Going Postal (An epistolary short story)

Going Postal (An epistolary short story)

ChessAuthor
ChessAuthor
Feb 21, 2018, 1:33 PM |
0

Going Postal

(An epistolary short story)

By Michael Weitz

 

Originally published in SQUARES Magazine, Volume 2 Number 8, Fall 2005

 

 

 

Dear Mrs. Mathews:

My name is Jean Phillips. I am married to one of the gentlemen your husband plays correspondence chess with. After reading some of the postcards our husbands have exchanged, I thought I should write to you. Don’t worry! Your husband (Brad, isn’t it?) didn’t write anything bad or in poor taste. Actually he and my husband Dan seem to have much in common so I thought you and I might as well.

   Anyway, this is the first time I’ve pilfered an address from one of his chess cards and written a letter. Do other “Chess Wives” do this? Is there some sort of club for us? (smile)

   I always know when he gets a chess move (he prefers to get the mail in fear that I’ll drop one of the chess cards) because he turns classical music way up on the stereo. He says symphonies by Beethoven are good to play chess to because the music is “war like.” Can you believe it? Please tell me my husband isn’t the only crazy person playing this game! (Smile again!)

 Sincerely,

Jean Phillips

 

* * *

 

Dear Jean:

   I am so glad you wrote to me! I’ve often wondered if I was the only “Chess wife” as you put it, with a husband infatuated by a game not played on grass or watched on TV!

   My name is Karen. Hi! Since you wrote I went into the den where my husband (yes, his name’s Brad) keeps all of these postcards and plays his chess games, and read all of the postcards your husband has sent. Actually I was surprised I could find them so easily. Brad isn’t this organized anywhere else in the house!

   To be honest though, I haven’t got a clue about this game so I just ignored all of the letters and numbers—which Brad told me is how they make their moves through the mail—and just concentrated on their little notes to each other. It looks like Brad writes things I never hear him talking about to his friends in person! Do you suppose it’s because they are men or is it the chess thing?

   So thanks for the letter. At least we now know we’re not the only ones out here. I know what you mean about the mail too. Brad actually gets huffy if the postman is just a few minutes later than his usual time! I’m sure we could fill pages with stories to tell!

 Best to you,

Karen

 

* * *

 

Dear Karen:

   When you mentioned the stories we could tell I just started laughing! You are so right. In fact, here’s one for you: Besides playing chess through the mail, Dan also plays in tournaments at the local club. If he does well (if his rating doesn’t go down) he will not wash the socks he wore and save them until the next tournament, and keep saving them until he finally loses! He even has a special place for them so I know not to put them in the laundry. I hate it when he’s on a winning streak just because of those funky socks! Maybe it’s the stench knocking out his opponents instead of his chess playing ability? (Ha ha!)

   I hope I don’t sound too mean. We’ve got the grandkids coming over and I shouldn’t have such a wicked tongue when they’re here. Do you have any kids? Our husbands don’t seem to discuss family too much. I hope you don’t mind my asking.

   Dan does enjoy his chess games with Brad. I actually found out they’re not even playing in a tournament together. When they first “met” it was through a correspondence tournament six years ago! They just and fun and seemed to hit it off and kept playing each other. Dan said he and Brad have played about twelve games in that time, sometimes two at once. Did you know that? Here I thought it’s been the same game this whole time!

   Well, the day is getting on. Dan is trying to get a few chess postcards filled out right now before the mailman comes. I’ll sign off and let him take this out with his stack and I’ll go bake some cookies.

 All my best,

Jean

 

* * *

 

Dear Jean:

   I still don’t know anything about chess and I don’t plan to. Brad can keep it as his territory, I’ve got too much else to do and keep track of. But I will tell you this. Brad recently played in his first face-to-face chess tournament since he was in high school. He was gone for hours and when he finally got home he looked like he’d been grilled with heavy questions under a hot light. He lost every game and the only thing he had to say was, “I wish Dan had been there.”

   Is there something about chess that makes it more than just a game? Often Brad has actually been impressed by some of Dan’s sneakier moves. Brad will lose the game and then try and show me how Dan beat him, all the while with a smile on his face and saying, “Isn’t that great?”

   Brad has always been competitive, to the point of racing me with separate carts through the grocery store, but he doesn’t get that way with chess. I’m not complaining, just baffled!

   Of course if I say anything about him being crazy he counters with my shoe obsession. Will men and women ever understand each other?

Hope you and Dan are well!

Karen

 

* * *

 

Dear Karen:

   I’m sorry my letters are so far and few in between. We just haven’t been home much and when we are there are so many other things to do. I do enjoy your letters though. They always raise my spirits.

   It sounds like your kids are enjoying school—or is that just their mother’s wishful thinking? (Smile) Our oldest son hated school; it just seemed difficult for him. Once he started playing chess with his father though, (and he seemed to have a knack for that) pretty soon all of his grades started to improve. A nice little side benefit I thought.

