Gandy had not finished her question before Dan had recalled the first of the personal letters he had received yesterday. The large, handwritten block letters on the envelope.
“My fencing coach from college — encouraged me to start a team at the school.”
Gandy pulled the sweater across her shoulders. “Encourage is what I do when I’m spotting a teenage girl on her first dismount from the beam.”
“I’d first thought threatened, but that didn’t seem right. Perhaps challenged, then.” Dan’s memory returned to that reunion on campus six years ago, to celebrate his coach’s retirement (more of a transition in truth, as the college had finally eliminated his position after years of threats, and nobody believed his refusal to continue coaching as a volunteer). Josef Hadik, more frail in body than Dan had expected yet with a face as expressive as ever, was sitting at a large round table in the student union; Dan had approached, convinced Josef would not remember him, not after a lost decade of neglected communication.
He had been partly right. You teacher. Josef’s attention to detail had always been sharp. Where teach? A command, not a question. He’d sat up suddenly, leaned towards Dan. You coach? Dan remembered literally backpedaling, explaining he had just started a new job at this small school in the rural north – School has team? Josef’s words like a sharp thrust to Dan’s six, then disengaging under Dan’s response of no – You start team. In fall, school year start. You — his finger jabbed Dan’s chest — start team. And then he sat down, turned his attention away from Dan like he was a fallen opponent. That had been their only conversation that weekend, and Dan had returned to Bark Bay certain that Josef would forget his challenge just as he had clearly forgotten his former student’s name.
“Tell me — ” Gandy’s inquisitive voice calling Dan back to the present — “about this coach of yours.” It had been years since Dan had told the tale yet the words flowed from him easily, how Josef had emigrated (or escaped, as he often said) from Hungary in his early twenties, fresh from the national sabre team; after running a largely unprofitable fencing school in Detroit for five years, Josef began a modest yet successful career as a college fencing coach. By the time Dan had arrived on campus on a partial scholarship, Josef’s teams had won a dozen conference championships, had sent scores of fencers to regional NCAA tournaments, a few even reaching the nationals, never medaling.
“So you fenced?” The man in the baseball cap’s voice was tinged with wonder, as if he were asking if Dan had found a cure for cancer. “In college?”
“Couple years.” Dan flexed his leg, grimaced. “Blew my left knee out junior year, and when I didn’t rehab properly, the right went as well.”