For the Beauty of the Earth
Glory in the eye
of the beholder, so me.
I see You watching
when I meet my own eyes in
the mirror, reflecting You.
The Dark Squares
By: Allison Baggott-Rowe, M.A.
My hands shake as I reach for the black, plastic knight in front of me. The heavy, grey blanket droops over my exposed shoulders and pools in my lap as I sit cross-legged on the floor, the chessboard in front of me. The table is so far, even if my legs could push me into a chair. I stare down the white king, his crown coming in and out of focus as I squint at the pieces.
“You won’t beat me,” I whisper, even as the edges of my vision blur with the effort.
The haze that has settled deep in my brain moves its icy tendrils to cover my eyes as I work to commit my surroundings to memory for the moment that inevitable darkness sets in. A barren, carpeted living room my husband and I had liked once-upon-a-time for being open concept to both the kitchen and dining room. Back when he felt like a husband. Back when we still hosted guests. Friends. Guest friends. Pyramus and Thisbe must be happy somewhere.
The floral drapes opened wide to the afternoon sun, the root cause of the clanging in my head. My father’s old, cushioned chairs that I inherited after he died when they cleaned out his office and did not know where to put them with insufficient space in the moving van. The TV in the corner, screen flash-frozen on a scene from what used to be my favorite movie since my teenage years. Amazing that I could watch The Lord of the Rings more than a hundred times and never tire of it until it became a rescue distraction in this detox prison. All it took was 24 hours of dry heaving long after the vomiting was over to ruin the movie forever.
My eyes run along the dusty shelf of our entertainment center, bereft of anything resembling entertainment for at least a month now. The dust motes float around remotes to land on outdated gaming systems and consoles. Orange pill bottles, an old pregnancy test, and a few nickels that will never be used for change adorn the inside of the cubbies.
There is a stack of mail on the far right, creating one singular dust-less rectangle on the wooden counter. It is mostly medical bills, with the odd “We Have a Life Update” kind of mail you get from guest friends. The kind of mail that lets you know you have fallen so far behind there is no point in trying to catch up.
At least the medical bills don’t judge me that way.
The shaking is getting worse as I stick my hands inside my shirt to warm them, still clutching the black knight in my frigid fingers. I let my head fall forward as my knees come up to cradle my forehead. I rock my neck from left to right, massaging my aching forehead with my knees. Cold sweat lines the inside of the blanket and makes the fabric stick to my itchy skin.
Eyes half-closed, I fumble with the small, black pawn. My hands are clammy as I move to place the piece back on his square. It slips and falls horizontally adjacent to the square it started on before I meddled.
This is the distraction today. This is the distraction this moment. Concentrate.
* * *
I remember the first time I gathered my courage to go to the pain clinic three years ago. The woman who had checked me in was all business in getting my information and taking my vitals before instructing me to wait for the doctor and leaving me to the company of animals spelling out each letter of the alphabet on the tri-colored general practice walls in the unfamiliar building. It smelled too clean, as through bleach could purge the room of all the uncomfortable conversations that had happened here. I shifted from one hip to the other, trying to get not-uncomfortable in the plastic office chair and wondered vaguely if the Alpaca or Bear ever had backaches that did not go away for weeks on end. I waited for more than forty-five minutes before the doctor came in and made a show of pushing on all the parts that hurt the worst, including my wrists. Especially my wrists.
When she finally settled herself on the swivel stool and opened my chart, I had to fight back tears that would look like drug-seeking behavior but were inevitable when people handled my hands. I knew it wasn’t believable. I just didn’t know why.
“Well, the good news is that this is manageable,” she had said, implying the bad news was too bad to even say out loud. “We have medications that can help manage the pain from lupus in these flare-ups and we can work on strengthening your muscles with some physical therapy, so you are less likely to need medication in the long run. It will help with being able to do everyday tasks like doing laundry, opening jars, and holding onto things without dropping them.” I could tell she was waiting for me to say something.
