Monday, April 27, 2009

Meeting Grandfather McKenzie

The park is nearly deserted. Apparently recently cleaned, the fountain bubbles pleasantly, inviting my fingers to dabble in the water. It is colder than it looks, but it feels fresh – like a fountain should. Maybe there is extra magic to the first coin in the fountain after it has been cleaned. Even if not, I pull out a shiny penny from my purse, turn my back, close my eyes and take a deep breath. Plop!

“For luck, Kathryn?” a voice in front of me asks. I open my eyes to see an old man in a wheelchair being pushed by a younger black man.

“Grandfather?” I query to the wheelchair-bound man.
“Do you play?” Grandfather asks, as his fingers touch the wooden box on his lap. There is an inlayed checker square on top of the box, surrounded with carving and other marquetry designs. It looks old and opulent – and he handles it like it is a treasure.

“Yes,” I say, not entirely certain of the game he has in mind, but sure I am able.

James takes the box, positioning it on the bench between Grandfather and me. Grandfather opens the lid, and begins to remove chess pieces.

“Black or white?”

“Black, always black,” I say without thinking that he might have preferred black. The pieces are heavy and smooth. I think the black are mahogany. The white men are a lighter wood, not oak, maybe something exotic – nothing I recognize. I like the feel of them, as I set my men in place on the board.

James locks the chair brakes, and retires to a nearby bench to watch. The game begins.

“Your move,” Grandfather says with an impatient look of ‘get on with it, girl.’

Apparently, this is not meant to be a leisurely game. I ease into the competition looking for hints of his strategy. His moves indicate Grandfather is a serious player. He seems to have no intention of holding back.

I lose my queen’s bishop.

Then, I will not hold back out of politeness. The game moves on. There is no conversation. “Your move,” is all Grandfather says – and only when he thinks I am taking too long to move my men. Maybe it is part of his strategy to rush me. I take his rook. He takes more of my men, and my pawns fall mercilessly.

I move, “Check.”

He stops dead! His hands retreat to his lap. “That is your father’s move,” he says. “Enough of the game; you are Kathryn McKenzie!”

With a slight grin, he waves toward James. The game board is removed. It is all a little odd. I hadn’t expected a test of my parentage. Goodness, there are DNA tests for that. Grandfather settles his hands together in his lap.

“Tell me about yourself. Are you married?”
“Children?” He seems to have a litany.

I stop the rhythm of the questions with a pause. “No,” I say with a sound of boundary-setting finality.

He leans back in his chair slightly and studies me. “You must look like your mother.”

“I look like me.” I’m beginning to enjoy our volley back and forth.

He grins. “Yes, I suppose so.” Grandfather twists in his chair to view James. Without exchanging words, James gets up, and releases the brakes on the chair. From behind Grandfather’s chair, James flashes a big smile that lasts only a minute and is gone. I smile in response.

“Shall we meet again, Kathryn?”

From High Tide:

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