by Michael Bloor
(first published in Potato Soup Journal, February 8th, 2022)
In the town chess club, the final of the annual Earl’s Cup competition was about to start, the finalists being Willie Anderson, the holder, and a new member, Archie Drummond. The club was a friendly, welcoming place, but there was a surprising coolness between Willie and the new member. Although Archie Drummond was indeed a new club member, he wasn’t new to the town, having been born and raised here before going away to spend his working life (profitably) in Hong Kong. Apparently, as young men, Willie and Archie had fallen out over a girl: there had been a memorable stramash in the Gents toilet at the old Mecca Ballroom. Forty-odd years on, one gathered that the ballroom bout was regarded by both parties as inconclusive.
Willie was setting the electric clock, with each player to make thirty moves in an hour, plus twenty minutes each to finish. Archie was studying the inscription on the solid silver cup, the oldest chess trophy in Scotland, presented to the club in memory of the Earl’s eldest son, Captain Albert Abercrombie-Smith, club champion 1876 & 1877, slain by Zulus at the Battle of Isandlwana, 1878. Silently, Willie showed the set clock to Archie for his inspection and was rewarded with a grunt of agreement. The traditional hand-shake at the beginning of the game was perfunctory in the extreme.
Other games were being played in the clubroom that night. But, as they ended one-by-one, the players clustered around the black-and-white battlefield where Willie and Archie were joined in silent struggle. The pawns clashed and fell, the knights leapt forward and fell back, the bishops obliquely threatened, the castles took up their defensive positions, and the overbearing queens stalked the board. The clock ran on, the moves became more urgent and the competition entered the endgame: the kings emerged from behind their defensive ramparts and began a dancing duel. A couple of stray pieces fell here and there, but to no clear advantage. With less than a minute left on his clock, Archie managed to force his last remaining pawn to the back rank, converting it to a queen. Unsportingly, Willie played on, hoping to avoid mate long enough for Archie to lose on time. Archie mated him with just three seconds left on his clock. The audience, hushed until that point, now erupted with exclamations, congratulations and rival theories of how alternative endings could have been contrived. In the hubbub, the customary concluding handshake was somehow omitted.
After a short delay, the club president presented Archie with the cup and a photo was taken for the website. Willie had left the room, but his prostate often required sudden temporary absences. The night was concluded and we all streamed out of the club. Archie Drummond bore off his cup in his BMW, like a Russian Prince in a horse-drawn midnight sleigh. Willie Anderson watched the tail-lights dwindle down the Kirkgate: ‘Weel, weel, he’s carried awa’ the cup, but I carried awa’ Dorothy, bless her.’
Michael Bloor lives in Dunblane, Scotland, where he has discovered the exhilarations of short fiction, with more than fifty pieces published in Potato Soup Journal, Everyday Fiction, The Copperfield Review, Litro Online, Firewords, The Drabble, The Cabinet of Heed, Moonpark Review and elsewhere (see https://michaelbloor.com).