Checkmate

By Naomi

It was tense. Both sides were fighting with few soldiers and the plastic Ziplock bag sitting worryingly beside me was full to the brim with the fallen, those who were lost in the rage of war. The blinds blocked out the metro blue sky. The fireplace was on, flames dancing behind the glass. The rhythmic ‘ticks’ of the clock was all that was left to penetrate the weighted silence. Although I had started with myriad laughs and constant chatter, the exuberance in me had died out into a deadly calm as the fight intensified.

My mind was sweating- it’s the only way to describe it. I could almost feel cogs and gears turning in my mind, puzzle pieces snapping together. Externally however, my body appreciated the warmth of the fireplace, since it was the time of year when the cold was only beginning to dwindle: February.

My hand hovered before the strength of my will powered into my every vein, roaring at me to lead my army to victory. The decision was made. Determination pulsed in me, concealed by feigned nonchalance. My hand touched the ebony-black wood, slippery beneath my sweaty palms. I picked it up, raising it above the scattered pawns and pieces. It sailed across before I put it down, close to the enemy piece that had waltzed past my long-gone defences.

I received a thoughtful look from my opponent, who almost seemed to read my mind with a deep stare. I watched the wood, my dark brown eyes unwavering.

‘Tick, tick, tick’.

Unfazed by all that was at stake, the clock recited its regular, prose of endless ‘tick’s. My dad extended his hand after about three or four minutes of deliberation and grasped a piece of his, a soldier of White who had served and survived. Until now.

I thought, despite the countless allies of Black within the Ziplock bag.

We were both dangerous, though one more so than the other perhaps.

Time would tell. My move.

I surveyed the scene spread out before me on the chessboard. Although my dad had more pawns than me, I still had more powerful objects.

‘What could I do’ I thought. I had never won a game by checkmating my opponent before but we usually ended with a stalemate. I wasn’t giving up now. But we had both run out of strategies. Seeing a piece at the bottom of the board, I moved it halfheartedly.

“A draw, again” my mind said.

My eyes betrayed me.

I turned to face my dad, who grinned at my confused expression.

“Well done! You did it!” he laughed.

My eyes were wide when I stared back down at the chessboard at the checkmate that I had just completed by moving my piece into place to form a wall, trapping the King of White.

I laughed, surprised, and so followed the wonderful sense of accomplishment that accompanied my smile on the 17th of February, 2021. The day I finally won a game of chess.

“This author demonstrates a real talent for building up suspense. So much to enjoy about how this is achieved: the “tick, tick, ticking” clock, the “weighted silence,” the “extended hand after three or four minutes of deliberation.” Most impressed by how the author describes the chess-board as a mini-world in its own right as well – excellent!”

— Dr Matthew Fogarty, University College Dublin, Ireland