Julian considered the snowflake in his hand. It had not melted on contact, for his flesh was freezing cold. But as he brought it nearer to his face his breath transformed the fragile crystal into dew. If frozen again, would it fashion yet another novel symmetry… as did The Game? The hundreds of games, the thousands—from a distance all just Chess—yet, when looked at closely, each variation was as wondrously unique as any snowflake: as intricate, as beautiful, as infinite.

He watched as the flurries danced against a brooding backdrop, each nonconforming particle exultant in the wind's caprice, until gravity carried out its sentence and committed each to an earthbound anonymity.

The fallen gathered. Already blades of grass were bowed, weeds and bushes coated, twigs and tree limbs dressed in hoary sleeves.

White on white, Julian's immobile form became invisible.

Finally he stirred. Which way? Did it matter? Seizures, nightmares, nausea, pills conspired to overcast Julian's mind with the same gunmetal gray that bruised the sky. There was no refuge. Nor was there the exhilaration of being caught up in lines of play. He heard the wind. He saw the drifts piling up at random.

Order. Order was a ruse in Nature. How could there be order when so much was left to chance? Whereas in Chess there was no element of chance. Reason, logic, calculation—these a mind could master. What was "mere chance," compared to the Royal Game?

He slipped and fell.

The chapel bell rang out. He counted eight dull distant throbs before it halted. He did not rise. Instead he lay on his back with his wrists crossed over his breast like a cadaver, letting the snow collect—along with his suicidal thoughts.

Humiliation; that was part of it. But losing. That was…

A crow cawed sharply.

Julian flinched, then watched it swoop and come to rest in a nearby tree.

"Black devil."

It cawed again as if annoyed at Julian's presence.

"Stupid beast."

It cawed a third time.

"Shit. Goddamnit; can't I even freeze to death in peace?"

He lumbered to his feet and chased the bird away with a well-aimed snowball.

"Nuns and crows must have a common ancestor."

He had to laugh. He felt a little better.

Perhaps he would pay Ms. Zoe an unexpected visit.

 

 

 

 

By the time he arrived, the smile he had donned was frozen on his face (a rigid tabloid of his impetus for coming).

8. Qb3............

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8.
Qb3
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.

15.
16.
17.
*
1e5         
2Nc6
3Bc5
4Bxb4
5Ba5
6exd4
7dxc3
8
9
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0

"Gracious, Mr. Papp, you're blue!"

"An aesthetically pleasing shade?"

"You'll catch your death, going out-of-doors in those summer clothes."

"I nearly did."

"What?"

"I threw a snowball at it, and it flew away."

"Now you're being facetious. Here."

She took him by the arm and led him over to the radiator.

"Stand right there while I get you a blanket."

He worked his jaw, restoring some sensation to his lips. The chill had made his diction feel retarded. Sister Zoe returned.

"How long had you been out in that freezing cold?"

He did not know, or care. She wrapped the blanket around his shoulders.

"Not all night, I hope! Don't you have a winter coat?"

He shook his head. The heat was slowly penetrating—as was the warmth of the nun's concern. The Game perhaps could wait while he thawed out.

"I'll have your mother bring one when she visits."

"My mother! I thought we agreed she wouldn't come unless I gave permission."

"I'm afraid she has insisted."

8............Qe7

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.

15.
16.
17.
*
1e5         
2Nc6
3Bc5
4Bxb4
5Ba5
6exd4
7dxc3
8Qe7
9
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0

"She's insisted? Who's in charge here?"

"It's true, I could have overruled. You are of age, and in our care. But frankly, Mr. Papp, I feel this moratorium you've imposed is somewhat cruel. Your mother needs some reassurance presently. Why deny it to her?"

He paused to weigh the advantages, and especially the disadvantages, of his mother's incarnation as the Black King's Queen. For instance, she might pose a threat to his continuing with The Game. It was she, after all, who had chosen St. Francis. It was she who paid the fees. So it was she who could determine of her son would stay or leave—thus underscoring another liability of Julian's eccentricities.

