Mac and Chess

Prompted by this photograph.

So Mac and Chess got on the subway at noon. They agreed they were to ride it for twenty-four hours. Once an hour they decided they wanted to meet a new person, and that is what they did. They approached a stranger and said, “Hey, I’m Mac, and this is Chess.” Or they said, “I’m Chess, and this is Mac.” The first person they met was Sabian. He was from South Africa. He was here on a visa and Columbia. He was on his way to meet his new girlfriend, Cassandra. He talked a lot about Cassandra. How beautiful she was. How smart.

Mac said, “I know what you mean. Chess is so beautiful and so smart. I’m a lucky man that she even likes me. And she likes me a lot.”

Chess said, “I do not. You’re just making that up.” She laughed that laugh of hers that Mac loved. Then she hugged him. “No, I love you, you goose.”

Each person they met they found something they had in common. Sara talked about her granddaughter. Chess talked about her sister. They were both blind.

“She’s never seen a day in her life. I can’t imagine. But she sure can play music.” Sara was proud of her granddaughter.

Late in the night around midnight, the car was empty. Chess started this game. “Mac,” she said. “Tell me something about yourself you have never told anyone.”

“Something I’ve never told anyone.” Mac thought, a little bit scared, afraid Chess wouldn’t love him anymore. Then he decided to take a chance, walk out on the tightrope and not worry about the net that wasn’t below him.

“I lost my friend, Charlie, to drugs. I was there when he od’ed.” Tears formed in Mac’s eyes. “I called emergency, then took off. I didn’t stay to keep him company until someone arrived. I was scared.”

Chess squeezed his hand. She didn’t ask all the questions you might expect. She was pretty sure that Mac didn’t use drugs. But curiosity could have driven her to ask anyway.

Mac swiped away his tears. “Now it’s your turn.”

“I stole five dollars from my mother’s purse once. My brother got blamed for it. I wanted this lipstick and I didn’t have the money for it. So I stole it. I’ve never stolen anything before or since. I don’t know what made me do it. I bought the lipstick, but I was so guilty I couldn’t use it.”

Mac saw the guilt in her face, and the pain. He didn’t say anything. He just listened to Chess tell her tale. Only it wasn’t a tale. It was the truth.

Knights used to test their courage in a joust. They did it to see if they had the stuff it took to be a knight. Mac and Chess tested their courage by trusting each other with their deepest, darkest secrets. It started out as a game, then it became deadly serious. And that twenty-four hours they spent on the train, meeting new friends and telling each other their secrets, was the beginning of their long romance.

Last year Mac died from cancer. They were married fifty years. Chess waited for the Man to come and take her as well. She spent much of her time alone in her apartment with the things she and Mac loved. The paintings they collected. The works of famous artists decorated their walls. They were not famous when Mac and Chess bought them.

Chess’ grandkids came to see her and urged her to come and live with one of them. But she couldn’t bear to leave their home of forty years. Every afternoon she sat by the window. From her second floor vantage, she looked out hoping Mac would walk up the sidewalk the way he used to when he was alive.

Soon Chess would walk down that sidewalk and meet him in the park nearby. Then they would catch the subway and ride, meeting new friends and telling each other their secrets.

Five Rules for Lead Characters To Live By

I want to thank Martha Ann Kennedy and her blog post “My Rules for Good Writing” for this idea. You just never know where an idea will come from. Thanks, Martha.

1.Get to know your writer.

She won’t bite. She needs you just as much as you need her. Sure, she may put you through a beaucoup of manure. It’s okay. That is her job. Things will work out well in the end. Ask her questions about your role in the story. If you make her like you, you might get a return engagement. Series have been built around characters who have made nice to their author. Just look at Harry Potter. Seven books just because he said please and thank you and ma’am. Believe you me that boy knew exactly what he was doing. And guess what? His author may be bringing him back.

