Grandpa died while playing chess.
We were sat on a park bench that day. His soft ivory hair fluttered in the chill breeze that made its rounds like a scout plane sweeping into lowlands, and he was two moves from a checkmate. He looked at me with his reticent, butterscotch eyes - not judging, but simply tracing the curl of my lips and the jaunt of my jaw. He liked watching me think. I stared, with furrowed eyebrows and a palm on the masonite, at the little sculpted knights and pawns. My grandfather hid a patient smirk behind a translucent, mottled brown hand.
"Your move, kid," he said, in his last words.
Two minutes passed. I was annoyingly conscious of the stick of the Dipping Dot’s on my tongue, and that distracted me greatly, but eventually, I figured out what to do: take his bishop. It was a suicidal move but I wanted to go down fighting, just like he said he would’ve in ‘Nam if he didn’t have a bum knee. I knocked over the walnut chess piece with an exaggerated, triumphant kick, and when I looked back up to see his reaction, his head was cocked back, the brown irises of his eyes reflecting the clouds and tangerine October sun, and he was dead.
I thought he was sleeping, at first, and worried that the monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico would flap into his agape mouth. But I knew what Grandpa looked like sleeping; he had flared, snoring nostrils, and a silly face like he was holding back a sneeze. Nothing like when he died. When he died, he died in a rare nirvana. I've never seen anyone look as peaceful as he did. At his funeral he seemed miserably plastic, all dolled up and reeking of formaldehyde, but in in that light, in that wind, in that park, he looked stately. As if the wind suddenly suffused with his spirit and carried him off to the promised land he always spoke so fondly of, all while he was thinking about what brand oatmeal he’d have for dinner later.
I didn't know what to do. I was barely ten years old, and I never was the type of kid before recess to lead the march towards the beaches of Normandy. Of course, I carried the fatigue of food-stained white polos and dirty cargo pants, and sung the war-songs of childhood with exuberance, but my voice never carried, and I never distinguished myself from whoever marched beside me. So, with no herd to follow, I just sat there, picking at the table’s wood-chips and admiring the snapshot, carving him into memory just as he did me, until five minutes later when a jogger stopped beside me.
“Is he okay?” he asked, sweat glistening off his forehead. He had a tracksuit and a stereotypical, elastic headband. Kind eyes and crows feet.
“Yes,” I said, not meeting his eyes, still scratching into the table. “I think he died though.”
He nodded, plugged in his headphones, and started running. It would take him an hour to understand what I said and come running back.
I stared at the board and moved for my Grandpa. Checkmate, I think.
Coen Ketter is a seventeen year old living in Texas, who plans on majoring in Biology and English in college. His works can be found in After the Pause and The Airgonaut.