The fifth Tuesday
Advance, advance — lift the feet, don’t drag. Advance, retreat, an attack to your four, now a disengage to six — don’t throw your parries, use just enough force to deflect the blade. Riposte, extend, lunge — WHAT GOES FIRST? Get that hand out before the feet start moving!
Annie was already in the cafeteria when Butch arrived at practice. Foil in hand, she appeared to be attacking the wall to the immediate left of the double-door entrance, her brown pony-tail flying behind her with each attack.
“Hey.” Annie stood, feet coming together and her upper body relaxing, pointing with her foil at the area she had been attacking. Using gray duct tape at the borders, she had mounted a laminated white poster, a couple feet square, with a series of concentric, dashed circles, a red dot the size of a golf ball at the center. “Point control.” She resumed her en garde crouch, her eyes focused on the homemade target; extending her arm, she pushed from her back leg, body propelling forward, the blue plastic tip of her foil landing within the bull’s-eye, the blade bending upward in a tight parabola.
The metal doors opened again, Coach Dan and Rune arriving, the team’s remaining equipment sacks over their shoulders. By the time Butch had helped with the unpacking, Rex had arrived as well, along with the frail girl from the week before; she looked at Butch behind a curtain of black hair.
He hadn’t been introduced to her last Tuesday. “My name’s Butch.” He grew uncomfortable as the silent eyes behind the curtain continued staring back at him. He wanted to ask her name, but found himself asking a different question — “Do you have a name?”
“Call her the Bird.” As usual, Double-J’s voice seemed to arrive before his body; the frail girl’s head twitched quickly in its direction. “See?”
Coach Dan’s voice rose above the murmur of several simultaneous conversations, ordering the team to line up. But before he could begin the team’s first drill of the afternoon, the metal cafeteria doors opened with a loud KA-KLACK.
Coach Dan was the only person who recognized the young man who walked abruptly into the room, his arms extended wide and towards the ceiling, eyes beaming and smile glistening but both nearly hidden under a thick, bushy, uneven beard. When Coach Dan called out to him, “Myles!”, he noticed Annie’s eyes widen, her head jerking forward and mouth open in disbelief.
Myles lowered his arms, clapped twice quickly, loudly. “And how does BB High’s fencing team look this year?” He stopped several feet before the line of fencers, everyone still staring at him in surprise. “Rex, Double-J — ” he nodded firmly as he called out each boys’ name, then smirked — “Annie.” He pointed to the boy on her right. “What was it, Rube?”
“Yes yes, Rune. Real name’s Hugh, isn’t it?” Rune rolled his eyes, as a nervous giggle percolated through the team. Myles looked quickly at the Bird, Butch. “Roped in a couple freshman, I see.” Butch opened his mouth, but Myles addressed him before he could speak. “Not sure if you remember who I am.”
Butch’s eyes widened. “You — you used to be Myles, right?”
Myles laughed, shot a quick glance over at Coach Dan. “I’m glad to see this one at least pays attention to you!” He turned back to Butch. “And let me assure you that I am still Myles. Just not the clean-cut Myles you remember as your quarterback, point guard, starting pitcher — and captain of this motley crew of fencers the past two years.” Myles looked back at Coach Dan. “Your team knows how to take a joke, right? That I use the term motley as one of endearment, right?”
Coach Dan blinked, nodded. He did not often respond silently like this, and the team knew him well enough to recognize that it meant something was wrong.
Annie stepped forward from the line. “It’s great to see you, Myles.”
Myles responded in a way which suggested he hadn’t really heard what Annie had just said. “I’m home, for a few days. Helping out my old man. Had some free time, and had a feeling Tuesday afternoon was still the time for fencing practice.”
Annie bounced on her heels, her pony-tail prancing behind her head. “So you’re here to show us what you’ve learned from The Rat?” Mikhail Ratzenbaum was the fencing coach at State.
Myles walked past Annie, towards Double-J. “Haven’t spoken to Ratface since September. Taking a break from fencing, so I can focus on other things.”
“Did you make the football team?” Butch’s question was tinged with anticipation, but not for the quick, icy stare from Myles, who followed instantly with a hyperbolic smile. “Redshirt. Not playing this year. They’re saving me up for next year. But you — ” Myles thrust his right hand in Double-J’s direction — “beaten Francis Pine yet?”
Double-J looked down at Myles’ extended hand. The burly teen then looked back at Myles’ face without moving. “Haven’t competed yet. Think we’re going to the Academy in a couple weeks.”
Coach Dan called from behind the line of fencers. “They invited us for a practice, before the first tournament. I’m hoping we can put in a good showing.”
“The Academy’s tough, real tough.” Myles walked into an open area of the cafeteria, his voice echoing slightly in the large empty room as he spoke. “You sure you’re team’s ready, Coach?”
Coach Dan smiled. “Tell you what. Why don’t you practice with us this afternoon, and find out?”
Annie spoke before Myles began shaking his head. “Come on, Miiiiiiiles. You know you waaaaaaant to.”
Rex stepped forward, grinning. “I still owe you from States last spring.”
Myles opened his mouth to speak, only to be pre-empted by Coach Dan. “You’re outnumbered, my friend. I don’t think you’re going to be able to leave this room without putting on a jacket.”