“Lupus runs in my family,” I had responded quietly, compression braces cutting into both wrists. She handed me a pamphlet on medication interactions. “Bad lupus.”
She sighed and looked down at her notes before scribbling something unintelligible on the script pad, tearing it off, and holding it out to me.
“This is an aggressive treatment plan, and we will need to monitor you closely while you are on this medication. It can be highly addictive.” The tone was a reprimand in itself even though she was the one writing the prescription.
I nodded numbly.
“Make sure you are getting enough exercise,” she added. “It is important to treat this as a lifestyle change.” Her voice softened ever so slightly around the edges. “Many of my patients find that taking up a new hobby can be helpful with managing pain. This morning I treated a little boy with fibromyalgia who is a youth chess master.”
I swallowed, wondering why she thought Bobby Fischer was at all an appropriate tangent while delivering bad news.
“Check back with me in a month,” Dr. Johnson cautioned, “We can see how things are going and if we can back off that dose at all with the physical therapy. Pain can be your body’s way of warning you; you know.”
I nodded again, reaching for the prescription that fell between my fingers and onto the tiled floor.
* * *
The liquid runs warm and wet over my fingers as I cradle myself next to the toilet seat streaked with red. This isn’t a normal period, I think, but there is no way this is just a lupus-flare period either. The panic is rising in my throat, wants to escape through my lips pressed tightly together. My husband, Elliott, is in the living room hosting our fifth club chess tournament this month and I have already used up my bathroom break. We only get one per game as players and he is new to directing tournaments. I can’t make this hard for him. He’ll kill me if I ruin this. I know I have been away from the table for at least fifteen minutes and my clock is ticking.
I bite back another scream as a wave of pain floods my senses. I count the back and white bathroom tiles, mapping out the 64-square boundaries of a chess grid. I project the game waiting for me outside onto the checkered floor, trying to remember the position of each piece. We were planning the Vienna game, early exchange variation…my hands are crusted with blood and will not stop shaking. I hear the guest friends outside whispering even though regulation tournaments are supposed to be silent affairs. I can’t let them see me like this. I need to get back. It’s hard enough to be a female chess player without extra reminders that your sex is still not welcome at over-the-board matches. No one can know—
The pain reaches a fever pitch and I feel it.
I will never be able to un-feel it.
A short time later I emerge from the solitude of the bathroom, pasting a smile onto my face and forcing myself to sit across from my human opponent. I think he believes that I am invested in this game as I snake my bishop out to fork his rooks.
He will never know what we can lose as women.
* * *
The harsh, fluorescent lighting of the doctor’s office is only overshadowed by the mundane metronome of the clock on the wall. The just-audible tick-tick-tick of my time going down the drain as I wait in yet another examining room.
“You can do anything for thirty seconds,” the woman taking my vitals tells me. Her name is Linda, though she doesn’t know I know it. After three years of seeing the same person at least once a month you’d think someone would have the common courtesy to assume you might not be as memory impaired as she implies I am by reintroducing herself every month when she hands me the patient symptom checklist. I wonder if she treats her non-opioid patients with the same assumptions she treats me.
“And then when those thirty seconds are done, you can start with a new thirty seconds.”
The pressure is let out slowly, tortuously. The beep, beep, beep of the machine measuring something important won’t be quiet. She tells me not to worry about it and begins asking about my symptoms starting with my pain score today.
I consider questioning why she is asking when she obviously doesn’t want to hear the truth about what I am feeling but end up smiling and nodding by accident. Again.
This is not a room for questions.
“All pain stops eventually,” Linda says, looking over the rim of her glasses at the orange pill bottle I am holding as I finish describing the same chronic pain I have detailed seven times this year to her. It is only July. She is waiting for me to agree with her before moving on to the next part of the appointment where she tells me that Dr. Johnson is a little behind, but is on her way and will be right in. Lowering my eyes, I nod again and wait the forty-five minutes before Dr. Johnson comes in, tears off the top sheet of the script pad and sighs.
“You know going down on this is going to be a challenge, yes?”
I nod, tears welling in my eyes.
