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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Seeking to return to competitive chess after a long absence due to ill-health, Dylan decides to try his luck in a tournament, with unexpected results !?

Submitted: July 04, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 04, 2017



Winning (?)


The orange sun was low in the sky, casting its glowing light upon plates of clouds which seemed to be floating blissfully in the damp morning air. Standing at his open bedroom window Dylan took a deep breath, filling his lungs with fragrant humid air. After a few seconds he exhaled again and took in another deep breath.

He gazed upon the vista before him which revealed rows of suburban back gardens, attached two up two down houses with red-tiled roofs and beyond in the distance the huge green expanse of the local golf course. It was a pleasing view to Dylan, who had observed it many times, most often in the mornings. Every sunrise was of course different, and this one seemed especially beautiful to Dylan as he stood there in his pyjamas, a cool breeze ruffling his dishevelled hair.

He closed the gap in his curtains and padded to the bathroom in his bare feet. The polished wood floor beneath his feet was pleasantly cool. He spent fifteen frenetic minutes in the bathroom and emerged washed and with neatly combed hair and brushed teeth. In another few minutes he was dressed.

His flat occupied the whole of the second floor of a converted Edwardian suburban house. Thus it was only a few steps along his hallway to his somewhat poky kitchen, in which remarkably for its size there was just sufficient room for a breakfast bar, at which he often ate his breakfast of cereal, toast and coffee. This morning he did the same.

Looking at his kitchen clock he saw that it was just gone seven-fifteen on this, the first day of October, a Friday. He was keenly aware that this was the first day of a three day over-the-weekend chess congress in London which he had signed up for a fortnight before. It would be his first chess tournament after a long break due to a period of ill-health as a result of his slightly dodgy liver. The truth was that for many years he had had a drink-problem, which he had done his best to ignore and had never admitted to his friends or family, most of whom were aware of the issue but too embarrassed ever to refer to it. Thus his problem trundled on as an open secret, an elephant in the room, which he was only honest about to his doctor.

But he was trying now to make a new start, returning to his old enthusiasm for competitive chess. He would no doubt be a bit rusty, for although he played computer chess programs from time to time, he was well aware that it was an inadequate substitute for playing strong human players. Thus the next three days would be a chance for him to test his mettle against players who had some real nous.

Dylan had been building himself up for this day for some while, not merely the two weeks since he had registered for the tournament online. In fact it had been part of his recovery process that he must somehow get himself physically and also mentally fit for a challenge such as this: like someone who suffers a serious leg injury and is yet determined not only to learn to walk again but to run, and moreover to run competitively.

Having finished his breakfast Dylan booted up his computer and went online to see if he had any emails of note. He soon discovered there was only new spam. He must get round to deleting it some time. His inbox as well as his spam-box was flooded with the stuff. He rarely seemed to receive anything of much interest these days. He had more or less given up bothering with Facebook and Twitter, accounting them pretty much a waste of his time. One might have any number of ‘friends’ on the aforesaid media, but one never actually met them or related to them as one human being to another. He never bothered posting photos online; he accounted it a vain, silly game.

Having checked his emails Dylan got up from his ‘director’s chair’ and went back to the kitchen to do the washing up created by his breakfast plus the previous day’s meals. In completing this task he managed to break a cup and saucer, much to his annoyance. He chastised himself for his own clumsiness over this mishap, as he often did when he made some careless slip or mistake. It was definitely a downer on his mood. If he was not careful he might tilt the balance of his mood into a negative, self-critical one. He knew he must guard carefully against this possibility. Thus he calmed himself down with the thought that he might win first prize at the chess tournament, which was £250 – better than a poke in the eye, considerably better. “That would put things into perspective,” he muttered aloud to himself.

He now busied himself tidying and cleaning the flat for an hour or so. As he worked he found he was wishing the time away until he could sensibly go out the door and take the train for London. It should take about an hour and a half to reach the venue in Golders Green, he reckoned. Hence he could afford to leave as late as five-thirty or thereabouts, for the seven o’clock start.

Having put down his duster and put away his mop and bucket he now found himself at a bit of a loss : what to do now? He decided to pick up a novel he had recently started: Night and Day by Virginia Woolf. He sat on his beige sofa in the living room and began reading chapter two.

After nearly half an hour of concentrated reading, the phone rang and he answered it:


“Hi ! Dylan ! It’s Sam. How’s it going?”

“Oh, hi Sam . . . you’ll never guess . . .”

“You’ve found the girl of your dreams, at last.”


“You’ve found a job.”

“No ! I’ve signed up for a weekend chess tourney and it starts tonight. I’m going up to Golders Green for the first game at seven.”

