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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Hobby/Craft · #2295051
The opsimathic late-life change...
Bob was working with a jackhammer on a new driveway for a client when he had the idea. How about chess? The machine pounded the ground, breaking up the old concrete and stones below it. His leathery, muscled arms held it steady and true to its purpose despite the hot sunshine and having already worked eight hours. Not that he could take breaks or short days. After all, it was his company. He was sixty now and would retire soon. He'd made his pot of money and the work was harder on an older man than a younger one. He planned to sell the business to a larger company and then retire.

The big question was what he would do with all that extra time. Now, with the jackhammer in hand, he thought he had an answer. There was another voice in his head, however, that of his ex-wife mocking his choice. She'd left him for some millionaire when his business was struggling twenty years ago taking his two children John and Lucy also. The voice made him angry and more determined than ever.

The local paper had mentioned the chess club. Yes, he was of that generation that still read the papers while young folk just stared into their mobiles. The club was growing fast and they had a beginner's group. The president of the club sold the benefits of chess in the article, suggesting it helped to keep the brain agile, promoted logical thinking and was just plain good fun. Having worked outside all his life, it would be a big change, but he liked the idea of something challenging that involved meeting other people.

Bob had fond memories of his grandfather, who had taught him the game decades before. He always enjoyed those times but had done nothing with chess since except teach his young son and daughter to play. John had a gift for the game and was beating his father by age six. It was his ex-wife, a professor of English literature, that has taken John to play in the club and driven him to win local competitions. John even competed in the nationals a few times, which was a source of pride for Bob even though contact had been limited after the divorce. It was the same Queen's Bishop club in the paper. John had long moved out of town and he worked in some big city bank. They had lost touch and this was a source of pain for Bob. Joining the club felt like reconnecting with his son. He wondered if he could get good enough to challenge him to a game when he came around at Christmas time.

The more he thought about it, in fact, the more he warmed to the idea. The advert said to email an address and so he used his company computer to do that. The answer came back a day later with directions, inviting him to the beginner's course that Wednesday.

The clubhouse was next to some tennis courts. The place looked a little dilapidated to Bob's expert eye and he could see a lot of small things that needed fixing. But he was here to learn chess.

As he entered the clubhouse, he came into a hallway where coats were hung and then into a larger room with desks arranged before a big projector screen. Most of the people were already there, including the lady at the front who said hello but then looked back down into her notes. Bob found a desk and sat down. He noticed a large statue in the far corner of a chess piece made of wood and carved in the shape of a king. His sharp eyes noticed holes associated with woodworms.

Susan, the lady running the course, looked like a middle-aged housewife in her forties, slightly plumper than in her youth but with a cheery disposition and a friendly smile. She was a dark blonde with stories in her green eyes and Bob immediately warmed to her as she reminded him of his daughter. She had a group of six for the beginner's course, all fresh to the club, and started with introductions.

Susan introduced herself as someone who was no expert in chess but who was able and trained to teach the basics of the game. She had a son who was in the club and who had done well in competitions. She was also the vice president of the club and responsible for much of the administration of the place.

Moving around the room, she asked each person to introduce themselves.

There was a father and son who announced themselves as Ralph and Heinz and said they were here to become Grandmasters. Both of them were tall but of a lighter build than Bob, with clear beer bellies hidden under baggy dark clothes. Bob thought they sounded very competitive and a little aggressive. They spoke loudly and suggested that they were not really beginners and would like to get into the advanced courses as soon as possible.

Bob was a man who tried to speak with actions first and words if he must and he wondered if they had what it took. Time would tell, of course, as it always did. He asked himself whether he was here to become a world champion or just for the fun of playing chess and improving as much as he could. He concluded that it was probably the latter rather than the former. All of this internal discussion took place in the silence of his own head. He had always been coy about sharing his thoughts and especially after a hard day's work. It was one of the reasons his wife had left him all those years before, she could not abide the silence.

