The Academy 4Q

Coach Dan claps his hands, then raises his fists in Annie’s direction. “Beautiful, beauiful,” he says. “You’re fencing your skinny little ass off.”

I hear Annie chuckle as she returns to her starting line, a sound which ripples through the crowd of Bark Bay and Academy fencers gathered around the strip. Even Coach Sarah smiles from her director’s position. The only person who doesn’t seem amused is Francis, who’s already returned to his starting line. I wonder if he’s feeling tense, worried that Annie’s one touch away from tying him, two touches away from winning the tournament championship. Because despite what our coaches said earlier about this being an extended practice, this is a tournament, one that has a champion, who will come either from Bark Bay or the Academy, and right now Annie is standing at her starting line, pony tail arched behind her head, her body crouched in en garde position and waiting for Coach Sarah to resume the bout, waiting for her chance to steal today’s championship right from under Francis’ upturned nose. And I think about how sweet this would be for us Bark Bay fencers to walk out of this dreary field house with Francis’ championship, the Academy’s championship, to finally stick it to the Academy like they’ve done to us so many times before.

Do this, Annie. For you, for us — for me.

Fence. Annie and Francis advance toward each other slowly, then Francis extends, not really attacking, just presenting his point in line. Annie reacts immediately, lunging forward — and what she does next is so unbelievable, I think I must have missed something.

She impales herself. Well that’s what we call it in practice, yeah it’s a little graphic but it describes how you feel when you basically throw your target area onto the tip of your opponent’s weapon. After being nearly perfect in the bout to this point, Annie forgets to engage Francis’ blade, to deflect his point in line so that she takes right of way. No, she acts like I do in practice, reacting to an attack with a counter-attack, reflexes triumphing over training. All Francis has to do is stand there, with his extended arm holding his foil, and wait for Annie to lunge onto its red rubber tip. He has right of way, Annie hasn’t taken it away, so whatever Annie’s counter-attack does makes no difference, the fact that she misses only underscoring the futility of her action.

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