This story is the first place winner of the 2022 Moment Magazine-Karma Foundation Short Fiction Contest. Founded in 2000, the contest was created to recognize authors of Jewish short fiction. The 2022 stories were judged by novelist Allegra Goodman, author of the National Book Award finalist Kaaterskill Falls. Moment Magazine and the Karma Foundation are grateful to Goodman and to all of the writers who took the time to submit their stories. Click here to learn how to submit a story to the contest.
Charlie Wineglas didn’t want to hurt any animals. He couldn’t bear to hear about animals that had been hurt or even inconvenienced. But his parents believed that feeding bread to the birds was a mitzvah. So he scattered handfuls of crusty cubes across the car’s roof, which was heating up in the early-summer sun, then the wide hood, so his parents inside the car could see the birds at their buffet. He lined the splintery wooden fence posts and rails in front of them. When there was nothing but crumbs in the bag, he shook them onto the ground and returned to the wide backseat of the Buick. He shared the seat with two woolen blankets that had never been unfolded and a paper bag that held apples and bananas and a fossilized cranberry scone in case somebody wanted a nosh.
Charlie’s father had pushed and tilted his seat as far back as he could to accommodate his bulk behind the wheel and was snoring randomly, as if he were sending signals. Charlie’s mother hadn’t budged since Charlie had helped her into the car and fastened the safety belt around her, except that her head had drooped as she slipped into slumber. The silver-threaded kerchief she had wrapped around her thinning black and gray hair moved gently with her breathing, like a wave faltering on a shore.
The gulls had arrived. They slapped their webbed feet on the hull of the car and pecked at the bread and each other. They were just like people; they gobbled what was bad for them. Three gulls strutted across the hood, squawking at new arrivals and peeking through the windshield at Mom and Dad. The birds on the fence posts and railings obscured the view of the placid river and the tree-shrouded hills of the city on the other side. The footsteps on the roof were insistent. Once they discovered the open windows they would go for the scone.
Charlie’s phone chirped. It was Westy in Montreal. Westy was the technical director of Charlie’s YouTube channel, Chess Is Not a Crime. They were on hiatus while Charlie was visiting his folks; Westy just liked to stay connected to everyone. A chess board appeared on his screen and Charlie moved his pawn to e4. Charlie and Westy played with the speed of two horses headed for a photo finish.
Most of the bread was gone. The birds were thinning out, flapping away, getting on with their lives. A warm, salty breeze furled up the river from Narragansett Bay. Charlie was two pawns down with nothing to show for it except a knight posted on a good forward square. “You are not you,” Westy wrote in the chat. “This is not the play of you. Who are you?”
“I am with my parents. I am a little boy again,” Charlie wrote back. He was three pawns down. He resigned.
“Instruct me on finding this fountain of youth,” Westy answered. “I must not fall in.”
Westy was half Charlie’s age. His parents were still working. They ran their businesses and their lives on their phones. Charlie’s dad had a phone, which he kept zipped in its little black case, which was buttoned into a pocket of his jacket, which was folded in the backseat, under the emergency nosh bag. Charlie didn’t feel like sending Westy a bulletin from the future. “L8tr sk8tr,” he wrote.
Dad gargled deep down as if he were strangling on a dream and woke up. He looked around and asked, “Did they lose?”
“The Red Sox!”
“We’re not watching the game, Dad,” Charlie explained. “We’re parked by the river. I fed the birds for you.”
Charlie could almost see the cartoon balloons of unconsciousness popping above his father’s head. One of the gulls stepped on the folded windshield wipers and looked in. “Sholem Aleichem, bird,” Dad said.
“Oh, this is nice,” Mom said. Her head was up. “Have we been here before?”
“Yes, Mom,” Charlie said. “You love the river.”
Mom turned her head a bit to the left, but she couldn’t turn far enough to see who was in the backseat. “Charlie? When did you come home?”
“Days and days ago, Mom,” Charlie said. He leaned forward and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Oh,” Mom said. She laughed as she always did, as if every day was sunny. “Oh oh oh. And when will you leave?”
“My plane is on Tuesday.”
“Oh,” Mom said. A plane leaving on Tuesday was a fact that fluttered around Mom’s head, then fluttered away. Charlie’s visits were one long struggle to remember when he had arrived and when he was leaving.
Dad was still awake. “Charlie, are you going to see Mr. Fitzgerald while you’re home?”