“It will be an uphill battle, but if you are serious about getting off the painkillers, I believe you can do it. Especially knowing how invested your husband is, too. Most spouses do not come to appointments. It’s clear he cares.”
I nod again, thinking about the Lady Macbeth bathroom scene with a shiver. How fast would that spot have come out if he had just admitted he wanted to be king? Maybe there wouldn’t have even been one…
Elliott, who has been absorbed in a game on his phone until this point, takes the script from her and nods as if taking her seriously.
“I’ll pick this up for you,” he offers. “You won’t even need to drive to get it.”
And here comes Birnam Wood.
* * *
“Do you think I should I wait for my next dose?” I maneuver my knight to the center of the board.
“I don’t think I would, babe,” he responds with his bishop on an open diagonal, a perfect position to snipe unsuspecting pieces off the board.
“I am afraid of backsliding…I can wait.” My pawn advances to connect the chain. “Really, I can wait to take my next dose. I need to be strategic in when I take it to keep from going into full withdrawal on you. I’m doing it in small increments.”
He studies my face for a second before forking my rook and queen, pinning my helpless queen to the king.
“I’m more worried about your health right now. Like, your health in this minute. Let’s go back to your old regimen of medicine. It’s been years since your dose or anything changed and things were fine how they were.”
Scanning the mess of a defense I have left, I debate resigning the chess game now. I remember when our games were more of a back and forth. When I didn’t need the meds every day. But that was two years, a white dress, and one lost pregnancy ago. Not that we were trying to get pregnant at the time, but it happened anyway. And it was devastating all the same.
Pushing the pawn again, I hope that maybe, I can gain tempo and promote it to replace my original queen. Elliott’s grey-blue eyes seem to search my face as I draw in a deep breath. Concern has cut deep lines through his freckled face. His stare holds the command that I once found so attractive. It was maybe protective once, even. The first time I laid eyes on him was when he had held the door for me that first time I showed up on the doorstep of the Monroe Chess Club one year after my first pain appointment. He didn’t need to hold the door, but he did. He didn’t even know me. He didn’t even know how helpful it was for a girl who had no strength in her fingers after a year on opioids. How could he, wearing that pristinely pressed dress shirt. He had insisted I sit at his table. I remember how he introduced me to the impregnable Slav defense he was so taken with before asking me on a date to listen to Slam! Poetry in the Cat in the Cream café. That was who Elliott had been. Before I murdered our baby because I was in pain.
His button-down shirt and khaki pants remind me of my father coming home straight from a shift at the hospital when I was a kid. Something in the stoop of his shoulders had always reminded me of my father; maybe that’s part of what made him feel protective, but he wouldn’t want to hear that. There wasn’t much he wanted to hear these days. But it seemed like this conversation wasn’t something I could say no to anymore.
“I know you want to help me,” I start, “but that can’t overrule my own choices, right? We knew this would be hard on me.”
He rolls his eyes as his bishop cruises down the dark squares to capture my queen.
My shoulders are aching with the weight of half-tensed muscles as I falter for the right words. “This is the way to move us forward.”
I sacrifice the pawn.
He shakes his head a fraction of an inch, almost involuntarily, taking the free piece.
“Not the only way. And mate. There’s nothing strategic about anything you’re doing.”
I stiffen at the abrupt conclusion of the game as well as the implication of his comment. He stands, pinching the bridge of his nose, eyes shut. “You know what I mean. “
His voice softens dangerously as he adds, “The lupus isn’t going anywhere. Just the drugs treating it, babe. You need pain meds for life. And I am with you for life. So, we need the pain meds for life, and I have made my peace with that.”
The metallic taste in my mouth cues me that I am biting into my lower lip to restrain the words that want to fly out at him.
“I didn’t have much of a choice when I was put on this medication, Elliott,” I say, measuring each syllable carefully.
He rolls his eyes.
