I loved chess; Dad loved me.
Dad found it somewhere, missing one or two pieces,
a discard. It was a carved wooden folding box with
alternating brown and white inlaid squares. Staunton-
style brown and white pieces matched the squares.
He bought the set. A missing piece or two wasn’t
a problem for him; he’d been carving wood for years.
At home in his workshop he turned, shaped replacement
pieces identical to those missing, and made the set whole.
His finishing touch was to carve our last name on
the outside of the folding box between clasps. It must
have been a birthday present before I left for college.
It became one of my prized possessions immediately.
I have the chess set in my writing room on top of one
of the bookcases. I retrieve and set it on the kitchen table.
It’s dusty. I open it, and all the pieces are there –
along with two or three husks of insects, long dead.
I’ve only realized this now: Dad and I never played
with this or any of my chess sets. Mom’s boyfriend
John (Mr. B., Kit and I called him) bought my first set
and taught me how to play. Mr. B.’s set is long gone.
I set up the pieces and play a quick game as white against
myself. I lose, unexpectedly. I don’t examine the pieces
for faithfulness; I know that the pieces are identical. Dad
was an exceptionally careful craftsman. I replace the pieces
in their elastic loops on the felted cardboard. The scent
of my past, all these deaths, all these disappointments,
all these distances rises from the box. Dad tried to repair
me, tried to make me whole. Dad loved me; I loved chess.
Andrew Shattuck McBride
April 28, 2012