The Academy 1L

[Slight change to end of 1K]

Butch asks me if I’d saw the new science fiction television show that started last month, and I’m about to tell him that I had seen it and thought it was pretty dumb so I wasn’t going to watch it no more, when a word surfaces from the pool of murmuring from where Annie’s stretching with the Academy fencers, echoes off the high walls and arched ceiling of the enormous field house, falls on my ears like an alert. The word is scholarship, and I recognize the voice right away, it’s Wanda’s, and I turn to see her sitting on the rubber floor, arms spread forward and out in the direction of her legs, her head tilted in the direction of Annie, listening to her intently.

Butch says “I thought — ”

“Hold on,” I say, holding up a hand towards him. I continue stretching, and if my ears were antennae they’d be directed straight at Wanda and Annie. I’m too far away from them and there’s too much other noise — people talking, thwocks from the tennis court, the clang of weights further off — for me to catch much of the conversation, but Wanda’s voice rises for emphasis on several occassions, and I can hear her clearly: graduating, available, two-year, scholarship (again, this time I see Annie shake her head), prep school, hardship.

All of a sudden I remember — the Academy has fencing scholarships. Four, if I remember. Wanda’s talking to Annie about the fencing scholarships. Two year . . . Annie’s a sophomore at Bark Bay. And her brother already goes to the Academy.

Holy crap — Annie’s being recruited.

The Academy 1K

The Academy fencers walk past Butch and me like we’re not there, but they all nod to Annie, Wanda even smiles at her and says “Hi Annie.” My goal for today is to do well enough so that the Academy fencers start calling me by name.

Annie walks over and talks to them — now Butch and I are invisible even to her. I remember this from the spring, nobody paying attention to me, not even my own teammates.

Butch calls to me. I turn, see him smile, point to an open area of the floor. “Let’s get stretched out,” he says. For the first time that morning, I’m really glad Butch is here, really glad that Butch decided to join the fencing team. He and I have been buddies since grade school, some days the only thing good about going to school is seeing Butch. Now that we’re in high school we’re not taking any of the same classes no more. Him being in fencing means we get to hang out more, and it makes the team more fun. Everybody seems to enjoy having Butch on the team, even Double-J, who’s had some very public rows with his father, Reverend Goodman.

Butch and me spread our legs wide, like Coach Dan showed us, reach down and touch the floor with our knuckles. It’s just Butch and me now, Annie can go play with her buddies at the Academy if she wants, I don’t care anymore.

Then she has to go ruin it by walking over towards us with Wanda. They start stretching out without even talking to us first. Not that they needed our permission or anything, but it just seemed kinda rude to me. They talk back and forth for a while as we go through our stretches — legs, trunk, arms, neck — we’re about to start our lunge stretches when I hear Wanda say the word scholarship.

The Dark Knight Rises

Unfortunately, this movie reminded me a lot of “Spider-Man 3” a few years back — the secondary plot and character were far more interesting than the primaries, too many villians, the pace choppy and episodic, story and character sacrificed for a lot of explosions and special effects. Yes, it’s a superhero movie, but the best of the genre rise above cheap entertainment and become engaging, thought-provoking, worth a second viewing. The first two Spidey flicks, as well as the first two Christopher Nolan Batman films, provided that extra quality, were films I’d have enjoyed even if I wasn’t a life-long fan of the two characters. But perhaps given the nature of the genre, two good films is all you can ask for.

There used to be a belief that the Star Trek films followed a consistent pattern, the even-numbered films being consistently better than the odd numbers. The experience of “Spider-Man 3” and “The Dark Knight Rises” makes me wonder if a new pattern developing for superhero movies — two good, then one bad. It certainly makes me wary of the next Iron Man film.

The Academy 1J

They all have their names in blue block letters on the legs of their fencing pants, which allows me to remember them from the spring.

HARRIS. Jane Harris, the one who called hey, probably to Francis. She’s just as good as he is, which means she’s a lot better than anyone at Bark Bay. But she’s not all stuck-up like Francis, she’s not like I’m only going to pay attention to you if you’re a good fencer. She’ll talk to you, make jokes, laughs at mine even when they’re not funny. I like Jane.

YODER. Jamie Yoder. Competes in all three weapons, he’s pretty good at each, but he seems to like sabre best. He’s good friends with Double-J and Rex. I fenced him back in the spring, got one touch in I think. He’s fast.

