Grand Masters

AT RISE: Two old men, Sloba and Franjo, sit on a park bench. A foldout chessboard sits in the empty space between them. They stoop over it to see better. They are already mid-game. SLOBA My bladder. FRANJO Your bladder? SLOBA My bladder. They’re gonna stick a thing up my dick. FRANJO What, like in the hole? SLOBA You know of anywhere else it could go? FRANJO The wonders of modern medicine. Is it gonna hurt? SLOBA Ah I don’t care. These days I take whatever action I can get down there. FRANJO Better dust off the cobwebs then. SLOBA Webs? Wool’s more like it. I’m thinking of pulling the old sheep shears outta Ratko’s barn to take care of this. He gestures downward with his chin. An extended silence prevails. Franjo regards Sloba who has turned his attention back to the game. FRANJO I’m sorry, what? Sloba looks up at him. SLOBA What, what? FRANJO Sheep shears? SLOBA Yeah. FRANJO Are you... SLOBA Am I what? FRANJO Are you talking about... SLOBA I’m not talking, I’m focusing. So shut up and let me. Franjo falls silent again, and Sloba looks back at the board. He raises his hand to a piece, then lowers it several times, mumbling to himself. Franjo fidgets in his seat. FRANJO I’m sorry, but aren’t sheep shears a little overboard? Sloba sits up suddenly. SLOBA You dirty son of a bitch! FRANJO What, it just seems like overkill, even for a metaphor! SLOBA You dirty, cheating son of a bitch! FRANJO Cheating!? Who’s cheating? SLOBA You’re cheating! FRANJO I’m cheating!? SLOBA (Sarcastic) No, I’m calling myself out because I feel bad for taking advantage of you. Of course you! FRANJO You’re a damn liar. SLOBA No, two turns ago that knight was at A3. Last turn you moved, very stupidly I might add, that rook to H4. So when did the knight move, huh? FRANJO I think your Alzheimer’s is really kicking in today. SLOBA And I think your sudden distractionary interest in sheep shears stems from purely devious motivations. FRANJO That knight was there! SLOBA No it wasn’t! FRANJO Yes it was! I placed the knight there to put you in check. Then I said, check! SLOBA You never said check. FRANJO Is your hearing aid switched on? SLOBA Apparently it’s not working right, because all I’m hearing is bullshit. FRANJO I specifically put the knight there so you’d have to lose your bishop to save your king! Franjo points to an empty space on the board, and then notices there is no piece there. He sits up suddenly. FRANJO You dirty son of a bitch! SLOBA What, are you a parrot now? FRANJO You dirty, cheating son of a bitch! SLOBA Me? Don’t you dare turn this around! FRANJO You moved that bishop up! It was your sacrificial piece, and now it’s up at A6! SLOBA How advanced did you say your cataracts were? FRANJO Oh I still have an eye for foul play. That bishop was in its starting position. You moved it while over-dramatizing about sheep shears! SLOBA I cannot believe that you can look me in the face and accuse me of such a thing. The sheep shears were your plan! FRANJO You moved that bishop up! SLOBA You moved the knight! FRANJO That’s so typical. SLOBA What’s typical? FRANJO Typical Serb. Always trying to spread the blame when it falls nowhere but at your feet. SLOBA Oh now THAT is typical. FRANJO What? SLOBA The Croat talks about who’s at fault, conveniently washing his hands of the whole thing. FRANJO You cheated first! SLOBA No, you cheated first! FRANJO Oh I should know better. Chess is a gentleman’s game. It requires honor and class. Of all the people, I sat down to play with you. SLOBA And what exactly is wrong with me? FRANJO My friend, I scarcely know where to begin. A Serb, by definition, is a savage. I should have known better. SLOBA You watch your damn mouth. FRANJO Just look at history: He holds up his hand and begins to rattle off a well-rehearsed list. The Turks tried to civilize you, and you usurped them. Franz Ferdinand came for a visit, and you killed him, dragging the entire world into war. In World War II you gave us Chetniks and Communists. You dominated Yugoslav government and passed Serb-centric laws in pursuit of a Greater Serbia. In the 90’s, you murdered thousands of Croats, under the pretext of quashing civil war and keeping Yugoslavia together. And in 2013, you cheat at chess! SLOBA And the hypocritical fascist speaks his true feelings. Allow me to enlighten you on some of the glaring points you missed. Sloba launches into a similarly practiced series of events. I remember the Austro-Hungarian stooge that was your country, firmly on the losing side of the first World War. Then you had 25 years to learn, and what did you do? You became Ustashas, welcomed Hitler, embraced fascism, and exterminated Serbs in homemade concentration camps. In the 90’s, you hid behind Germany as they illegally shipped you weapons and war machines to kill Serbs with. You even managed to force every Serb out of Croatia and got the world to blame us for it. And now YOU cheat at chess and blame me! FRANJO Your conduct is unacceptable. I will not be subjected to this perverted version of history! Franjo moves one of his pieces and slams it down on the board. SLOBA Get off Germany’s shoulders and say that! Sloba knocks the piece away with one of his own. They both begin systematically capturing one another’s pieces as they argue. FRANJO Serbs razed Vukovar to the ground! SLOBA Croats burned the whole of Gospic! FRANJO Your president was a war criminal! SLOBA Your president was a war criminal! FRANJO Eastern imbecile! SLOBA Western puppet! FRANJO Chetnik! SLOBA Ustasha! Out of breath, they both look down at the board and realize that both of them have only a king left in play. It is a stalemate. No winners. SLOBA How... FRANJO But... They look at one another, the anger has ebbed. SLOBA Did you cheat? FRANJO Did you? SLOBA What does it matter? FRANJO It doesn’t. They sit in silence for a few beats. SLOBA You wanna get a beer? FRANJO Yeah, let’s get out of here. They stand and leave the board on the bench. Together, they walk off down the street. FRANJO So, sheep shears, huh? SLOBA You have no idea. CURTAIN.

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