digit, but I knew it’d be rude. I just couldn’t tear my stare from it for long. The flesh on that finger was drawn back from the bone, exposing about a quarter of an inch of the dark gray skeletal support like a barbequed pork rib.
We talked and my parents laughed with Waymond over dinner, and afterwards. He was, from all appearances, a likeable, funny guy. Like I said, though, I couldn’t understand a word he said. It was no big deal; I could tell from my mother’s laughter that she either wasn’t able to figure out what he was saying, or was only laughing to be polite most of the time. My father seemed to understand him better if not completely. He laughed in all the right places and all the right ways, which only made Waymond talk more. Waymond got louder when my father started laughing, so that told me the story being relayed was intensifying and he’d get a funny smirk on his face as he waited for the appropriate howls from the audience. I just stared at that creepy finger bone and wondered how much it must have hurt to lose it.
I can’t really remember how it came up, because I was like 12 or 13 and wasn’t really interested in the conversation going on at the time. That, and there was that language barrier happening for me. So I started zoning. But, at some point as the evening dragged on painfully, someone mentioned “chess.”
My ears perked up when I heard the word. “You play chess?” I asked him, suddenly sitting upright in my chair. Waymond smiled and drawled something like “A little bit, yeah.”
I smiled too. “Wanna play?”
He grinned deviously. “You bet. Got a board?”
I refrained from making a comment regarding why I’d ask if I didn’t have a board and pieces to play on and went to get mine. It was a magnetic one, with a metal board on the outside of a box lined with foam that had the little cut-out shapes for each of the pieces to go in. The little plastic pieces had a magnet in their bases and the bottoms were felt-covered to keep those magnets inside. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t fancy, but it had all 32 pieces and I liked it because they wouldn’t get lost. So I darted off to my room to get the set and from behind me I heard my father mutter, “Now, the kid’s pretty good, Waymond.”
As Waymond was saying something unintelligible, I returned to the kitchen with my set in hand. I sat opposite him at a tiny table in our kitchen, and I had the pieces out and set up in just a couple of minutes. I was listening to Waymond turn his r’s into w’s and wondering how he’d do in a spelling bee until I finally looked up and said, “What color do you want to be?”
Waymond patiently looked at me and gently said, “Tell ya what, you go ‘head and be white. I’d rather go second anyway.”
I shrugged. It didn’t matter to me. “You sure?”
“Okay,” I said, and I popped my king’s pawn forward one space.
Waymond wasn’t paying too much attention as he moved a pawn and continued talking to my father. I moved out my bishop as I always did. He moved a pawn on the other side of the board, trying to flank my positions. None of the power pieces were moved. I wondered what he was up to and went ahead and called out my queen. When I did, he moved a pawn forward, which is exactly what I didn’t want him to do. He’d stopped the maneuver without even paying attention to what he was doing.
I was rattled. Waymond stopped yammering, sensing that I was uncertain of myself. My father and mother were silent. For some reason, everything focused on me at that point. I needed to actually take the time to assess the board and decide what my next move would be.
The quiet in the room was unnerving me a bit. I watch Waymond over the rim of my glasses, trying to casually assess his face and see if he’d betray his next move somehow. All he did was wink at me, which kind of pissed me off.
For a moment, that guy that showed me the four-move maneuver flashed through my mind. He set me up real casual like and seemed very pleased to beat a young boy at an adult’s game. I wondered, just for a moment, if Waymond was like that too and was sandbagging me. I couldn’t tell, but I didn’t like that wink.I moved a pawn just to kill some time, see where he was going. He chuckled. The sound got under my skin and tightened my sphincter. I gritted my teeth and tried to smile. I don’t think it worked. He moved a piece, a bishop I think, out onto the board and I was carefully considering what to do next. Waymond took that opportunity to go back to joking and teasing with my father and laughing.
He had a pawn squarely in my way. If I took the pawn with one of my own, I’d have the board set to pull the maneuver again. It would take more than four moves, but I could still do it. I wondered, briefly, if he knew what I was doing. I decided I couldn’t worry about that and took the pawn with one of my own. Now I was going to have to move that pawn to clear the path I needed.
Something happened. Waymond stopped chuckling and joking around with my dad. He went silent and sloooooowly leaned forward toward the board.
He moved a piece somewhere over to my right. I figured he was moving toward my queen, but it would be a couple of moves before that would be able to happen. I was watching the center of the board carefully. I wanted to make damn sure he didn’t put anything in the way of my next move, which would be the fatal blow. Since he hadn’t, I wondered what else he may have had in mind. I knew what I was going to do, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t have something else to watch for. A surprise now would be unpleasant. If I lost that queen, I lost the game. The instant someone took my queen I was pretty well dead in the water. Like I said, I wasn’t brilliant at the game.
I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye.
Waymond was rubbing his forefinger and stumpy, bone-exposed thumb together.
I was absolutely riveted by that motion. The sight of that dark protrusion rubbing against his finger was fascinating in a groteque, horror-movie sort of way. It was impossible for me to tear my eyes from that motion. He’d rub them together, just over his rook to my left, and then his hand would go sti
ll. Rub-rub-rub, still. Rub-rub-rub, still. I fought a shiver from running up my spine, but I couldn’t take my eyes from his hand.
Slowly, deliberately, I moved my pawn forward.
I jumped out of my skin when he shouted “You fell for that?!?”
I blinked at him, blankly.
“I cain’t buhleeve it,” he drawled thickly. “You fell fer thuh oldest trick inna book!”
I was in a panic. What had I done?? What had I fallen for?? What had I missed?? I was watching the board carefully, but I’d been beaten before by not seeing a move that was as obvious as the nose on my face — AFTER it had been executed. It was what separated me from the really good players; they seemed to be able to see the board from all angles, see every eventuality, cover all their bases. Me, I was lucky when I could see a couple of moves ahead. For the most part, I wasn’t able to do that for some reason. That makes the people that know me best now laugh and scratch their heads. They can’t figure that one out, because that is most decidedly not how I am now … except in chess.
“Man, I got you lookin’ over here on this side,” he said, “so you ain’t lookin’ over here at this side!” He laughed as he moved one of his bishops out to take a pawn from in front of my other bishop, which still hadn’t been moved.
I felt the hot flush of blood that raced up my cheeks when he scared the hell out of me with his outburst subsiding, and my heartbeat was down to about 300 beats per minute by then. I nearly laughed aloud when Waymond sat back in his chair and cackled loud and long to the ceiling, rattling the tiny house’s frame with the audio waves gushing from what I’m sure was a halitosis-laden maw. He put his hands over his gut and I again was staring at that bare-boned thumb, wondering again what had happened but now sure that it had been due to his own stupidity.
I seized my queen and slammed it down in front of his king, knocking the pawn aside roughly and shouting “CHECKMATE!!” as I leaned forward over the board to emphasize the point.
He dropped instantly into silence as he snapped his head down to stare wide-eyed at the board.
I folded my arms across my chest and watched his face as he leaned closer and closer to the board. The room was silent again.
After a moment he leaned back, running his fingers through his hair. “Well, I’ll be damned,” Waymond muttered.
“Like I said, the kid’s pretty good,” my father chuckled at him.
I don’t know if I ever won another game of chess. And frankly, I don’t care.