Chapter 5 – January 2E

The Bird heard the soft ascending hum of a car outside, off to the left, coming down the Mill Road. haaaaaaaAAAAAAAHHH. The sound did not decelerate as it approached the driveway to her home, then passed, AAAAAAAAAhhhhhaaaaaaa, on its way towards Bark Bay. The sound reminded her how alone she was in this quiet house, on an isolated road miles from town.

She didn’t have to be alone that afternoon. Her mother offered to take her to rehearsal, but there was never anyone her age at the theater, and while the staff was always polite and acommodating she could never get over the feeling that she really didn’t belong there. She had wanted to visit her grandmother’s sister (a friendly woman with a gift for baking) in the city, but then her grandmother had decided that staying for her sister’s weekly canasta game sounded like a good idea after all, and while Cassandra (as she was called by her grandmother, who had yet to hear the announcement that she preferred to be called The Bird) was certainly welcome to come along and watch television while they played — her joining the game was not under consideration — her grandmother said no one would think any worse of her should she decide to stay home instead.

And there had been a third option. The fencing tournament, at the university. The team was there, most of them were anyway. “You should come.” She’d been expecting Coach Dan’s offer at practice that week, and looked down at tiled cafeteria floor when it came. “No really. Not to compete, but to watch, get a feel for what it’s all about.” Annie then joined their conversation, saying that she had been a spectator for a few tournaments last year before finally competing at the last regional tournament before states. “It’s cool. You’ll meet a lot of people, see a lot of good fencing.” She shook her head again, and after a strong encouragement from Coach Dan to think it over and get back to me, the focus of the team shifted to the next drill.

Chapter 5 – January 2D

The Bird sat on the small orange sofa, its floral design faded through use and exposure. The television across the room caught her eye, and she considered turning it on, to provide a distraction from the lonely winter afternoon. But only for a moment. Because she could not think of any program or channel available at this time which interested her, a fact not entirely surprising seeing as she found very little enjoyment in television.

The image of Double-J lunged into her mind. Thin wiry hair seeming to explode from his scalp, the sneer of his black moustache, the skill and speed he displayed with his saber — television was one of many topics on which he would often openly, and loudly, express his opinion during fencing practice. “Boring and predictable,” he’d said last week. “Has to be that way. Entertainment’s just a reflection of society, there’s no room for original thinking, it’s too dangerous. Much safer to keep rehashing stories from twenty years ago.” At times Annie would laugh off his easy cynicism, or Rune would argue the merits of a particular show he enjoyed, but most of the time the team just ignored Double-J’s rants, and continue with practice.

I know how you feel. Staring at her dim reflection across the room on the powerless television screen, The Bird remembered wanting to say those words to Double-J that week, even though he was unusually quiet that day. About television. I don’t like it either.  She didn’t find it boring, she’d planned on saying, and with eyes probing into the reflection on the gray screen she recalled her objection. There’s always somebody talking on the television. It never stops, before you can think about what they’ve just said, they talk about something else. You don’t have time to think, it’s overwhelming, like drowning in a waterfall of words.

But she hadn’t said anything to Double-J that day, and she knew why. He was driven, competitive, as macho as any of the boy athletes she feared and avoided at school. The other boys on the fencing team weren’t like that — Rex was as patient as he was tall, Rune was gentle and funny, Butch wore his empathy like a favorite coat. They all seemed to follow the lead of their coach, Mr. Jacobs, so very masculine yet not in a way she had ever experienced before. Double-J, though, did not follow his coach’s lead, and The Bird found his defiance both intriguing and intimidating.

Chapter 5 – January 2C

The crow pecked with renewed vigor at the dirt — it must be the same crow, she thought, it was pecking at the same spot as before, just before it had seen her and flown away. The crow raised its head swiftly. Kaw kaw, and resumed pecking at the dirt.

The Bird (yes, that was what she would call herself now) suddenly realized how close she was to the crow. The dirt on which it was so furiously pecking was no more than ten, fifteen feet from the kitchen window, and she was sitting at a table that was no more than a few feet from that window. Fifteen, perhaps twenty feet apart, yet their worlds could not have been more different, The Bird sheltered in the warm dry home she shared with her mother and grandmother, the bird pecking furiously at the dirt made hard from two weeks of continually freezing temperatures.

