Chess, a short story
(I wrote this story as 17 year old in my native language and found it recently in my mother’s cupboard. Reading it again I was surprised by its metaphorical intricacy, and decided to translate to English. As with all bi- or tri-lingual writers, like Nabokov, it is an advantage to write in the language it would be published at once rather than to translate, so does my story also lose a bit on poetic fluency and semantic depth compared to original version, still I hope it will tease and please some of intellectual and aesthetic tastebuds of readers.)
© Natasha Kimstatsch, 2016
Claus Kurtzweil hated to play chess since he was a child. And now he felt that he was being dragged into this useless game – and panicked.
This morning nothing omened the awaiting tribulation. Claus got up in ordinary mood, he was not heavied by glimpsed memories of the night’s mares, as his dreams he simply did not remember.
Claus washed his face, cleanly shaved his chin and cheeks with a safe razor, scrupulously brushed his teeth and was all in all satisfied with the reflection in the mirror. After breakfast, which was cooked as usual by the old woman from whom he was renting a room facing orange painted windowless wall of perpendicularly placed house, he decided to take a walk.
It was the first half of a glorious sunny Sunday, and Claus carelessly was mumming in his head the refrain of the song he had just heard on the radio. Claus walked his street and turned into a little green tree-livened-up square. He was often here during the weekdays, but never knew that early on Sundays on one of the benches, in the most remote and shadowed part of the square, gathered amateur chess players. The bench where they would gather was unchanged for many years, and generations of chess players having already forgotten according to what principle it was chosen, every Sunday the first part of the day, as if obeying the same blind instinct which unmistakably leads a hungry moose to the spot of previous feeding, or a ringmarked and released hundreds of miles away robin to the place of previous years nesting, so would the chessplayers stream every week to this bench.
Their society was at times freshened by out-of-town chessplayers, who would gladly tell how, during the first half of the day on a Sunday they came out of a hotel took a walk and absolutely accidentally in a square walked upon a bench, where brothers in hobby would gather.
Ha, one could only laugh at their naivity. They sincerely thought that really came to this town on a business trip on completely different affairs, and that they walked into this square in the first half of a Sunday out of nothing-to-do, and that they bumped into this bench by mere coincidence, and that the invitation for a “little chessie game” they could have declined, but simply did not see any weighty reasons for that.
But Claus was never a chess player! And still the relaxed worrieless flair of a sunny Sunday morning led him out exactly to the alley of the square leading to the bench. Truthfully, there was more than one bench. At both sides of the bench there were two other benches of exactly same appearance, and facing it a hammock in which one could relax at will. Nevertheless passing by the notorious bench Claus felt irritation, that it was exactly this one occupied by some retirees, nosing around something. The retirees were swarming, constantly moving and changing places so as to assume the position allowing the best way to see something hidden in the heart of a moving living hive. Some retirees were with their shiny patches inbetween missing hair reflecting light, which was increasing the effect of swirling and mobility of the living clump. At that the retirees were also exchanging glances, gestures, were grimacing and producing unpleasant caw sounds.
Nevertheless first Claus did not even pay attention to the retirees. He simply felt irritation at the fact that he did not have opportunity to sit down and relax exactly at this bench, that exactly it was busy. Claus stopped and started to examine the group of retirees with growing dismay. His thoughts had not yet summoned upon construction of versions of what it was the retirees had gathered around. He was simply consumed by sensation of irritation and was as if immersing in it.
Suddenly the retirees silenced, and out of the center of the hive rose a man. The retirees stepped aside, made the way, let him step out and were standing there following with their eyes his figure moving away. The man was moving down the alley, and the sight of his back was evoking for some reason in Claus the feeling of having no exit. He was long following the gradually diminishing figure of a man, and when he turned back towards the bench, he noticed that the retirees were uninterruptedly staring at himself. The feeling of exitlessness was increasing. Claus, powerless, glanced at the bench opening up for his sight. It revealed a chessboard with readyset figures.