“Oh. I thought you’d given up trying to get anywhere at chess.”

“Whatever made you think that?”

“You’ve said it lots of times. Don’t you remember?”

“That was in the past. I’m really looking forward to it.”

“Well don’t get disheartened if you lose, will you.”

“What do you take me for?”

“One very sore loser, Dylan.”

“Again, I say, that was in the past.”

“Well good luck then . . . I suppose. I’ve been invited to a party tonight – I was wondering whether you’d like to come along as my guest . . . but I presume not as you’ve got more important fish to fry.”

“Oh I see . . . thanks for the thought but I really wouldn’t miss this for anything.”

“Your loss Dylan. See y’ then.”

“Bye Sam. Don’t get drunk will you.”

“Look who’s talking !” Sam put the phone down before Dylan could find a repost.

“Cheeky sod,” he said aloud to himself, before putting the phone back in its holder.

Then as an afterthought he said: “Better do some shopping, I suppose.”

He went shopping at the local supermarket and bought a paper at the adjacent newsagents.
On his return with his shopping he stashed his provisions in the fridge and flopped down on the living room sofa. He perused the front page of his ‘quality’ newspaper and was appalled by what he saw. Another scandal apparently was brewing involving a ‘top’ politician . . . or was it just being stirred up, or perhaps even made up? The frequency of this and other forms of ‘bad news’ Dylan found infinitely depressing; and this being the last thing he needed right now he decided the best thing to do was simply to throw away the newspaper unread, which he did with gusto. “No thank you, not today,” he said as if addressing an invisible editor as he banged the bin lid shut.

This decision having been taken and acted upon decisively, Dylan felt a sudden sense of freedom and self-determining power. Why should he let his morning be ruined by some editor he’d never met and, touch-wood, never would meet? Today he would maintain his equanimity, he would refuse to allow his positive attitude to be subverted by anyone or anything. He put the kettle on, made some tea and switched his digital radio on to a classical music station.

As he sat on the sofa sipping tea, the mellifluous violin tones of Sheherazade caressed his senses, making him aware once more what solace music was to him: it had carried him through some of his most difficult times, such as the break-up of his marriage, before which time his drinking had not seemed a problem. The bitterness of that particular episode in his life had almost driven him to suicide at one point; but in the end he had got through it with the help of his love of music and his incipient dependency on alcohol.

For a while he sat there in bitter-sweet contemplation and reverie; he had loved his wife very much and was sure that his love was returned in full measure, at least until the end, or really the beginning of the end. The break-up had been the worst experience of his life, shattering his belief in the basic goodness of human nature for a time. But time heals, eventually, and music heals especially: you could, Dylan felt, hear the goodness of the human spirit in pieces like Brahms’ Violin Concerto, Beethoven’s Pastoral, Elgar’s Enigma, Mozart’s Symphony Number Forty, Khachaturian’s Spartacus and Phrygia, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, Schumann’s  Kinderscenen, and Frauenliebe und Leben, and so on and on . . . .

The mood suddenly changed as Sheherazade faded out and Wagner’s Valkyries filled the air. Dylan was shaken out of his pleasant reverie. Looking at his watch he saw that it was nearly midday. He could wait no longer. He must do something more active, as a preparation for tonight’s clash over the board. He decided to go up to Central London and kill some time before going on up to Golders Green for the tourney. Perhaps he could look in on some galleries, perhaps the British Museum, maybe an old church or two, such as St Martin’s or St Clement Danes. And if he were stuck for somewhere to hang out there was always the Festival Hall, the National Theatre or the NFT on the South Bank. He might even see a matinee at the Globe or failing that just take a guided tour.

He got up from the sofa, suddenly energised, gathered some books together which he put in his small rucksack, put on his windcheater and left the flat.

He took a bus to the nearest station and caught the first train up to London. Feeling indecisive when he got to Waterloo he decided to ‘do’ the South Bank first. Thus his first port of call was The Festival hall.

He went straight to the ground floor bar and had a pint of bitter. He had been trying to stay on-the-wagon for a whole week, but having managed five days so far he decided it would not harm just to have one drink. Then he wandered around for a bit, calling in at the book shop cum-gift-shop and thinking about buying a book and then deciding against. He then found himself a comfortable spot on the first floor balcony overlooking the ground floor performance area and took out his Virginia Woolf novel. 

He read a few pages but could not concentrate and so went down to the bar again and ordered a coffee.

