Tuesday, 23 May 2023

A King's Gambit.

Read- always read- then, before coffee, I walk. Leaving by the back path, past the old van, graffitied and slowly settling into the earth and memories, up the track through the corridor of broom bursting in yellow abundance; the early morning air blooming with rich aromas. I think it was Nietzsche who said :-“never trust a thought that didn’t come whilst walking”, so I try not to.


Up to the forest crossroads and down into the forest, the way is wetter than I had imagined and soon I am soaked. But the day is clear, the air is new and untouched by the hurry of others, only the bird song and the sound of my steps in the wet grass.


What am I carrying today?

Optimism; age; and, surprisingly Zach.

I’ll see him later.


I leave the forest into the clearing where Britta lives, she sees me, I wave.

“You need a machete to get through there,” she calls.

“I did some clipping”, I smile but don’t stop.


I turn alongside the piano teacher’s house, she has a new ‘companion’ in the city and is not at home just now, and climb to the ridge above the village. Here the wheat is growing amidst a tangle of beans. Was it a mistake? Last year’s left overs? Or a double planting?

There is no answer and I continue down off the ridge towards the lane, an animal truck passes smelling of fear and earth and wet wool; it has been raining.

I cross the road and take the path down beside the lake and then up to the old farm where a plumber now lives. At the edge of the wood a cuckoo calls and I disturb a young fawn, her hoofs clicking on the gravel as she turns and leaps gracefully over the low fence and disappears in the high grass.


Two people are sitting on the deck of a wooden house set back from the path, almost hidden by the trees; they are drinking coffee and suddenly I am jealous so I hurry to the next ridge and turn through the forest where the pigs roam. And then I arrive at the clearing, where whatever is about to happen will. 


There is a bar, nestled against the last of the forest and I leave behind the smells of damp pig and enter a new world. I love this place. I know most of the folk inside by sight if not always by name and I nod to Zach who is serving behind the bar, a giant of a man commanding a mighty place of warmth and welcome; I have, at times called it home.


In the far corner,  an old man is sitting at a table in front of a chess set; he looks up and nods in my direction.


Apparently you can be anything today but you can’t always say it, so I don’t know if the word ‘old’ is appropriate. The chair is certainly old but the man upon it is ancient, they look as if they grew one from the other, back when there was no bar, just a chair in an empty field where wild animals roamed. You can see his age in the fold of his trousers, the twinkle in his eyes as he acknowledges me and the slowness of his hand as he moves the king’s pawn two squares forward.

“I thought you were dead”, his voice rumbles from a previous century.

“I would have told you so.” I sit down and look at the chess pieces.

“And how would you be doing that? I send you a message, you send me one, I send you one back and then nothing. So I send another. Still nothing. I thought the gnarled gobshite had got you and I would never have known, sending messages for eternity into a black hole.”

I move the black’s king pawn forward two spaces, blocking his, and look deep into his blue eyes, eyes that in their youth caused havoc.

“Would you say that you were a pessimist or an optimist?” I ask.

“An agathist”, he replies without flinching.

“What’s that? A belief in Agatha?”

“She was a beautiful woman, don’t mock her”

“Then why didn’t you go to her funeral, I’ve always meant to ask you?”

“ What would be the point? I want to spend time with someone whilst they are still alive, I would only stand there missing them and rueing the lost opportunities”. He looked back at the chess board and started humming.

“So, what is an agathist?”

“It’s from Greek”

‘Tahini’s from Greece, besides you’re not Greek.”

“Look it up.”

I stand up, ‘I need a coffee’, and head to the bar.

“Do you have a phone book?’ I ask Zach who is pulling a pint for one of the customers.

“Of course”, he looks at me quizzically.

‘A dictionary?” I ask.

‘Upstairs, yes”, he looks puzzled.

‘Can I have a coffee, deep, strong and if possible, wicked.. and a look at the dictionary please.’

He finishes pulling the pint, sets the coffee machine going and goes upstairs where he lives. On the counter there is a book, something I haven’t seen before; I pick it up, it’s French. It’s a ‘revue’, articles, photos, it seems random. I turn to the back and read the contents: Comment tomber dans un glacier ou l’oceanL’inquietude des vaches……

The anxiety of cows?

Are they? Anxious that is, they always seem so at ease to me.

Zach returns with one of the biggest dictionaries I’ve ever seen, but he’s a strong man. Muscles like rocks.

“How did you get to be so strong?” I ask.

“Pulling pints.”

I take the dictionary and look up agathist.Agathism, from the Greek – Agathos, meaning good. An agathist accepts that evil and misfortune will ultimately happen, but that the eventual outcome leads towards the good

I take the coffee and return to my friend. As I sit down he moves his king’s bishop pawn two squares forward and looks at me and smiles.

The King’s Gambit, chaos and beauty walking together, hand in hesitant hand.


I can accept the gambit, or decline.


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