Shadows at Dusk

Jeff Haas Click to read more...

haas_headshotJeff Haas has published fiction and poetry in Rattle, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Baen’s Universe and others.  He has taught creative writing at Emory University and technical writing online.  Active in many organizations, Haas is also Principle Content Developer at ADP, where he applies his narrative and voiceover skills to creating professional software demos for mission critical applications.  His short fiction is collected in an Amazon ebook called Searching for Nada.

Two wealthy American widowers sat at an outside table at Caffé Florian in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, playing chess and drinking spritzes. Cass was mounting a Sicilian Defense, an opening he had recently learned in honor of the country he planned to visit, but he was faltering in the middle game.

“Look at that puddle!” he said, partly to distract Pauly, his opponent. “There’s water coming up out of that drain.”

“Pay attention,” Pauly said, advancing his queen. “If you had bothered to read the guidebook I sent you, you would know that this whole place is built on stilts and that’s just the overflow from the Grand Canal.”

“The overflow? If I had known that this was a flood zone I wouldn’t have agreed to come here.”

“Check.”

They were old college roommates who had rediscovered each other at an alumni function after their wives died. Now, with time and money on their hands, they traveled to a different European city each year and played chess at cafes in the late afternoon following visits to local museums. They hadn’t been the best of friends in college, and they weren’t exactly the best of friends now, but they both loved to travel and to play chess, so they agreed to put up with each other for two weeks every summer.

The sun dropped below the Procuratie Nuove, casting long shadows on the puddles rising from the drains on the opposite side of the square.

“Are you sure — ?”

“I’m sure.”

Cass rescued his king and watched the puddles form a small pond that soon became a moderately-sized lake. The orchestra stopped playing and the waiters started moving tables and chairs into the main restaurant.

“Maybe we should—”

“Mate in three.”

“What? No way!” Cass forgot all about the lake and studied the board, determined to find a way out.

The flood inched its way across the square and over to their table. Soon they were up to their ankles in dirty water. Pauly waved off a waiter who made a last attempt to retrieve their table and chairs, leaving them as the only people remaining in the square, two shadows at dusk.

“We have to stop,” Cass finally said, realizing that his king was doomed.

“Do you resign?”

The water was up to their knees and swirling in eddies.

“Of course not! But maybe we should postpone this game until later.”

“So you do resign.”

It made no difference as the flood waters reached the top of the table and washed away the chess board and pieces. The two men continued bickering as they treaded water until Cass spotted an empty gondola floating aimlessly through the square. He swam out to the boat, climbed in, and went back to pick up Pauly.

Their voices could be heard echoing in the streets of Venice — “Checkmate!” “Draw!” “Checkmate!” “Draw!” — all the way back to the hotel.

 

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Discussion

6 Responses to Shadows at Dusk

  1. Maddie Schaffer says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. Pauly and Cass are easily pictured in my mind as I read through this story, their bantering mannerisms so familiar and well depicted. The story switches between the chess game and water situation seamlessly, making the matter of their predicament all the funnier. The author is able, in an efficient manner, to show friendship, stubbornness, loyalty, and competitiveness all in one piece.

  2. Jeff Haas says:

    Thank you, Maddie. I might have subtitled this “Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic.” 😉

  3. Laurel Myers says:

    What a humorous and intriguing story! The characters are so vivid and the dialogue is captivating and real. The competitive aspect of their friendship adds enough tension to ground the absurd scene.The slow deluge creates a mounting sense of suspense that spills into the conclusion. Thank you for such a delightful example of flash fiction.

  4. Jeff Haas says:

    Thanks, Laurel. My wife and I visited Venice, Florence, and Rome on a Rick Steves tour a couple of years ago, and I wrote a flash set in each city to commemorate the trip. I liked Venice the most and would move there tomorrow if I could afford it.

  5. Virginia Kettles says:

    This piece is hilarious! I love how ludicrous the situation is, and how the competitiveness of these two men is enough to keep them glued to their seats. The aimless gondola floating through the square was just the cherry on top. The absurdity of it all reminded me very much of many short stories written by the likes of Roald Dahl. A wonderful story indeed.

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