“Look, the lupus was already bad by the time I tried to get treatment and I would, at the very least, like to have a say in how I try come off the meds now. There are new treatments that could be better for me. Better for us. Better for our future.” My fingers stretch towards him as I take his hand and put it on my too-flat stomach. His hand is limp in mine saying, we are not going there.
He starts shaking his head again, further messing up his stress hair.
“So you’re okay with the fact that both of us— not just me, not just you, both of us—are reeling with the idea of detoxing this fast? You’re okay with that?”
He releases my hand and paces the length of the bedroom while I stare fixedly at my pale reflection in the mirror. The last words are hurled so fast that I am locked out of my own brain even as I search for a response that will calm the situation back down. I come up empty.
“No,” I say quietly, my fists balled up at my sides.
“No, I am not okay with it. But I have to learn to be. It’s about more than just me now.”
I watch my reflection jump as he slams the bedroom door shut and the pieces scatter on the floor.
* * *
I grab a fistful of hair as I rock back and forth on the all too familiar bathroom tile before rolling onto my back in the carpeted hall. The stucco ceiling looks like a light show as I rest my swimming head on ground, getting my bearings after another bout of, well, Elliott called it something pretentious like “worshipping at the shrine of the porcelain goddess.”
Re-experiencing every meal when you are supposed to stay nourished and hydrated is not pretentious, just cruel. Heat is radiating off my face but cannot warm my freezing hands and feet. Sweat collects on goosebump flesh as if I were listening to nails dragging along a chalkboard on loop.
Instead, I hear my own humiliating anguish. I have never been an addict, I remind myself.
This is physical dependency.
So what? my body shoots back. It is so hot, and so cold. Please.
Please, it hurts and it itches, please…
Please, you know we must be dying-
I roll onto my left side, thrusting a shaking hand into the front pocket of my jeans to grab my cell phone. Sweat rolls into my eyes as tears roll out, completing some natural cycle as I hit the speed dial for my doctor. It rings for the span of rolling myself into the fetal position and then I hear Linda’s familiar soprano on the other end.
“Dr. Johnson’s office, Linda speaking, can I have the patient’s last name and date of birth?”
I rattle off the information and the second time she understands what I am trying to say.
“Slow down, what’s going on?” she asks.
“I don’t feel right, Linda. I don’t feel good. Is it going to get better? It has to get better.”
“Hold on there,” she says, “Let’s slow down a second. Where’s your husband, hon?”
“He’s out. He said he had an errand.” The truth is I have not seen him for a few days, but the last time this happened, it was a full weekend before he came home. He had said he was with his parents, but he had smelled like an ashtray and later I found texts from his best friend about all the clubs they had hit. He doesn’t know I know.
“Okay, sure. I’m going have you take a breath there, okay? You know we talked about this with Dr. Johnson. Coming off Vicodin as an outpatient is almost unheard of and it can be dangerous. He needs to stay with you each time we make a cut in your dose. Or someone does. Did Dr. Johnson have you go down again this week?”
I can feel the sweat pooling under my arms and breasts even as I hug the cotton jumper close to my chest for warmth.
“M—hmm, yeah, she did.”
“Okay, so she decreased your dose this week, and how much are you on?”
“I…” I cast my mind back, trying to remember the conversation from three days ago. Four? I am not sure.
“He gives me the pills,” I say hearing the fear in my own trembling voice. “The bottle is so hard for me to open so he helps me.” She sighs.
“You can’t rely on someone else to do this when you are cutting back,” she says as gently as Linda can for being Linda. “There is a fine line between help and control.”
“I know I have been seeing you two for years, but I have to ask. Do you feel safe at home?” she pushes, and I choke on a frightened inhale.
“Yes—yes, I am safe.”
“We have resources if you’d like to switch the plan and do this as an in-patient—"
“No. No, I don’t want to do that. We just want to try to have a family. Be allowed to have a baby, like any normal couple.”
The silence on the other end is worse than anything she could say out loud.
“I’m-I’m sorry,” I stammer, “I will tell him to stop picking up the scripts for me and I’ll find a way to track the pills myself. I can do this.”