He soon started to feel at a loose end, and so he decamped to the National Theatre, just a five minute walk away. Once inside the NT he went to its bookshop, full of plays, some of the best plays ever written. He toyed with the idea of buying an Ibsen play, then an Alan Bennett, then a Joe Orton, but finally walked out with a copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. He then sloped off to the ground floor bar and bought a glass of ‘house’ red wine, “Just one more,” he said to himself. He sat down and began reading the iconic play, which he had studied for GCSE English Literature and seen performed a number of times since.

As he was reading he was reminded of the circumstances of his first reading of the play at his old school, some thirty years before. He recalled vividly how he had had a real crush on quite the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and had somehow associated her at the time with Juliet and seen himself as Romeo. They were both sixteen and in his imagination she was the girl of his dreams. What was her name? Ah yes – Serena Matcham – Serena had somehow seemed such an appropriate name for her, for when she walked she seemed to float on the air like an elegant, elfin muse. He had imagined many conversations with her, but only managed to speak with her a few times on trivial matters; in short he had worshiped her from afar in the time-honoured romantic manner. He thought she must know how he felt; everyone must have been aware of it and laughing behind his back. But to his even greater chagrin she left before the end of the final year and, he heard over the grapevine, got married. And of course he never saw her again. But he never forgot her. And she was forever associated in his mind with Shakespeare’s Juliet. 

Putting Romeo and Juliet back in his rucksack he got up from his table and wandered around rather aimlessly, wondering what may have become of Serena. No doubt she was a harassed middle-aged mother by now; but then it occurred to him that her kids must have grown up by now and she must be a grandmother ! “Serena a grandmother !,” he said aloud to himself in disbelief. He pictured Serena haggard and fat, and droopy at the front ? It was a surreal idea to him. Or perhaps she had not had kids. Perhaps, ironically, Aphrodite had been unable to conceive ? And thus had kept her looks and her superb figure ? The thought of her having perhaps been barren was equally painful. But something told him she could not be a grandmother and also have kept her looks and her figure – you could be a gorgeous ‘yummy mummy’, but somehow it was impossible to be gorgeous as a grandmother, unless you were a Hollywood actress or a singer; and even then you needed expensive medical interventions to assist you. Or was it just the idea itself, the association of the word with one’s childhood experiences of ancient semi-moustached grandmothers. After all it was possible to become a grandmother by the age of only about thirty-five . . . ten years younger than he was himself !

When a member of the NT’s staff approached him and asked him if he was okay, Dylan realised that now would be a good time to make a quick exit. He made his excuses and did so.

He walked over the Hungerford Bridge and through the concourse of Charing Cross Station, pausing only to buy a tuna and cucumber filled baguette before exiting, crossing the road and popping into St Martin’s. He sat himself down on one of the back pews and munched on his baguette. As he sat there eating he became aware of a slightly unpleasant smell coming from nearby. Turning around he noticed on the pew opposite an old ragged man lying full-length quietly sleeping. Feeling sorry for the homeless man he reached into his pocket, took out a pound coin and placed it carefully next to the man’s head on the pew and left the church.

Walking in the direction of the National Gallery he heard Big Ben striking four times. Time seemed to be dragging. He could hardly wait until it would be time to catch that Northern Line train up to Golders Green. He reckoned he could leave it until six to catch the train. Two whole hours loomed ahead of him to be filled.

He popped into the National Gallery. He looked first at the Impressionist and post –Impressionist collections. Then the Canaletto’s, the Goya’s. Then the Dutch Masters and the celebrated English painters : Gainsborough, Reynolds, Constable, Wright and the like. Finally he perused the Classical and Renaissance paintings in the Sainsbury Wing, the grandest but to his taste least interesting of the collection. 

He ended up in the cheapest of the coffee bars, drinking another ‘house’ red wine, which nonetheless he enjoyed (not being, nor wishing to be a connoisseur). He read some more Virginia Woolf over his two glasses of wine. The wheels had come off the wagon.

Finally the time had inched up to ten-to-six. He left the National Gallery and was soon on a Northern Line Edgware train heading towards Golders Green. He began to wonder whether his imbibing during the afternoon had been such a good idea – he was feeling somewhat the worse for wear and he would need his wits about him to play decent chess. What if he made a blunder and lost quickly? The whole day would have been wasted. He must pull himself together. He would have a coffee at the other end, beforehand.

He got to Golders Green with twenty-five minutes to spare and hence had time to grab a coffee in a local café. It was run by a middle-aged couple who seemed pretty much indifferent to the impression they were giving their customers and instantly continued watching a TV programme once he had been served.