He had always refused to play for money. He had also refused to do anything but play. Therefore, he was financially dependent on his mother, who had, in this, indulged him absolutely.

"How much contact have you had with Mother Dear?"

"She telephones."

"Often?"

"Yes."

"Daily?"

"Not quite."

"And what's your diagnosis?"

"That would be presumptuous."

"You contradict yourself, Ms. Zoe. You've deigned to act 'therapeutically' where she's concerned; you must have come to certain conclusions about her mental health—or lack thereof."

"Julian, your mother…"

His scowl reminded her of his insistence on "Mr. Papp."

"Oh, stop that! We know each other well enough to drop the formalities, don't you think?"

"No, I don't. I know almost nothing about you."

"Only because you haven't asked."

"And regardless of all your copious notes, I doubt that your idea of me is all that comprehensive. Especially if you've been listening to my mother."

"Admittedly, you remain something of an enigma."

"So?"

"So it is high time that you let down your defenses, opened up a dialogue that's sincere. Your mother wants to take you home. I wasn't able to convince her that you weren't ready. I'm not sure I'm convinced of that myself. How do you feel, really feel?"

"It's too soon."

"Which means you're still disturbed about some things. What things, Julian?"

He might well have asked himself what a longer stay would accomplish. What was he doing there? Why did the thought of leaving stir a minatory dread? But he did not ask. Instead he gave priority to The Game.

The nun somewhat softened her tone.

"Tell me about 'the meadow.'"

He tensed. He must be cautious here. Once before he had tried to articulate that all-pervasive consciousness. He had been misunderstood—disastrously—his metaphors dissected with a clinical precision that undermined his faith in what they pictured.

"Timelessness. It's more than that, but I know my meadow is outside time."

"Why is that important?"

"If you played tournament chess you'd know. The time clock is a player's most relentless enemy—or ally, if he knows a way to nullify its power. I knew how. While my opponents were sweating out the minute hand, I was somewhere else."

"Can you describe it?"

"No."

"Yet you call it a 'meadow.'"

"A meadow in the sense that it represents a kind of clearing."

He studied her reactions carefully before continuing.

"If somehow you were able to peel away your outer skin and feel things as your body did the moment it was born, that would give you some idea of the sensitivities there. A breath becomes a breeze. The air has texture. Thoughts are passed by touches, not through words."

"It isn't a lonely place, then?"

"No. No, it's the only un-lonely place I've ever known. Someone is there, a presence unlike my own… feminine, but kindred. It/she gives me something I can't explain, something I carry with me when I go back to the game. A kind of clarity."

"But this place, in itself, has nothing to do with chess?"

"Nothing. Except whatever it is finds chess a sympathetic medium. But no, it isn't chess. It's even beyond winning."

"Winning isn't the most important thing to you?"

"It's not an issue; I never lose. Not when I'm in touch."

"And if you did?"

"I don't."

There was a pause. Much of what he revealed had not occurred to him before.

"Thank you, Julian."

"For what?"

"For trusting me. For helping me to understand. I won't pretend I do yet, not fully, but you've given me at least a sense of the loss you feel you've suffered. Haven't you experienced even a glimpse since the onset of the seizures?"

"No. From aura, to fit, to nightmare; that's been the progression. What do you suppose is next; insanity?"

"I doubt that. Not if we can talk about it, try to think it through."

"And what about my mother?"

"I'll ask her to delay."

He was satisfied. Chances still looked good for White. In his mind, the shadow of his hand reached toward the board.

9. Nxc3...........

 

1.e4           
2. Nf3
3. Bc4
4. b4
5. c3
6. d4
7. 0 - 0
8. Qb3
9.
Nxc3
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.

15.
16.
17.
*
1e5         
2Nc6
3Bc5
4Bxb4
5Ba5
6exd4
7dxc3
8Qe7
9
1
0
0
0
0
0
0
0

 

The mouth...

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