“He died, Dad,” Charlie said. “We’re going to visit Mrs. Fitzgerald. Alice. Their daughter invited us. Brenda. At three.” Visiting the surviving Fitzgeralds was today’s main task.
I always liked him,” Dad said. “When are they expecting us?”
“At three,” Charlie said. Normally he tried to hurry his parents along, and their repeated questions often made him angry, but after three days in Antique Parent Land he was adapting to their rhythm, like a comet that had been nabbed by Jupiter. “We’re early. Do you want to get some coffee first?”
“Yes. Let’s go. Your mother can use their bathroom. Any bread left?”
“Nope. The gulls ate it all.” There had been another bag of the stuff, but Charlie had stuffed it in the trash before they left.
Dad chuckled. “They like their essen,” he said, and turned the key in the ignition. The engine hacked to life and all the birds within bread-throwing distance scattered. “Ma! Wake up! We’re going for coffee.”
“I’m awake, Dad,” she said. “We should ask Charlie if he wants to come with us.”
“He’s in the backseat, Ma,” Dad said as he reversed the car. Charlie resisted the urge to peek at what they might be reversing into.
“Charlie?” Mom asked. “When did you come home?”
Charlie’s father drove carefully and slowly, as if he felt responsible for the safety of the annoyed drivers lined up behind him. He drove to six places only: the supermarket, the farmer’s market, the drugstore, the bird place, the fish place and Dunkin’ Donuts. Their synagogue had been the seventh place, but Charlie’s parents could no longer wake up in time for services, and his mother could no longer follow the service.
Charlie had come home to herd his parents to the memorial service for their friend, Izzy Ginzburg. Reva, Bill, Izzy and Izzy’s deceased wife, Sylvia, had all gone to high school together. The previous day’s trip to the shul should’ve been an easy excursion, but the preparation—his parents’ bickering and false starts, Mom packing and unpacking spare changes of clothing in a series of plastic bags and becoming frightened when she inevitably misplaced the bags—had turned it into a marathon Charlie had survived only because, while his parents fussed over how many eggs to scramble or how many slices of bread to feed to the toaster or some other issue they had been fussing about since the day they returned from their honeymoon, he had fled into the basement to toke down a joint under the one window that could still be forced open.
Even with Charlie driving, the Wineglas family had arrived just minutes before the mourners’ kaddish. To Charlie, the sanctuary was as empty as a king-rook endgame. Mom sat with Charlie and his father in the men’s section. It had been so many years since Charlie had stepped inside the shul where he had received his Jewish education and had endured his bar mitzvah that he hadn’t known how attenuated the congregation had become. The younger people had, like pawns, reached the end of the board and transformed into something better. The people who had stayed in town had grown old. Or died, like Izzy and Sylvia. The worshipers scattered around the sanctuary reminded him of the summer in high school when he had worked at the state fair, and the aimless customers who had wandered past his booth on the afternoon of the last day.
After the service, while his parents spoke with the out-of-town Ginzburgs, two young girls wheeled Esther Zale over to Charlie. The girls were Mrs. Zale’s great-granddaughters. Mrs. Zale gripped Charlie’s hand as if she feared she might float away. Her hands were cold and mottled, but her crooked fingers were still strong. Charlie remembered those fingers striding across the keys, showing him, at the end of yet another unsuccessful lesson, how Franz Schubert was supposed to be played. Charlie kneeled beside Mrs. Zale in her wheelchair and she inclined her head and whispered in her papery voice, “I just wanted you to know. When your father was a young man, he was so delicious, I wanted to eat him up with a spoon.”
At the Dunkin’ Donuts Charlie added three white plastic spoons to their tray along with their coffees (black), muffins (blueberry), two cartons of whole milk, and a pile of sugars like miniature sandbags and carried it to their table. A man and a woman about his age smiled at him as he walked by.
At the Wineglas table, Dad was sitting with his arms crossed over his plaid short-sleeve shirt, gazing out the window of the Dunkin Donuts at the parking lot, probably remembering what had stood in this spot a million years ago. Corn, Charlie guessed. Dad was wearing his WORLD WAR II VETERAN baseball hat, the words stitched in gold on a dark blue background. Mom was still in the ladies’ room. Charlie set out the coffees and took the muffins out of their bags, then flattened the bags and set a muffin on each one. Dad poured milk into his coffee and into Mom’s and started opening sugars. Charlie nudged the bag of clothes Mom had dropped on the floor—containing a blouse, a pair of shoes she never wore, a scarf and a sock—under her chair.