The next person, Joseph, was an old man scruffily dressed. The back of his neck was unshaven and there was a food stain on the back of his jacket. He started speaking about how his wife left him ten years ago and then he just would not stop talking. Bob labeled him an attention hog and noticed Susan's discomfort. He was about to speak up when Ralph spoke.

"We are not here to listen to you drone on about your troubles, mate; sit down and let the rest of the group talk," said Ralph.

Bob agreed, feeling slightly sorry for the man, who deflated and sat back in his chair in silence.

Susan spoke up, "It sounds like you have a lot on your plate, Joseph, and I wonder if chess is the right way forward for you. We are all here to play chess and to improve our game; perhaps we could talk later about alternatives for you?" She wrote something down on a pad while she spoke. "Can we have the next person, please?"

Jill was next though she was very shy about speaking in front of the group.

"I work as a nurse and have three children who are grown up now and have left home. My husband died last year. I am not very good at chess, but I want to learn and do not want to drag the rest of you down. I will try not to get in the way."

Bob immediately liked this lady, though he sensed she had very low self-esteem. So he smiled at her and spoke affirmingly.

"Sounds like you are in the right place then," he said. Jill looked at him gratefully.

The next man, Jeremiah, turned out to be a surgeon from the local hospital looking for a hobby. He'd played chess for years and wanted to improve his game.

After Bob introduced himself, Susan started the teaching session, which was all about moving pawns. They did a few exercises with just pawns on the board. Bob teamed up with Jill and they had a lot of fun. The old man was teamed with the doctor and Ralph and Heinz were the final pair.

Over the weeks that followed, the group acquired new members and developed friendships. The old man was asked not to come back and was not allowed membership in the club. He was not a good fit for the club. Ralph and Heinz were quickly promoted to the intermediate group with the doctor. The doctor progressed to the advanced group shortly after that, as he really was very good at chess. But Jill and Bob stayed for the full beginner's course together and developed some affection for each other. Bob learned to share his thoughts and indeed it was required to explain his thinking in the different exercises. He became more chatty and sociable than he had ever been before.

After one session, Bob approached Susan and pointed to a broken electric socket.

"Do you want me to fix that for you, Missy?" He had adopted Missy as his pet nickname for Susan a few weeks ago and it seemed to make her smile and had stuck.


"It just needs a little rewiring and a new outlet socket; I have one in my bag. It will take me ten minutes. I just need you to switch the electrics off for the moment."

Susan did that and ten minutes later, it was fixed.

Bob then produced a can of permethrin and pointed to the statue of the chess piece in the corner of the room.

"That's got woodworm and needs a coat of this; do you mind if I do that for you?"

It took about half an hour and then it was done.

That Christmas, it was Bob's turn to host his children at his house, which he had built himself when they were still a real family. Lucy and John returned with their own children and spouses. Bob bought his grandson a carved wooden chess board and taught him the rules. They had a lot of fun in front of the fireplace as the grandson took to the game with some enthusiasm.

John saw them playing and laughing together. Then later, he challenged his father to a game, allowing him to play white and to start.

Bob started pawn to King 4 and John responded in kind. Then Bob drew up his pawn on the queen's side for a Queen's gambit.

"Dad!" John remarked. "Queen's gambit? When did you get so adventurous? What has changed?"

"I am a regular at your old chess club now," Bob replied. "I play for the club's C Team and am the club's handyman. How would you like to join me in repainting the clubhouse after Christmas? We plan to do it one Saturday in January. We can also play a few games of chess in the breaks." Father and son smiled at each other.

"Yes, why not? I have been meaning to reconnect," replied his son. Bob glanced at his wife's old reading chair in the corner of the room. He imagined his ex-wife's face looking up from some serious classic book. She was not sneering at him like she normally did but rather was smiling. Bob smiled too.

Both men's attention returned to the board, the game was on.


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