The coach walked up to Cassandra, who was looking straight down at the ground.
“Talk to me,” he said. “What’s going on?”
Cassandra looked up, and extended her right arm, which lightly clutched her foil. The coach looked moved his gaze from the hilt to the tip, then raised his eyebrows. “OK then. Something’s wrong with your weapon, I take it?”
“Cold,” Cassandra said.
The coach squeezed his eyes together. “You have a cold foil?” Cassandra blushed, shook her head. “You’re cold?” Another shake. “Help me out here, Cassie,” he said. “What — “
“Is it too heavy?” said DJ behind the Coach.
“Yes,” said Cassandra.
The Coach looked at the handle. “That’s one of the men’s foils,” he said. “Swap it out if it’s too heavy.”
“Can I ask why you didn’t say it was too heavy at the start? Why did you say it was cold?”
“Cold things — feel heavy to me.”
“But it was heavy, not cold.”
“I know. I meant to say it was heavy.”
“So why did you say it was cold.”
“Because — that was the word that came out of my mouth. It wasn’t what I meant, it was what I said.”
“It’s not that I’m shy,” said Cassandra. “I want to say what’s on my mind. It’s just . . . “
“Just what?” asked Annie.
Cassandra exhaled forcefully, vibrating her lips. She closed her eyes, looked down. When Annie asked what was wrong, Cassandra’s head snapped up, eyes open, and pointed to her temple.
“It’s all here,” she said hurriedly. “I can see it, feel it, but I don’t know what words to use. Those thoughts, they feel so good, so right, but . . . these thoughts have to be carried outside my mind, and the only way I can do that is through words, but I can’t find the right words to transport those thoughts. I can almost feel my thoughts travelling down to my mouth, causing my lips to move and sounds to come from my throat . . . but they’re missing words. So I speak the closest thing I can think of at the moment to what my original thought was. And I know it. That’s why I sound so hesitant — I’m using the only words I know how to use, even though I know they’re not right.”
“I wish we knew where he was,” Bernie said, speaking of the coach years later. “I’d like to speak to him, talk about the fencing team, how much it meant to all of us back then. With the way things ended — well, the team really didn’t end, it just kind of stopped. And truth is, if I had an opportunity back then to say goodbye to him, I probably wouldn’t have taken it, I was just too angry and upset, just wanted to be done with fencing, and with the coach. But yeah, you’re perspective changes over the years, and I realize now what the coach was trying to tell me. And the thing I’d like to say to him now is — thank you for showing me the truth about myself. Even though I couldn’t accept that truth at the time, there was no way I could go back to my delusions after that year on the fencing team. I didn’t want to know the truth back then, but I needed to know — and that’s why I can finally be thankful to him after all these years.”
I’ve decided to revisit the classical Greek literature I studied in college, partly for the mental exercise, another part in the hope of finding inspiration for my fiction. Yesterday I started with Agamemnon, the first of the three-part Orestia cycle of tragic plays from Aeschylus (that I was able to spell both the title and author’s name correctly without consulting an outside reference is a minor point of pride). What strikes me when re-reading the play is how the private tragedy of the house of Atrius becomes very public. Agamemnon’s murder by his wife Clytaemenstra and cousin Aegisthus (I must confess, I had to look up those two names) is more than just revenge for the feast of Thyestes (I’m back on track — got it right the first time!); it creates a political crisis for the people of Argolis, as represented by the Chorus, who are now ruled by the cruel tyrant Aegisthus, who does not attempt to disguise his plans for authoritarian rule. But this public consequence is not unprecedented, as the assassination is also motivated by Agamemnon’s sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia (I’m on fire!) in order to gain favorable winds needed for the voyage to Ilium and the Trojan War — a very public act, with a very private consequence. I’m curious to see how this combination of public and private tragedy will be extended in the other two plays in the cycle.
I somehow managed to get through high school and study literature in college without reading this classic novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is a rare treat to read a canonical work free from the memory of a lecture or exam, and enjoy it on one’s own terms. What I find particularly appealing is Fitzgerald’s wonderful prose, his simple yet powerful language.
[F]ifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars.
At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment houses.
I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters . . .
The images grow organically from the pages, the language never calling attention to its cleverness, metaphors never extended too long like a party guest who doesn’t realize it is time to leave. It is concise, beautiful writing, full of meaning yet never full of itself — a novel worthy of being in the canon of great literary works.
“I’ve always enjoyed classical literature, the Greek and Roman legends,” said Bernie. “On the one hand, it’s very basic — this army’s fighting that army, some guy’s in love with someone forbidden. But it doesn’t get lost in the boring details. There’s little exposition, or dialogue, or God help us, poetry, or nothing like what we think of as poetry. It’s about the ideas, and those ideas can appeal to anyone. They transcend politics, or technology. It’s real stuff.”
The fencing mask, honeycombed with rigid narrow wires, seemed like the interior of a metallic hive for tiny bees. At the bottom of the mask, a chin rest and neck guard was attached with metallic buttons. Having been purchased second-hand from the state university, most masks had at least a few exterior dents or small breaks in the wiring, and no amount of washing could remove the stain and smell of the sweat that had accumulated on the chin rest and neck guards. The coach responded to each plead for new equipment with a bemused shrug, and a pat answer that at least sounded better than the truth, that he had been lucky to get the money for equipment in the first place and there was no question about there being any more where that came from. “The masks, they’re like the cars most people have in this town,” he would say. “A fender bender here and there, rust from all the ice and salt in winter. But so long as it gets you from here to there, people stick with their cars, until they can’t run anymore. It’s not just a matter of finances, it’s a principle, further proof that you can survive no matter what happens. These masks — a mask won’t make you a great fencer. It might help you look more like a fencer, but in the end, it doesn’t do anything for you. We don’t need new masks — we need to practice more.”
The cold slumber of winter gave way to spring, which rose greenly from the earth with a freshness and vibrancy that seemed novel.
The wind blew strongly over the white field, thin streams of snow jetting over the long white blanket. To him, the field looked barren, desolate, all life and comfort seeming to have abandoned long ago.
“Being on the fencing team is the best of both worlds,” DJ said. “During a bout, I rely entirely on myself — I win or lose on my own merits, not because of something one of my teammates did. I’ve done team sports, and I hate them — you can do everything right, but fail because one of your teammates has his head up his butt on a play, and you can also win when you know you have no right to the victory. Fencing is like golf, or tennis — it’s a true test of individual excellence. But the problem with golf and tennis is, you usually train and prepare on your own as well. That’s what’s great about the fencing team — we train together, travel together, share each other’s joys and pains.”