Chessboard & Newspaper

Lois Harrod

Lois Harrod

Here’s the plot:  Cal wants to stay home and draw, Gonzago wants to go to the museum to look at brushstrokes, and Freddy wants to see The Tempest.  But look at it now—it‘s snowing.  It’s a blizzard.  In a Dutch painting, so many white dots could become a lace cuff or a skate. 
 
So if you are a visual thinker, think inside.  Think Cubist painting; think Picasso’s Chessboard and Newspaper in blacks, whites, and browns; think a knight’s horse-hinting byline and a wine-bottle-suggesting king.  Or was it Braque?  Soon you begin babbling about the time that Braque and Picasso were painting so like each other that you couldn’t distinguish one from the other, a state some call love and some call art and some call self-deception.  Though, if you are a visual thinker, such thoughts may not occur to you.  Maybe you are only ten years old. Maybe your name is Cal.  Maybe you’re not sure about your next move.  Outside, the tempest.

Or maybe you are dyslexic, and like to look closely at realistic landscapes of tropical islands, so closely that your nose is only three inches from the paint and the museum guard is moving towards you.  You like to get up close and move backwards as a dot becomes the horn of a sea monster.  Let’s say you are ten years old. Your name is Gonzago.  Cal doesn’t understand your fetish for realism.  He says you might as well get a camera, but you aren’t interested in photographs; they look the same up close as far back. You can re-frame the visual world; you can see the chessboard in as many variations as Picasso.  You tell Cal that if he played chess more, he would improve.  

Not a good day to move that bishop anywhere.  But you have decided to be Freddy.  No, you are condemned to be Freddy’s grandmother.  You will take Freddy to the ends of the earth, or at least as far as Bermuda. You love that boy.

Sometimes you think that Cal and Gonzago ought to like each other, both being trapped at looking at things in differently narrow ways, but eventually you realize that similarity is only a verbal phenomenon.

Or, if you are trapped in sound, as some birds seem to be, imagine this story as a song of time and system, for is that not music? Sounds timed to some pattern with pitch thrown in, too.  Pipe, didgeridoo, bells, chant, rain stick, shaker, slide, whistle, bird call.  If you are Gonzago, you like lists like this, but you don’t want to listen to them.  You always want the music turned off.  You like quiet.

Cal seems to like music.

But if you like to listen all morning to Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites and later go to The Tempest where you listen to another kind of sound, what Aristotle called music, verbal music, the crossword puzzle of time and place, that loose embrace, prosper is the word you want: prosper.  If so, you are Freddy.

In the theater, the  woman who sits down beside you and Freddy screws up her face. She did not buy a ticket to sit by a child. “Let’s move,” she says to the old man who has followed her into the aisle. “I don’t want to sit by her.”  The old woman means your darling Freddy who has curly, golden hair.  Freddy thinks she means you. Her. The ambiguity of pronouns.  Freddy is Freddy, not Frieda.  Freddy is a he with curly blond hair.  Not a queen.  You don’t want to sit by her either. Not yourself.  Not Freddy.  The woman.  But you are stuck.  This is the way of plots.

You saw a production once in which Caliban and Ferdinand were played by the same actor.  Caliban had cerebral palsy; Ferdinand stood straight.

At intermission, the woman wants to know where this island is anyway.

You say, “I don’t think Shakespeare specifies.  It’s an island in the Bermudas, the West Indies.  They’ve floated across the Atlantic.”

“Don’t give me that,” she snarls.  “There are thousands of islands on this earth.  It ought to have a name.”

You say, “I didn’t mean to offend you,” and turn away, but you would like to hit her.   Oh, to be Caliban.  To take those sticks you’ve hauled around so long and hit her over the head.  Later you feel sorry for the old man who played her husband.  He could have played Prospero.

And maybe you don’t want to read any more of this story.  It is getting long, and everyone knows a little tale is best—brevity is the soul of the DeWitt Clinton,the fastest track between two cities where old men are playing chess in the parks and where, in a corner stall, you can buy today’s newspaper tomorrow and read about the move you should have made.

Look at the move Miranda made. Just look.

2 Comments

  1. This story was like magic for me as a reader. 2nd person POV is such a delicate balancing act, and this piece is a testament to that issue of craft paying off tenfold in a writer skilled enough to make it work. On my first read-through of this story, I was curious where it was headed, and as the sleight-of-hand of this piece emerged, I finished reading and sat in front of the computer, wide eyed, and said, “Oh. My. God.” Lois, this piece is like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every possible way. As a reader, I am honored to have been one of its first readers, ecstatic to have been one of the votes to accept it, thrilled to see it published and live on the site, and appreciative of how reading your finely nuanced work has given me a lot to consider in my own work. Bravo!

  2. Lois, I love this piece and will be giving it many more readings.

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