Checkers

by Ellie Peek

Jacobo Guitart de Virgo, my great grandfather, used to play checkers with Francisco Franco. In the heat of August they sat outside together, turning blood-red. They sat, wrapped up in royal guards and confined by the hundreds of big white windows with small black balconies in Franco’s Palacio Real de El Pardo. Small heads sometimes popped out from the glass—looking severed—to see who was winning. In Spanish checkers, the uncrowned pieces are called “men” and the crowned pieces are “kings.” My great grandfather and Franco were loyal fascists, but I imagine Jacobo chuckling when he said, “King me!” to a dictator. They had become friends in the Spanish Army. I have seen a picture of them together then, at the Infantry Academy in Toledo. In the picture they are standing close—standing like brothers.

Franco’s real brother, Ramón, was killed in an air accident during the Spanish Civil War. His body was found, bloated and salty, near the coast of Majorca. What do living soldiers talk about after a war? Do they play checkers in silence? Do they slide the black and red pieces beneath floating heads and dead friends? They must have said some things while they played. The two had so much in common: both were conservative and utterly Roman Catholic, both loved their families and named their daughters Carmen, both were mortal and died in Madrid. I wonder if Jacobo ever dared to bring up Franco’s missing testicle. It went missing when Franco was 23, dropped off at the thumping of machine gun fire. Perhaps Jacobo did bring it up, and so Franco smashed his glass of Cava on the stone patio.

The white tiles bloomed crimson.

The young guards flinched.

 

 

 

Ellie is an English major and senior at BYU. Her favorite writers come from the Harlem Renaissance and professor recommendations. She loves poetry even when it doesn’t love her back, and plans on pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing.