Mate in Three
Richard Johnston

Move, you French fuck,” I said.

Jolie put down her copy of the New York Times and glared at me. Her mother, who was visiting us from Paris and had been staying with us for over a month now, was making breakfast. She hardly spoke any English but somehow knew every time I cursed.

“I’m sorry, dear,” I said. “I have mate in three and the jerk won’t move.”

“Is it Sun King again?” Jolie asked.

“No. Some new jerk.” I looked down at my phone. “Guillotine99.”

Jolie’s mother poked her head out of the kitchen and said something.

“More coffee?” Jolie asked.

“Thanks,” I said. “I’m good.” A whole minute passed. “Please just move.”

“It could be a woman, you know,” Jolie said from behind her newspaper. “A young one,” she added.

“I don’t care what he is,” I said. “I have mate in three, and he knows it, because he hasn’t moved in three minutes. And rather than being a man about it and resigning, he’s just sitting there, eating a baguette, and letting the clock expire. How do you say resign and asshole in French?”

“Don’t message him, Charles. He’s probably Joséphine’s age.” Joséphine was one of our eight nieces.

“That probably explains it,” I said. I couldn’t stand Jolie’s twin sister, her husband, or their gaggle of children, and Jolie knew it. Madeleine lived in a suburb of Atlanta with a man that she, too, had met on a college exchange program. Unlike Jolie, though, who was a doctor, Madeleine had dedicated her whole postgraduate life to bearing children for her husband, a plump and boyish-looking evangelical preacher who sported a goatee. Their daughters – inconceivably, all eight of their children were daughters – were pretty as peach blossoms and were absolute bitches. Once, when Joséphine was just ten years old, she had solemnly asked whether I was afraid as she was that I was going to hell.

“How do you know your opponent is French?” Jolie asked.

“There’s a French flag next to his name,” I said. Another thirty seconds had elapsed.

“Are you sure it’s not Iowa’s?”

“They don’t use state flags on this site,” I said. Then I added, “Shut up, Jolie.”

Ten years previously, while Jolie had been completing her pediatrics residency and I had been rushing to finish my book, I’d had a brief affair with a woman from Iowa. A graduate student, but not one from my department. I slept with her exactly twice, and then I confessed everything to Jolie. A week later, Queen Madeleine the Pregnant flew up from Atlanta and stayed with us for a month. Every night, at dinner, she prayed. They day after she left, while doing the laundry, I found the note that forced Jolie to admit she had been having an affair with another resident for two years.

“Guillotine99 sounds like an American girl’s name,” Jolie said. “Something right up your alley, as a matter of fact.”

“That’s rich, coming from you,” I said.

“I bet her name’s Tina.”

“Be quiet, Jolie.” I didn’t look at her. Another minute elapsed. Guillotine99’s clock was down to three. “For Christ’s sake,” I said. Then I typed the words PLEASE RESIGN, ASSHOLE into the chat feature.

Jolie’s mother muttered something sternly as she set a plate down in front of me. I was just about to give Jolie a message to give her mother when Guillotine99 withdrew a knight that had been pestering my queen for the entire game. “Yeah, now you move,” I said. But just as I was about to initiate my final offensive, I noticed that Guillotine99 was now skewering my king with a bishop that had been, until that moment, sitting harmlessly next to a pawn at the other end of the board.

“You’re kidding me,” I said aloud. My king had exactly one square to move to. My own damn rook was blocking my escape. The bishop would take my queen on the very next move, and then it was mate in two. “Goddamnit!”

Jolie’s mother shouted something at me, and then Jolie, who didn’t permit shouting in her kitchen, shouted something back at her. “Charles,” she said sharply, placing both her hands on the kitchen table. “I mean it. That’s enough.”

“Don’t talk to me,” I said.

Three words popped up in the chat feature then. That’s when I got really hot. “No, I am not going to resign,” I said. “I think I’m going to sit right here and let the clock expire, you little fuck.”

“Charles!” Jolie said. Her mother stood up from the table.

“Shut up, Jacqueline,” I said as I typed something back at Guillotine99. I heard Jolie’s mother ask me something and then ask her daughter something. Jolie didn’t say a word. I hit send and shoved my phone toward the bowl of wax fruit at the center of the table. Then I looked up and smiled. “I’m just going to sit here and let him wait for me to die,” I explained.

Jolie looked at me. Something had changed.

“Who’s Jacqueline?” she asked quietly.

“Jacqueline?”

“Yes, Jacqueline. You called me Jacqueline.”

“What Jacqueline? I don’t know a Jaqueline,” I said.

“You’re lying, Charles,” my wife said. “You’re such a terrible liar.”

A momentary flash of scorching embarrassment had given way to anger, which burned and throbbed like an old, tired star. “Why don’t you ask around at the hospital?”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Jolie shouted. Her mother was crying now, and Jolie was about to start crying, too.

I got up and started to walk away from the yelling and the tears. It was two against one. I would never win and wasn’t sure if I wanted to anymore. For just a moment, I turned and looked at Jolie.

“You never did tell me how to say resign asshole.”



Richard Johnston is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Fine Arts at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. His fiction has appeared in Hobart. Follow him at @rrjohnst.