I hang up fast and throw my phone down the carpeted hallway as I wait to hear the car pull into our driveway. I don’t know that I will wait on the floor for 38 hours before he gets back, and we both go to sleep like nothing happened between us.
* * *
Sobs wrack my frame, which is so much thinner than it was two months ago when I started the scale-back. Every few days I keep chipping away at the number of white, miracle tablets that separate me from who I used to be before the lupus. Before the pain meds. As I widen the divide, there are two of us inside of me, fighting for control of the next moment. Even though I am so tired, it is a blessing I cannot sleep. My insomnia keeps me in control. My legs always need to be moving, so the living room has become a fitness sanctuary for my soul. If I keep moving, my body stays just satiated enough to keep the existential nausea away.
Yesterday I think I even ate a banana. There was nothing existential about it.
Hours of dance have led to spasming muscles, choking on their own churning lactic acid and protein drinks that I pretend are fueling me. Today I exercised for what—two hours? Closer to three? Dr. Johnson and the physical therapist say that is normal. My brain is starving, and it is my fault, so I need to find other things for it to eat. Endorphins are cheap, costing only muscle fatigue. Fancy receptor-blocking medicine is less so, and so for now, I also worship at the shrine of the Zumba gods. I reflect on now-hollow church hymns while pulling sneakers onto my feet for another round. I suppose I always knew I could never be a monotheist.
* * *
Like a watercolor, hours blur into brushstrokes of days. The agony becomes routinized. The first day of every cycle is not so bad, nor the second, but by day three I am in full withdrawal at each decrease. By day twelve, I can eat whole meals and have moments of respite outside of memory fog that feel almost cogent. It feels like my “normal” when I was on my full dose of meds, but better. Maybe even like days before the lupus diagnosis even though that comes with its own symptoms.
By day fourteen, I steel myself to start at day one of a new cycle again.
I pull the chessboard off the kitchen table and set it up on the floor, playing what I believe are openings, but mostly making it up as I go along. I grow tired of the well-worn DVD occupying the slot in the TV and vow to never watch Lord of the Rings again. I exercise until I need a knee brace, because my body forgot what it felt like to enjoy moving through space for fun and I go too hard too fast.
My fingers massage the knots in my neck as I study the board, careful to look for, and avoid, any pins on my pieces. An unfortunately easy or crippling hard thing to do if you are playing yourself.
* * *
It is either sunrise or sunset when I look up again. Day ten of just two pills a day.
Four days until we decrease it again.
Knight to ‘G3’…
We are getting there,I think.
Blearily, I realize that I have daydreamed the nightmare day away sitting on the couch in front of an oscillating fan wearing my running socks, my ratty old American Gods shirt, and a pair of underwear. I was so hot, but now I am freezing. There is a noise in the open-concept kitchen and my head turns instinctively to see him standing there with his button-down shirt and the sleeves rolled up to his elbows as he stirs a ladle in the pot we used to use when we had guest friends over. He must have been watching me because he is already filling the dinner bowls and walks toward me.
“You hungry at all?” he asks, and I can hear the gruff frustration in his tenor timbre. I nod and he sits down next to me.
“Cold?” I nod again.
He switches the fan off and puts the soup in front of me as I push myself up from the couch into a sitting position.
“Want to play?”
He sets the board up at the kitchen table from scratch and pats the chair in front of him. I climb into my seat and study the lines on his face, noticing the faded scar above his left eye from the time he fell off a skateboard in front of my apartment and needed two stitches in the ER.
* * *
It was like it was yesterday. We had still showed up at chess club together an hour late, after we picked up his painkillers at the pharmacy. When his friends asked him what had happened, he told them they should see the other guy. They all laughed, and we went into the gym that had tables set up for practice. I had sat across from him on the dark side of the board. By then I knew he liked to go first.
“How about a little London system practice?” he had asked, pushing the D pawn forward.
