a Magazine for Writers
Read "Checkmate" by Steve Allan

by Sean Farley

Little Grant Smith dropped his baby sister and panicked.  The sounds of his mother’s soaps seeped through the crack of the nursery door and all he could think to do was to pick up his baby sister and put her back in the crib where he’d found her.  She was quiet as a mouse, motionless.  “Good girl,” Grant whispered, mimicking his mother, who said it often, kissing Eileen on the round of her soft little head.  On the very tips of his toes he placed his baby sister gently against the comfort of her pink and yellow blankets. She didn’t even fuss.

He crept out of the room, sure to leave the door ajar.  He skipped into the living room without a care in the world.  “Hi, Mom,” Grant said cheerfully.

“Son, get out of the way,” his mom said, running a brush through the length of her wet hair. 

“You’re blocking the television.”

“Oh, sorry, Mom.”  Grant stood patiently next to the television.

“What do you want?” she said finally.

“Can I get a Gameboy for my birthday?”

“We’ll see.”

“I’ve been really good.”

“I said we’ll see, Grant.  I’m trying to watch my program here.  Luke is on the outs with Laura.”


“Nevermind.”  She twisted her mousy brown hair like an old dish rag.  The remaining moisture trickled from the end and spotted the carpet by her slippered feet. She didn’t evn notice.  Her dowdy bathrobe was carelessly split open at the chest as she sat with a posture weakened by bouts of depression, half-revealing the limp roundness of her breasts. Everything that was once pretty now seemed shaded with gray.

Grant remained where he was.

His mother looked at him - just her eyes moved, with one blink, unnerved.  “Grant, you’re distracting Mommy.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means go find something else better to do.”

“Oh.  Okay.”  He left the living room and went outside.


Yellow like a glass of orange juice.  That’s what the sun reminded Grant of when he glanced at it (but only for a second because he’d heard the stories of going blind, his eyes burnt to a crisp, at least that’s what his grandmother used to tell him, with her toothless mouth and nightgowns that smelled like bleach. “Happened to your cousin Stephen some years back, it did.  Of course he’s dead now thanks to that drunk of a wife and a sawed-off shotgun.  Bastard.  Probably deserved it.  Hey, Grant, sweetie, would you like a sip from grandma’s flask?  Tastes just like apple juice, it does.”).  He sat on the curb watching water run along the gutter, spotted  with dead leaves and grass, brown like the color of his sister’s dirty diapers.  A bottle cap went floating by.  Up the road he could see Mrs. Johnson spraying her driveway clean, standing officiously, one hand on her hip, the other pointing the spray-hose like a gun.

“Hi, Mrs. Johnson,” Grant said when he reached the edge of her lawn.  He had to raise his voice a little.

“Hello, Grant,” Mrs. Johnson said without zeal.  She continued to spray.

“What’re you doing?”

“Grant, what does it look like I’m doing?  Sometimes you ask the stupidest questions.”

“Oh.  Well, I meant, why are you spraying your driveway?”

“Then that’s probably the question you should have started out with, don’t you think?”  Mrs. Johnson shook her head disapprovingly.  Her teased red coif didn’t move.  It never changed, her hair, it had always looked this way, Lucy-red with a great shock of white up the front.  Her orange polyester pants swayed at the ankles every time she moved. “Where’s your mother?  Should you be roaming around out here all by yourself?  You could get hit by a car or something.”

“She’s watching television.  Luke and Laura are on the ups and downs.”  Grant smiled proudly.

Mrs. Johnson rolled her eyes.  “Well that certainly figures.  Probably doesn’t even have a handle on that new baby of hers, does she?”  She shook her head again.

“Eileen’s sleeping.  I checked up on her and everything.”

“I’m sure you did.  And I’m also sure you managed to get every conceivable germ known to man all over her, too.”

“What?” Grant asked.


“Tomorrow’s my birthday,” Grant said after a moment of silence, swaying on the balls of his feet, hands behind his back.

Mrs. Johnson looked at Grant.  A fracture of pity broke across her stern, powdered face, but it was slight, nearly unnoticeable, something only her dead husband would have probably recognized.

“That’s...That’s swell, Grant.  Happy birthday.”

“My mom says if I’m really good I might get a Gameboy.  A Gameboy would be really cool to have but I’d settle for a ten dollar bill.  When’s your birthday?”

“It’s not polite to ask old ladies their age, Grant. Didn’t your mother ever teach you any manners?  Notthat I’m surprised, what with her hours of soap operas and Vicodin cocktails.”  Mrs. Johnson looked away for a swift second, maybe from shame, maybe from the blazing sun.  She turned to see Grant still smiling at her like an idiot.  “You know, Grant,” she said, wondering why she was even saying it, “it just so happens that I have a tray with some brownies on it. I think...I think maybe one of them might have your name on it.  What do you say?”  Her voice bore no hint of emotion but rather complete monotony; the last time she spoke with the fervor of a mother to a child was the morning her son had walked to school and got hit by a laundry truck.  Mrs. Johnson had since become well-practiced in the art of pretending not to care.

“That would be great!” Grant beamed, darting across Mrs. Johnson’s wet lawn.


By the time Grant’s mother realized her baby daughter was dead, Grant was working on his second brownie. “These are really good, Mrs. Johnson.  I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a brownie so good.”

“I’m glad,” Mrs. Johnson said.  “Don’t talk with your mouth full.  It’s disgusting.”

Grant blushed.  “Oh.  Sorry, Mrs. Johnson,” he s said with his mouth full.

“Don’t be sorry, Grant.  Just be grateful.”

Grant slowly nodded his head.  He reluctantly went for his glass of milk, waiting patiently for reprimand.  Mrs. Johnson remained quiet.

The table Grant sat at was small and round, covered with a bright-yellow plastic table cloth.  The wallpaper had flowers on it, pea-green and pumpkin-orange.  The chairs at the table were wobbly and padded with cracking plastic that matched the wallpaper.  In the corner, a fan  the height of Grant whined as it made bleak, dreary half-revolutions; hot, claustrophobic air circulated more efficiently around the room because of it.  A trickle of sweat ran down the nape of Grant’s neck.

Mrs. Johnson stood at the kitchen bay window, smoking a cigarette with the same officious stance she used to spray the driveway.  The cigarette was long and thin and Grant wondered if at one time Mrs. Johnson was pretty.

“Why do you live here all by yourself, Mrs. Johnson? Don’t you get lonely?”

“You know, you sure do ask a lot of questions.”

“My mom says the same thing.”

“I’m sure she does.”

Grant chugged his milk.  “She told me once that you live alone because some people get what they deserve. Is that true?”

Mrs. Johnson took a long, sultry drag off her cigarette and blew it out the open window.  “Yes, Grant.  Yes it is,” she said.

Grant popped the rest of the brownie into his mouth and chewed happily.

Mrs. Johnson watched calmly as the first ambulance arrived at little Grant Smith’s house. Two men in dark blue uniforms jumped out and ran to the Smith’s front door.

“Grant,” Mrs. Johnson said, “how would you like another brownie?”

My name is Sean P. Farley.  I live in Southern California and have only just begun to embrace the joy of writing.  I've written for local publications that focus on community. Contact Sean.