Dylan sat there solitarily drinking a rather sub-standard, warmish coffee which cost him three pounds. But the experience did at least sober him up. He began thinking of chess openings: should he play the Sicilian or reply e5 to e4, meaning he might have to face the Ruy Lopez ? Should he play a straight d5 to d4, or play something unusual like the Dutch? Should he open with the King’s pawn or go for the Queen’s Gambit? Such questions went percolating through his brain as he sat there sipping his coffee.

The time came for him to be decisive. He strode proudly out of the café and on to the old church hall which he had frequented many times for chess tournaments in the past, though not for some time.

Arriving with five minutes to spare he pushed upon the old oak door of the church hall. It would not open. It was as solid as a pillar box. It wouldn’t budge. “Bugger !”, Dylan said aloud. “Oh no ! They must have changed the venue ! It was always here in the past. What the ? Oh balls !”

Someone walked past him and open a side gate. “Ah,” thought Dylan, perhaps they had just changed the entrance point. He followed the man up the side path and entered the church hall. But instead of finding himself in the main body of the building he found himself in a small room with a dozen, rather battered looking old men.

“Would you like a cup of tea, son?,” said an old man holding a huge old teapot.

“Oh,” said Dylan. “I’ve come here for the chess tournament. You don’t play chess here do you?”

“No mate, this is Golders green Alcoholics Anonymous. Have you come to join us?”

“No ! Didn’t you hear what I said? It’s the first day of the Thirtieth Hendon Chess Congress !”

“No chess here mate, I’m afraid,” said the man with the teapot.

Dylan slumped into a nearby chair in despair.

“Here mate, you look as though you need this,” said the teapot man handing Dylan a cup of tea.

“Oh thanks,” said Dylan despondently, taking hold of the cup.

A man sitting next to him who evidently had not noted his exchange with the teapot man said, “Have you come here to give us a talk?”

“No no !,” protested Dylan. What could he say? He took a sip of tea in desperation. It tasted rather good. Suddenly a switch in Dylan’s head flipped and he said to himself, “Go with the flow old chap. Best way in the circs.”

“Actually, old chap, I am an alcoholic,” he said, offering his hand.

“Pleased to meet you sir,” said the man, shaking Dylan’s hand warmly. “So am I. We all are.” The man looked dishevelled and worn out to Dylan’s eye, and spoke in a broad Irish brogue.

“My life’s becoming a sitcom,” said Dylan. The man with the teapot laughed heartily. But Dylan’s Irish companion looked at him seriously and said:

“I like sitcoms. My favourite was that Bread thing about the poor family in Liverpool.”

“Oh, yes. Carla Lane. She also wrote The Liver Birds and Butterflies. They were good.”

“Who is Carla Lane ?,” asked the Irishman.

“She writes sitcoms. She wrote Bread. I think she must be writing my life for me.”

“I liked Bread. Very funny.”

“Yes, but I preferred Butterflies.” An idea suddenly occurred to Dylan. He said: “I write you know.” And he reached into his bag and pulled out a slim volume of poetry he had had published some years before: his only success as an author. He handed it to the Irishman and said: “This is one of my books.”

“Did you write this?,” asked the Irishman, taking the book and looking at it with reverence.

“Yes. Just something I prepared earlier.”

“You’re a writer then?”

“Yes. I’m an alcoholic writer whom nobody ever reads, apart from my friends,” said Dylan with a hint of self-deprecating irony.

“I used to write poetry,” said the Irishman. “Why don’t you stay and listen to the speaker?”

“Oh. What’s he speaking about specifically?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t think I will if it’s all the same to you,” said Dylan, looking for a way out.

“You said you were an alcoholic, like us,” said the Irishman.

“Well, yes I am. But erm, I’ll be okay. Err, nice to meet you old chap.”

“Well you take care now,” said the Irishman, gripping Dylan’s hand firmly and with great warmth.

“Thank you old chap,” said Dylan. “Nice to meet you. Good luck with erm . . .”

“You too son,” said the older man.

Dylan got up from his chair, thanked the teapot man, took a look around the room and left. On the Northern Line train back to Waterloo, Dylan found he could not dismiss the old Irishman or the teapot man from his mind. He felt there was something innately decent and honest about them both; something very real and sincere. He began to feel like a bit of a heel. What should he do? He could always check up the chess venue on the Web and turn up for the second and third days of the tournament. Salvage something from it. But then he’d be one game down from the start. He heard the Irishman say to him in his head: “You’re only kidding yourself son. You know what the right thing to do is.”

Dylan knew what he had to do. The next morning he went on the Web and found the address and contact details of the local AA group.

A week later when he went along and was welcomed as a new member, his opening remark to the AA was : “Good morning everyone. I am a chess player. And by the way I drink far too much.”


The End (Not)






© Copyright 2018 GA Weber. All rights reserved.

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