Old Generals (Flash Fiction)

Two generals sat opposed to one another in silence. Before them, their armies stood in formation, proud and silent and ready to execute commands given. Nature stood around them, birch trees framing hedges and a rolling meadow, all uncaring in its awareness to the acts of man. The scene had played out before. It would inevitably play out again. No words need be spoken for what is there to say when it’s come to war? The window for words had closed.

The soldiers advanced.

“Yer move,” Bruce said with a smile.

“I can see it’s my move, ya knit-wit. Ya let go, didn’t ya? Everyday it’s the same thing, ‘yer move, yer move’ as if I ain’t never played.” James plopped his chin into an open palm and blew raspberries.

Bruce’s smile grew sinister with tease. “I figure I have to remind ya since you take so long. Yer mind don’t spin on all its gears no more. You’re forgetful, which is why you keep playing.” Bruce waited for his bait to be struck. No such luck. “You forget how often I beat ya!” He leaned over the concrete table and gave a raspy laugh.

James grumbled and advanced another pawn, his third. It was a weak opening and he knew it. So did Bruce. “Just move yer damn horse so I can trade ya for it.”

“How’s that?” snapped Bruce, cutting his laugh mid-guffaw. “What makes you think I wanna trade ya?”

“Ohhhh-ho-ho!” snided James. “What’s that yer saying ‘bout being forgetful then? How could it be if I remember how much you love to trade your first horse away?”

Bruce’s eyes narrowed to slits of wrinkled old skin. Through wispy cataracts, he peered with disdain. He advanced his queen, and it stood like a monolith amongst the pawns, dark and slender and full of disruptive potential.

James averted his eyes in attempt to hide his failing poker face. His ploy had worked. The advancing knight was stayed and his weak opening given a small hope at recovery. He slid his rook behind his pawns, and the rook looked out over the board like a nosey neighbor peeking over a fence line.

“Foolish,” quipped Bruce. “If yer not taking the game serious, why bother?” His second knight came into play. “I’ll never understand why—“

James moved his own knight without hesitation.

The display of confidence had a rattling effect. Bruce slid his hand, knuckles swollen from a lifetime of work, under his plaid newsboy cap. Calloused fingers rubbed at smooth, bald scalp. Wanting to see what would unfold, he moved a cautious pawn.

James chuckled in relief. His flawed opening was spared. “Always the cock of the walk, ain’t yeah? But ya sure do pipe down when someone else puffs up their feathers.” Both of his knights were now in play and eyeing the opposing queen with ill intent.

Bruce slapped his hat onto the table and pointed a crooked finger. “If you wanna go toe to toe, buckaroo, you go right ahead!” He moved and captured the rook and left his knight open for trade.

James obliged with ease. “Told ya. Always lookin’ to trade. You should at least get fair value.”

Bruce grumbled and moved to support his queen. The next few moves went in a flurry as each tried to assert dominance through a display of speed and nothing more. The result was equally baffling for the two parties. Somehow, both sides were worse for the wear.

“This has got to be the worst amount of play I’ve ever seen,” said Bruce. “And I do mean ever. My great-grandson still drooling from the side of his mouth plays better than you.”

James advanced on the daring queen. “Drools from the mouth, eh? I can see where he gets it.”

Bruce wiped his mouth in panic and dismayed over the saliva found on the back of his hand. He forgot about his queen and the game. “I don’t drool!”

James moved again, the queen’s supposed royalty now being openly disrespected. “Ohhh,” droned James, “I suppose it’s the rain then? Falling from these lovely blue skies?”

Bruce gaped. A string of saliva stretched from the corner of his mouth. “I was drinking water earlier, ya know.”

“You were drinkin’ something,” agreed James. He reached for another piece.

“It’s my turn, ya cheatin’ rat-bastard!” Bruce empowered his queen and crushed a threatening knight. In his haste, he failed to see a waiting pawn.

James tilted his head in sarcastic remorse, landed a single fingertip on the waiting pawn, and slid it in a diagonal direction. Her Majesty fell. “Long live the queen,” he said with a smile.

Bruce swiped the board with his arm and sent the pieces flying, stood, and raised his finger to James. “Ya never did respect women, ya mizer!” Grunting, he placed his cap back onto his bald head and slid his ailing body away from the concrete bench.

James, overjoyed, wheezed with laughter.

Bob and Brian stood in silence off to the side and waited for the two men to clear. “What is that now,” Bob asked, “three weeks we’ve been coming here and those two still haven’t finished a game?” Brian nodded, and they set out to collect the scattered pieces.

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