So we didn't know that Clyde could woodwork when we rented the beach house. This fact would be important for our summer. Also, the beach house were beach houses, really. There was the rambling cabin where the five of us slept, in two rooms and on the couch, and then the garage, where Clyde slept. And it had the saws. It had its own shower, but the shower was for horses, or maybe motorcycles. We also had the refrigerator full of store brand pop and one dollar pizza. All of this seemed like time for perfect summer fun, right? But, this is a pretty clear secret about the beach: it is boring. I mean, your first day, your first weekend, your first week, just sitting around with nothing to do, it is a big relief. Go for a walk. Sit in the sun. Read a spy novel that has been sitting on the shelf since 1983. And then what?
So luckily just as the boredom was starting to rear its ugly head, Clyde comes in from the garage, goggles still on, holding a square piece of wood. 5*5, made of drift wood or scrap wood. And then he pulls out the pieces: 20 pieces. He tries to explain his new form of chess. King, queen, two rooks, and a knight. And so that first day we tried it out because we were bored. Got really into it, decided to try out the strategy. Of course, the problem was that with only one row separating, the first move would lead to a pawn capture and the board would devolve very rapidly. And it was too chaotic, it would devolve into all the pieces being captured. And the knight, by far, was the most powerful piece, more so than the queen. It could cross the board so quickly, tear up pieces over short distances. Once the game had tipped, it quickly ended with the knight tearing through. So after that first afternoon, our new pastime was already old.
Boring days are also the days where you stay up until 4 AM. And we all did. Fun at first, then getting testy. We needed our space. The beach has lots of space, out to infinity, and it still wasn't enough. The caffeine buzz from all that store brand soda pop started to turn into a screeching anxiety. Everything smelled like cheap pizza. So we all slept in the next morning, and we woke up around noon, and Clyde was already there. New board. He must have been working even after we went to bed. This one was 6*6. Two knights for each team. And we started playing it idly, thinking it would be another momentary diversion. But we discovered that it didn't spin out of control. It was quicker to get into and quicker to play, but now we each had two knights, and they balanced against each other. We played each other, one by one, seeing what the new strategy for the game was. It seemed to have a vortex, a pulling point in the middle of the board that the pairs of knights centered around. We all played it, including Clyde, who hadn't actually played much of the 5*5 version.
I won't say that it made our entire summer, but it provided a focal point for balancing. It was between breakfast and lunch, between lunch and dinner, between being in the house and being outside. A quick game of 6*6 chess with our slashing and dodging knights would reorient us. The six of us would interact in ways we normally wouldn't, us in the boy's room, the girl's with each other and us, with Clyde in the garage and Tyler, who slept on the couch. The board reoriented all of us.
I won't say it was the only thing that summer, or that it was a miracle. We did a lot of other fun stuff once we got our bearings. Clyde made a lot more complicated things in the garage. We learned more about the town, and the ocean. But looking back at it, it was the moment we started playing that wonky chess variant that our summer had its first crystallization into something like a routine.