“There’s a new coffee shop in the old Congregational Church,” Charlie said. “We could get real pastry and lattes there. With any kind of syrup you want,” he added. He shared his parents’ taste for sweets.
“Lattes,” Dad said. “Have we gone fancy. Maybe champagne next. Oysgevorfene gelt.”
Charlie had no command of Yiddish. “Gelt. Money,” he said. “Money well-spent?” he teased.
“Money thrown away,” Dad corrected. “We like the coffee here. We like it more than the coffee we make at home. Which reminds me, tonight we’re going to make a nice dinner with that haddock we got from the fish place. Just the way you like it. We’ll have some corn, too. Charlie, go check on your mother.”
Charlie put one hand on Dad’s shoulder as he walked by. He touched them all the time now, as if they were bases or goal posts or the Free Parking space in Monopoly. Mom made no answer when Charlie knocked on the outer door to the bathroom. He cracked it and called her name down the short hallway to the inner door. Nothing. He waited a moment, then approached the couple, who were again smiling at him. “Excuse me,” he said to the woman, “could I ask you to go into the ladies’ and check on my mother? Her name is Reva.”
“Of course,” the woman said. She jumped up as if she’d been waiting to help and went through the door. The man said, “You’re very patient.”
“Thank you,” Charlie said, but the clock had run out on his patience a long time ago.
The woman emerged arm-in-arm with Charlie’s mother and said, “All’s well. She was brushing her hair.”
“This is my oldest son, Charlie,” Mom told her. “Charlie, you remember Mrs. Gimbels.”
Charlie remembered Mrs. Gimbels and this woman was not her, but she swept on with Mom and helped her into her seat. Her friend came with her. The man extended his hand to Dad and they shook. Bill Wineglas was far bigger than he had been as an eighteen-year-old, fresh out of high school and ready to smash the Third Reich, but his arms were still corded with muscle and men found his handshake satisfying. “Pleased to meet you, sir,” the man said. “I just wanted to thank you for your service.”
“You’re welcome, son,” Dad said. “This is my oldest, Charlie.”
“He looks just like you,” the woman said, and she shook Dad’s hand, too. “We were both in the Air Force.”
“I was in the Army Air Force,” Dad said. “Randolph Field, San Antonio, 1945.”
The couple beamed, as if they had met Jimmy Doolittle just back from his 30 seconds over Tokyo, and murmured their thanks again, and smiled, and left.
“Strangers come up to me all the time and thank me,” Dad said. “Sometimes they pay for our meals. And once a woman grabbed me at the Stop & Shop and kissed me because her grandfather had been in the war.”
“Wasn’t that nice, meeting Mrs. Gimbels here? Charlie, did you go to school with Mrs. Gimbels’ daughter? What was her daughter’s name?”
“Her name was Samantha, Mom. I took her to the prom. You didn’t like that because you didn’t like Mrs. Gimbels.”
“Oh no, Mrs. Gimbels and I have always been friends. We were both in the Sisterhood at the shul.”
“Mrs. Gimbels isn’t Jewish, Mom.”
“Oh. Oh oh oh.”
Dad slurped his coffee and said, “Cathy Gimbels died years ago. She had cancer. She smoked two packs of Kools every day.” He blotted his gray Captain Kangaroo mustache with a napkin and started on his muffin. “Cancer, heart. Your eyes, your knees, your kishkes. When you get older, everything picks on you.”
Charlie hoped when he was his father’s age, if he couldn’t avoid cancer and heart disease and whatever was going to happen in his guts, he could at least avoid food and coffee stains on all of his shirts. He changed the subject. “Strange women are grabbing you in the supermarket? You’re still a hunk, Dad.”
“Your sister says I’m a chunk.”
And then Reva Wineglas spoke up, not tentatively but with conviction, startling both of them.
“When it’s time for me to go, I don’t want to get sick,” she said. “I just want to wake up and be dead!”
“Drink your coffee, Ma,” Dad finally said. “It’s getting cold. And we still have to go see Mr. Fitzgerald.”
“He died, Dad,” Charlie said.
While his father drove at his steady pace of zero point slow, Charlie heard again from Westy, this time on business. The latest boy prodigy from India was willing to appear as a guest on Chess Is Not a Crime. When Charlie was in his 20s, he had toured India after earning his grandmaster title. He was confident and ambitious and lean as a whippet, and at one stop of the tour he was invited to give a simul against five of the top Indians, all of them well past his own age. He had defeated three of them and drawn with the other two. Today, the Indian team would be stocked with voracious teenage boys. An event like that would be a nightmare, and not for them.
Westy forwarded an email from the kid’s agent. The kid had a lengthy name packed with double consonants that was a challenge for Westerners. The Western chess press, seizing four letters, was calling him “Drak.” Drak was also willing to blurb Charlie’s next book, should Charlie ever finish writing it. The manuscript had wandered into a cul-de-sac. Charlie was trying to create an easy-to-follow battle plan for beginning tournament players, but after a hundred pages on the spiky Sicilian and the cramped French and all the traps in the king pawn openings, he was beginning to wonder why anybody devoted any of their precious life to this game. The idea of interacting with a child named Drak and his incandescent future made Charlie want to plop down and drink bad coffee and maybe eat a fossilized cranberry scone.
Dad asked, “Where are we going?”
Mom replied, “To visit Mrs. Gimbels!”
“Oh,” Dad said. “I was wondering why we were on this road.”
Westy challenged Charlie to another game. He offered to play without one of his knights and sent a laughing-face along with his challenge. Charlie thumbed the phone to silence.
“We’re going to visit Mrs. Fitzgerald, Dad, and her daughter, Brenda,” Charlie said.
“Why does that bird keep chirping?”
“That was the ringtone on my phone. Westy is texting me.”
“So it’s not from a girl. You’re not dating anybody.”
“It’s too soon,” Charlie said, but no one was listening.
“Who is Charlie dating?” Mom asked.
“Nobody. He’s too busy being on TV,” Dad said.
Charlie had given up explaining the 21st century.
“Charlie, say that line again,” Dad said. “From your show. We both want to hear it.”
Charlie had played an episode of Chess Is Not a Crime for his parents. They had focused on his sign-off. “Dad, you’re driving around two miles an hour.”
“I’m thinking. So I slow down when I think, should I speed up instead? Go ahead, say it.”
Charlie leaned forward and put his hands on their shoulders and said, in his professional voice, “That’s the game of chess, my friends. Keep your pawns in the center and your knights on the run. I’m Charlie Wineglas.”
His parents laughed and his mother clapped her hands and the driver behind them honked. Dad said something concise in Yiddish.
“We’re almost there, if you don’t start a fight with the locals,” Charlie said. “Take a right on Pilgrim Hill.”
At the Fitzgerald house, Dad parallel-parked with the confidence of someone who had learned to drive in a jeep on an air base in the middle of a desert. Charlie helped Mom out of the car and steadied her on the sidewalk. The old white-painted ranch house from the heart of the Baby Boom didn’t look too different from the house Charlie had visited so many times, though the lawn had overrun the beds of violets and the weeds had overrun the lawn. A memory popped into his head of Mr. Fitzgerald, not in summer but in winter, standing in the driveway, shoveling a path through the snows of yesteryear, waving to Charlie, who had arrived in his parents’ car with his new driver’s license.
Dad beeped the Buick and Charlie, startled, took charge of his mother, helping her steer as they walked forward.
The front door opened and for a shocking second Charlie thought the middle-aged woman before them was Mrs. Fitzgerald, but of course Mrs. Fitzgerald was middle-aged then, she couldn’t be now.
“Brenda,” Charlie said.
“Charlie,” Brenda said. She hugged him. Lavender.
In high school, when he had knocked on this door, ready for another Sunday afternoon of chess with her father, if Brenda opened the door, there was nothing more between them than “Hi” and “Hi.” Charlie was very much aware of Brenda then and her gang of friends like long-legged ponies. They were independent and put-together. They were in control of their destinies, or at least their clothes. But when he took one of the straight-back chairs opposite Mr. Fitzgerald and one of them tapped the chess clock and the other one moved, all thoughts of Brenda and everything else reliably fell away.
“These are my parents,” Charlie said. His father kissed Brenda on the cheek. “Hello, Brenda,” he said.
Brenda kept her straight black hair short now, with a modest wave at the top, as if she was playing Hollywood’s idea of a lawyer or a stockbroker. The lines on her face surprised him. She wore a lightweight purple and yellow scarf at her throat despite the heat.
“Oh yes, Mrs. Wineglas, I remember when you were involved with the PTA,” Brenda said. “And Mr. Wineglas, weren’t you the Cub Scouts pack leader? Did you know my brother George?”
