By Patrick S. Wolfe
Andy was thinking about the old man. He was lying on his bed dressed in his baseball uniform thinking about the old man. His bedroom was in the basement and he could hear his mother busy upstairs. She had been crying. It was the first time he had ever seen her cry. Andy had liked the old man. He had a gentle, friendly face with soft eyes and his thick, white hair was always nicely combed. He had been in the army and he had risen from private to colonel. Andy had never seen him in uniform. He had only seen the pictures. He really hadn’t known the old man very well. But he had taught him how to play chess and that is what he mostly thought about now.
As he lay on the bed thinking about the old man he thought about other more immediate things too. He saw out the window that it was still grey and threatening and he thought about playing their baseball game on the wet field and he thought that it was bad luck they had to play on a day like today. His glove and his baseball cap and his jacket were on the floor beside the bed. He was ready to go and he was waiting for John to come. He and John were on the same team and they always rode their bicycles over to the park together. And while Andy waited for John he thought about the old man.
The best thing that he and the old man had ever done was to play chess together. It was the best thing because they did it alone, just him and the old man. They were pals then. It was the only time they did anything alone together. Usually the women just wanted to visit and they always wanted the old man to be in the visiting too. Andy didn’t like visiting, but sometimes his mother made him go. “Grandma and Grandpa aren’t going to live forever,” she’d say. “When they’re gone you’ll be sorry you didn’t visit them more often,” she’d say. But visiting was a bore. The women just sat around talking about family he didn’t know who lived a long way away. It was mostly dumb talk about babies and weddings and stuff like that. The only good part about visiting was when the women finally got around to having the cake and the cookies and the tea. That is, it was the only good thing about visiting until he and the old man started to play chess.
Once when they had been visiting, his mother had announced to the Sunday afternoon gathering that he had learned to play chess at school. That had caused great interest and for a minute everyone thought it was wonderful. Then they all started talking about how sick Aunt somebody in Regina was. But later on when he and the old man had escaped to the kitchen for a moment the old man had suggested that Andy bring his chess set along next visit so he might learn how to play too. Andy thought it was a swell idea and that is how their games got started. He brought his chess set the following Sunday and he showed the old man how the players moved and then they had a game. Andy won. He liked winning and he always tried very hard to win.
He was thinking about winning the chess games with the old man, thinking maybe his winning wasn’t fair, when he heard the back door bell ring. He lay on the bed and listened as his mother came down the stairs to answer the door.
“Hi, Mrs. Franks. Is Andy ready?” he heard John say.
“I think so, John. He’s down in his bedroom,” his mother said.
Andy heard John come the rest of the way down the stairs into the basement.
“Hey, what’s the matter with your mum?” John said as soon as he got into Andy’s bedroom.
“My granddad died last night,” Andy said. He was sitting on the side of the bed now.
“Oh. Gee, I’m sorry.”
“Mum’s been crying a lot.”
“Yeah, I know. Her face is all red and blotchy.”
“She was crying when I went upstairs this morning. That’s when I found out.”
“Was he the one that lived down by the school?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” said Andy. He picked up his things from the floor. “Come on, we’d better go or we’ll be late.”
Andy yelled goodbye to his mother, but there was no answer. He got his bicycle out of the garage and pushed it up the driveway before getting on. He saw that the wetness had gone from the pavement now and that only the grass was still wet.
“I hope it doesn’t rain,” Andy said as they rode off.
“Me too,” said John.
It was about a mile and a half to the park. They were both bent over as they rode. They had inverted the handlebars on their bicycles so that they would be more like racing bikes. They rode beside each other not saying anything at first. Then Andy started to talk.
“My granddad was a neat guy,” he said.
“Yeah,” John agreed.
“I showed how to play chess, you know.”
“Yeah. But he wasn’t very good and we never played very much. We only started playing three months ago and we only played about five games. I always won.”
They turned a corner and the park came into view. The other team was taking infield practice.
“We’d better hurry,” said John.
He raced down the road and into the park. Andy followed behind him less quickly.
“It’s about time you two got here,” Mr. Jackson, their coach, yelled at them from the dugout as they got off their bicycles.
“You know,” Andy said to John as he put his bicycle in the bike rack, “I wish I’d let my granddad win once.”
But John didn’t hear. He was already on his way to the dugout.
“Come on, Andy,” yelled Mr. Jackson. “Hurry up.”
“Okay,” Andy yelled back, startled.
His team was taking the field for infield practice.
Text copyright © 2018 Patrick S. Wolfe
All rights reserved. Short segments may be quoted with due attribution.
An author and historian, Patrick Wolfe lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
- This story was first published in The Canadian Short Story Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 3 (July 1975). This version corrects a typo and includes several minor edits. ↑