The thick August humidity fogged the windows of 45 Ernie Pyle Lane. Inside the gray Victorian house, an elderly man pulled a tarnished pocket watch out of his pocket and gazed at the time. A careful observer would have noticed a picture of a young Marine in the watch cover. But Douglas Burlingame payed the photo no heed. He carefully closed the case and put it back into his suit pocket. It was time for an important visitor.
He shuffled into the parlor and sat down behind a handcrafted chess board. It was noon and time to see a man who had appeared daily for nearly seventy years.
“Hello Mr. Eiko.”
A young, medium-build Japanese man sat down in the empty chair across from the elderly man.
“I wondered if you were going to make it today.”
Mr. Eiko nodded. He made it every day.
“So are you ready to play our daily game?”
Mr. Eiko smiled and set the chess game up.
The Japanese pushed a pawn forward with a bony finger.
Both men had once been pawns on a much larger and violent chess board.
Douglas moved his pawn forward, matching Mr. Eiko’s move.
Mr. Eiko then moved another pawn.
Douglas smiled. He had seen this move nearly 25,000 times. He matched Mr. Eiko’s move swiftly and skillfully.
“You think you would have learned some new moves by now.”
Mr. Eiko had learned a new move. He swiftly moved his Queen and took Douglas’ pawn.
A burning lashed Douglas’ heart. On the island of Okinawa, a Japanese infiltrator had snuck into his flooded foxhole and killed his best friend. Douglas was supposed to be on watch. After 21-straight days of combat, he had committed the unforgivable sin of falling falling asleep. And his best friend had died because of it.
Douglas had killed the infiltrator by jamming his fingers into the Japanese solider’s eye.
Mr. Eiko looked up at Douglas with his one remaining eye.
“You think you can beat me?”
Mr. Eiko smiled. He never said a word. He never would.
The two men just continued to play chess.
“Dad are you, OK?”
Douglas quickly turned and saw his 60-year-old daughter Kate and her husband Bob standing in the doorway.
“I think your old man has gone nuts,” Bob scoffed as he walked toward the kitchen. “At least he’s not bitchin’ at me for driving a Japanese car.”
Douglas just stared at his daughter with tears in his eyes.
“He’s here again, isn’t he?” Kate said.
Douglas nodded and looked back at Mr. Eiko.
Mr. Eiko moved another piece on the board.
Kate could see the piece slide by itself toward her haunted father.
Douglas countered with another swift move and said, “Checkmate.”
The old man took out his watch and looked at the picture of his friend inside. The friend that his mistake had killed.
“I’m so, so sorry.”
Kate walked over and held her sobbing 87-year-old father’s head in her arms. He had been so strong for so many years. She looked out the fogged up window, wondering if it was the humidity or something else. ”It’s OK, Dad. It’s OK. You’ve been forgiven.”
Mr. Eiko nodded and dissolved into mist.