Sure by Lily Liu

I have few vivid memories of my biological father.  I remember strong arms carrying me to bed.  I remember his voice.  I remember playing chess together.

I stare at the chessboard, while my fingers clutch my knight.  Advancing it into position, I check for traps.  As I slowly release my grip, he interrupts.

“Are you sure, Lily?” He asks.  “Are you sure?”

I pause.  Is this a hint or a trick?  Slowly, I lift the last remaining finger off my piece.  He moves without hesitation.  When I lose, we shake hands, even if I do not want to.  For the eighth time that day he says, “Good game.”

Visions of rooks and bishops.  When he won’t play anymore, I sit alone and move against myself.  Sixty four cherrywood and maple squares dance before me in my dreams.  Always cherrywood and maple, never black and white.

His refrain, are you sure, follows me to school chess tournaments.  One woman calls me Waverly, but I do not understand her.  I don’t know enough to be annoyed at the comparison, yet something about the comment sticks. I direct my attention back to the board under my nose.

When I am victorious, I want to celebrate but instead extend my hand.  “Good game.”  One look into Samarth, my biggest rival’s face, and I see my dad in me and myself in him.

Soon thereafter, all the chess stops.  Before my brother and I understand what is happening, our mother tells us our father has left us.

Her tears make me feel helpless.  My mom is the strongest person I know.  My brother blames himself.  I assure him it is my fault, because I have neglected my chess practice.

“Are you sure?” he asks and I nod.

My mother overhears and scolds us both.  She says it is nobody’s fault.  Later I climb to the roof and let my heavy wooden chessboard go.  I watch it crash into the pavement and split in two.  I run back down, collect its remains, run back up and release it again.  I do this until my chessboard is sixty-four pieces.

Then, I walk away.

Nine years later, a friend asks me if I know how.  I respond that it’s been awhile.  I sit and stare at the board before me.  It’s cheap, red and black.  The pieces are too light.  I struggle to recall apparitions of floating pieces and the sensation of my mind running through pathways of the chessial dimension.  The feeling floats before me like a lingering goldfish in a pond.  I reach out toward mental muscle memory, only to have the shiny scales dart away between the tips of my fingers.

He asks if something is wrong, a question that pulls me back into the present.  I dry my hands, shake my head and smile.

“Are you sure?”

His question is full of concern.  I laugh.

Three words I generally find cryptic are so simple today. I know why he asked me and I know my answer.

“Of course.”

“Good” he responds “That was fun. I underestimated you in the beginning.  You catch on fast.”

“Good game” I reply.

Back home, I think of chess. There are other games I play now.

Numbers dance before me. Words waltz. Floating pieces guide my hand to make the next move.  I struggle to make sense of all the possibilities. They rush towards me like charging knights.

“Are you sure?”

“Are you sure?”

“Are you sure?”

Other than the tokens, nothing seems to have changed. Then, I remember the player has.

I am reminded of many vivid memories, when I sit down at my desk.

Next to piles of problem sets, clusters of attempted fiction and slightly worn ballet shoes-all games in progress-a framed photograph lies atop the cherrywood and maple surface.  My stepfather and extended family are playing Frisbee and eating frozen custard in the hot Milwaukee sun. I am laughing.

Tonight, I stare at this picture and then outside my window, fluctuating glances for a long time.  Boston glistens amid an ocean of night.

I attempt again to understand the pressures that my father faced from his family in China as the self-taught prodigious farm boy who was going to make his village prosperous and his poverty-stricken family the new nobles.

The weight of the photograph in my hand feels reassuring and right.

I hope he has been fortunate enough to find new love and happiness as well.  I have picked up the pieces and let them go.

Wherever you are Dad, I forgive you.

“Are you sure?” he asks.  We stare together at the shadowed, medieval moon.  It is a new era.  The games have evolved into today.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

by Lily Liu

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