Adam Ouston is a writer living in Hobart, Tasmania. His work has appeared in places such as The Canary Press, Southerly, Island Magazine, Voiceworks, Crikey, The Lifted Brow, The Review of Australian Fiction, and the 2014 Transportation anthology. He is the recipient of the 2014 Erica Bell Literary Award for his manuscript The Party, which has also been shortlisted for the 2015 University of Tasmania Prize. He tries to maintain a blog at http://adam-ouston.tumblr.com.
This story first appeared in Issue 12 of Tincture Journal. Please support our work and buy a copy today.
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. f3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. e4 Nb6 6. Nc3 Bg7 7. Be3 0–0 8. Qd2 Nc6 9. 0–0–0 f5 10. h4 fxe4 11. h5 gxh5. A notorious theoretical position. One that is, I think, much better for black. My opponent has work ahead of him. Until now his moves have come quickly; my hand has barely recoiled and he’s making a note and reaching for the white. I’m the wrist and he’s the whip. Perhaps that can be attributed to the well-known pattern with which we’ve begun. 12. d5. There’s a pause before he does something that is new to me: 12 … Ne5. Then: 13. Bh6 Nec4. I might have looked at Rf7, but I did not like the fact that after Rh5 the knight is attacked with tempo. Imagine: 13. Rf7 14. Bxg7 Rxg7 15. Rxh5. Disaster. Ask any good player and he’ll say the key to winning is in being able to peer into the future. Although young, I am experienced and by now practically a soothsayer. I know what he’s going to do before he knows it. 14. Qg5 Rf7. The only move. I note it down and play again. 15. Bxc4. This one by me is questionable, all things considered. My opponent is a world-class grandmaster, after all. Not to mention the fact that he’s rated 100 points above me, in trouble and therefore capable of anything. Also, it’s the Moscow Aeroflot Open, which by 2009 is the strongest open tournament in the world. One worth winning. Objectively, though, my move is fine. I do not have to look at him to know that this is the first time he looks at me.
The superbolide meteor exploded 23.3 km above Chelyabinsk at 9.20 am 15 February 2013. As the shockwave headed for the city, O stood motionless in her office, having just put down the receiver. The direct line. She’d been speaking to X: the wife. X said she knew, and not only did she know, but her husband had admitted it. Admitted everything: what he and O had been doing and for how long. Four years. Four years, she’d said down the wire. Long enough for a lie to become the truth. Long enough to make the marriage the lie. Now it is me, said X to O: now I’m the other woman. I’m the one who has been forgotten. When you’re together I vanish without a trace. For her part, O could barely speak. Only yesterday, the fourteenth, Valentine’s Day, R had said that everything was coming to a head, that soon he’d be free. Promise. And now this. X had given her husband an ultimatum: her or me. X would stay if he stayed. She could handle the humiliation—she’d wear it like a tattoo and punish him with matrimony and curfews and weekends with the children. Would punish him with the love she still saw in him. Yes, X told him she would stay and she’d repeated this down the telephone in her broken radio voice to O so that he couldn’t, so that she could get there first and deliver the facts, straight and unadulterated. A man with facts is a corkscrew that can do nothing but twist. There was to be no manipulation. These were the rules. Alternatively, X explained to O, she could have him, but he’d never see his children. This, she said, would ruin him, and when you take a man you take his whole life and not just the parts that fit. And when you take a life it soaks into your bones and alters your future as well as your past. If you take him, X had said to O, you will turn into me. And in the end you too will be nothing, not even a ghost. Consider this a forewarning, for your own sake. I won’t cause you any damage: he will. He will make you disappear completely. With barely a word more O had hung up with both hands. Instinctively, her right hand shot to the ring on her left, yesterday’s gift, so new it was still cold. And she was still running it around her unsteady finger when the sky exploded.