Parental Professions

[More background material for the novel courtesy of a prompt from The Daily Post, Oil, Meet Water — how two people completely unlike each other get along]

“My dad works at the fire department.” Sitting on the floor of the Bark Bay High School cafeteria, Butch twisted his round body in the direction of The Bird, the slender girl sitting next to him looking increasingly uncomfortable with every word spoken by the tow-headed teen. “He’s a deacon, too, at First Baptist. When people ask him what he does, he usually tells them he’s a deacon first, then a fireman, even though he doesn’t get paid for it.”

Compelled by her confusion, The Bird asked if his father was a volunteer fireman.

“Oh! No, the town doesn’t have no volunteer firemen.”

The Bird blinked, and said he must have meant his father didn’t get paid as a deacon. Butch squinted at her. “None of the deacons get paid.”

Speaking much more quickly than usual, The Bird said her mother was an actress.

“Oh!” He stared up blankly at the ceiling a moment. “Well, I guess everyone’s got to make a living. My dad, he says he doesn’t like actors. Said movie stars, all they do is swear, fornicate, and do drugs.”

The Bird assured Butch that her mother had never been in any movies, even when she’d lived in Los Angeles, before The Bird was born.

“Oh!” Butch scratched his head. “So, what does your father do?”

The Bird said she didn’t know who her father was. Her mother met him in Los Angeles, but left him right after getting pregnant. All The Bird knew about her father was that he worked at a movie studio.

“Oh! So, why’d your mother leave him?”

Because of the swearing, fornicating, and drugs.

“Oh!” Butch shook his head. “For real?”

The Bird smiled, and said she was joking.

Secret

[Back to the NaBloPoMo prompts for today’s post: what knowledge do you have that others don’t? Another opportunity to develop background material for my novel.]

“So I’ve been doing some research.” Rune retrieved a spiral notebook from his backpack, and placed it on the green tabletop. “I’ve been asking everyone the same question — what do I need to work on to improve my fencing?” He looked down as he flipped the notebook cover open, began flipping through the marked pages. “I was going to ask Coach Dan the same thing, but then I looked at what you all had said — ”

“What you wrote down, you mean.” The bitter smile on Double-J’s bearded face spread like a virulent disease. “what you thought we said.”

Sitting to Rune’s right, Annie reached over and tapped the opened notebook. “What have you got?” Across the table, Rex leaned his thin body forward, as Double-J retained his reclined pose.

“Well — ” Rune pointed his thumb at Annie — “you told me to work on my footwork and balance.”

Annie nodded enthusiastically, her brown pony-tail dancing behind her head. “You fence with your feet.”

Rune withdrew his thumb, and waved his open left hand towards Rex. “And you said I was getting too close.”

“Don’t close the distance, let your opponent make the mistake.”

Rune’s left hand closed in a fist, as his right index finger pointed diagonally across the table at Double-J, who had looked away. “But then you said my point control sucked.”

“It’s a foil, not a tennis racket.” Double-J was still focused away from the table. “Your arm’s all over the place, like you’re being attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes.” His head shifted, his eyes focused back on Rune. “You look like you don’t — ”

“OK.” Annie’s voice had her that’s enough tone. She touched Rune’s right forearm. “Fencing’s difficult. We all struggle, get frustrated.” She lifted her chin across the table at Rex. “Remember your first epee tournament?”

Rex tilted his head back swiftly, his long thin next looking like it would snap from the force. He laughed. “One touch in the pools.” He raised his right index finger, as thin as an exclamation mark. “One!

“And Double-J, when — ”

“No.” The burly teen shook his head in Annie’s direction, the thin black wires of his hair seeming to stand on end as if electrified. “No.”

Annie frowned. “It took me a year to realize I could use my dance training to my advantage on strip.” She paused, waited for Rune to return her smile. “There’s no secret to fencing, nothing we’re trying to hide from you. Everything we all said is true, and if pulling that all together sounds overwhelming, well, like I said, it’s a difficult sport.” She squeezed his forearm. “But it’s that difficulty that makes it so great. And when you figure it out, make all the pieces parts fit together — solve the mystery of your own secret — you’re not going to have to ask anybody what you need to do next. You’ll know what the questions are, and how you’ll discover the answers.”

