"I'm sorry Dad, for everything." Opal struggled to say those words. Not just because apologizing is hard, but because she wasn't used to seeing her father lying in a hospital bed, looking like such a weak old man. She'd certainly called him a weak old man during her tumultuous teen years, but did she really think he was? Maybe in the heat of a fight.
"Don't be sorry," he said. "I raised a strong, stubborn daughter. I know that. And I'm proud of the woman you've become. Have I ever told you that?"
He hadn't. Theirs was not a cozy relationship. Growing up, Opal had seen him as less an ally and more of an Opponent. She had grown so used to the opposition that she'd intentionally take an opposing view just to fight him on something. That debate skill helped her become a powerful attorney, but the hard relationship behind it made all future relationships hard, too.
She shook her head in response, unable to form words as tears welled up. It was enough. He saw and reached out a hand. Opal hesitated, but took his hand. His bony hand, with flesh like crepe. Her dad's smile reached his eyes with a mischievous gleam. "No..." Releasing her fingers he pointed to the wheeled table nearby. "Care for a re-match?"
Opal stared at the table. A chess set was prepared for play to begin. She hadn't played against her father since her brother's funeral seven years ago, and that had turned into a blow-up. They hadn't even spoken since then. Could they play a game of chess without it turning into a fight about something?
Moving as if in a dream, Opal pulled the table between them. Knowing he was too weak to grip a piece in his fist, she did the honors, allowing him to select sides. He got black. She'd be white. Opal zoned in on the pieces, touching each with a tiny movement, centering them in their places. Then she began.
They played without speaking. It was the quietest match between these two Opponents in her entire life. She knew her father was weak, and assumed his thought had to go into each move and not conversation. For her part, Opal was in the zone, but had a nagging thought at the back of her brain: This would be the last time they were Opponents. In anything.
Her father was at death's door, and Opal wouldn't be coming back to the hospital, even if he hung on for a few more days. It was their final match. Neither one ever "let" the other win. It was a code of honor. The first time she had won against him, she was exultant. Thereafter, losing was a torment to her. As the match wound down to checking and moving out of check, Opal saw she was going to win.
For a moment, she thought of throwing the game. It was only a passing thought, though. He would know it was intentional, and to throw a chess match would be an insult.
After winning her final chess match against her dying father, Opal left him to rest. She had noticed a change in the noises of the room - the beeps and hums of the machines seemed slower now. "Rest in peace, Dad," she whispered as she closed the door behind her.
Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
Now it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add it to the list.