You know me. I’m the guy haunting the chess table in the Library. Lunch-time, I munch egg rolls from the Filipino food truck at Sabin and Ashley. Later, waiting for a game, I’m often deeply immersed in the latest New York Review of Books. Not so deeply, however, that I’m oblivious to the glances of comely but indifferent women flitting from class to class. One day, no-one has turned up to play, and by two I’m ready to leave when I’m surprised by a clicking of high heels and a shadow that falls across my board. I look round.
“Is this a chess club? I haven’t played in years. Would you like a game?”
Her face, framed by a blue silk scarf, straight out of Vermeer, reminds me of a Renaissance Madonna. Tiny silver-mounted pearls highlight the whorled secret precincts of her ears. An emerald pendant on a fine gold chain adorns her throat. She regards me intently, a cabeceo in all but name.
“They all say that,” I reply, “and then they rip me apart.” Metaphorically, of course. But the truth is, Chess, the fabled meeting of minds, is a brazen affirmation of the killer instinct, a cat’s pitiless pursuit of a mouse, culminating in bloody dismemberment. There are few concessions or draws in this drama, only relentless search and destroy.
I offer her the choice of pawns hidden in outstretched hands. Without hesitation, she snags White, sits down, and opens with a classical Spanish. I’m familiar with the major lines, and so between moves I contemplate her elegant thoughtful poise, her eyes darting to and fro across the board, and her fingers confidently moving men into unassailable position. Now and again as I make my routine moves, her searching eyes catch mine, and I’m held momentarily hostage on the brink of deep reflecting pools.
I’m roused from my reverie by her murmured “Check”. I see at a glance that my position, while not dire, calls for serious thought, not for meandering fantasies of connection with this beautiful apparition, who leans back in her chair, a modest smile gracing her lips. Long moments pass while I fashion a defense that masks a lethal attack. Abruptly, with a resounding thwack, designed to startle and intimidate, I block her check with a sacrificial Knight, at the same time threatening mate in three on her back rank. Her smile, like the Cheshire cat’s, is unwavering, even as cold analytical eyes rove over her men, and her fingers drum a muffled requiem on the edge of the board. Finally she looks up, a ghost of a frown hovering between her eyebrows. No longer smiling, she says, “Draw?”
I don’t utter a word. She’s seen my threat, and I exult. But she’s also caught the disdainful look that crosses my face, for she resumes her study of the board, absently fingering her emerald pendant, and then stroking my captured Black Bishop. Again, long moments pass. Suddenly, reviewing yet again my deployment of forces on the board, rehearsing my imminent onslaught, I realize with a shock that I’ve overlooked a deadly White Pawn advancing on my left flank. I have allowed body to muddle my mind, a terminal blunder in chess.
And so, body takes over, and iron jaws seize my neck. I’m wrenched out of my chair, violently shaken, and razor-like claws rake the skin of my arms and legs. Blood spurts from a torn artery in my throat. The jaws release their grip on my neck, and clamp down on my temples, mindlessly ripping my head from my body. Madonna’s narrowed eyes bore into mine, implacable and fierce. Numbly, I focus through dimming eyes on her tiny pearl earring, even as my limbs convulse in terminal agony, and my heels drum against the floor. My King falls prostrate before her Queen.
She smiles perfunctorily, comments briefly on my robust but useless defence, and is gone, heels clicking in her wake. Cowed and trembling but still intoxicated by the thrill of the chase, I return day after day to haunt my outpost of mental combat, my field of blood, sweat and tears. Occasionally I dispatch in short order impertinent lesser challengers, tolerantly waving away embarrassed explanations of failure. And always, poised to pounce, I lie in wait for my next encounter with my Machiavellian tanguera.