Ride 1B

“Let’s review,” Double-J said, sighing resignedly as he looked up at Butch. “You are walking on the side of a road with no sidewalk or lights. It’s dark, and it’s raining. You said your house is what, about a mile away?” Butch nodded, wiping his nose. “Well if you don’t mind my making an observation, you seemed a little out of shape at practice tonight, so I’m going to assume you’re not going to jog.”

“I don’t like running.”

Double-J raised his eyebrows. “Well it’s good to know we have something in common. Now, consider this — as you probably noticed this afternoon, I’m pretty opiniated, and outspoken.”

Butch sniffed. “Uh-huh.”

“You probably also noticed that our fencing team, or club or whatever the hell it is we’re calling it — there’s not many of us, here at the Double-B HS.”

Butch paused, stared down thoughtfully through the open car window at Double-J. “Bark Bay High School?”

“Hmmm. You see, Butch, being such a small group, we have to be careful about who we let in — we can’t let any damned fool join the team, disrupt our chemistry, don’t you agree?”

Butch looked down thoughtfully again. “I — guess.”

“Right. And if you ask me, only a damned fool would walk another twenty minutes or so in the cold dark rain when he could ride in a warm car.” Double-J swung his right arm in the direction of the passenger seat next to him. “So — are you ready to get in already?”

Ride 1A

October. First Tuesday

Butch Goodman jumped reflexively as the car swung quickly in front of him, the road’s soft shoulder sinking into a gravelly squish under the vehicle’s tires.

Through the rain and dusk, Butch saw the car’s brake lights illuminate. He could not make out the license plate, but was sure he recognized the car’s shape — it was a coupe, the one that always sped through the Bark Bay High School parking lot immediately after the last bell for the day rang, sometimes sooner.

There was barely enough daylight left for Butch to see the driver’s window roll down, followed by a head, covered with thin wires of long black hair that rose wildly in the air as if charged with static electricity, from which a voice commanded through the falling rain, “Get in.”

Now certain who was driving, Butch jogged up to the driver’s door, his feet splashig in shallow puddles, looked into the car and confirmed it was — him, the senior on the fencing team that had worked with him that night, the team’s first practice of the year.

Butch stopped beside the door. The driver looked up at him, his long black moustache bristling with impatience. “Passenger side, dude. I’m not getting up to let you in.”

“You’re the — you were at fencing tonight.” Butch shuddered involuntarily in the cold rain.

The driver smiled, his eyes revealing that the warmth of his expression was to be temporary. “That’s right, from fencing.” He nodded in the direction of the passenger side. “I’ll give you a ride home, get in.”

“You’re, what was it, Mister — ”

The driver’s response dripped with impatience. “Dude, I’m not a mister anything. Call me Double-J.”

“Oh! That’s right. Well thank you Mister Double-J — ”

Double-J rolled his eyes, threw his head back. “Holy Christ.”

“Sorry. Double-J — I just live up the street here, it’s only about a mile, I don’t need a ride.” Butch turned his head, sneezed, excused himself.

Practice time is over

I started the “Practice” arc with the goal of capturing the spirit, the energy of a typical fencing practice at Bark Bay High School. These were very experimental posts — I deliberately set up conversations which I knew were unrealistic, in order to facilitate a conversation among characters or explore the perspective of an individual. That’s why Rex and Double-J kept showing up and leaving — I brought them in when I wanted to explore their characters, took them out when I wanted to turn the focus elsewhere.

Got some satisfaction at the start (which is why I continued the experiment), but now that Jimmy’s been introduced to everyone I’m not sure where to take this arc (which is why I’m ending it). Finding an expanded role for Jimmy has been something I’ve contemplated ever since I brought him onstage in the Chapter 4 draft — if I keep anything from these experiments, it will be how Jimmy makes his re-appearance.

So now, it’s on to different vehicles for exploring my characters. And I chose the word vehicles deliberately, as the next several posts will take place almost exclusively in cars.

Practice 2X

Annie looked quickly across the three squares of black tile that separated her from Coach Dan, as the conversation betwee Jimmy and Double-J ended. She saw him nod in approval, and when he turned his attention back to her and her line of fencers, she nodded as well.

“Now that we have everyone in position,” Coach Dan called, “let’s get this practice started.”

Bending his knees and extending his arm into en garde position, and commanding the team to follow his movements, Coach Dan raised the toes of his front foot, pushed the heel across the tile in front of him, landed the foot, brought his rear leg back, and watched appreciatively as the Bark Bay High School team took a unified step in retreat.

End of “Practice’

Practice 2W

Coach Dan stood along the long edge of a white rectangle among the sea of black tiles on the cafeteria floor, and motioned to the edge of another rectangle, three black square tiles away. Butch, Bernie, Kassie, Annie, and Rex formed a line along the line separating black from white, bent their knees into en garde position. Double-J held back from the line, uncertain not on what to do but rather his willingness to participate.

“Over here,” Jimmy called, motioning for Double-J to join him in the row of white rectangles to the team’s right. Jimmy got in position in line with Coach Dan, and pointed to the white rectangle opposite him, in line with but still apart from the rest of the team.

Double-J looked over at Jimmy, did not move from his position, several feet behind the line. Standing, neither particpating nor refusing to participate, just — standing. He looked at Coach Dan, then at his teammates, their bodies facing Coach Dan, but everyone’s eyes turned towards him.

