The Queen's Gambit

The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis Read Free Book Online

Book: The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis Read Free Book Online
Authors: Walter Tevis
had helped Daddy take the old switch plates and outlet plates off the walls with his big screwdriver. She was good at it, and Daddy praised her for it. “You catch on real quick, sweetiepie,” he said. She had never been happier. But when there was paint in the screw slots he would say, “Let Daddy fix that for you,” and would do something to get the screw head ready so that all she had to do was put the blade in the slot and turn. But what did he do to get that paint away? And which way should you turn the screwdriver? For a moment she almost choked in a sudden flush of inadequacy. The shouts from the film arena rose to a roar, and the volume of the frenetic music rose with it. She could get down off the stool and go back and take her seat.
    But if she did that, she would go on feeling the way she felt now. She would have to lie in bed at night with the light from under the door in her face and the sounds from the corridor in her ears and the bad taste in her mouth, and there would be no relief, no ease in her body. She took the screwdriver handle and banged the two big screwheads with it. Nothing happened. She gritted her teeth and thought hard. Then she nodded grimly, took a fresh purchase on the screwdriver, and using the corner of its blade, began to chisel out the paint. That was what Daddy had done. She pressed with both hands, keeping her feet firmly on the stool, and pushed along the slot. Some paint chipped loose, exposing the brass of the screw. She kept pushing with the sharp corner and more came loose. Then a big flake of paint fell off, and the slot was exposed.
    She took the screwdriver in her right hand, put the blade carefully in the slot and turned—to the left, the way Daddy had taught her. She remembered it now. She was good at remembering. She twisted as hard as she could. Nothing happened. She took the screwdriver away from the slot, gripped it in both hands and put the blade back in. Then she hunched her shoulders together and twisted until her hands felt sharp pains in them. And suddenly something squeaked, and the screw loosened. She kept twisting until she could take it out the rest of the way with her finger and put it in her blouse pocket. Then she went to work on the other screw. The part of the hasp she was working on was supposed to be held by four screws—one at each corner—but only two had been put in. She had noticed this during the past several days, just as she had checked every day at Vitamin Time to see if the green pills were still there in the big jar.
    She put the other screw in her pocket, and the end of the hasp came loose by itself, with the big padlock still hanging there, the other end supported by the screws that held it to the window frame. It had not taken her long to understand that you would have to remove only half a hasp, not both halves, the way it had looked at first.
    She pulled open the window, leaning back so it could go by her, and put her head inside. The light bulb was off, but she could see the outline of the big jar. She put her arms inside the opening, and standing on tiptoe, pushed herself as far forward as she could. That put her belly on the sill of the window. She began to wriggle, and her feet came away from the stool. There was a slightly sharp edge along the window sill, and it felt as though it were cutting her. She ignored it and kept on wriggling, doing it methodically, inching forward. She both felt and heard her blouse ripping. She ignored it; she had another blouse in her locker and could change.
    Now her hands touched the cool, smooth surface of a metal table. That was the narrow white table Mr. Fergussen stood against when he gave them their medicine. She inched forward again, and her weight came down on her hands. There were some boxes there. She pushed them aside, clearing a place for herself. Now it was easier to move. She let her weight come forward with the sill under her hips until it scraped the tops of her legs and she was able to

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