Sveta Wonders Why Nic Plays With Her

The result of playing and practicing chess for so long was restless and ill-tempered tossing and turning in bed. Normally it would take Sveta just a few minutes to fall asleep; more and more her days were empty, and she was left with nothing more taxing than imaginings of the outside world as she embraced the freedom of dreams. A certain knowledge that she was safe from the outside world of drunks and hooligans, behind her sturdy two doors, and five floors and a concierge between the violence of the street, tended to envelope her at night. It was as if she was able to click off the anglepoise spotlighting and x-raying the horrors beyond her door, and the darkness was ignorance to the illumination before.

But there was no release from the game. Or rather there was no release from one problem the Nic had posed. She enjoyed the intellectual challenge of chess puzzles, and this was a recent one, from a game she should have been aware of. An advanced white rook, d7 was attacking the black king c8, and was meant to be able to go on to win, with a pawn to assist against black’s remaining bishop and pawn. The rook, more mobile than a solitary bishop, should make short shrift in the situation, but Sveta could not see it. The black pawn was diagonally adjacent to its bishop, offering only a rook gambit for a pawn at best, the poorest option available on the board. Over and over in her head she moved the white king and the rook, the pawn immobilised behind the black pawn. Her closed eyes drew light from somewhere, and the monochrome 2D pieces moved bottom to top, right to left and back.

Eventually she lay still, and accepted that sleep was a horizon, and she could remain stationary and take the moment without stride, or she could chase helplessly, never fatiguing to the point of collapse. With one realisation came another – her rigid routine mattered little. It had been weeks since she left the house, the university had all but given up on her (had she not been so senior in such a small department, it was almost certain that she would have been asked to stand down some time ago) and if she desired she could have spent all night solving and setting questions with Nic. In the three days that they had been playing, Sveta was yet to turn to the computer and be met without response from him. She sensed he either didn’t want to or had no reason to work. Sad that he should seem to spend so much time playing chess, but no sadder her than her life. She resolved to try to find out more about him tomorrow, rather than just the quiet online formalities that they were clearly well versed in.

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