Issue #71

Summer 2019

Chess isn't real

by Richard Berry

I met my friend on the way into class. Are you finally going to join me at chess club tonight? he asked. I said I might, and he said I should. But I can't play. It doesn't matter, he said, you'll pick it up fast. Okay, I said.

We were standing outside the room where they play when my friend pulled me aside and said hey, there's something I need to tell you before we go in. I asked what. Chess isn't real, he said. I didn't know what he meant. I mean chess isn't real, he said. When you see people playing it, they're just pretending. I don't get it, I said. It's more like performance art, he said, moving pieces around the board but never actually playing the game. You'll see.

We went inside and I saw. Chess isn't real, it's true. They all sat in a circle and talked about games they had pretended to play this week. One in a library. One in a park. One in a pretend competition with a small audience of friends and family watching. Some of them knew, she laughed, and some of them didn't.

My friend introduced me and said I was new. I still can't believe this, I said. There are rules, on the internet, I printed them out. The head choreographer, which is what he called himself, said that was part of the ploy. Best to memorise them just in case someone asks. But there are books, I said, there are apps, and what about that computer that's better than humans? Ploy, ploy, ploy, he said. But why, I asked. Why? Because screw the world and everyone in it, that's why.

My parents play chess, I said. They play at the kitchen table. You may want to talk to them about that, he said.

My friend, after, asked me what I thought. This is nuts, I said. I thought you'd understand, he said. I don't. You can't tell anyone, he said. Why should I keep it to myself? I asked. That doesn't seem right to me. I'm asking you, please, he said. I wish you'd never told me, I said. I thought you'd want to be in on it, he said.

It was silly to think my parents would be playing when I got home. But that was the picture I had in my mind on the way back. Hi son, they said. Nice evening? I saw a friend, I said. Hey, I said, would you guys teach me how to play chess? I'd like to learn. Oh, they said. Sure, they said. Someday, they said. Great, I said. Looking forward to it. I went upstairs. I went into my room. I lay down and wondered what else might be performance art.

Author Bio


Richard Berry's fiction has appeared in Dream Catcher, Bandit Fiction and the Nottingham Review. He works in politics and lives in London with his son, Kurt. More at and