A moment later The Bird rose from chair, knowing her action would send the bird outside fluttering (perhaps it would return as immediately as it had the time before). She stepped with light feet covered in white stockings into the front room of their small home. It was the room that lead to the front door, a room too large for a foyer but too small for a living space yet somehow fulfilling both functions. It was one of only three rooms on the house’s floor level, the kitchen and dining space (larger than this foyer/living area) and the house’s sole bathroom being the others. A short flight of stairs directly across the front door lead to three small bedrooms, one each for Cassandra (no, she was The Bird now), her mother, and grandmother. It was an old house, hastily built decades ago by a shipping company for its workers. The Bird would often come across relics from the house’s original use — a book or article of clothing abandoned in a closet or floorboard, initials carved into a joist, a pin-up hidden behind a sheet of wallpaper.

Chapter 5 – January 2B

She knew Double-J had meant that name as a joke, that he was mocking her, but when he’d called her The Bird at that first fencing practice she had felt profoundly satisfied, more so than at any other time since she had been a student at Bark Bay High School. Unlike other names she had been called at school (which stabbed at her like hot needles), there wasn’t anything necessarily bad about being a bird. Unusual, perhaps — people didn’t have feathers and fly, or jerk their heads in swift sudden movements like she did — but she was comfortable with being unusual. Intended as a joke maybe, but she had chosen to take this name as a gift, a sign that she had finally met a group of students at Bark Bay who would not be put off by her eccentricity.

But she was only The Bird at fencing practice. She had thought of asking her mother and grandmother to call her The Bird, at dinner the night before, when her mother said “Cassandra, please pass the vegetables.” No mother, please call me The Bird she’d almost said, but as the words were forming at the back of her mouth and her right arm was lifting the bowl of vegetables from the table, she remembered that they didn’t know she was called The Bird, in fact nobody outside the fencing team called her The Bird, and the other day Butch (the fat one, blonde, the son of the preacher) had passed her in the hall between classes and said Hey Sandy even though he’d called her The Bird at practice. So the time didn’t seem right for her to announce her new name at home.

Kaw. The crow returned, or perhaps this was a different crow, landing on the dandruffed dirt and pecking with its black beak, this time ignoring the girl sitting at the kitchen table. A thought came to her — Do I call myself The Bird? When her mother would take her to rehearsal this week, would she tell the director Hi my name is The Bird? Or perhaps Hi my name is Cassandra — no, her mother would likely have already introduced her by that name, This is Cassandra — was that the time to say Just call me The Bird? Not if her mother didn’t already call her by that name — tonight, at dinner, that was the time to make the announcement.

Chapter 5 – January 2A

[1/19 — corrected a grammatical error]

Cassandra Wernick (known as Sandy to some of her friends (although she was still called Cassie by the friends who remembered her from grade school, when she had chosen (after deciding in the summer of her twelfth year that any name that ended in an -ie (or -ie for that matter, or even -ee or -y) sounded like a child’s name, and she no longer felt comfortable being treated like a child) to be called by that name), for that was what she had called herself since middle school) was sitting at the table in the kitchen of the house where she lived with her mother and sometimes her grandmother although she was away for the weekend visiting her sister, alone.

Kaw. The sound of the crow outside the window caught her attention. She saw it swoop down onto the hard brown dirt of the house’s back yard, the bird’s talons brushing the thin dandruff of snow as it landed. It pecked at the dirt, and again — then looked up, its black eyes making contact with the gaze of the girl, who remembered for that first time that day that she was a member of the Bark Bay fencing team, because they didn’t call her Sandy or Cassie or Cassandra but rather The Bird, because Double-J had said on that first day she was a practice that she jerked her head around like a bird and when Annie had told him to stop being a jerk tease she said no it was OK, because she actually liked the name. But she was still called Sandy or Cassie at school, and her mother always called her Cassandra, and today, alone in her house, she had not remembered the name the fencing team had given her until the crow made eye contact with her, then unfolded its broad wings from its back and flapped twice, snow whisking along the ground as the bird lifted, disappearing into the gray sky.

Chapter 5 – January 1M

“Anyway.” Annie spoke in a commanding tone. “Tuesday. Anyone speak to Double-J yet?”

“Dunno.” Coach Dan smiled back at his team captain. “Have you?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, he’s not entirely open to my suggestions. Think he’ll only come if somebody else suggests it.” Jimmy took a step between Annie and Coach Dan, asked what was going on. “Coach is taking us to see a play, Tuesday. ‘Hamlet.'”

