The Clockwork Ending
It is cold, and sometimes wet. The clothes never dry completely on the line. They hang upstairs, in a shared attic, open to the elements: if I walk outside I can see them hanging. During the summer they dry in minutes - in winter, they take days, and even then they have to be taken down before the end, laid on a clothes horse and the heating turned on. If we don't, they feel damp, or cold, the one almost indistinguishable from the other, each feeling miserable, each feeling permanent. As if, you feel, if you put them on, even if you did not make yourself ill, you would walk round with the feeling of winter underneath your coat.
I touched the damp and thought of Newcastle. I remember the launderette in Jesmond. I used it while I was lodging in the YWCA, miserable as the weather, permanent nervous, confined most of the time, by cold and lack of money, to my room. Also by fear of confrontation. The hostel was full of people who were likely to pick a fight, with obscure cause but dire consequence: expulsion for both participants. To be that close to homelessness does damage to the nerves, which in itself makes confrontation much more likely. If you are one step from sleeping on the streets, that step is in your mind at almost every moment: and however carefully you may avoid it, there is always that dread, or that conviction, that should you avoid it ten thousand times, there will always come the ten thousand and first.
So my room was where I stayed, or where I hid, applying for jobs, waiting, trying to keep my mind within that room. Fortunately, when I did go out, the university had forgotten to cancel my IT access, so I was able to sit in their computer rooms, to stare at the internet, to read my emails, without having to pay for it with money that I didn't have. Which meant that I could play correspondence chess. Which meant that I had something to concentrate on, some goal to aim at, even if that goal consisted of no more than trying to win a game of chess against a man that I would never meet.
It didn't matter. If it was trivial, then it was trivial with some depth to it. If it was inconsequential, then so what? I was inconsequential too. The wider world is not concerned what happens to you: you have no weight, no meaning to the world. So if the chess game has no meaning other than itself and what you lend to it, that is all that matters. It fills your mind, when what you need is to occupy your mind.
We had been playing, I think, since June: it was now December, late November, cold and wet in Newcastle. Even if you put your clothes in the drier six or seven times, they still would come out feeling slightly damp, as if to say, this is you, and no matter how much you try, you are stuck.- You cannot put things right, you cannot finish what you start. You goal is out of reach. The job applications continued to be rejected. I stayed inside my room or in front of a computer, surfing without purpose, empty of enthusiasm. My damp clothes said, you never win. You cannot win your game. My rejection letters were of the same mind: all that effort and you will still get nowhere. Five or six months of trying. I had to win my game.
1.c4 e6 2.g3 d5 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.O-O O-O 6.d4 dxc4 7.Qc2 a6 8.Qxc4 b5 9.Qc2 Bb7 10.Bg5 Nbd7 11.Bxf6 Nxf6 12.Nbd2 Rc8 13.Nb3 c5 14.dxc5 a5 15.a4 Be4 16.Qc3 b4 17.Qe3 Bd5 18.Rfd1 Qc7 19.Nfd4 Bxg2 20.Kxg2 Bxc5 21.Rac1 Qb7+ 22.Kg1 Bb6 23.Qe5 Rxc1 24.Rxc1 Qe4 25.Qxe4 Nxe4 25.Rc6 Rb8 27.e3 e5 28.Nf3 f6 29.Nfd2 Nxd2 30.Nxd2 Bd8 31.b3 Rb6 32.Rxb6 Bxb6 33.Nc4 Bc7 34.e4 Kf7 35.Kf1 Ke6 36.Ke2 g6 37.Ne3 Bb6 38.Nd5 Bd4 39.f3 f5 40.Kd3 fxe4 41.fxe4 Kd6He was one of six opponents in the tournament, the last to finish, and I was, I think, without a win against any of the other five. I could not work on a game for months, and then not win it at the end, if it were winnable. I could not draw and find out later that I could have won. Good knight against bad bishop, I knew I was the only player who could win - but if I could win, I could not see how.
I worked and worked. I worked on the same position for a week or more, making no move, no move on the chessboard and no meaningful move outside. Forced to take advantage of my circumstances, with nothing much else to look at than four close walls and a chess set that I had bought some years before in a shop on Charles Bridge, on the Vltava in Prague. I went to Prague in summer: the Vltava freezes in winter - I saw it, iced up with people skating on it, in January, on my way to Prague from Marianske Lazne - and if the Tyne does not, it was still icy in the air, the window misted up, and if I wiped it and looked outside, the breath of reluctant pedestrians misted too, small puffs in the air as they walked past as fast as frozen legs would let them go. I looked at them sometimes, and then at my set, and thought about Prague, and the distances people travel, and the things that happen to them as they go.
I worked, and thought, wrote variations down on paper, slept on them, lost sleep to them, realised while sleeping what I had not realised while awake, woke up and crossed them out and started ocer again. I had meant to play 41.Kxe4, keeping my kingside pawns together and bringing my king closer to a breakthrough, but I could find no way to force his king away with checks, no way to manoeuvre my knight around to a square unprotected by the bishop. I took with the pawn, but that seemed to give my king only one way into his position and I could not, as yet, see how I could take that route and win.
I confess, I cannot remember exactly which position I worked on all that week. I recall the week, and I recall the work, the writing down, the waking up and crossing out: but whether it was the position after move 41 or after move 43, I am not sure: perhaps because I had looked at that position so many times since.
42.g4 h5 43.gxh5 gxh5
Finally, I saw it: it was beautiful, like a mechanism, like clockwork. One move by the king, drawing his king along behind. Then two little circuits by the knight, hypnotising the bishop, putting it exactly where I wanted it to go. Then - and this, this surely, was the beautiful part - reversing the original move, taking the king back to where it started, like a clock reaching the hour. I almost expected a little click when it returned, and then the thing to happen all over again: but instead, when it got there, my opponent resigned, because he cannot keep my king out any more.
Not from the queenside, where it feinted, from the square c4 - but the knight will go to that square instead, forcing the black king to stay on the queenside and do nothing. While my king walks over to the kingside, on the white squares which the bishop cannot protect, picks up a pawn or two and wins the game. With what pleasure I found the clockwork manouevre, wrote it, checked it and played it. With pleasure, satisfaction, purpose.
It was my moment, my small achievement, my encounter with creativity. In my room, penniless, nervous and fearful, one step from the street, my damp clothes drying slowly, with reluctance, I had a moment, small but real, where though I had no purpose but to keep my mind from worry, I made something that could give pleasure to others than myself. The Clockwork Ending. A mechanism. This is what I made.
44.Kc4 Kc6 45.Ne7+ Kd7 46.Nf5 Bg1 47.h3 Kc6 48.Ne7 Kd6 49.Nd5 Kc6 50.Nf6 h4 51.Ng4 Bd4 52.Nh2 Bf2 53.Nf3 Bg3 54.Kd3 Black resigns