Gray Metal Faces – September 9

The fifth Saturday

“A fencing team?” The middle-aged man, nearly the same age as Dan but looking at least a decade older, blinked in confusion. “At the high school?” The man’s arm pointed in the general direction of the front door to the Riverside Gymnastics School.

Sitting in the back row of aluminum folding chairs of the Riverside viewing room, Dan nodded. “I get that reaction a lot, my friend. Perhaps a little less, after Myles joined the team, but you’re — ”

Myles?” Eyes widened in surprise under the shade of a baseball cap’s bill. “You mean, that kid who played quarterback, lead the basketball team in scoring, and pitched a few no-hitters a year? He fenced, too?”

“For a couple years, yes.” He fought the urge to remind him that Myles had graduated. “It’s technically a club, not a team. I usually call them a squad.”

“Is that so?” The man stared back at Dan, as if he’d just been told that aliens had stolen his pickup. Behind him, a large window looked out onto the vast floor of the gym, where over a dozen toddlers followed as best the desperate directions of their beleaguered yet pleasant instructor, a dated rendition of Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush playing over the gym’s loudspeakers. Seated a few seats to the side of the baseball-capped man in the front row, an elderly couple, the only other occupants of the room, had begun to pay attention to the conversation. The man, wearing an orange hunting cap covered with grease and dirt, cleared his throat — “My nephew knows a boy, he’s on the squad.”

“Ah!” Dan’s eyes conveyed a wordless invitation to continue.

“Ankiel. First name’s Ron, or something.”

“Rex?”

The older man shrugged. “Guess so. Lives in that trailer, out on the county road.”

The woman next to him shuddered. “That’s one sad place. I deliver food there sometimes, for the Community Center. Don’t know how anyone can live like that.”

The opening of the door provided a welcome distraction. Dan twisted in his chair, saw a short woman, late forties-ish, an unbuttoned yellow and pink cardigan sweater clearly two sizes too big draped over her shoulders, armless sleeves hanging down her sides; her narrow glasses and immaculate light-brown hair gave Dan the impression of a studious, thoughtful person.

“And how is Gandy this evening?” The newcomer nodded in the direction of the elderly woman’s greeting.

Dan rose from his chair. “Ah yes, Miss Walker. Glad to meet you.” He extended his hand, was surprised by her grip.

“You must be Mr. Jacobs.” Dan was both surprised at her guess and annoyed at not having the opportunity to introduce himself on his own terms. “Gene and Stephanie said you’d be taking Nassie to class today.” His estimation of her quickly diminished.

“One of my students speaks highly of you.” Dan waved in the direction of the large window. “Annie Hutchinson.”

“Oh, Annie!” Gandy waved a hand in front of her bespectacled face. “She was one of my Tumble Bugs, before she could walk.” Suddenly her eyes grew wide with recognition. “Are you — Dan? Coach Dan? From the fencing team?”

He nodded, waved towards the window. “All those lessons Annie took here, she developed some valuable body control skills, really helps with her fencing. She teaches here, doesn’t she?”

“She helps out, when I’m short staff. And sometimes when I don’t, she’ll just come here and practice. Sometimes she brings that — what do they call that sword?”

“Foil, we call it a foil.” Dan blinked. “She brings her foil HERE?”

“Oh not when there’s a class, I’ve told her that. But in between classes, when the gym’s empty – ”

“On the floor, right?”

“Mostly – ”

MOSTLY?

Gandy cleared her throat, looked around at everyone else in the small room before resuming eye contact with Coach Dan. “Well, sometimes she gets on that balance beam, and – ”

Coach Dan turned from her, ran to the window. Off to the right, a row of balance beams, at different heights. None of them currently occupied. “Miss Walker — ”

“Oh please, call me Gandy.” Dan recalled Annie telling him about the nickname, created by her first granddaughter’s failed attempt to say the word grandmother.

“All right, fine.” He inhaled deeply, forcing himself to get the desperation out of his voice. “Please, let Annie know that foils should only be used at fencing practice.”

“I understand.” She pulled the walls of her sweater tight across her shoulders. “I actually don’t see as much of Annie ever since she started fencing. Last fall, I think it was.” She sat in the chair next to where Dan had been sitting; in the gym, exuberant child voices cried over the recording of This Old Man.

Coach Dan nodded, returning to his seat, his face and posture relaxed again. “Yes, that was about when she started. Practicing with the team, that is.”

“You know, when Annie told me she had joined the fencing club at school, I was amazed that Bark Bay even had a fencing team.”

Dan looked back at the baseball-capped man, who grinned in response. “We were just talking about that, how I get that a lot. Bark Bay’s one of the few public schools in the state that has a fencing team, or club. It’s more common in private schools, like the Academy.”

“And this is what – your team’s third year?” The man in the baseball cap seemed to have a renewed interest.

“Fourth, actually.”

“So, tell me — ” a playful smile crept onto Gandy’s face — “if fencing’s so rare in public schools – what on earth ever possessed you to start a team at Bark Bay?”

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