The reluctance that frosted Myles’ countenance thawed, giving way to a gregarious open-mouthed smile. Even under the cover of his thick unkempt beard, his face bore the confidence that in the previous four years had beamed far beyond the walls of the high school, had shone brightly over the town of Bark Bay, its luminance extending to the region, the state. For this was the bold face of Myles Glossurio, the multi-sport star athlete and honors student of Bark Bay High School, the same Myles who in his junior year had made the surprise announcement that he was taking up fencing — fencing? — yes, fencing, an obscure club sport started the year before by the CP English teacher. Few students, mostly those curious to discover what that metallic sound coming from the cafeteria after school on Tuesday was all about, had even known that the school had a fencing club, but within a year Myles’ magnetic personality, as well as his considerable athletic skill, had brought attention to the sport that Coach Dan, that odd CP English teacher, had hardly imagined. Myles had been only the fifth team member, but by year’s end the team had doubled in size, and at the time of his graduation last spring Coach Dan had a large enough team (two dozen! Larger even than the Academy’s team!) to justify having the team bussed to the regional and State tournaments.
Yes, Myles had indeed returned, in both body and spirit. Coach Dan allowed his concern over the team’s future to give way to the excitement his team showed as they gathered around Myles as he took off his jacket.
In response to Rex’s question, Myles said no, he didn’t have his fencing equipment with him. Annie broke from the circle around Myles, her movements as swift as a messenger delivering a word from on high. She knelt down next to the large olive sack that contained the team’s fencing jackets, began sifting through its contents.
Myles lifted his head, chin pointing in Double-J’s direction. “What’ll it be? Foil, epee, sabre? It’s been a while, like I said, but I think I remember the differences.”
Double-J snorted. “I don’t do foil no more. And don’t even talk to me about epee.”
“Ha!” Annie turned quickly at the sound of Myles’ exclamation, a jacket in her hands. Myles shook his head. “Good to see you haven’t changed, Double-J.”
The Bird said she thought they should do foil. Myles turned to her — “why’s that?” — then turned to Annie, studied the jacket she had found. The Bird continued, explained that he’d admitted not fencing in a while, and that foil was the weapon you use when you’re learning.
Myles turned back towards her, his body suddenly tensing. Annie looked up at him in surprise. Myles narrowed his eyes. “Who — are you, again?”
Annie shook the jacket that she held along with Myles, hoping he would respond to the tug. “She didn’t mean — ”
Myles released the jacket, turned fully towards the frail girl, who stepped back as he approached. “If I’ve forgotten half of what I used to know about this sport, that would still be more than twice what you’ll ever learn.”
Coach Dan intercepted Myles’ advance, placed a cautious hand in front of the teen’s chest. “She was just repeating something I’d told her last week, when she asked about epee. No need to take offense, my friend.”
Myles flicked his head quickly. Made eye contact with Coach Dan. Smiled. “Take offense? How silly would that be. How about, want to fence instead?”
Coach Dan pursed his lips. “Sounds like a good idea to me.”
“YES!” Myles turned quickly towards the team, his arms thrusting wildly into the air. “Let’s all fence today.” He walked briskly to Annie, snatched the jacket from her hands.
Myles lifted his right leg, thrust it through the fencing uniform’s crotch strap, lifted the uniform and plunged his right arm through the sleeve. He turned his face towards Coach Dan. “No room in the athletic budget for new equipment?”
“Not even for new used equipment, my friend.” He motioned for the team to reform the line on the floor they had made earlier. “Barely have enough to send the unis out for laundry every month.”
Myles lifted his right sleeve to his nose, sniffed twice loudly. He grimaced. “Eeeew. Who’s dried sweat is this?”
Rex’s voice boomed dramatically across the empty cafeteria. “What you smell is the sweet odor of my toil.” He stared at Myles, mock challenge on his face.
Myles put his left arm through the sleeve, motioned for Annie to fasten the zipper that ran down the center of the jacket’s backside. “You all really should get your own jackets. Having the zipper on the front makes all the difference in the world.”
Annie ran the zipper up to the back of Myles’ neck, fastened the Velcro attached to the collar. “Jackets are expensive. Most of us can’t afford it.”
Myles turned to her. “Most. An appropriate choice of words, coming from one who’s family is certainly an exception. Yet I don’t see you with your own equipment.”
Annie shrugged. “I might get my own. Haven’t decided yet.”
A broad, mischievous grin snaked across Myles’ lips. “Or is it really your decision? I remember your parents expressing concerns about your being on this team.”
“Don’t — ”
“LINE UP!” Coach Dan followed his command with two loud claps of his hands.
“Drills?” The sound of Myles’ mocking question bounced off the cafeteria walls, as the former captain of the Bark Bay High School fencing team searched through the large canvas sack that contained the team’s oval metal masks. “I’m going to go out on a limb, coach, and say the team’s just about sick of drills by now.”
Nobody agreed, verbally or non-verbally, with the statement. Yet everyone’s face conveyed a sense of expectancy that hadn’t been present earlier.
Coach Dan decided not to buck the tide that Myles had rolled into the team’s practice. “What would you suggest?”
“Games!” Mask in his left hand, foil in his right, Myles followed his shout by walking swiftly into the center of the cafeteria. “You guys done the Wall yet?”
Annie groaned, turned away, but wasn’t able to hide the smile from her face. Rex’s lean body seemed to grow even taller. “The Wall!” he yelled, pointing to the far wall. Rune came up behind him, nodding his head aggressively.
Waving in the direction that Rex had pointed, Coach Dan smiled behind the thin black curls of his beard. “The Wall it is.”