Josh Groban as Anatoly Sergievsky, Kerry Ellis as Svetlana Sergievsky.
Svetlana did not know how to react. Anatoly was leaving England, leaving— her, and defecting back to Russia. He was coming home after more than a year in England with Florence.
What was Svetlana supposed to do? Refuse to let him come home? File a divorce? Somehow have the children not know that their father was returning? Perhaps even have an affair of her own, to show Anatoly that... what?
Her friends would undoubtedly tell her that having an affair— even just to spite Anatoly— would be perfectly acceptable, maybe even right. After all, her husband had an affair behind her back (well, sort of, as it was in the news, but still); why shouldn't she?
But, the children.
Even if they had not understood what an affair actually was, they had seen their father make a scandal of their mother, of their family, on an international level. They did not deserve to have their mother fall apart along with their father. For the children, Svetlana would swallow all her anger and jealousy and let Anatoly back. For the children, Svetlana would stay true to Anatoly, even though he hadn't stayed true to her in every sense of the phrase. Everything was for the children, because she had nothing left but them, and they had nothing left but her.
Anatoly, she realized, was her knight in shining armor that never was.
Her son Alexei came into the living room, where Svetlana was sitting on the couch. She turned off the TV where she had been watching the news and turned to her son. "What is it, sweetie?" Then she saw what he was clutching in his fist.
He was holding a knight piece in his hand.
Ever since Anatoly defected, this was the one situation that she prayed she would never have to face. Alexei had evidently found Anatoly's old chess set that hadn't been used in years, and looked in it. Why did he had to find it now, when Anatoly was due to arrive the next day?
"What had you got there, Alexei?" She was not sure if she masked the shaking in her voice well enough, but maybe Alexei would not notice.
He uncurled his fingers, and Svetlana saw that it was indeed a knight piece. "I found Daddy's chess set in a closet." The closet Svetlana had thought her children would never look in.
And then he said it:
"Will you show me how to play, Mommy?"
Lord in Heaven above.
Svetlana would freely admit that she was a terrible chess player. Perhaps that was one reason Anatoly left her for Florence, because his lover knew everything about the game. Svetlana knew enough so that she could set up the board and knew how each piece could potentially move, so she could (but wouldn't) teach Alexei, but that was about it.
But with Anatoly's chess obsession returning to their family, it was too dangerous to have Alexei learn how to play. Maybe Anatoly would instill his unnatural preoccupation with chess in Alexei. Maybe Alexei would grow up to be just like his father, and choose a game above everything else in the world.
But on the other hand... Svetlana could not believe she was considering another side.
On the other hand, she could monitor it. She could make sure that Alexei would know how to play, but that it would be nothing more than a simple board game. Absolutely nothing more. She could have Anatoly never teach Alexei about chess, as well. She could make sure Alexei knew that there were more important things in life than winning every game of chess. If only Anatoly understood that.
What on earth was she going to do?
Every instinct in her screamed to say no, that it was too dangerous with Anatoly coming home the next day. But part of her reasoned that Alexei was simply curious, that if she watched it closely he would never become obsessed. What do I say? "Mommy's busy right now," Svetlana hesitantly replied. "Will you remember to ask me in a few hours, honey?" Alexei nodded. "Why don't you take your sister and go play outside?"
The second the back door slammed behind her children, Svetlana collapsed back against the couch, shaking.
She had honestly thought that she was done with everything that had to do with chess when Anatoly defected. She should have known it was foolish to think like that. Alexei's question almost seemed like an omen, a sign, that Anatoly's defect back to the U.S.S.R. meant her carefully-built world was going to collapse.
She had considered saying yes. She had.
But all she could see was Anatoly in the news, winning competition after competition, leaving his family for a woman who loved chess only a little less than he did.
It's just a game.
But it wasn't; it hadn't been to Anatoly.
Svetlana knew what she had to say.
When Svetlana opened the door to see Anatoly on the doorstep, surrounded by shouting reporters and whirling filming cameras, she knew that she could not make a mistake. Not during this moment. This might be possibly the most watched, most scrutinized moment since the 1979 World Chess Championship began in Merano. If nothing else, Florence was watching.
She dimly noticed someone saying, "How lovely to see you, Anatoly," and realized it was herself. Was it her? She wasn't aware that she had started to speak. "How was your trip coming here?" Anatoly said some polite phrase she did not remember later but would undoubtedly read in the newspaper the following day. "Why don't you come in, Anatoly? The children must be dying to see you. I know I have been," and she smiled. Both she and Anatoly knew she was lying through her teeth, but hopefully the cameras would not.
When he stepped into the hallway, Svetlana shut the door firmly behind Anatoly and locked it. After a long pause, he hesitantly said, "Svetlana—"
"Help me close the shades, Anatoly, and then I'll call the children in." She still spoke in the horribly sweet, overly polite voice that made her cringe. The cameras were still watching, after all. Once the windows were covered she could reveal her true feelings.
When the last curtain was pulled shut, Svetlana stood facing the fabric, turning away from her husband. The atmosphere changed in an instant. Before, it had been strained and sickeningly polite. Now, all the things Anatoly had done to the family hung in the air between them, heavy and thick and unavoidable.
Just as Svetlana was slowly turning around to look at Anatoly, Alexei and Katherine burst into the living room, shouting. For the moment, the inevitable confrontation was postponed.
She could see that Anatoly had missed Katherine and Alexei. He had missed them, and not her, of course. But it was perfectly logical: he had left his wife, not his children.
"Daddy," Alexei was saying as he clung to Anatoly's leg, "Mommy won't teach me how to play chess. Will you teach me?"
Both Svetlana and Anatoly stiffened, and met each other's eyes.
Svetlana could read Anatoly's guilt as clearly as if it was written on his skin. From what Alexei had said— that Svetlana wouldn't teach him— Anatoly's obsession was no longer going to be the focal point of the family. Anatoly knew that Svetlana would never let him teach his son.
"Alexei, why don't you show me..." Anatoly began, then hesitated.
"Show your father your airplane collection, Alexei," Svetlana suggested gently, saving Anatoly for the moment.
"Yes. Show me your airplane collection. And after that," Anatoly said, picking up his daughter, "Katherine will show me her room. How does that sound?" Katherine's response was to wrap her small arms around Anatoly's neck and bury her face in his shoulder; she always had been shy.
Both of the children had forgiven Anatoly, or at least forgotten what he had done.
Svetlana wasn't so sure it would be so easy for her.