Invitation

[Another day, another response to a Daily Post prompt: Bad Signal

The voice on the message unmistakably belonged to my former husband, but his words were undetectable. He sounded weak, unsure of himself as his mutters percolated in my ear; I could only make out the word collier before he paused, and \collected himself.

“I’m sorry.” There was, however, no hint of apology in his voice. “I should’ve told you months ago. Bye.”

I pressed the power button on my phone, locking the screen. And for a moment, gave serious consideration to calling him back, allowing myself to be pulled into the latest of his melodramas.

“You coming to lunch today?” I looked up at the sound of Raphael’s voice, saw his bright face leaning into my cubicle, his right foot half-way past the entrance.

I lifted my purse, slid the phone into an outside pocket, and rose from my chair. “Sure.”

The Glove

[A response for today’s prompt on The Daily Post, Let It Be ]

“It’s OK.” Annie accepted the fencing glove from Butch’s extended hand. “I don’t care if you use it, when I’m not.” She slid her right hand into the glove, its long white sleeve extending from her wrist down to the lower third of her arm, OWEN written in faded black marker across the back of the wrist. It was one of only three right-handed gloves (all purchased from second-hand sporting goods stores with Coach Dan’s personal funds) owned by the Bark Bay High School fencing club; The Bird and, when he was at practice, Juan shared the only left-handed glove, another second-hand purchase from their coach.

“It’s starting to rip, on one of the fingers.” Butch touched the back of his right index finger.

Annie nodded, as she placed the black metal mask onto her head. “I know.”

“So why do you like it?” Outbursts of confusion weren’t unusual from Butch, but this tone was different, bewilderment replaced with confrontation. “Why don’t you just get your own?”

Anger flared in Annie’s eyes a moment; she hated having to defend what she saw as her accident of privilege. She lifted the back of the wrist up to Butch’s round face. “Because whoever this OWEN was, she or he knew how to disengage, with the fingers. That’s why the glove’s worn on the back of that finger. And every time I see that worn spot, it reminds me to use proper technique.”

She pulled the mask over her face, words spitting out at Butch from behind the black metal. “So from my perspective, this glove’s fine like it is.”

Three

Competition season should finally start tomorrow. This one’s a large tournament in Canada, at Brock University outside of Toronto — my first international meet. Doubt I’ll be pulled in to officiate at this one.

Got my goals down to three single words:

Compete — push myself to get the most out of my abilities and skills. Always fight for the next touch, regardless of the current score.

Learn — come up with a plan, execute it, and observe what about it works. Identify the flaws in my game. Make adjustments as the day progresses, to give myself the best opportunity for success.

Enjoy — appreciate the fact that at 52, I’m able to compete with athletes who are only a few years older than my children. And don’t just compete with them; interact with them. Fencers are the most creative, intelligent, wonderfully offbeat people I’ve ever known, and being part of this culture brings me much satisfaction.

No goals regarding wins, touches, placement, or indicator. At where I’m at now in my fencing career, those kinds of foci lead to frustration. I’m going to lose a lot of bouts tomorrow — but if I can stay focused on my three goals, this can be a very positive step forward.

No Aloha

[Today’s NaBloPoMo prompt is to describe a place “you would never want to go on vacation that other people seem to love.” Another good opportunity to develop background material for my novel.]

“No thanks.” Annie, Rune and Rex weren’t even aware that Double-J had been listening to their conversation. “Jane Harris can go to Hawaii as many times as she’d like, but I wouldn’t go if you paid me.”

The three other members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team turned their full attention to the burly teen, who continued placing his equipment back into the team’s canvas sacks. On the other end of the cafeteria, Coach Dan continued working Butch and The Bird through footwork drills.

“Got a problem with warm weather?” Annie folded her arms across her chest.

Double-J continued stuffing his equipment into the sacks. “Who said anything about the weather? Just don’t see the sense chasing after the herd. Everybody’s so ga-ga about Hawaii, maybe that’s why the cost of living’s so high over there.”

