As with everything I write now, most of this has been lingering in my unfinished folder for five years, but bam! Done!
I would have liked this to be a prologue for a narrative form of Chess as I see it. But like I said, less than 1500 words took me five years so, really it's not going to happen.
1956 Budapest is rising, 1956 Budapest is fighting…
The little girl sits on her suitcase, swinging her legs and staring into nowhere. She is small for her age and the suitcase is so big that her feet barely graze the platform. But then again, it does hold all the possessions she has left in this world.
The night is cold and she begins to shiver. Wordlessly her father, who has been gripping her arm so tightly that it is almost painful, takes off his coat and drapes it round her shoulders. She leans back against his chest, he puts his arms around her and pulls her close.
The girl starts to cry, they're quiet little sobs, as she barely dares to make a sound, but her father feels her body shake. He walks round to face her, kneels down to her level, placing both hands on her shoulders.
"Don't cry Florence, my flower," he mutters, handing her his handkerchief, "it'll be all right, you'll be safe with your aunt in England and once the fight is over I'll see you again."
The girl looks down, her dark hair covering her face and nods, but her panic does not subside, Papa had said her mother would be back after the Russian soldiers took her last year and she never returned. When she looks at her father again her face seems much older than her five years of age.
The man grimaces and carefully picks his daughter up off the suitcase so he can open it. At the top of the luggage is a small wooden chess set. It is not the grand, big one he used to use at home, when times were easier and intellectual pursuits less dangerous, when his daughter would sit beside him, mesmerised as he moved his pieces, but it is a fine set and he hopes it will remind her of him.
He places the set on the ground, lines the pieces up instinctively, "Here Florence, shall I show you the moves that won 1951 championships?"
Florence nods, but she can't pay attention like she normally does. Her father looks at her thoughtfully.
"Do you know how the game of chess was created?" she shakes her head, "Shall I tell you the story?"
So he tells her of the princes who fought, of the queen who cried when one son was slain, how the only way her remaining son could explain his deed was with model soldiers on a board. He speaks of battles so far in the past that no one is certain they happened, so his daughter will forget the one he is about to be fighting, so he, for a moment, can forget too.
Slowly his daughter's tears dry and he reaches the end of his tale just as the train comes into the station. He packs the set away and slots it back into the case, before hugging his daughter tightly.
"Why can't you come too, Papa?" she murmurs into his hair.
He moves back and looks at her, "I wish I could Florence, I want to be with you forever, but sometimes you have to give up what you want, to fight for what you believe in. Just one person can make a difference. One day you'll understand." He pulls her to him again, holds onto her for as long as he can. Finally, he forces himself to let go and hauls the heavy trunk onto the train, helping his daughter jump between the platform and the gap.
He sees a flicker of white out of the corner of his eye, glancing at the ground he notices a chess piece that must have fallen earlier. He picks it up and places it in his daughter's hand.
"Here you go Florence, the queen, the most powerful piece on the board. Look after her for me."
The conductor blows the whistle and he is forced to step back, pressing one last kiss to his daughter's forehead.
Florence gazes at her father through the window as the train starts to move. He is waving, but even she can see his smile is fake and there are tears pouring down from his eyes. She turns her head, kneeling on her seat with her own plastered smile, trying to see her father for as long as she can.
When he is gone she curls into a ball, clasping the white queen in her hand. "You'll see him again. You'll see him again." She mutters to herself as her only words of comfort.
She never does.
Up in my room I planned my conquests, on my own never asked for a helping hand, no one would understand…
The shouting is loud today.
His bedroom door is pushed shut, his blanket covering the gap at the bottom in an attempt to muffle the sounds below. It's no use, he can still hear his mother's shrill aggressive voice, the sound of his father's hand against her face and her resulting shrieks.
He sits on the floor, the worn, cheap chess set laid in front of him as he plays both sides, muttering his thoughts louder than he perhaps would have normally. It doesn't drown the voices out, it never does really, but at least it distracts him.
He consults the thick book lying beside him for help with his moves. The book too is tattered, it was old when he found it in the second hand bookshop and he has scrutinised every page, studied the tactics of every chess player of importance. He tries several moves with white before finally deciding on one and then shifts himself round the board and does the same with black.
There is a sound of smashing glass and another cry of pain, this time from his father. He abandons his chess set, picking up the book and climbs on his bed, holding his pillow round his ears.
Propping the book on the bed and keeping it open with his elbows, he reads of the men famed for playing chess. His gaze lingers on the black and white photographs of them playing championship matches all around the world.
Someday, he thinks, I'll be there, I'll beat them all and the crowds will love me. I'll show them what I can do.
Someday he'll escape this house and his parents' war.
We gave our youth to get it right, for me those years were years of poverty and joy…
Svetlana is bored. She curls her hair around her finger, looks at Anatoly under her eyelashes and bites her lip provocatively, but still he is focused on the game.
It's under the premise that he's explaining to her how some champion or something beat another champion, but he's just moving porcelain around a collection of squares, while muttering about kings and horses and she wouldn't care even if she knew who these champions were. She barely understands how these pieces move never mind how they can entertain him for so many hours.
He can have his hobbies, she doesn't begrudge him that, but her parents are out for the day and it's just the two of them in the little flat, she expected more than this.
She idly follows his movements as he moves black, then white, taking the pieces off the board with the same gentle touch he uses when he holds her in his arms, and then his eyes are back on the board with rather more rapt attention than she's ever seen on his face when he's listening to her.
He moves the black tower towards the king, and finally, finally looks up at her, "Checkmate."
She sits up, rearranging her dress so it's at an optimal angle and claps lightly.
He gathers his pieces up and grins guiltily, "I'm sorry, you're probably bored to tears."
It's a rare moment of self-realisation for him and for a second she thinks of being honest, of telling him she wants him to look at her as he does his black and white queens.
"No, no, it's fine. I love knowing how passionate you are about this."
His smile is breath-taking.
Her stomach swoops and she knows that this, this here is why she stays, why she has barely thought of anything else since he grasped her hand that morning when she was trying to balance in the snow.
She pulls him towards her and closes the gap between them, relishes the feel of his lips against hers.
And, for now, Svetlana is happy.