Hunched in his mother’s second floor rental, we’d shun his chattering siblings for chess. Fingers, eyelids, bishops, silence. The persistence of a pawn. Sliding and switching and leaping. His quick laugh if I forked his men. His mother’s pork roast wafting between us. I’d trace the knight’s nostrils with my fingernails. Slip my tongue into the slits and swells of the queen’s crown. He’d sit unflinching, till his large hand would inhabit the board for a fast move then withdraw.
When he left for adventure he grew smaller. His legs and arms and head fading into fractal patterns that shrank. An object can change under examination, he said, the only time he wrote. I curled into the incidence of his chair, rolled the chess pieces against my cheekbone, squeezed a knight tight in my palm till it hurt. The figures lost meaning, their features disappearing. I expanded into the space he left in his family. Tripled myself to be daughter and sister and friend.
His face loomed on the front pages. Lines running like rivers across his forehead. His eyes tight and tired. I travelled to see him. We met across his desk in a factory. I had not known he was a celebrity, treated like some tall god. The bright lights burned my eyes. We retreated to dinner where we returned to a manageable size. Spoke of chess and cancer and made dumb jokes about our families.
The years grow shorter. The sun seems brighter. His presence grows and shrinks in the media. My game gets better. I learn how to sacrifice pieces without them knowing I have betrayed them.