When Rune asked him how he knew that, Double-J finally looked up, indignation painted on his bearded face. “Jesus, you ever pay attention to anything important?” He stood, placed his hands on his hips. “You enjoy having your interests programmed into you, like you’re some damn robot?” He stared up blankly at the cafeteria ceiling, stiffened his body. “Hawaii — beautiful — must — go — there.” He was moving his arms up in down in quick, short, alternating thrusts. “What — else — should — I — believe.”

“Jane says its paradise.” Rex sounded sincere. “And she’s been there, couple times. Doesn’t her opinion count?”

Double-J stopped his robotic pantomime, and leaned a sarcastic smile at Rex. “I care even less about her opinion than I do her fencing.”

Ode to my Limits

[The concept for today’s prompt from The Daily Post, Literate for a Day, is that someone, or something, that you can’t communicate with can somehow read your writing for one day. And in the spirit of NaBloPoMo, I’m going to try something very different (at least for me) — a poem.]

The invisible barriers of your sentinel strength
provide safety within my anxious comforts.
I don’t know whether I should apologize or thank you for your service.

Ambition wants to race past you like a student ending the school year
While caution looks to you like a trusted advisor who’s wisdom never fails.

You preclude the search for new possibilities like a dense fog in the night.
But as one steps into the fog, images become visible in the clearing beyond.
It is in the knowing of you that the truth of what lies past your barriers becomes known.

Cancellation

[Switching back to The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge, Oh, The Irony, for this post]

“They can’t make it.” Coach Dan scanned the pool of disappointed faces surrounding him. “Coach Simons left me a message today, said there was a mixup at the Academy, the bus they thought they had for the trip was already in use for the soccer team. Make-up game. So, no scrimmage today.”

He was certain the first sound he’d hear in response to the news would be a dismissive snort from Double-J, moaning frustration from Annie, a gentle sigh of disappointment from Rex, a sarcastic laugh from Rune. Perhaps even The Bird, who had become more confidently vocal at the last few fencing club practices, would be the first to ask a question. He certainly didn’t expect Butch to speak first.

“Well.” Butch rubbed his round stomach. “Guess that’s ironic.”

“No it isn’t.” Annie reached back and pulled the band that held her ponytail, her brown hair cascading over her shoulders. “That’s not what it means.”

Double-J laughed, walked away from the semi-circle the team had formed. Butch stared back at Annie, defiance in his round face. “They were the ones who wanted to scrimmage, and now they’re the reason why we’re not having it. That’s what irony means.”

“Think what she means — ” Rune wiped his greasy curls from his forehead — “is there’s more to irony than something not working out the way you expected. It has to be like, you know, they told us not to be late — ”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” Rune’s confused look made it clear he didn’t understand Butch’s protest. “How could we be late, if we were already here?”

Rune shook his head, and looked back at Annie. Coach Dan noticed everyone’s attention had turned toward her. She wore her annoyance like an uncomfortable overcoat, as hands moved swiftly behind her head and pulled her hair through the band, then came forward, her pony-tail coming to attention again. “I think we need to start practice now.”

The Miracle

[My response for today’s NaBloPoMo Prompt — a favorite holiday memory. Once again, I’m using the prompt to further develop my novel’s background story.]

The brake lights on Coach Dan’s hatchback blared redness onto the black pavement of the Bark Bay High School parking lot, the light quickly vanishing as the car accelerated into the street, leaving Annie and Rex alone at the curb. The unusually warm January evening had made their coach more willing to accept Annie’s argument that he should go, they’d be fine waiting for her mother to pick them up, she always picked her up after fencing practice, and yes Rex’s home was on their way, no problem dropping him off.

As coach’s car disappeared, Annie looked up at the tall teen, his angular face seeming thinner than usual when framed against the winter night sky. She was about to ask him about the captain’s position on the team, why he’d turned it down, offered it to her —

“Did your family have a good Christmas?” She didn’t see his lips move in the darkness, but the low rumbling tone of his voice was distinctly his.

“Oh!” She licked her lips. “Uh — yeah. It was . . . we had fun. Yes.”

She saw Rex nod, and the shadow of a smile creep over his face. “Really appreciated that party your family threw for the team.”

