The Table

by Sterling Meeuwen

The board they played on was a marble inlay table, they had it made the year Declan got divorced. It happened in the fall and as winter crept in, Liam watched as Declan looked deep into the abyss. Liam knew that he had to somehow channel Declan’s negativity the same way the army had done for him before they met. Liam had never really been in charge of any one before but, he was good at it. He showed his friend the artistry of woodworking and Declan let go of his thoughts and focused on the warmth of the wood instead of the cold in his heart. When the snow melted they sat their effort out in the yard among the tulips and have done so ever since.

“Charlie and Hayden… are they well?” Declan asked as Liam began to set up the board.  He grabbed two beers from the cooler, opened them and sat them on opposite sides of the board.

“Hayden is at university and Charlie… she’s… well you know, my little girl.”

Declan smiled and gave a half chuckle. Half because Liam only knew three openings and this was his favorite and the other half because he always liked Charlie. When the children’s mother died she took it the hardest. Declan understood her loss and in secrete supported her Bohemian lifestyle, much to the dismay of her father. Declan had gone on a bit of a quest, himself, after that spring and now was giving lectures all over Europe.

“I see you brought a red head home with you this time” the

sarcasm was thinly veiled and Declan began to laugh.

 “Yeah, I met Siskia in Leiden…” Declan went on to tell the story of Siskia.

The Red head and Declan had met by design, if you ask some. Declan and his dog, where relishing in the sun in the park after, a long grey Dutch winter when, Kimbo bolted off with the frisbee. After 20 min of walking through the park he found the beast sitting next to her. He walked up and with his boyish smile said.

“gootendag das ist mijn hounda… “

She laughed loudly and whispered something in the dog’s ear. Kimbo looked up and gave a dog smile.

“Bent u zeker hij is van de joue?”

Declan blushed because he had exhausted his knowledge of the Dutch language.

“Mijn Nederlandse ist neit goot.  Sprect u Engels?”

“Of course!” she replied and laughed again.

Liam loved these stories.  He was always so amazed at how easily Declan could fall in love.  He was also envious of how quickly he falls out of love.  Liam never remarried… he just couldn’t fall out of love.

“Are you going to keep her around?” Liam asked.

“I think the question is really… how long will she keep me around?” Declan laughed and the two men raised their bottles toasted and took a long drink.

Liam reached into the coolers and pulled out two more beers sat them on the table and then stared intently at the board.  What was Declan doing?  It was hard to play Declan because he had no idea how to play.  Sure he knew how the pieces moved but he had no real strategy.  It was all a mess of rash decisions and random ideas.  It frustrated Liam because every once in a while Declan would win.

“That boy of yours? He still playing ball?”

“Yeah! He got a full ride at University. He wants you to come to one of his games while you’re in town.”

“I would like that.”

Truth be told he would love that.  Declan loved baseball.  His father taught him how to play and it was the only time they got along.  It made Declan sad that the family secret, the knuckle ball slider, would die with him.  Then Hayden started showing interest in baseball.  Declan jumped on this, buying Liam’s son everything a little leaguer could ask for.  Most fathers would be upset with the intrusion, but Liam didn’t know the first thing about baseball and he could see how happy it made Declan.  So all through little league he was Hayden’s coach.  In Hayden’s final game, his senior year, he pitched a no hitter.  it was hard to tell who was prouder of him Liam or Declan. It was hard for Declan though.  He had always wanted what Liam had… a family.  Sure the kids treated him as an uncle, but it wasn’t the same.  Every time he would go to these family functions he would hurt inside reminded of his own failed attempts at happiness.

The two men sat that whole afternoon telling the same stories they have been telling for the past twenty years until, finally as the sun started to go, down Liam made the final move.

“Check mate ole buddy” Liam said calmly

“Damn you Liam!!!”

He knew that his fly by the seat of your pants strategy hardly ever worked on Liam but, he was sure this time he had him.  He stared at the board for a long minute then finished his beer and looked Liam square in the eyes and said:

“Why do we play this stupid game?”

“Because you suck at it.”