“A very nice boy,” Dad said, beaming as he always did when a young woman spoke warmly to him. “A very nice boy” was Dad’s standard description of every male in Charlie’s generation or anywhere near it, including Nathan, the owner of Dad’s favorite hardware store, who was talking about retiring.
“Hello, dear, how are you?” Mom said. “Don’t you look lovely. Doesn’t Samantha look lovely, Charlie?”
“This is Brenda, Mom,” Charlie said. “And yes, she does.”
“Oh. Oh oh oh.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Wineglas,” Brenda said. “I’m so glad you and Mr. Wineglas could come over.”
“I’m very sorry to hear about your father, Brenda,” Charlie’s father said. “I always liked him.”
“Come inside, please. My mother is in the kitchen. I know she wants to meet you.”
The house had been closed up for a long time, most likely since Mr. Fitzgerald’s death two years before. The air was as lifeless as the inside of a pyramid. The blinds covered the windows and the curtains covered the blinds. Brenda led them through the empty living room by the light from a Snoopy lamp standing on the flattened green shag carpeting, down a hallway into the kitchen with its familiar wooden cabinets and mustard-colored tiles. The windows were open. A fan crouched on top of the refrigerator like a perturbed cat and stirred the pages of a two-year-old Notre Dame calendar.
Alice Fitzgerald was perched on the edge of a battered wicker chair of the type often seen living out their days in the lobbies of motels on Cape Cod. Charlie helped Mom get comfortable on the chair next to Mrs. Fitzgerald and stashed her bag of clothes under the chair. Charlie’s Dad immediately spotted the nurse sitting on a stool in the corner. “Hello over there,” he said and waved. Charlie guided him to the sturdiest-looking piece of wicker.
When they were all settled—Brenda, her mother, Charlie’s parents, Charlie, and the nurse—Charlie had no clue what to ask or what to say. In this house he only knew how to play chess. Charlie’s father looked equally flummoxed. Brenda seemed content to view Charlie with amazement, as if they had fallen through the decades back into Algebra II or AP Chem.
And then Charlie’s mother asked, “Are you married, Brenda?”
“Yes, I’m Brenda Schlossenburg now.”
“Fitzgerald to Schlossenburg. That’s not a step up,” Dad said. Mom waved him off. “Don’t mind my husband. How long have you been married, dear?”
“Twenty-two years,” Mom said. “You must be so happy, Mrs. Fitzgerald.”
Mrs. Fitzgerald was even more frail and birdlike than Charlie’s mom, like a kinglet perched beside a robin, not the bustling woman Charlie remembered, always with a task to tackle. Mrs. Fitzgerald seemed unable to speak. She reached out and held Mom’s hand.
“This must be your helper,” Mom said, nodding in the direction of the nurse. Charlie knew she couldn’t see well across a room even of this size. “Are you her helper, dear?”
It seemed to Charlie, listening to his mother knit them together, that a trumpet had called. Mom could hear music that he would never be able to hear no matter how many lessons he took. The music was faint and sweet, but distinct to her, despite the gathering muddle in her mind. His mother had sat through many occasions like this one, in many kitchens, and she remembered the music and she remembered the steps. And now Mom had brought into their little company the nurse, who, after just two questions, was showing them photos of her son’s first visit to Fenway Park.
Brenda had brought out a tray with glasses of iced tea and asked the nurse to take over. “Charlie, can I talk to you?” She led Charlie back through the living room and into the compact den that had been her father’s chess studio and snapped on the overhead light.
“I can’t throw it all away,” Brenda said as they stood beside the rolltop desk that Charlie had helped Mr. Fitzgerald lug home from a rummage sale. The chess table and chairs were gone. The bookcases, which had been built by Mr. Fitzgerald’s students in his shop classes, held his collection of chess books. Every book had scraps of paper sticking out of the pages. Tacked to the walls, between the photos and posters of famous players, were the postcards that Charlie had sent from his tournaments. Charlie spotted the postcard he had sent from Siena, from the church with the female saint’s head on display. She must have favored this Jew from Massachusetts, because he had finished first ahead of five players from the former Soviet Union, who were all looking for sunnier, more lucrative places to live. Charlie carefully removed the Siena card from the wall and turned it over. He was embarrassed by the blast of brightness in the message his younger self had written.