It wasn’t that James Bond and Tarzan were so popular. It was that they gave their creators a warm, fuzzy feeling. So ask your writer if they like wine? If they do, there’s no rule that your can’t give them a nice bourdeaux. Maybe she’s into clothes. Give her a new pair of shoes that fit comfortably and look great and she will be your friend for life. Just ask Scarlett O’Hara. Tomorrow may have been another day, but shoes got her the job. Jake Barnes knew his Hemingway. He gave Papa his first typewriter. It was Jay Gatsby that showed Fitzgerald how to get Zelda to marry him. And Huck Finn taught Mark Twain everything Sam Clemens knew about humor.

2.Let your writer get to know you.

You think Holden Caulfield was invented in a day. Absolutely not. Ol’ Hol was sharing his stories with J. D. for years. Originally Sal was only going to put Hol in a short story. Hol kept telling his creator more and more. Pretty darn soon Sal had a whole novel.

So tell your writer everything. How you wet the bed till you were seven. How Mary Lou Wizzama broke your heart when you were eight. How you almost died of the flu when you were nine.  Don’t forget the secrets either. How you almost got caught shoplifting when you were twelve. You just had to have that first number of The Flash comic book. How you were dumped by your first girlfriend because she didn’t like the shoes you were wearing to the prom.

Stuff like that. Believe me. Your creator will love that kind of stuff. And if you don’t have any interesting stuff, make something up. When he finds out that you did make it up, he will be impressed. It means you’re ready to work hard in your role as a character. He might even promote you from sidekick to protagonist. That was how Huck Finn got his lead.

3. Dress appropriately.

I can’t tell you how many characters have shown up on set in the wrong duds. Othello showed up in a kilt. Talk about mad. The Bard was livid. Tom Sawyer showed up in a suit. Mark Twain just about laughed him off the set. And that Nick Carroway of Gatsby fame. He thought Fitzgerald wanted him to be a cross dresser. F. Scott was drunk for a whole week over that one.

Do some research. Find out what time period your character is supposed to be in. Have a little looksee at your character’s resume. It will keep you out of all kinds of trouble. Dickens fired a character once because she thought she was doing Jane Austen. Jane Austen was very forgiving. Mr. Darcy thought he was playing Tom Jones’ daddy. Can you imagine?

4. Choose your friends wisely.

Loners don’t make it in the story business. Don’t forget how useful Doctor Watson was to Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock had a good eye for character and Watson was his man. Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby” got his job because he coseyed up to Nick Carroway. And talk about great sidekicks. How about that Tonto? Originally The Lone Ranger saw him working in a raid on the wagon train in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He knew he was the right sidekick the moment he laid eyes on Tonto. Besides nobody else in Hollywood could say kemosabe with a straight face.

Remember this character can save your butt in a tight spot. Don’t forget that Gretel would never have been able to get that witch into the oven without Hansel. Dick Whittington would have been nowhere without his cat. Do you think Dorothy would have ever made it back home without Toto? Absolutely not. And Peter Pan could never have found his way to Never Never Land without Tink. She was his GPS Navigator. I’m telling you sidekicks matter.

5.Don’t forget to join the Character’s Union.

It will save you a lot of heart ache and pain. There are characters who absolutely refused to join. Look at them now. Take Hamlet. He could be a rich character. Every performance would be bring in a royalty. Hundreds of times a year, that is how many performances go on. For each of those performances he would bring in the big bucks. Could be living in a mansion. Instead he’s forced to live in a trailer park. He can barely pay the rent on that run-down trailer of his. Last I heard he was a neighbor of Honey Boo Boo’s. Can you imagine how humiliating that is for one of the best known characters in all of Western Civilization? Compare that to Ham’s ghostly dad. He’s only in three scenes. But he now owns an island. For each performance in the last four hundred years or so, he has gotten minimum. Makes you think, don’t it.

If you follow these five simple rules,

you can have a successful career as a character. It worked for Moby Dick, for David Copperfield, for Emma, and it can work for you.