Gray Metal Faces – September 14

If this conversation were to resume, Dan was determined to navigate away from the shoals of crankish opinion. “I heard — some poor kid — missed a field goal?”

Jerry followed obediently, describing the ending of State’s football game yesterday with a level of detail that would have impressed the average journalist. Dan listened with polite disinterest, registered an occassional huh or OK, punctuated with a well-timed wow, to confirm his engagement. The two continued running in the mid-morning sun, following the lead runners as part of the informal, nameless group of fitness enthusiasts that criss-crossed through the narrow streets of Bark Bay every Sunday morning, weather permitting or not.

They passed the digital clock in front of a bank; 9:38, a little more than half an hour into their hourish run.  A right on the next street, up a hill, cross the street to turn left, then a familiar scent of gas, oil and grease came to Dan before his vision caught Lefty’s Garage coming up on their right. Cars parked in front of the closed garage doors with no apparent sense of organization, like toys quickly abandoned in a sandbox by frenetic children. Double-J — the teen worked at the garage, seemed to spend more time at the shop than he did at school. Lefty was Double-J’s foster parent, but Dan had heard the teen had moved out, into an apartment of his own. Ever defiant and disdainful of authority, Double-J would resent the questions Dan would feel obligated to ask at practice on Tuesday. If Double-J shows up. They passed the garage, and Dan spit into the bushes.

“Another — one.” Jerry was now pointing to their left, across the street, Dan recognizing the towering (by Bark Bay standards) of the Episcopal church, before quickly snapping his head down, glaring at the road in front of them.

“My buddy’s — getting married — there.” Hoping for a coincidence, Dan asked Jerry who is friend was. “Wayne — Lafleur. He’s — ” Jerry stumbled, nimbly regained his stride — “plumber. You — know him?”

“Yeah.” Dan continued glaring at the road in front of them. “Good man.”

“He’s marrying — ” Jerry’s breath caught in his throat, exhaustion beginning to gain control.

“Katie.” He saw Jerry pull up, waved and kept running. “Katie Jasinsky.” The wedding would be at the end of October — Dan knew the date, because the invitation had been the second of the three personal letters he had received on Friday.

A square envelope, bulky, his address and the return scripted with calligraphic perfection; he’d turned it over, lifted the flap carefully, the glue releasing its bond. He bent the flap back, pulled out the contents: a reply card with a return envelope, postage paid, fitted behind a single sheet of card stock, a simple border at its edges, a dozen lines of scripted text at the center. The honor of your presence . . .

In many ways the announcement was not surprising, because wasn’t Katie just the latest in a long line of women who had come in and out of his adult life? Katie, a local girl, born and raised in Bark Bay, who would either die of old age in Bark Bay, or a broken heart would kill her much sooner if she moved away. Wayne was a plumber, had his own business –- he would stay.

Dan, though — Katie was not shy about expressing her reservations. You’re not going to want to stay in town, are you? — not a qestion, a prediction. He’d tried to deflect, “I don’t know what I’m having for dinner tonight, how should I know what I’ll be doing in five years?” Katie wouldn’t relent.

You’re too ambitious to stay.

“Everybody has ambitions, Katie. You have your business.”

But some ambitions can be met in town, others can’t. I know I can make a living with cake decoration in Bark Bay, there’s always going to be birthday parties, graduations, weddings, and everyone’s going to want a little something different, it’ll never get old. But teaching – my aunt was a teacher, I remember her talking about how little things changed year to year. Are you still going to want to teach English at Bark Bay High School five years from now?

He passed under the shadow of a tree, broad leaves already golden, and quickly looked up, made sure he was still following the leaders. You’re not like my aunt, Dan – you’re curious, you like to challenge yourself as much as you like to challenge others. How long before you run out of challenges at Bark Bay? He knew he couldn’t argue the point further, just as surely as he knew Wayne would be a far better match for Katie than he. But Dan couldn’t just shrug this off, Katie wasn’t like Gina or Cam or the nameless faces he remembered, the fun times while it lasted, over when the time stopped being fun. Katie was different – not in any specific quality that she had, but in the fact that yes, he had been avoiding the word but couldn’t live in denial any longer, he had loved her, and while part of him wanted her to run to Wayne, to leave him with his independence –

“Hey Coach!”  Dan looked up at the shout, located the voice. Teenage girl, red hair, slightly overweight.. He waved — “OK! See you at practice Tuesday?”

He saw her smile with the unmistakable air of insincerity. “Later, Coach.”

Fencing –- he thought of his conversation with Gandy, as he continued running. He would never have started Bark Bay’s fencing team, or club as it was, absent of Josef’s challenge. But he’d chosen to take up the challenge, it had been his choice to wrestle with the athletic department, get the funding he needed,  make time available for his students, his fencers.

His fencers? An odd choice of word, like they belong to me. Coaching the fencing team had certainly given him a jolt, a thrust of energy to his teaching career that was always threatened with stagnation in a small town like Bark Bay. And with Myles the previous two years the team had flourished, had enjoyed success he hadn’t hoped to imagine.

But Dan knew that had been an unusual stroke of good fortune, a warm week in the middle of winter. Myles was an outstanding all-around athlete, who felt the team sports at Bark Bay High didn’t allow him to fully express his individual ability. Fencing for him was a novelty, an experiment – not his passion.

Dan knew that if fencing were to survive at Bark Bay, it needed to be more than a curiosity. He needed a core group of fencers who were committed to the sport, who got their motivation from within themselves. As much as he enjoyed being the center of attention for fencing at Bark Bay, Dan knew that the team couldn’t be all about him.

He felt himself getting depressed, a feeling that always made him uncomfortable. He needed to escape the memory of Katie, her departure from his life. Of course he’d go to her wedding – but that didn’t mean he was going to send his reply any time soon.

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