flash fiction

Famous Checkmates in Grabowski Family History by KP Vogell

Famous Checkmates in Grabowski Family History | By KP Vogell

Famous Checkmates in Grabowski Family History


Kevin Grabowski vs. Food

Kevin Grabowski, age three, is toddling around his parents’ kitchen. A half-open cabinet reveals a large, crinkly paper bag filled with two pounds of white granulated heaven. He shoves it by the fistful into his small mouth only to taste not sugar, but salt, and vomits immediately. The vomit is, for some reason, bright orange. 

Winner: Food, checkmate in two moves.


May Grabowski’s dreams vs. Herb Grabowski

After being born in poverty in rural Cambodia; after miraculously surviving five common deadly childhood diseases; after being selected of the children in her impoverished village to study high school; after winning a scholarship to nursing school; after successfully graduating nursing school although neither of her parents could read;  after miraculously surviving the American carpet-bombing of her country; and after miraculously winning a visa to the US, May Oak meets Polish-Italian Herb Grabowski, newly-minted dentist, and marries him. They soon have a child: Kevin Grabowski. 

Herb promises May that as soon as Kevin can go to kindergarten, she’ll be allowed to return to her first passion, nursing. When Kevin turns five, however, Herb Grabowski decides to open his own practice and suggests that, to save money, May work as his secretary, just for a little while. After a few years May tries to quit and go back to nursing, but her husband insists that the business needs her and he cannot possibly entrust the work to a mere secretary. 

Fifteen years later, May is still working as her husband’s secretary. Patients call her “May”; they call Herb “Dr. Grabowski.” None of them think that this small Asian woman with a thick accent is married to the dentist. 

Winner: Herb Grabowski, checkmate in 34 moves. 


Herb Grabowski vs. Himself

In 1969 a young Herb Grabowski, recent dropout of SUNY Plattsburgh, is living in Key West in a bungalow belonging to the friend of a friend of a friend of an acquaintance. He has been high on marijuana for an indeterminate amount of time, anything from a few hours to six to eight months. Sunburned and full of shrimp and Keystone Light, he is unfazed when a friend of a friend of a friend arrives at the house one Sunday morning with, like, BAGS of amanita muscaria, fly agaric mushrooms. Herb, who by now has ceased to think in symbolic language, accepts a dose with the same openness with which he has accepted everything in the last several hours or maybe months, including a shipwreck; the invasion of the house by a motorcycle gang from South Dakota; the biting of a policeman by one of his housemates’ pet monkeys; and the appearance and disappearance of several women whom he swore, within hours of meeting them, he was destined to marry. Excited to be finally opening the doors of perception, Herb scarfs down the mushrooms. He proceeds to have a 24-hour trip during which he barricades himself in the bathroom and, while vomiting and having continuous diarrhea, personally experiences in the cells of his body the Big Bang, the Ice Age, the death of Christ, the building of the Great Wall of China, the French Revolution, the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, and, most importantly, unification with all matter and superhuman eternal and ever-abiding love for mankind. When he emerges from the bathroom, spattered with his own vomit and feces, he realizes that his mission in life is to write a book conveying the profundity of this past life/death/resurrection experience. Instead, he finds that his friends have stolen all his money from where it was stashed in his hammock and have used it to buy more cocaine. 

He hitchhikes into town to call his parents from a payphone and begs them to wire him money. They agree to give him enough money for the Greyhound back to Plattsburgh, but only if he makes good on his potential and gets a decent job. He palms the mouthpiece and asks a homeless man sitting on a wall next to the payphone. The man suggests dentistry.

Forty years later, having tasted the ambrosia of enlightenment and glimpsed eternal truth and then forgotten all about it, Herb, now morbidly obese and undergoing emergency open-heart surgery for four blocked arteries, realizes that he never shared the glory of his experience with the world, and that the message may very well die with him the next day on the operating table, a prediction that turns out to be true. And so, last minute cramming to beat all last-minute cramming, procrastinatory Hail Mary to beat all procrastinatory Hail Marys, he calls in his son Kevin, now twenty years old, to sit by his bedside the night before the surgery and receive a core dump of this treasured message from beyond.  

Kevin, however, having continued in basically the same vein since the checkmating by food at the age of three, and now weighing well over 340 pounds, although appearing to take in every word of Herb’s, although nodding and looking very attentively at his father’s rapidly moving mouth, is actually thinking about something else entirely—the contents of the vending machine outside the hospital room door. As his father blabs on about stardust and guillotines and ever-abiding love, Kevin is running through his mind the junk food he can buy from the vending machine the moment the nurse comes in to kick him out: Twix, Chex Mix, Almond Joy, Hershey’s, Pringles, Gummi Bears. No unification, no eternal anything, no enlightenment: you have bested yourself, Dr. Grabowski.

Winner: Herb Grabowski, checkmate in 1,459 moves.

About the Author:

KP Vogell is an artist, musician, writer, and Californian who has also been published in PANK and who occasionally posts on instagram as @komischevogell.