   From your letters, I can understand why our husbands get along, even if just through the mail. They both seem to have a zeal, or perhaps more appropriately, a passion for chess, and they approach it with the wonder of a child. It’s a new discovery for them every time. Dan even told me once (and I’m sure you’ll never hear from me again if you tell your husband this) that getting a chess move in the mail is, for him, almost like receiving a gift. This is where the child-like excitement comes in. The move isn’t a gift like a beautiful sunset or a thunderous summer rain, but the giddy idea of “what could it be?”

   Sometimes when I start to get annoyed with Dan because he’s staring at chess pieces for hours at a time, I’ll think of that and remember he could be guzzling beer and yelling at the television set. Ha!

   Of course his chess immersion is not without its price either. As much as Dan loves chess and is willing to teach and talk about it, those of us around him still have to be careful about it. For example, Dan has had this fountain pen for years and years and uses it only to fill out his chess cards. Nothing else! He will go out and buy another pen to write a check or a grocery list with before using his chess pen.

   Once, when my brother and his family came to visit, our nephew, Robby, snuck off to the library to write his girlfriend a letter. My brother and I were in the living room chatting when we heard Dan yell, “Stop! Don’t even think about it!” I thought he must have caught a burglar but then a door slammed and Robby slunk into the living room looking like Santa Claus just caught him in a lie. Luckily Robby was in his twenties at the time and the verbal admonishment he’d received from his Uncle Dan didn’t scar him for life. In fact, Robby has visited since then and made it a point to bring his own supply of writing utensils.

   Thou Shalt Not Use The Correspondence Chess Pen. Ever! I think this silliness is linked to the lucky socks. Men and their superstitions!

   Karen, I hope this letter finds you and your family well. If Brad’s chess eccentricities ever get to be too much for you, I hope this letter will help.

 With love,

Jean

 

* * *

 

Dear Jean:

   It really doesn’t seem like we’ve been writing to each other as long as we have. Over a year has passed and through all the letters I remembered the one you wrote about Dan and Brad playing chess and writing to one another for more than six years. Maybe the bond of common ground alone can sustain a friendship. Our husbands have chess to talk about and we have them to talk about! It’s strange how well we all know each other even though we’ve never “officially” met.

   Have I got a story for you! Yesterday Brad received a postcard from your husband so naturally I didn’t expect to see much of him once dinner was over. You see, whenever he gets a chess move in the mail he retreats to the den and we can’t roust him out unless something explodes. He’s like a dog with a new chew toy—all excited to get it, then hides to keep it all to himself. “Get away, this is my chess move!”

   Anyway, we finished dinner between 6:30 and 7 and then poof! Brad was gone! “Got a move from Dan today,” he said. That was it. I watched some TV with the kids and then went to bed a little after 10. I stuck my head in the study to say goodnight and Brad was shocked at the time. “Have I really been in here all that time?” he asked. I rolled my eyes.

   Okay, now I want to paint the picture for you. I’m in bed, but sitting up (I always complete a chapter of whatever book I’m reading before turning out the light), it’s been about 20 minutes since I said goodnight to Brad so everything is quiet. When I’m about half way through my chapter I hear a thump, thump, thump coming down the hallway. The door bursts open and Brad comes in wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts and carrying a chessboard! He hops up on the bed like he’s Spider Man and says, “I think I got him! I think I got him!”

   I’m laughing again just thinking about it. He looked so ridiculous and adorable. He started showing me the game he had been thinking over all night—the one against your husband. I had no clue what he was talking about. He moved pieces around and said, “If I move here, he’ll do this. Then I can do that.” Blah, blah, blah! Ha! Ha! Whatever. I hope you understand all of it better than I do!

 Best to you and Dan,

Karen

 

* * *

 

Dear Karen:

   I’m not sure how to write this letter or even if I’ll be able to finish it. Never in my life did I ever wonder about this moment, so I’ll just come out and say it. My beloved husband is gone. Two weeks ago today he died at 3 in the afternoon.

   I’ve been crying every day since, not really knowing what to do with myself, but now that I’m writing to you and Brad, not only am I serving a purpose, but I’m smiling as well. Only you, amongst our many friends, will understand the humor mixed with the pain of Dan’s passing. Would you believe he asked me what was in the mail? He was in the hospital, barely conscious, and he wanted to know if he’d gotten any chess moves!

   Well, he has plenty of people to play chess with now, I’m sure.

   Okay, the box. The great big box. Since you’re reading this you’ve opened the box. Hopefully you’ve already looked through it because I’m just going to tell you what it is. This is Dan’s most favorite chess set and board. Every game he played with Brad was with this set. Whenever we had friends over or if Dan just wanted to “re-attach” himself to chess, he would use this set and board.

   When we knew the end was near, Dan told me to send these to Brad. I know none of us have met face to face, we’ve never had barbeques or drinks, butt Dan considered Brad his friend. There are plenty of other sets for our kids to have, but this one goes to you, our postal friends. While this means the end to some fabulous chess games between Brad and Dan, I hope it is not the end of our own correspondence. As Brad and Dan valued their friendship through chess, so I cherish ours through them and our letters. Enjoy the chess set, Brad! Dan wanted you to have it, so use it, don’t let our memories of Dan get dusty.

 Love and friendship,

Jean