“Would You like a little chessie game, not?” – with a squeaky voice asked one of the retirees. Claus started to decline, to say that he does not play chess, but subconsciously was already feeling that he is doomed. “Who am I playing against?” – asked as firm as possible Claus. “Over here, with Shortie. He is our winner, has just won a game. And we have a rule – the winner plays the next game with a newcomer. Take a seat, please!” – and a roof of grimacing wrinkly oldies shattered over Claus. That is right where and when panic took a grip of Claus. “Why did I agree? I should have run away, ask passers-by for rescue, resist!” His head was overflowing with hundreds of solutions, which could have been useful only a second ago. “I should have said that I was blind, that I am being contageous with siberian plague which is tansmittable through contact with objects”…. But now there was no turning back. And we between us know that there was no way out even there and then.
Claus rose his eyes at the opponent and shrugged. In front of him was seated a boy of 11-12 years of age, in white shirtie with a jabot and kneecut trousers, but with a strangely wrinkly face of an old man. A dwarf! Claus felt a rush of cold sweat on his forehead. Could it be that a minute ago this creature won over a grown up clever man! And I am the next! This situation had a hint of something frightening, infernal. Claus was understood, that he should not be start the game if he did not want to become the next victim. He should gather all strength, rise up from the bench and leave – but Shortie was already making the first move with the pawn, and Claus powerlessly began to move a symmertical pawn from his side. And here in front of him arose the picture of his birth in expensive area, his still young father – a prominent lawyer, the nannies him surrounding, the smell of cleanness and bourgeois comfort. The picture gradually dissolved in memory, and triggered by the second move of Shortie, Claus re-lived the episode from early childhood when he with his own hands made a christmas tree decoration formed as a butterfly and, to applauds of parents and nannies, dangled it solemnly on the pine. Everyone was complementing the decoration. The third move enlivened the picture of being admitted to grammar school when Claus, wearing the new uniform and gymnasium cap brilliantly passed the entry exam in arythmetics and spelling. Here Claus’s attention became slightly shattered and the Shorty takes with a horse his pawn. And infront of Claus assembled itself the picture of shameful punishment for receiving first E in callygraphy for omitting to prepare homework thoroughly enough. The eve before that he was staying busy with side tasks and did not have time left for this one. But Claus decided to grip into sensces, to self-improve, and is finishing the year with excellent result, taking the Shortie’s pawn with a rook.
Further the game developed with changeable success. Claus was becoming more and more engaged, getting almost into gambling suspense. On the board there were less and less figures. And right here the Shortie to astonished row of jubilation of cheerers took the most precious figure of Claus – the queen. And Claus saw in front of him the most charming girl named Klava. He had made her acquaintance by chance at one party. She is nothing like anyone he knew. She is incredibly sensitive and refined. She was reading same books as him, loved the same music, same smells and dishes, as him. She understood him from half-a-word. She was send from above. And, while he was immersing himself in very fact of her existence, Klava is leaving for her aunt, fist for a short while then for a month, then Claus learns that she got married to a promising surgeon. Claus is hardening up. He felt that the game’s success was not on his side. He gathered all his will in one point. He believes that for him the victory is a matter of honor. He saw that he was being looked at by all the world, all humanity. Would he not overcome some filthy small midget with intellect and appearance of a boy! Claus must win. And he is taking a pay-back. First he is taking the Shortie’s bishop, then his queen, announces a check. Everything inside is jubilating. Why has he never played such encaptivating game as chess? Another move and – checkmate! Brilliant! Marvelous! The oldies are glorious, shaking Claus’s hands, one even is kissed him in bloodless looking like a sponge cheek. Astonishing debut! Of course, Claus is now as a winner would gladly play another match with a newcomer. Yes, he would surely not let victory slip between his fingers. So pity You gather only on Sundays matinees. Anticipating, will he wait for next time.
When Claus after several triumphant matches and wishes of soon-to come re-visitation returned home for dinner, he entered the bathroom to wash his hands. From the mirror there stared at him the wrinkly face of an old man.