His move. He smiled, appreciating the power of his position, before finally saying, “OK then, let’s get started,” and getting in line opposite Jimmy, crouched into en garde position.

Practice 2V

“You do epee?” Jimmy turned in the direction of Rex’s question, his smile filled with hyperbolic exhaustion.

“Patience, young man. As I’ve been saying, it’s been ten years since I’ve touched any weapon — foil, sabre, or epee. Let me work with your friend Double-J over here — ” he turned in Double-J’s direction — “I assume you don’t take offense at the word ‘friend’?”

Double-J shrugged, shook his head, the thin black wires of his hair waving chaotically.

“I can do sabre as well.”

“Patience, patience.”

“All right then.” Coach Dan stepped into the approximate center of the irregular circle formed by the Bark Bay High School fencing team. “You’ve all had a chance to meet Jimmy. We’ve got, what, about 30 minutes left,” glancing quickly at the large clock above the kitchen windows. “Let’s line up, get some footwork drills, then do some sparring — give Jimmy a chance to feel what it’s like to weild a weapon again.”

Practice 2U

Jimmy turned to Kassie. “I’m glad you feel comfortable here.”

“And I am glad everyone is comfortable with me.”

Jimmy raised his eyebrows, then quickly turned. “Daniel, I believe the only member of your team I haven’t met –” right arm waving in Rex’s direction — “is Slim over here.”

“Rex.” The tall teen stilted forward, right arm extended.

“Jimmy.” They swiftly shook hands. “Your weapon, son?”

“Foil. Epee.”

“No sabre?”

Rex frowned. “Only when Double-J challenges me.”

“I’m thinking that happens fairly regularly.”

Rex shrugged. “When he’s at practice.”

“‘When?'” Jimmy quickly scanned the room, caught Double-J’s eyes. “By the tone of Mr. Rex’s response, I take it your appearances on Tuesday afternoons are — infrequesnt?”

Double-J shrugged. “Nobody wants to do sabre. What’s the –”

“Well, you now have me.” Jimmy stepped forward, breezing past the team members as if they were not present, his eyes fixed on Double-J. “And if I’m going to give up my time for this team, I want to make that time worthwhile. I’m not like Daniel, son — no offense,” he said, looking briefly at Coach Dan, who nodded — “but if I’m here and you’re not, I’m going to want to know why.”

Double-J smiled, exhaled a snort of laughter from his nose. “That sounds like a challenge.”

“You will find, young man, that working with me is, indeed, a challenge.”

Practice 2T

“I find this interesting, Daniel.” Jimmy raised his head, turned in Coach Dan’s direction. “I’ve been here all of 15 minutes, and I’m hearing a lot of talk about identity — your students being glad for feeling they belong here, or glad they’re not like those nasty fencers from the Academy.”

Jimmy spread his arms wide, his white jacket inviting the attention of the entire Bark Bay fencing club. “I haven’t touched a fencing weapon in over ten years. I’m not affiliated with the school system, and I’ve only had passing conversations with anyone in this room. So, before we get started here, I have to ask — does this team have room for an outsider like me?”

Jimmy scanned the room after he spoke, making quick eye contact with everyone, the sardonic smile on his face showing that rather than pleading for the teen’s acceptance, he was challenging them to confront, acknowledge their biases.

Double-J stepped forward. “Well Coach Dan says you’re going to work with me on sabre, so if you can do that, I don’t give a rip who you are.”

“That’s what fencing’s all about,” Coach Dan announced. “What can you do on the strip? Who you are, what background you come from, none of that matters when you compete. This is a sport that crosses gender and generations — women compete evenly with men, the young with the old.”

Veterans,” Jimmy called out suddenly. “We’re veterans, Daniel, not old guys.” The teens laughed appreciatively.

Practice 2S

“So what parts of you are here today?” Jimmy was not able to remove all sarcasm from his voice. “Just your body, or your mind as well?”

Kassie stared back at Jimmy as she considered how she should respond. Direct confrontation, I don’t need to listen to this — no, not her style. Breezy dismissal, does it really matter — no, it does matter. Comic non-answer, well I’m talking to you now and you’re close enough to smell my breath, so all systems appear to be ‘go’ — no, she didn’t trust her sense of humor. Not that she trusted the truth either — no, the truth wasn’t the problem — or her judgement, yes she knew what the truth was — but could she communicate that truth, could her words represent that truth, and even if yes, she could speak the truth, would Jimmy understand her words, see the truth behind them?

But the truth was all she had, for better or worse.

“This is the only place I want to be.” Kassie felt like smiling, but her mouth did not turn upwards, as if the required muscles were atrophied. “This is the only place where I feel like I belong.”

Practice 2R

“And you,” Jimmy said, turning and walking in the direction of Kassie, who had retreated to the rear of the team’s circle. “I don’t recall seeing you at the Hutchinson’s party last month.”

Kassie looked at him cautiously. “I didn’t see you, either.”

“So you were there, just — not very present, shall we say.”

Kassie nodded, looked quickly at Annie. “I — wanted to be there, with my friends. Mrs. Hutchinson, Annie’s mom, she’s friends with my mother, donates to the theater. But still, I didn’t feel comfortable, like I belonged.”

“Of course you belonged.” Annie’s tone was assertive, almost indignant.

“Thank you. But — you know how people say ‘But I was there in spirit,’ when they can’t go to an event? That night — it was like, I wanted to be there, with my body, but not in spirit.”