Jimmy’s eyes widened, the look on his face conveying the fear that his volunteering to serve as assistant coach for the Bark Bay High School fencing team had just earned him an additional unwanted responsibility. “‘Hamlet?’

“I know the fight choreograhpher.” Coach Dan sounded uncharacteristically pleased with himself. “Knows how to make stage fencing seem realistic.”

Jimmy shook his head. “Daniel, I didn’t sign up for no Shakespeare.”

“No worries. Should be able to handle these kids on my own.”

“Provided we have Double-J’s car,” interjected Annie.

Coach Dan responded nonchalantly. “If there’s not enough room in my backseat, maybe somebody can ride up with The Bird, and her mother. She’s in the play, you know?”

“The Bird?” Jimmy sounded incredulous. “You mean that thin girl who didn’t say two words at the party?”

Annie blinked. “Her mother. She’s playing Gertrude.”

“Ah.” Jimmy’s response made it clear he had no idea what a Gertrude was. He looked around them quickly. “Ain’t seen The Bird today. Where is she?”

Chapter 5 – January 1L

A buzz from the scoring machine. Coach Dan over at the strip, where Annie was returning to her starting line. Her opponent was already taking off his mask at the other starting line — Coach Dan instantly recognized the face.

“Francis.”

“Who?”

“Pine.” Coach Dan turned to Jimmy, pointed to the teen’s legs, PINE spelled in block letters down the sides. “Francis Pine. Been fencing at the Academy ever since I’ve been coaching.”

After saluting each other and the referee, Annie and Francis met at the center of the strip for a quick obligatory hand shake. Annie caught Coach Dan’s eyes as she spun and retreated back to her cord reel. “Got two this time!” Coach Dan lifted both thumbs up.

“This Francis Pine that good?”

Coach Dan turned in the direction of Jimmy’s question. “Nobody on the team’s been able to beat him.”

Ever?

“That’s right.” Annie’s tone was calm as she unhooked herself from the cord reel. Her pony-tail drooped lazily down her back. “Not in pools, or a DE, even when we practice.”

“Not even Myles.” Coach Dan sounded as if he couldn’t believe the words he was uttering. “Francis beat him in the pools at States last year, knocked him down in the seedings. Myles had to work harder to get to the final, and by the time he got there, he had nothing left.”

Annie looked over her shoulder, saw Francis walking away from the strip, Coach Gavvy talking in excited tones at his side. “He’s always been Bark Bay’s nemesis.” She let go of the cord, which retracted swiftly down into the reel.

Chapter 5 – January 1K

Dr. Schmidt excused himself, turning his attention back to his student Ed. Coach Dan recommended to Jimmy that they check on Annie, who they saw engaged in a bout on the far strip.

Jimmy pointed a thumb behind them as they walked. “Please tell me he’s like that with everyone.”

“Schmidt? Nah, don’t take him personally. He actually has a great sense of humor — can be quite charming once you get to know him.”

“Huh.” A loud buzz from a scoring machine was followed by a referee’s command to Halt. “You mean, once he gets to know you.”

“You’re not being cynical, are you?” There was an exaggerated playfulness in Coach Dan’s voice. “You do know there’s no room for cynicism in this sport.”

They stopped, having reached the strip where Annie was fencing. “I may have been away from this sport for a while, Daniel, but I work with people every day, for years. Customers, employees, suppliers — banquet hall managers.” They watched Annie parry an attack from her taller, stronger male opponent, her riposte landing on his weapon arm, the scoring machine buzzing and illuminating the white off-target light. “I’ve met many good people in my day, and I’ve also met more than my share of people who won’t give you the time of day until they know what you can do for them, or how you threaten them.” The referee waved Annie and her opponent into position on the strip, commanded them to fence. “Schmidt the guy who runs the fencing school?”

“En Garde! Fencing. He’s in the city, been there seven, eight years.”

“Huh.” Annie lunged, her brown pony-tail flying behind her; blades clattered, the scoring machine remained silent as the two fencers retreated a step from the other. Jimmy ponted in Annie’s direction. “Her father’s going back and forth to the city all the time.”

“As do you, my friend.”

Jimmy half-turned in Coach Dan’s direction, and raised an eyebrow. “I already done said I ain’t looking for no job.”

Chapter 5 – January 1J

[This week’s challenge from The Daily Post is to write in the “gonzo journalism” style popularized by Hunter S. Thompson. My current project is not a first-person narrative (and I have no intention of changing my narrative structure just for this challenge), so I’ll attempt to meet this week’s requirements by emphasizing the subjective perspective of the principal character.]

