I’m getting bad with names. Remember that crazy old geezer I used to play basketball with in the Gold Coast a few years ago? Brian? The gym raised their rates so we parted ways and haven’t shot the ball around since, but every now and then we play online chess — when I’d escorted him back to his place after his epic ankle sprain, he had noticed me admiring his hand-carved wood chess set and asked if I played, and after I told him that I’d spent countless hours in my pre-adolescence memorizing opening moves with the same creepily intense discipline of a Scripps National Spelling Bee participant, that I was probably the Asian Bobby Fischer, that, yes, hell yes I played chess, he grinned so hard his dentures almost flew out. “Young man,” he said, “I have killed many of your kind back in ‘Nam and I intend to kill you in the chess room at Yahoo! Games.”
I told him to bring it.
Turns out that dude’s name might not be Brian, however. He kind of mumbles in a very low, gravelly voice, and every time he says his name it sounds like Brian, but I suppose he could very easily be “Wyatt,” or “Lion.” Or “Ryan,” which is what the first part of his Yahoo! username says (followed by a nine digit number that is probably his social security number). Also, sometimes his wife Lenore screams “RYAN!!”
The other day his internet went out and his son was out of town so the dude calls me while I’m at work and begs me to come by to fix it. He’s all, “Charlie, c’mere when ya get a chance an’ fix muh damn internets!” So I come by, stop and start his wireless router, and we’re in business. But dude wants to get a quick game of chess in before I leave, so I oblige, pulling up a chair next to him at the coffee table.
We end up playing a couple games of speed chess and I win all of them and worry that Ryan is going to have a heart attack on me. He’s breathing pretty hard and his face is red. For a brief second there I’m thinking to myself, Maybe I should just slip out before something bad happens. I’m sure Lenore knows CPR.
In the corner of the living room is a parrot inside of a cage, and it’s probably the only reason I haven’t made up an excuse to leave early. I’m not sure what the parrot’s name is because, again, Ryan (Brian?) mumbles. It can’t be Polly, because that would be too unoriginal, so maybe it’s Dolly? Maybe that’s what he said to me? I don’t even know if it’s a male or female. I could have been Wally.
The parrot makes me laugh because of all of the stupid shit it says. Sometimes it says, “I’d like to buy a vowel,” sometimes it makes the beeping sound of a truck backing up, and sometimes it says in my voice: “CHECK MATE, BITCH!”
We’re down to our last game and I’m trying to show Ryan a variation of my Queen’s Gambit that will for sure make his hair curl, when the parrot whistles at us a little, then quietly says, in the voice of his wife: “We don’t even talk anymore.”
I look up at Ryan, who is moving his knight away from the path of my bishop. He’s silent. I look down the hallway in the direction of his bedroom, where Lenore is most likely in bed reading. I look back at the chessboard, trying so damn hard not to laugh. Mate is in four moves.