JENSEN. I was hoping Wanda would be here. She was the one Academy fencer I beat last year. We were tied at 4, and she did a parry-riposte that landed on me, but the ref said her action came after my continutation which had been off-target. Coach Sarah got real upset and the ref almost gave her a warning, but we went on and when we got back I feinted a disengage and hit her on the left shoulder, just barely on target. Coach Dan was real happy after the tournament, said my victory meant that everybody on the Bark Bay team had beaten at least one Academy fencer that day. He was all rah-rah, said we showed that we could take on anybody. I don’t know about that — I don’t think the Academy’s half as good as they think they are, but even if they’re only half as good as I think, they’re still better than us.

The Academy 1I

Francis takes off this long jacket he has, so now we can see his fencing shorts. They go down to just below the knee, and they’ve got these suspenders, thin white strips that go up the front of his blue t-shirt, then over the shoulders and back down. On the outside of either leg, PINE is written in blue block letters. Franci looks ready to jump on the strip and start fencing right now. Then I look over at Butch, who still has his jacket on and he’s wearing jeans for crying out loud, then I realize I’m wearing jeans too — got up late this morning, rushed out the door and forgot to put on my sweats — and I’m thinking we don’t even look like we belong here. Except for Annie, who’s got these sleek blue track pants on, with a white stripe down the sides. Annie knows what she’s doing, I’ll give her that.

Hey. The voice echoes as a I turn, and there’s three more Academy fencers walking towards us. I don’t recognize the faces but I know they’re from the Academy cuz-of they’re all wearing fencing shorts like Francis. I can see the blue block letters down the legs, can’t read the names yet. Only the Academy fencing team wears fencing shorts. Well there’s the En Garde! club too, Dr. Schmidt’s fencers, but they only show up for the big tournaments. Don’t think we’ll see them today.

The Academy 1H

Francis Pine walks past Butch and I like we’re not there. He sees Annie, nods in her direction. Must be cuz-of she eliminated two Academy fencers at our last tournament in the spring, had Francis tied at 12 too but then he got the last three to win. He wants to be called Francis, he gives you hell if you call him Fran, makes you feel like an idiot. I wonder if he knows we call him Frankenstein behind his back. Even Coach Dan did it once.

Francis stops walking, sets the rolling duffel on the floor in the area his coach had pointed to. He unzips it, starts sorting through the white fencing jackets inside. The Academy fencers all have their own jacket, the ones that zip up in the front, left side for righties and right side for lefties, all of them with the Academy’s insignia on the sleeve, weapon side. We don’t have jackets like that at Bark Bay. Coach Dan told us that when the school board approved the team a few years back, the AD, Mr. Scott, he gave Coach Dan a budget about half of what he said was the minimum he needed to have a team. So he did the best he could, went around to some colleges, got some used equipment. The jackets are in pretty good shape, but they smell if they’re not washed every week, and they always look dirty even after they’re washed. Worst part though is the zippers in the back — you can’t do it yourself, you have to get someone behind you to zip it, or make adjustments.

The Academy 1G

Butch is looking at the three-pronged adapter in his hand, his eyes following the cable leading from it to the scoring box. He holds it up to Annie (I seem to have fallen off his radar) and asks, “So you’re supposed to plug into this?”

Now it’s Coach Sarah’s turn to butt in. “We’ll show you all that when the rest of the equipment comes in,” she says, turning now to the door which she had walked through just now. I like Annie, but it’s good to see the tables get turned on her once in a while.

The door opens, and through it walks a tall boy, clearly a student, dragging a rolling duffel bag behind him which catches the door as he walks in. I don’t recognize him, but there’s something about him — maybe it’s the way he walks, every movement so fluid, or his demeanor, the way he barely notices the door catching the rolling duffel, he doesn’t even look back, just jerks his arm forward a moment until the duffel clears and keeps moving forward, as if he was not pulling the bag but rather leading it, like a dog on a leash — somehow I get the impression that I’m supposed to know who he is.

“Over here, Francis,” Coach Sarah calls to him. He nods briskly at her, continues without pausing in the direction her coach had indicated. Francis — yes, Francis Pine, last year’s captain of the Academy’s fencing team. Apparently he was only a junior last year. Bark Bay doesn’t have a fencing captain, hell we’re lucky to have a team this year. Our best fencer, Miles, graduated along with a couple others, and that left me and Annie, Rex and Double-J. Fortunately I finally got Butch to join — he’d been asking me about the team all year, came to watch our school’s first-ever tournament, even showed up at a few practices — and there’s this new girl, Kassie I think she’s called. I don’t know for sure, she’s kind of creepy, doesn’t say much. Annie saw her watching us one day at practice, practically dragged her in, and the last two weeks she showed up to practice on her own. That’s all it takes I guess to be on our team, just show up……….

The Academy 1F

“So which one of you is sixteen?” Coach Sarah asks. Annie and Butch, they get this confused look on their faces and look at me, and I’m like sorry, I don’t know what she’s getting at either, so I shrug. Seeing our collective confusion, Coach Sarah says, “one of you must have driven. Unless you all walked the the thirty miles from Bark Bay to here.”