“Thanks.” It had been the party where she’d been offered, and eagerly accepted, the captain’s job. “My family loves having holiday parties. We had another one, week after the one you all were at, only it was bigger.”

“Huh.” Annie heard something in Rex’s voice, a tone she hadn’t detected when he spoke earlier. It didn’t sound like a conversation filler, a barely articulate command for her to continue speaking; it almost sounded dismissive, like she’d just upset him. And her eyes widened as, you doofus, the memory came to her of the dilapidated trailer where Rex lived with his invalid mother and three younger sisters.

She wanted to apologize, but he preempted her again. “Me and my family, we just had a quiet time at home.” It wasn’t like him to lead conversations like this; he was more of a listener than a talker. But that upset tone in his voice was gone. “My uncle, he borrowed us a tree his family didn’t want no more.” Loaned — ANY more. She forced herself to remain silent. “Had some gifts, most ’em from my uncle, course. My mom, she said she’d saved some money — ”

“How is she?” The memory of her sliver-haired father giving Rex his doctor’s business card flashed in her mind.

“Sick.” His voice sounded distance. “She couldn’t get up, we had to open the presents in the bedroom.” He snorted a laugh. “Not like last year.”

Annie wasn’t sure she liked where the flow of this conversation was heading, but she felt unable to fight against its current. “What happened last year?”

BEEEP! It suddenly came to Annie that she’d heard the distinctive sound of her mother’s Cadillac coming down the street, but had ignored it until the horn sounded. She turned to her right, waved in the direction of the two powerful headlights, which quickly swerved in their direction.

She looked up at Rex again, and this time his face was washed in brilliant luminescence, the headlights beaming onto him like a spotlight on a movie star, and he was smiling with an unabashed happiness he had never seen from him.

“She walked.” He looked down at her in wonder, as the beams of the headlights left his face. “It was Christmas morning, the girls had gotten me up before dawn to look at the presents in our stockings, and we heard this voice behind us, like an angel’s, Good morning!” The Cadillac pulled up to the curb, and Annie heard the driver’s window pull down. “And we turned around and it was her, mother, her face full of color and hair combed straight, looking like she’d never been sick a day in her life.”

“Is she OK?” Annie waved a quick hand at her mother, but Rex didn’t seem to notice her question.

“It was — ” Rex looked up into the dark night sky, as if he could find the words he was looking for in the stars — “a miracle.” He looked back down at Annie, who saw his eyes welling. “It was — the best Christmas. Ever.”

The Offer

[My response for today’s NaBloPoMo Prompt — a pitch from a fictional organization I’d love to work with. As I hope to do with all my daily posts, I’m switching the prompt a little to make it part of my novel’s background story.]

“Nothing, Jimmy.” Dan Jacobs looked over at his friend passively, as the two men sat on the floor of the Bark Bay High School cafeteria, their backs pressed to the short wall behind them, their knees propped in front of them. “I don’t have anything to offer you as my assistant coach. Other than the chance to work with these young people.”

Jimmy shook his head, blew air through his lips. “And do what, Daniel? Tell them what I remember from my fencing days?” He closed his eyes, tilted his head back so it hit the wall lightly. “Twenty years, my man. Twenty!”

“What I saw out there tonight, during practice — ” Dan waved a hand in the direction of the empty cafeteria floor — “was someone who knew the fundamentals. Balance, distance, tempo. The conversation, Jimmy. If that’s what you remember about fencing, that’s all they need to learn.”

Jimmy’s eyes were still closed, his head resting against the short wall. Dan tapped his left forearm with the knuckle of his left index finger. “‘sides, it’s not about what you did back then, that’s important. It’s what you’ve done with your life since then — who you are now, the kind of man you’ve become — that’s what I want these kids to see.”

“A role model?” Jimmy’s head lurched forward, his eyes widened, a sarcastic grin ripping across his face. “Well in that case, you’d be paying what I’m worth on that account.”

“Nah, nothing so obvious. The kids would reject you if you tried to play role model with them. Just be yourself, whatever the hell that means. They’ll respect that.”

“Huh.” Jimmy closed his eyes again, and leaned his head back against the wall.