I. Bichus “My wife’s draughts dialectic”
Draughts are like a plague to my wife. As soon as she comes across a checker lying in the corner while cleaning the room, her lips begin to twitch and her hands tremble. Immediately she proceeds to enumerate all my sins.
I know her further program by heart: “You’re stupid as a cork, you’re no good, you don’t want to improve your qualifications, but you spend all your free time on some draughts! While some husbands are preparing dissertations, others are working honestly, and in their spare time they are doing odd jobs, earning not only for a living, but also for a trip to the Seaside, you spend your evenings moving some worthless knuckles. And what would you not be able to achieve in life, if you were not infected with this draughts disease. And why should I have to suffer with such a stupid husband…”
Under the influence of such scenes, I was forced to go underground. I had to wrap the checkers in stemmed pieces of paper, collect them in a kefir bottle and glue a homemade skull with the inscription “prussic acid” that inspires fear in women. The board managed to be shoved somewhere under the carpet. It turned out to be more difficult to deal with draughts books. For six rubles, they were bound into other covers for me. The “New Theory of Draughts Principles” was renamed “Gulliver’s Adventures”, Kukuyev’s “125 Etudes” turned into “The Cosmogony of the Solar System”, Cyric’s “Draughts Endgame” was now called “Short Stories” by O’Henry, and Ramma and Shmulyan were to be hidden in the third volume of the “History of the Diplomat”
At home, I even tried to get rid of blasphemous terms from my speech, like: sports, games, draughts. At the dinner table, in order to avoid an unpleasant association for my wife, I even tactfully said “mug” instead of “cup”.
When the family tension finally eased, I was able to think about the game again. At night, locking myself in the kitchen, I wrote notes to newspapers and magazines under various pseudonyms. I usually brought the received fee home after another visit to the draughts club to the accompaniment of a story about a delay in overtime work. the proof was 2 rubles and 76 cents in cash. My wife was imbued with some respect, depending on the limit brought, and I could build new, far-reaching, draughts plans without hindrance.
But everything was fine as long as I played tournaments without being released from work. To my misfortune, sports organizations drew attention to my increased strength and, oh horror, I was included in the qualifying competitions for the championship of the republic, the participants of which are exempt from work or study for the duration of the game. At the enterprise, they let me go with a warm farewell to win, but at home, what could have been waiting for me at home?!
I had to invent a fable about an urgent business trip. My wife diligently packed her favorite sandwiches in a suitcase, in which fat and sausage, sprat and eggs, butter and cheese alternated with a methodical sequence. However, it was necessary to allocate 2 rubles of pseudo-business trips per day. After the exciting checkers battles that ended after midnight, I, alas, could not, like the others, return home. I spent my nights on the station bench. There, my wife’s sandwiches were being used and quickly melted. It was summer and spending the night in the fresh air only increased my appetite. The only trouble was brought to me by the police, whose vigilant eye managed to pay attention to me.
Therefore, when the game in the semifinals began, I began to change places for the night every week. I remember with pride that there is not a single station in the whole Seaside, no matter where I sleep.
And yet I got caught…
Since childhood, unaware of checkers not only on 100, but also on a 64- board, I already knew how to combine. At the age of three, I managed to sell all my rattles and bears for a handful of sweets, and at the age of five, I exchanged my father’s watch for a water pistol, not without profit. Now I have grown up and therefore quickly and sweetly circled not only my wife, but also numerous opponents. I defeated them one by one. From the quarterfinals I got to the semifinals, and then to the final of the championship of the Republic. From tournament to tournament with mighty steps I crossed the road of glory. Everyone surrendered to me. In the first round of the final, I defeated a second-ranked player. In the next round, the venerable first-rank followed his example. My head was spinning as I chewed the last sandwich and looked contentedly at the table, which was headed by four leaders – me and some masters.
Not so much tiresome overnight stays at the stations, as an empty suitcase forced me to return from a business trip after the third round. It did not occur to me then that my wife, darning socks, could listen to the latest sports news on the radio out of boredom.
She greeted me with a joyful kiss, from which I was amazed.
– Where have you been?…
Astonishment was instantly replaced by a bad premonition. In a trembling voice, I said that I was on a business trip.
– Where? Where?
– On a business trip…
Putting down the needle and thread, my wife looked at me sternly and incredulously.
– If you were on a business trip, then how did you become a three-time champion?
– What championship?
– You, Subbotnik, Roman and agronomist. You are the championships! Everyone is saying this, even on the radio today.
A small tremor seized me, sweat broke out all over my body. Being on the edge of the abyss, I thought which was more terrible: my fall or a desperate scandal, from which I had already managed to wean myself.
“Not an agronomist, but an Agranov,” I stammered, trying to delay the denouement.
– That’s it, that’s it! That’s right,” his wife rejoiced.
– Not a Novel, but a Novel, not a Subbotnik, but a Subbotin, – I continued by inertia.
– That’s right …
– Not championships, but leaders …
– Exactly! Leaders!
– After the third round, not three times …
To my great and even more joyful surprise, nothing terrible happened. And the next morning I overheard a conversation between my wife and a neighbor:
– The husband is now a three-time leader.
– What kind of leader is this?
– Sports leader. They even talked about it on the radio yesterday.
Although nothing terrible happened, the experiences still knocked me out of the rut. I started to lose and in the end I had to be content with fulfilling the norm of the first category. But that was enough for my wife to smugly tell her neighbor:
– You know, my husband became a first-class athlete.
– An athlete?! But he’s so fat …
– Nothing! But he wins against all the thin ones …
Now I have peace and checkers grace at home. The bottle of “prussic acid” disappeared, a new checker appeared instead of the one eaten by ants. Moreover, my wife herself bought two sets of checkers at once: pocket ones for me, and large ones for my son so that he could not swallow.
When traveling to the tournament, my wife no longer puts sandwiches in my suitcase, but tells me to bring more points and not to forget that she needs a new blouse, preferably in a checkered cage…
Translated from the Latvian by B. Katz.
«Шашки», 1961 г.