a short story written on 11-5-2014 for a writers club.
“Checkmate” written by Divya Durgadas
“What is that awful smell?” Grandma said, crinkling up her nose “I bet it is the mongoose again peeing on the attic!” she sighed! Grandpa’s earpiece had slid down yet again and he was oblivious to Grandma’s concerns. He sat across the table from me eyeing the soup cauldron. He hated pumpkin soup; he made a god awful face!
I laughed and stuck my tongue out, let my head fall on my left shoulder and I cocked each eyeball in the opposite direction. A trick I had learnt from the man sitting across me. “Stop goofing around and finish your dinner!” said Grandma looking in our direction.
I licked my bowl clean and reached for more. Go on, grandpa gestured, getting up from the table. Grandma was running up the crooked wooden stairs to the attic with the old wick lamp and a broom.
I gestured him to wear his earpiece. He was now sitting on the kitchen counter reading the newspaper. It was a while since he tried this trick! He loved to make Grandma mad by rubbing his bum in Elvis Presley’s moves on the clean scrubbed kitchen counter. I stifled a giggle imagining Grandma’s response when she would catch him. He winked, as if reading my mind.
Suddenly we heard a crash, and before I knew all the brass utensils tucked away in the attic were rolling down the stairs. I ran up working my way through the utensil maze calling “Grandma! Grandma!” in panic. There she was on the attic floor lying stiff and passed out. I was crying by now; I shook her vigorously. She moved ever so lightly and finally opened her eyes. I helped her sit up. She was exhausted “It is the stupid cat” she finally said “She has been storing them, the rats in that corner” she pointed to a space cluttered with things from an entire generation ago, which now reeked of something retching.
“I will help you clear it up tomorrow when the sun comes” I told her, helping her to her feet. “I will get grandpa to help. It must be his earpiece again. He may not have heard us!” I ran down, before grandma replied.
The kitten was licking of the remains of my bowl of soup. “Shoo.. Bad kitty” I chided. Grandpa was missing. His hat was gone too. Ah! his usual night time walk, I remembered. Grandma had made her way downstairs by now “Go on. Go to sleep.” she said gesturing me to take a wicker lamp “Don’t stay up reading tonight!” she called out after me.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I lay there listening to the clangs of grandma putting away the brass vessels. I heard the bell from the town’s center. I even heard the distant whistle of the midnight goods train that passed our town. I had hated my boarding school when Grandpa first dropped me that wretched summer. But now I missed my bed there and my friends. It had been two days since I was home and I felt amiss. Grandma was cantankerous than usual and grandpa was well himself but not quite. It seemed they were avoiding each other.
I tossed and turned and finally decided to light the wicker lamp and read my new stack of Enid Blyton books. I felt cold and caught something looming in the corner. I lit the lamp shaking with fear and nearly screamed. It was grandpa setting up the chess table. “You gave me a fright! You have to tell me! Why have you been so mysterious lately? Did you fight with grandma?” “Bullocks!” he mumbled and pointed to the chessboard. “Heh! Sure! I can’t catch sleep anyway” I beamed. Grandpa usually told me stories of the kingdoms while we played chess, of ghouls, goblins and flying elephants. I looked forward to that more than the game itself.
The next morning when grandma woke me up I was sprawled on the chess board with a pawn stuck up my nose. We have to go someplace she said and had laid out my new clothes and socks on the bed. “Where is grandpa? He was up playing chess with me. Yesterday’s stories had the dwarfs too” I said. She stared at me for a moment “He left a while back” she muttered. It felt like the longest journey of my life, on that bumpy old fiat herald. We listened to Sound of music soundtrack on the radio. It was all the rage now. I sang along for “My favorite things”. Grandma just smiled, I wished she had sung along too like before.
And finally we reached. I was back at the doorstep of the ominous hospital wing, where I had watched mama and papa sleeping a sleep from which they would never wake.
I started trembling inside as I caught pieces of the conversation.
“Oh! Mrs…., there you are! we have been trying to reach you for two days”
“it’s the storm. We are out of power and phone lines are down”
“Why… why have to taken him off the support systems?”
“I am sorry. I believe it has been 48 hours ago.”
“His body …”
I didn’t understand any of it. No one had told me he was here.
He was right there, I said. He even made a face at the soup! And what seemed like for many many hours, my Grandma hugged me and sobbed.