The desk—what Charlie had called Mr. Fitzgerald’s command center—was covered with more books and chess magazines and paper-clipped wads of scoresheets from scholastic tournaments. There was a cleared space wide enough to hold one book opened flat and a pocket chess board. Mr. Fitzgerald wasn’t shy about cracking a spine to convince a stubborn book to behave. His Boston Bruins mug held his colored pens and pencils. The book he had been busy annotating on the day he tipped his king was Fred Reinfeld’s How to Play the Queen Pawn Openings. As Charlie scanned the shelves, he saw what must be every book Reinfeld had ever written, including the books on checkers and coin collecting. Reinfeld had died long before computers revolutionized chess, but many of his books were still roaming the globe and finding enthusiastic readers. Charlie opened How to Play the Queen Pawn Openings. In his perfect mid-century penmanship, Mr. Fitzgerald was arguing with Reinfeld about the Modern Orthodox Defense to the Queen’s Gambit.
If only Mr. Fitzgerald would walk in. One last game of blitz. Maybe two. A glass of tea. A chat about their games. Why did you push that rook to g4? You’re a woodpusher! But when the tournament is over, you don’t get another round.
They were laughing in the kitchen. Charlie could hear his mother’s sweet laugh and his father’s bass notes.
“We gave away all the chess men and the wooden boards,” Brenda was saying. “But where can I find a home for these old chess books? Daddy wrote all over them! None of our kids play chess. Please, Charlie, take whatever books you want. Take all of them.”
In high school, when Charlie won his first tournament, Mr. Fitzgerald, the tournament director, who was beaming like a lighthouse, handed him his prize: Reinfeld, of course, The Art of the Sacrifice. “Now he’ll never quit,” Mr. Fitzgerald had told Charlie’s father, who took that boast as a threat, understanding long before Charlie did that trying to make a living from chess would be about as simple as trying to part the Red Sea.
“Why are there so many chess books anyway?” Brenda asked. “What’s the secret?”
“Nobody knows,” Charlie said. “There’s a higher truth to chess that’s almost impossible to grasp. But we all keep trying. I keep trying.” He flipped through How to Play the Queen Pawn Openings and read at the top of one page, in neon green ink, “Just like I said. You can’t systematize all chess knowledge. You must leave room for surprises!!”
To Charlie, the air in the little room was dense with heat, dust, memory and grief. Charlie and Brenda were the same age, but Brenda’s father was dead two years. This was her bulletin from the future. It didn’t matter that Charlie had been gone so long, that he couldn’t come to her father’s funeral, or that the new generation of chess players was rushing past him.
“Your father opened a world to me,” he said. “I’ve traveled around the world because of him. I loved him.”
Brenda, trying not to cry, hiccupped. They laughed.
“Do you have any boxes?” he asked. “You’re in luck. I brought a big car.”
After their nice fish dinner, after their cups of Lipton’s tea and honey graham crackers, after Charlie had agreed three times that Samantha Gimbels was very nice to give him all those books, after Charlie had covered his parents with blankets in the living room as they slept, Dad beached on his recliner, Mom curled like a child on the couch, in the room that had been the scene of so many fights over Charlie’s career and romantic choices, with the framed photos of children and grandchildren on the walls, and after the Red Sox had dropped another game to the Orioles, Charlie turned out all the lights and got into bed in his old room. The bureau was crowned with dusty ranks of high school chess trophies, guarded by the starship Enterprise hanging from the ceiling. He was halfway to oblivion, shuffling his pieces in the back of his brain, when he felt a thump on the bed. The cat began punching him, trying to mold him into a more Dad-like lump.
In the morning, Charlie decided, he would make pancakes. That would be a good opening move on his last full day. He’d set his parents up on the patio in the sun’s radiance and make notes for his book. There were plenty of authorities in his field, centuries of analysts and commentators and bloviators, but Charlie wasn’t afraid to mix it up with them. He didn’t need lessons to hear that call.
The cat had curled into a ball and was purring like a motorboat crossing Lake Michigan. Through the open window, Charlie heard an owl announce his territory with a definitive hoot, hoot, hoot. He closed his eyes and, like a bishop, slid slantwise into sleep.
Steven Bryan Bieler began writing fiction and playing chess when he was 12. He has worked as a newspaper copy editor, magazine editor, computer game designer and music critic. He lives in Bellingham, Washington, with his wife, the mystery novelist Deborah Donnelly, their books, and their corgis.