My submission for last week’s Flash Friday (150 word story challenge) got another honorable mention, which surprised me. I figured my story was too obscure to appeal. The prompt picture showed two Georgian nationalists of the late nineteenth century, Ilia Chavchavadze and Ivane Machabeli, playing chess at a St. Petersburg cafe. I researched the men and discovered that both were presumed to have been assassinated, by Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, or by the Tsarist Okhrana.
We were instructed to include a “nemesis” and not to use the word “chess.” I chose to focus on the historical setting of the picture, a departure from most of the other stories, which focused on the chess match itself.
My associative process for my story went something like this:
“Georgian nationalists” made me think of the pride of the Georgian National Ballet, a dance company that beautifully blends the traditional folkdance of their region with the technical expertise of Russian ballet. I knew I had to use Georgian dance, somehow, in my story. I picked the dance called Khanjluri because it involves the use of daggers and a dagger would play a central role in the climax of my story.
I am fascinated by the way dance, particularly the ballet, has acted as a mirror of cultural and political feeling in the Russian/Soviet Empire. I tried to incorporate this into my story, with the two Georgian Nationalists mocking the Imperial Ballet while praising their own national dance. Here’s the result of my loose mind:
Two men lean over the gameboard, gazes intent. A nemesis was best assessed while playing shakhmaty, so Sergei comes every day to the coffeeshop. To assess, he tells himself, though truly he only delays.
Chavchavadze moves brashly. Machabeli plays deliberately.
Sergei’s time runs short. The Okhrana’s cold breath prickles the hairs on his neck.
“Will you go to the ballet, friend?” Machabeli asks.
Chavchavadze snorts. “That Imperial nonsense?” He mimics the fussy steps of a Russian dancer. “Give me a proud Georgian Khanjluri, not this mincing Russian business.” He advances a gamepiece. “Check.”
Machabeli stares. “Ilia! You take me by surprise!”
Sergei notes that Machabeli is easy to surprise.
Machabeli concedes, standing. “Until tomorrow.”
Sergei silences his following footsteps, drawing his blade. At the Tripartite Bridge, he lunges, pinning Machabeli to the railing. He slits his throat. Blood drains into the Griboyedov Canal.
“For the Tsar,” Sergei whispers.
He pushes the body over the railing. It will never be found.