Coach Dan took a step in Dr. Schmidt’s direction, touching lightly on the back of Jimmy’s bicep as he passed. Momentary resistance, then Jimmy rushed to his side.

Dr. Schmidt was talking to one of his students, Ed. Kept Rex from advancing to the state epee tournament last year. Ed’s sweaty hair was matted to his head, his breathing fast and loud. He looked confused, frustrated. “Thought that — was my counter-parry,” huffed Ed, waving in the direction of the fencing strip behind him, then raising a water bottle to his lips with his other hand.

“You were too close,” responded Dr. Schmidt, pointing with both index fingers at Ed. “You did not give ze director ze space to zee your parry!” Coach Dan remembered a cofmment Double-J had made last year, how whenever the coach of the En Garde! fencing academy got excited, he sounded like a second-rate comic hamming it up in a World War II parody.

Hearing the two men approach, Dr. Schmidt turned to face them. It wasn’t until then that Coach Dan had realized how correct Jimmy had been — the good doctor was very white today, from head to toe. Silver hair slicked back like a sheet of ice on his head; white coaching jacket with black stripes on the collar and sleeves; white undershirt, the En Garde! logo (foil, epee, and saber crossing blades over the school name printed in Old English script) printed in black on the chest; light gray track pants, with a double purple pinstripe down the outside of both legs; white sneakers, immaculately clean. Even his pallor seemed paler to Coach Dan today, making his long thin nose seem like a ski ramp on the side of a mountain.

“May I help you, Mr. Jacobs?” Dr. Schmidt sounded annoyed.

Ahuud — Coach Dan swallowed, clearing the mucus from his throat — “excuse me, I wanted you to meet my new assistant.” He looked to his right, saw that Jimmy had indeed followed him. “Jimmy — Dr. Schmidt.”

“Assistant?” Dr. Schmidt extended his right hand in Jimmy’s direction. “I did not know there were any fencing coaches looking for jobs in this area. Did you just move here?”

Coach Dan could feel annoyance emanating from Jimmy like halitosis, as he shook Dr. Schmidt’s hand. “I’m not a coach, and I wasn’t looking for a job. I’m a caterer, and coach here — ” he pointed with his left hand at Coach Dan — “he asked me to help with his team.” He leaned forward, looked squarely into Dr. Schmidt’s eyes, their right hands still firmly clasped. “You good with that, right?”

“Of course!” replied Dr. Schmidt, suddenly releasing Jimmy’s grasp and raising both hands in the air. His face beamed, like sunlight reflecting from a snowy field.

Chapter 5 – January 1I

Jimmy tilted his head in the direction of Pat’s wake, his eyes following as his head remained facing Coach Dan. “Reminds me of my fencing coach, back in the day.”

Oh.” The tone of Coach Dan’s monosyllabic reply invited, nearly demanded a further comment.

Jimmy’s eyes shifted quickly, capturing Coach Dan’s gaze. “He was the reason I got into fecning. And the reason I quit three years later.”

Coach Dan smiled so broadly as to make the thin curls of his black beard seem to straighten, and slapped his right hand firmly on Jimmy’s shoulder. “James, I think we’re going to get along beautifully.”

Jimmy blinked, nodded. “I was talking earlier to that girl, from the Academy.”

Coach Dan released his hand from Jimmy’s shoulder, and squinched his face in thought. Acadmey. Girl. “Jane Harris?”

Jimmy shook his head. “No. Gabby, I think.”

Coach Dan’s eyes widened. “Gavvy?” When Jimmy’s face beamed in recognition, Coach Dan continued before he could speak. “She’s not a student, Jimmy, she’s their coach.”

“Get out.” Jimmy seemed genuinely surprised. “She looks like a kid.”

“Think she’s 25. Graduated from Stanford, couple years ago, started coaching here, the Academy I mean, almost right away.”

“Damn.” Coach Dan noticed Jimmy’s Louisiana accent was becoming more audible. “Whoever she is, she can talk like you’ve got all the time in the world to listen to what she says.”

Coach Dan nodded, looked around them. “So you’ve met Gavvy, and Pat — ” he extended his right arm quickly, pointed behind Jimmy — “you met Dr. Schmidt yet?”

Jimmy turned in the direction Coach Dan was pointing. “That spooky dude all in white over there? What is he, an undertaker?”