• Vol. 01
  • Chapter 09
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Thinking About Fred Astaire

He comes here every Wednesday to play me. He wears a green suit and brown suede shoes and a rusty tie pin with a fox on it. Cloudy hair, tufts of white scattered across his chin. Skinny hands. I beat this guy every time and he still comes back. People rarely play me more than once. I win and they leave.

He sits down and nods at me and we start. His move.

I saw this program once where you’re supposed to ask people simple questions like what they’re most afraid of or what the best moment of their life was and that way you sorta break down barriers and get to know them. I don’t talk to other players. Sometimes they try, mostly the tourists. They ask me why I do what I do and am I here all the time. I tell them mostly, yeah.

I nearly have him in a corner. His tie-pin catches the sun and I think maybe he’s trying to put me off, so I move my chair and he pauses mid-move and looks up. "What are you doing?"

I shake my head and he hesitates, then moves his King backwards. He is bad today. I steal two pawns. His moves are slow, concentrated. His hands wear panic. Mine are sharp, fluent. I wonder if he is a business man.

Then because I have nothing to lose, I say, "What was the saddest moment in your life?"

He blinks and for a moment I think he has nothing to say, that he is very happy and rich and has a wife and two kids and a dog. "Finding nothing in the fridge after my wife’s funeral." He looks up at me, back down again. "It was lunch and we had nothing to eat. I had never gone shopping for her."


Thinking About Fred Astaire

I move forwards. He nods. "I had nothing to give my son, so I made him his first cup of coffee instead."

He moves across the board and I stare at the fox on his tie pin. The fox looks like he is hunting, pouncing. His jaw is half open, he looks mean.

"Sorry," I say. I don’t know.

I can almost see all the checked squares on the board. It looks like a dance floor I once saw in a film. I think Fred Astaire was in it.

He smiles. "Nah, he loved it." He moves: left, right, left. Punches the box. "Checkmate."