SCHOLAR’S MATE • by Michael Peralta

“Guard your queen.” Clarissa advanced a pawn. Her king’s bishop threatened Martin’s defenses along a long diagonal. He imagined a richly arrayed prelate of the church aiming a rifle at an enemy monarch.

Martin moved his queen, losing a tempo to his wife. He watched her move her fingers over the chessboard as if she were weaving the air. It reminded him of the first time they met.

The tall, lanky woman whispering to herself in the stacks of the university library had not attracted him at first. Her dirty blonde hair was pulled back in a severe ponytail that emphasized the sharpness of her nose and chin. Her fingers wriggled over the pages of a thick book. She wore a shaggy sea-green sweater that was far too large for her and a gray skirt that brushed the tops of her sneakers.

“Excuse me.” Martin tried to shuffle past the woman. She stepped aside absently and muttered something about divisibility and functions.

The book he needed was on a high shelf, just barely out of reach. Martin saw one of the library’s rolling stepladders down the hall. He’d have to step by the woman again.

“Sorry.” Martin tried to paint an apologetic smile on his face.

The woman looked at him. “Business Statistics by Levine and Black?”

“Uh, yes. How did you know?”

“All the accounting majors use it.” She placed her book on the floor, stepped on it, and stood on tiptoes. The hem of her skirt rose slightly. Martin stared at her slender ankles. She wore no socks, but a silver anklet on one foot.

The woman teased the volume off the shelf with long fingers and handed it to him. Her eyes were large and brown, her lips thin and pale. Martin found himself wondering what she would look like with her hair free.

“Math major?” Martin asked. The woman nodded. “Do you ever do tutoring? I could use some help with this stuff.” It wasn’t quite a lie.

The woman pulled a pen out of the pocket of her skirt. She took Martin’s hand and wrote her name and telephone number on his palm.

“Check,” Clarissa said. Her restless fingers danced on the table. She still wore her hair in a ponytail, but now it was white.

Martin moved his king to a safer square. He smiled at his wife. He would always guard his queen.

Michael Peralta lives on a wooded hill in the southeastern corner of Tennessee with fellow writer Rose Secrest, to whom he has had the honor to be married for more than a quarter of a century. They are childfree by choice, but live with more than a dozen cats. He has had science fiction and fantasy published in small circulation magazines since the 1980’s. “Scholar’s Mate” is his first published flash fiction, his first published mainstream story, and his first electronically published work.

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