And then we’re all like oh OK, and Annie explains that her mother drove us, she wanted to meet with Sierra anyway so she offered to take us when Annie told her about the tournament. Coach Sarah pays attention to the explanation as she sets the metal boxes on the floor, one near where we were standing, the other a few dozen feet away.

Butch asks me what the boxes are for. I forgot, this is his first competition, there’s going to be a lot today he hasn’t seen before.

“It’s a scoring box,” I explain. “It’s used in electronic scoring.” I reach down to the box nearest us, pull on a cord with a three-pronged connector at its end. “This plug, it connects to a body cord we’ll be wearing when we compete. The cord’s reeled up inside the box, it will come out and back in as the fencer advances and retreats.” I point to other cords running out the other end of the box. “That’s the power cord on the right, the other one runs over to the scoring machine, which lights up when you land a touch.”

Butch is smiling like a boy opening a Christmas present, which is an odd thing for me to think knowing that Butch’s family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Well they do, but only as a church thing, they don’t do presents. “So there’s no judges?” he asks.

I’m about to speak, when Annie apparently decides she’s listened to me enough and butts in. “There’s still a referee in the middle, for right-of-way. The machine won’t tell you who initiates the action. But we won’t have judges behind the fencers — the machine takes care of that.”

The Academy 1E

We hear a metallic sound to our left, beyond the track. Sounds like a door. I turn toward the sound, and see a short woman with straight black hair and thick glasses walking onto the track. If I didn’t already recognize who it was from this distance I’d have assumed it was a student, but I know instantly, from her hurried walk if nothing else, that this is Coach Sarah, the Academy’s fencing coach. She’s smiling, which isn’t surprising because I’ve never seen her not smile.

“You’re early!” she calls to us. “Are things really that boring in Bark Bay that you have nothing better to do than hang out in our field house?” That’s how Coach Sarah talks, if you didn’t know her you’d think half the things she says are insulting. But even if she meant to say Bark Bay was boring, hey, I wouldn’t argue with her.

She’s carrying a small plastic box in either hand. “The team’s bringing the rest of the stuff,” she says, setting the two boxes down. “It’s a pain in the tooches, having to lug all our gear from the gym, they wouldn’t let us in the field house last night. You guys are lucky, you don’t have much stuff to take along.”

Annie’s about to say something when Coach Sarah turns to her, says quickly, “Annie. We’ve got our eye on you this year!” Annie laughs. “You going to give epee a try this year?”

Annie nods, begins to speak, but then Coach Sarah’s turned and pointing to me, says, “You need to help me with names.”

I try to speak, but my voice isn’t clear. I cough, and Annie says, “This is Bernie. He was at the invitational — ”

“– last spring, yes,” says Coach Sarah. “Dan’s probably had you training all summer, so we probably have to watch out for you as well.” I’m about to say something like Training? Are you nuts? but Coach Sarah’s already turned to Butch and directing a question to Annie. “So who’s the new victim” — she shakes her head quickly, opens her eyes wide in mock surprise at her own words ” — excuse me! I mean, who is Bark Bay’s latest fencing team member?” She now has her hand extended to Butch, who steps forward with a shy smile, says his name, and shakes her hand.

The Academy 1D

“So this is where their fencing team practices?” Butch asks, his voice echoing against the brown stone walls of the massive field house. He’s still got that wide-eyed look, like he’s never seen a building as big as this, and when I think about it I realize that might actually be the case. His father, Reverend Goodman, doesn’t like to travel, and the biggest thing we have in Bark Bay is the old lumber mill, and most of that’s falling apart.

Annie shakes her head. “The Academy usually fences in the small gym, but Coach Dan said there’s a gymnastics meet there today, so they moved us in here.” Coach Dan tells her everything. “Come on,” now she’s saying, “let’s warm up.” She walks to an open area of the interior, waves at Butch and I to follow her. The surface where she stops seems like the same thing they have on the tennis courts nearby, some type of hard green rubber. I look around at the lines painted on the surface, see two poles standing at what looks like mid-court based on the lines. There’s a net on one pole, it’s down now but I can see it’s mounted high, when strung across to the other pole the bottom of the net will be at my chest.

“Volleyball court,” I say. Annie looks around, nods, says “maybe,” and begins taking off her jacket. One of these days she’s going to admit that I’m right about something.

Butch asks if this is where we’ll be fencing today, and Annie shrugs and says we’ll find out soon enough. I look at my watch, it’s 10:35, the tournament starts at 11 but we had to get early because Laura, Mrs. Hutchinson, she had to meet Sierra at 10:30, so she dropped us off early.