D pawn players were so obnoxious, but he was trying to be edgy and different and what did it really matter to me. We had only been dating a few months at that point. I didn’t need to rock the boat. I responded with D5 and managed to snag a draw when he traded a rook he shouldn’t have. I could have won, but he was a sore loser, and we were planning to go to dinner together later that night. Winning wasn’t everything.
My eyes wandered down to his half-zipped knapsack.
“Did the doctor give you a refill on the pain medicine?” I asked, reaching for one of the three orange bottles nestled next to his “Advanced Endgame Tactics” book.
“None of your damn business!” His fist collided with my nose before I could read the bottle, and I inhaled the sickening smell of blood. I burst into startled tears but stayed where I was until he told me to go back inside. I missed practice at the club for a few weeks while my black eye went away.
He hadn’t meant to hit me that hard, I would tell myself every day until it happened the next time a month after he proposed. It was an accident. Everyone gets mad sometimes. I shouldn’t have looked in the first place. It wasn’t hard to hide the bruises, and next time I would be smart, I promised myself. Maybe if it happened again, I would talk to him about it. Maybe.
Eventually the hitting turned into other things and other things turned into a baby. If I had known about the baby, I would have skipped the pain medicine that week, but it was the fourth time I had “fallen down the stairs” and I couldn’t go to bathroom without passing out and I just needed something to make it all better. That along with the lupus made it all but impossible for me to drive or work, let alone raise a baby.
* * *
Sitting across from Elliott in the kitchen I think back to the many chess games we have played right here over the past two years since we first started dating after I had walked into the Monroe Chess Club. The last game I won was more than a year ago. I can’t remember the last time I beat Elliott. A stark contrast to the last game I played only a few months ago that had ended with a gush of blood between my legs before the rest came out.
I had lain on my side on the cool bathroom tile for so long, sobbing. I had reached up to the counter, fumbled with the medicine cap before pills fell in all directions. I had let out a cry before remembering the Vienna game with its exchange waiting for me outside. I popped two pills in my mouth and tried to scoop the rest into the bottle, praying our guest friends had not heard. I stopped to look at the block text on the side of the bottle:
“DO NOT TAKE IF PREGNANT. IF YOU PLAN ON BECOMING PREGNANT, TELL YOUR DOCTOR.”
He pushes me back into the present with an advancing D pawn forward and I jolt upright. He sighs and tips my king on its side ending it before it can even begin. I lost.
“Let’s watch Lord of the Rings,” he says.
* * *
Linda is there when I come back for my follow-up appointment.
“How are we doing today?” she asks, in that less-than-royal we way that only she can.
Despite wishing that Linda had ever looked me in the eyes like this before, I am genuinely happy to see her. I am excited to share my progress with her.
I smile and I mean it.
“You can do anything for thirty seconds,” I say, stepping onto the scale and sucking my belly in for all the good that will do me. I hope she can see the exercise in the way my weight has gone down, how my shirt fits, the muscle in my forearms where you only build muscle if it is inadvertent.
“The doctor will be in to see you,” she says after directing me to the examining room.
I sit and wait, wondering why there is no pain scale today. No blood pressure. No—
The doctor comes in wearing her white lab coat. I fix a smile back onto my face and turn my arms ever so slightly so maybe she will see the progress in my range of motion. Maybe she will care about more than just titrating off the medicine.
“I hear that there was an issue at the pharmacy,” she says, closing the door but not sitting down on the swivel stool.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Well,” she continues, crossing to the stool and folding her hands in her lap. “I thought we agreed you would be titrating off medication. And you would pick it up yourself.”
A pit opens in the bottom of my stomach. I feel my running legs needing to move. This is the exact opposite of what I expected.
“Then why,” she pulls several white sheets of paper out of a manilla envelope, “have you continued to pick up the maximum number of refills? We talked about this last visit, and I thought you were dedicated to this process.”
“There must be some mistake,” I blurt out, angry tears coming into my eyes. “I have been in the worst withdrawal and done everything you asked and then some. This is a mistake.”
Pursing her lips, the white coat looked at me gently, “Is there anyone who might want to take these medications from you? Maybe without you knowing?”
