I ran the usual thoughts through my head and hoped that they were from the heart. This time it ended up with me collapsing on my bed and shouting into the sheets, fists gripped tight. Conscious act. Probably.
Just listen to the music. No time. “What?” came the inquisitive. Laced with what I was meant to convey as a quiet yet sincere concern. “Ah.” Thoughts. “I just fucking banged my toe on the bed again.” Chuckling and smiles wide.
“And I'll stand over your grave ‘til I'm sure that you're dead!”
Harmonica. “Don't have no High School Football teams or nothing like that though. No cheerleaders.” Why'd he say that? Stop talking. Cigarette.
More aware of time and day, I marched and door knocked. My Father answered and in the usual manner, merely left it ajar and made his way for the table in his dining room. He did it so our hellos would be reserved for when seated. Mahogany with ornaments but mainly magazines placed over scratches and mug stains, not so much as to hide them, he didn't care who knew they were there. More to suspend our blushing at such hideousness.
“Yeah I finished last month.”
“Doesn't mean you're a qualified teacher, though.”
“Well it does.”
He frowned, purposefully dismissive. “Well. When I did it you still had to complete a few years teaching. So right now you'd be just a trainee.”
“Yeah, right now I'm a teacher.”
“Yeah, right now you are.”
Look at the table, move a magazine. Or two. Yeah, I moved two.
Chess again. We play to the invisible crowd. It's not enough for us both to just play each other. We have to think that someone can see us, or know that we're playing. Look. His grubby garden fingers patted a dog and lurched toward the board. He always took so much pride in making a sound as he clapped a piece down on the board. The sound growing in intensity as the game went on. Or if a significant move was to be played, he'd look at me first, head still facing the board, and make it, checking to see if I was taking in what he was doing. His physical, to him, one-and-the-same with his cerebral. I moved pieces at a greater speed, Queen to H6. I considered the notion that I played chess like I play life. But disregarded the thought almost as quickly as it came about. That way of thinking is something disgusting to me. So is that. Can't shout into the sheets now. His Rook took my Bishop as if fate was real.
Eyes. Mahogany. Magazines.
I couldn't sit comfortably on that chair. The chair I always sat on during these Chess sessions. Castle-King-side. I quipped that he purposefully gave me the uncomfortable chair. He laughed with me.
“Yeah but there's nothing wrong with the chair.”
I withdrew the smile as I muttered, “Yeah, I know.”
We talked about books. I hadn't read any of the stuff he had recently. He hadn't read any of what I was reading. “It's funny that our tastes don't even overlap,” I said. “Well, when you were young, your Mother was very liberal with letting you read what you wanted. Which is fine to a point, but you probably became comfortable within that when you reached puberty.”
“I think it's got more to do with individual taste. Anything created can only be judged with a reminding prod to yourself that personal taste is a factor.”
“Mmm,” he agreed. “I think it's got more to do with being mollycoddled toward puberty.”
My bishop took his. He wasn't concentrating.
“Still, you've always had good taste in popular music. What was that band you had me play?”
“Yes, very dark. Very menacing.”
Nothing he ever said annoyed me. I didn't care. When did he stop having anything over me? These thoughts were clear, no confusion. He looked at the board for the longest of times. I looked at him every now and again, hoping he'd show me what he was cooking up. He placed his Queen behind his King. No loud clapping. The game had reached one half of an hour. I couldn't tell you what moves preceded the one he made in which I could barely hear the wood meet glass. It took me less than a thought to realize why. I moved my Bishop wider than the imminent smile and said, “Check mate, right?”
We both looked at the board. My Dad moved the magazines. I ran my nails into the mahogany. No more eyes.
The afternoon went on as per our usual. I got the feeling that my Father was searching for conversation to negate the Chess game, which incidentally, was the first time I'd beaten him apparently. We concluded that I'd rode my luck well.
Years later I found his stupid poetry book. I read all about that day again. I read about how I had surpassed him and how he could never put into words what he had felt. I got the feeling it wasn't pride, or that it had much to do with me at all. Why does everyone reach for the pen if words fail them? I suppose that's what he refused to do at the time. I read, not even taking in the rhymes, something about life. But he'd lost his point as the emotion drained from his blood in the first few lines. I thought about articulating this critique when I saw him and laughed at that thought itself. Remember. I sat at the mahogany table. Sickness had changed my Father, it took a closeness to death for him to realize that no one cared about scratches and mug stains, and if they did “they could go fuck themselves.” Now his favorite finish to any statement regarding people.
I opened his door. “Happy Birthday,” I gestured. He said they'd all been happy birthdays. “If you ask them.”
“Hey, wanna play Chess?”
I couldn't help myself. He didn't answer.
He asked if my sister was coming. I reminded him that she hated him. “Well that's no reason not to come and wish me a happy birthday.” He sighed. “It's not like I'll have many left, if any at all. Life is not an inexhaustible well.” Life is not an inexhaustible well, I thought. “Have you read that book?” I glanced. I had not. He knew that. He was pestering the book and record shelf. Eventually pulling out a record as one pulls out a record. He blew the top of it, even though there wasn't a speck of dust in the house. Not because he'd become a vehement cleaner, the house just didn't pick up dust. Dead house. Mahogany. Joy Division played and he let himself smile with me.
“Only now that I walk toward certain death as I never had before do I get a feeling of content from music of the discontent.” It was from a poem of his. Only now did he mean it. It had taken him 58 years to the day to turn out anything real or from his heart. At least I'd spent my last ten chasing reality and repelling the phoney and feigned. Still.
“Hey,” I ventured. “Remember when I beat you at Chess.”
He looked at the table for a moment as I looked at my chair.