“No ma’am.” Butch tries to lean forward, but the seats in this Cadillac, they’re so big and slick I feel like we’re being swallowed by a leather-throated monster, he has to grab the back of Annie’s seat to keep himself from slipping back. “This is the first time I’ve ever been to the Academy, Mrs. Hutchinson.” Butch is like that, he’s always mister this and misses that and doctor so and so with adults, Annie’s family are like that anyway, if Butch or me called her Laura she’d probably scold us like we were one of her kids.
But Annie’s mom is all smiles, she does this quarter-turn with her head back at Butch while she’s driving, says it’s a marvelous place, so full of history, yada yada, then she tells us for the THIRD TIME this morning that her son Sierra’s the fifth generation of Hutchinson to have gone to the Academy, so Butch and me smile again but I see Annie’s shaking her head in the front seat.
I’ve been at the Academy a few times, back when I did football and basketball in middle school, we’d come here for games. Annie’s mom turns into the entrance they have, they’ve got these two stone columns you go through and there’s still these iron gates, I dunno know why they still have em there, they’re always open. Maybe it’s cuz-of the arch that goes above the columns, gates look just like it, both have that same fancy A like the arch. Those A’s look kinda cool, it’s English or French or something.
The part I really like is the road leading to the campus. They call it a campus, like it’s a college or something, and compared to Bark Bay High School yeah, it looks like a college. They’ve got the money, they can make it look like anything they want. This road they’ve got, they’ve got these big oak trees on either side all along it, kinda like a fence, which you can understand cuz-of the fields on either side. They’ve got soccer fields on the left, baseball diamonds on the right. They’re practice fields, they play the games on real fields with stands and a scoreboard and everything. Baseball coach at Bark Bay, he’s always complaining about how the field’s in such bad shape because they play soccer on it in the fall, no way they’d let anyone else play on the football field.
It’s fall, so there’s all these brown oak leaves on the road, you can hear the Cadillac scrunching up leaves and gravel. I’m looking out the window, at the fields beyond those oak trees. The fields are flat for a while, but then there’s these hills going up and down, and they must rake or mow the leaves all the time cuz-of everything’s still so green, it’s green everywhere, the hills look like waves on a green sea.
“Hey,” calls Annie, so I turn to her and she’s looking back at Butch and me. “You guys ready for today?” And I’m like, “It’s just a practice, you know. Bouts don’t count. I bet they don’t even fill out a tournament sheet.”
Her mom turns to Annie, asks what a tournament sheet was. “It’s how they keep track of wins and losses during a fencing tournament. That, and how many touches you win and lose. But I think Bernie’s wrong, I think they’ll keep a sheet, they’ll treat it like a real tournament. This is the Academy, after all. They take everything like it’s a challenge.” Annie likes to point out when I’m wrong.
Annie’s mom drives up to the field house. I been in there once in middle school, they called it a track meet but we were mostly just running around. Butch was sick that day, he didn’t go. Field house is this big rectangular building, it’s got ivy all over it. Like I said, they want it to look like a college. There’s this parking lot next to it, it’s made of these small white stones. Christ, they can’t even stand to have dirt lots in this place.
Annie’s like “Let me make sure the buidling’s open,” so she gets out of the Cadillac when her mom parks and runs up these three gray stone steps leading to these wide double-doors that got these big brass handles. Annie pulls on one and the door opens, so she turns to us and nods. Like we can’t figure it that it’s open by ourselves.
Her mom rolls down the window, asks if she sees anyone there, if she sees Coach Dan. “We’re early,” Annie says, “Coach Dan should be here any minute.” I open my door, second later as I’m getting out the car I hear Butch open his door. Annie’s mom asks if she should wait, and Annie’s like no, if for some reason they cancelled she knows where Sierra and she will be and we’ll walk over, and her mom’s like are you sure and that’s when Annie loses it, she stomps her foot and screams OOOOH!, she’s trying to be funny but you can tell she’s pretty mad. By that time Butch and me, we’re already walking up the steps and Annie’s waving us into the field house like she’s a traffic cop. Then Annie shouts “Will you just GO already?”, and she follows us into the field house without waiting for a reply.
Butch is in front of me as we walk in, and I almost bump into him, he’s looking up at the ceiling like a tourist in Times Square. It is a pretty impressive sight, the field house is. They’ve got this large oval running track on the outside, it’s got eight lanes. That’s where we did most of our running during that track meet. On the inside, it’s big enough for a football field. This Academy guy told me once, we were playing football, he said the varsity team would practice in there some times if it was bad weather. What Butch was looking at, there’s these thick mesh curtains, they’ve got, hang down from the ceiling. Some go up and down the long way, some go across the short way. You can stretch them out or bundle them up, change the layout of the interior for whatever sport you want to do. It’s pretty cool. At Bark Bay we just have the one in the basketball court, can divide it in half.
Thock. Butch turns to the right, looks towards the center of the interior. I look too, there’s these tennis courts, hadn’t seen them when I was here a few years back. They’ve got these chain fences around them, and there’s this man and a woman, they don’t look like students, guess they must be teachers. They’re not really playing, just hitting balls back and forth to each other. I see the sand pit in front of it, that I recognize from when I was here, we did the long jump there.
It’s cold, not much warmer than outside, colder if anything. “They forget to pay the heating bill?” I ask Annie. It was spring when we came here in middle school, it was a lot warmer than today.
“They don’t have central heat or air-conditioning in here,” Annie says, real confident-like, like just because her brother goes here she knows all about this place. “Usually people are training, so they don’t mind it being a little cool. I remember Si telling me they bring in portable heaters sometimes in winters, and big fans in the summer.” She calls her brother Si sometimes, sounds likes she’s saying sigh. Double-J says only his friends call him that.
“So this place does have power?” Annie nods, points up at the banks of ceiling lights. She’s got this face that says duh. Whatever. “Makes sense,” I says. “Coach Dan said we were going to use electronics for our fencing tournament today. Or practice, or whatever this is.”