I think back to getting in my car for the first time in two years. The slow, six-minute drive to the pharmacy drive-thru window. Introducing myself to the pharmacist, waving goodbye. Then I think about the errand. The weekend he was gone and our 38 hours apart.
* * *
He was there when I got home. Smells of dinner prep wafted into the front hall as I took my shoes off and carefully put the paper prescription in the left front pocket of my Levi jeans. I sat at the kitchen table, like I had so many times before.
“Do you want to play?” I asked, my voice strained.
He sat, his button-down stained and untucked from his crinkled khakis. I wondered when he had last showered.
I bit my lip and looked into his faraway eyes.
There are more chess game variations than stars in the universe, he had once told me. I did not believe him when he first said it. The universe is always expanding, then contracting, and expanding again, throwing out variation after variation of its own into the vast endlessness that will never even be seen. Appreciated. Studied. Understood. But as I rotated my knight on the oblong “L” maneuver that trips up so many novice stargazers, I think I see how universes expand, contract, expand again and the possibility of matching possibility becoming reality.
The game did not take long.
I wish that it had.
I would have felt better that perhaps I could have seen this worst betrayal coming. But he played slowly, stupidly, and with a gauzy drug-induced veil over his eyes that made his pieces falter and fall on the board. He blundered his light-square bishop early in the game, removing the possibility of any sharp bisectional attack—a tactic that used to be one of his favorites.
He tried to take my pawn with his straight on.
“The piece doesn’t move that way,” I said quietly. He laughed, tried to play it off as a joke. But it was not funny.
Instead, he cantilevered his other central piece, his dark-square bishop to attack the same, seemingly helpless, pawn. I recaptured with my own pawn, closing in on a central attack and removing his last minor piece. His knights were gone in the first fifteen moves thanks to his prescription-sodden brain. I remembered him coming home late last night, missing one of his shoes with no coat. The ensuing moments when I pretended to be asleep so I would not have to protect myself before falling back into slumber.
He had lost positional advantage; he had lost material advantage.
I felt the hot sting of tears in the corners of my eyes as I witnessed the carnage of the remaining game unfold in front of me. Every mistake he made was an insult to me that my doctor, not I, had realized where my pills had gone. Where my baby had gone. Where my life had gone. Four pawns, a rook, and a king with no high ground to retreat to had few options.
It took all my self-discipline to pick up my intended pieces and glide them over the well-worn terrain to remove what he had left on the board. I caught myself starting to shake my head at the isolated pawn and undefended structure that he could not see. As I threatened mate in two I looked at him to resign the game, like sportsmanship dictated. He snorted and moved a pawn at random. Clenching my jaw, I continued with my intended plan, uninterrupted by the distraction.
“It it, really?” he asked, pushing a hand back through his messy hair.
I licked my lips and waited for the resignation—either an outstretched hand that I could clasp, could reason with or his king rotated horizontally on the square would end the game. The relationship doesn’t have to end, a voice inside my head whispered, any chess game can be ended with a draw by agreement…
“Did you ever even want the baby?” I asked, my voice barely louder than a whisper.
He captured my pawn with his rook.
He had been a shark circling for blood from the beginning. I wondered if he had ever really wanted to date me or just my prescription. He could have Dunsinane. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I pushed my queen to the back rank to finally win. The king was trapped.
* * *
Walking in the front door I hang my keys on the new, singular hook I made for myself on the last rainy Saturday. Today the sun streams in through art deco drapes, spilling golden streaks across the cream-colored carpet. I set my purse down and begin preheating the oven for dinner. I almost set two places out of force of habit, but correct course before laying it all on the dining room table. Sitting down, I am blinded by the reflection off something at the far end. I approach the other end of the table with curiosity and find the object in question is a corner of the chessboard. With a small smile, I reach out to push it from the sun’s rays and hesitate.
Palming the white king, I look at the clean counter that has no indication it ever held mail or heartbreaking tests or nickels with nowhere to go. Now it is just a clean counter.
* * *