Patterns – GMF, March 4B

Double-J leaned back, the front legs of his plastic chair rising off the floor. “So don’t worry about me, little bird. I’m doing fine. Never been better, in fact.”

The Bird shook her head, and said she wasn’t worried about him; Double-J responded with the look of a judge who’d lost  patience with an attorney’s argument. It was other people, she explained, other people were worried about him. Not her.

“That a fact?” Nod, Double-J raised his tumbler, saw it was nearly empty, waved the waitress over. Stroked an eyebrow with his thumb — “That checks out. You called about the team, didn’t say nothing ’bout me.”

That’s right, said The Bird. She said she couldn’t explain it, sometimes she would have feelings about people, that they were headed in a certain direction, good or bad. These weren’t like predictions, she didn’t know what was going to happen, but she was convinced that if things didn’t change — her eyes grew big. It’s patterns, she said, I see patterns of behavior, it’s like what Coach Dan says about fencing.

The last statement seemed to fully engage the burly teen sitting across from her. “See what patterns your opponent is following, then find its weak point and exploit it.”

And don’t fall into patterns yourself, The Bird added.

“Be predictably unpredictable.” He snorted a laugh through his nose.

The waitress revisited their table, carrying Doulbe-J’s sandwich and a glass pitcher of Coke. A soothing pop song descended from the ceiling’s loudspeakers, masking the conversations from other tables. Refilling Double-J’s tumber, the waitress left abruptly.

Haven eaten several bites from her salad, The Bird placed her fork back down on the table. There’s something wrong with the team, she said as Double-J tore into his sandwich. It wasn’t just about who showed up at practice — she remembered they had three four strips going two weeks ago, must have been close to a dozen, the two Pauls, OK, Micky and her brother — just about everyone, except Rune.

“Banks?” Nod. “Big loss there.” The Bird flinched at his sarcasm, Double-J responding with a dismissive head shake. “Don’t worry about Banks, his family’s gonna take care of him, like they always have.”

 

Worries – Gray Metal Faces, March 4A

Arm out, take the middle, head cut, he aims at four, EEEP EEEP. “Halt. Together.” Got there first, not gonna win that argument. “Pret. Allez.” EEEP EEEP, another no touch, have to make it more obvious. “Pret. Allez.” He jumped the gun this time, he’s first — attack’s out of distance, no — get him on the arm, tags me on the remise, EEEP EEEP, dammit it’s MINE this time. “Halt. Attack right no, attack left yes.” Good, ref saw it, there’s hope for this bout.

“Sounds like a typical practice.” Double-J drank from his Coke again. “Footwork drills, conditioning — probably did some bouting when Jimmy got tired.”

The Bird protested that it was different, that practices hadn’t been typical, what they used to be, for a while. A lot of people were missing, she said; Rune hadn’t been at practice since the last tournament —

“Ha!” Eyes focused above The Bird’s head, Double-J shook his head. “Heard Banks got his ass kicked at that tournament. Got dumped by his girlfriend, too. Banks is probably sitting at home, licking his wounds.”

The week before, The Bird continued, they were just three other people — Annie, Rex, and Jimmy. “It happens.” The waitress delivered The Bird’s salad. “One practice last year — around this time, it was — it was just me and Myles.” His eyes brightened. “That was actually one of our best afternoons, just the two of us going at it until Myles got tired. Jacobs even managed to keep his mouth shut for once.”

The Bird looked down at her salad, then back up at Double-J. She told him that everyone was worried about him.

“Everyone?” The burly teen leaned his head toward The Bird, his left eyebrow raised.

Well, The Bird admitted, Jimmy was worried, definitely. And Annie. And Rex. They don’t — she paused — understand.

“Why I left the team?” Nod. “Didn’t need it, no more. It’s that simple. Ain’t nothing we do at practice that I ain’t already done dozens of times before, and there’s nobody else for sabre — Jimmy don’t count, he’s been out of the sport a quarter century.”

Across the table, The Bird contemplated his latest statement, then blinked. She said there was a Korean guy —

“Juan?” Nod. “His name’s Joo-won, you know that right? Nah, this town ain’t racist. Yeah, saw his sister at the store the other day, said he’d poked his head back in at practice. But she also told me something else.” He leaned across the table, lowered his voice. “He ain’t going back to you guys. He didn’t like Jimmy, so last week his parents signed him up with Dr. Schmidt.” The Bird recognized the name of the En Garde! club owner, as Double-J leaned back in his chair. “Really isn’t that complicated. There’s nothing on the school fencing team that interests me, any more. And I’m not the only one who feels that way.”

The Bird lifted her fork, placed it back down on the table. She asked if he was going to Dr. Schmidt too.

“That clown?” He seemed anxious to leave the table abruptly. “At least Jacobs has a sense of humor. Schmidt teaches like fencing hasn’t changed in a century. Nah, I’m done with lessons, done with training. Like I told Jacobs last month, if I wanna fence at tournaments I’ll do it, there’s no rule you have to be affiliated. Geri, at Hillcrest, she’s been competing two years, no team or club.”

Lining Up – Gray Metal Faces, March 3A

The previous afternoon

“Look, why he went out there ain’t nobody’s business but his own.” Jimmy Saunders’ voice was terse, proactively dismissive. “All I know, is he called me on Friday, asked me to run practice today.” Tuesdays were typically slow for Jimmy’s catering business.

“It’s just strange, y’know.” Rex stepped up behind Annie, his head a foot higher than the sophomore team captain. “Coach Dan came late some practices last three years, but I never remember him missing one.”

Annie’s eyes widened. “And this, is two weeks in a row! He keeps saying we need to get ready for regionals next week — ”

“That’s right.” Jimmy grabbed the large, bulky canvas sack lying on the floor next to him, raised it to waist level, towards Annie. “Academy gonna be there, so’s Midland, Woolford — all the schools, even some college kids. Daniel said they already got 30 or so in foil — ” he raised his chin towards Rex — “epee, just as many.” His late forties eyes darted across the large, empty cafeteria. “Where’s that Johnson boy?”

“Double-J?” Micky, sitting in a corner across from Big Paul and Coy, looked up, her red hair rising like a campfire. “Stop asking for trouble.”

“He quit the team.” Annie unclenched her jaw as she took the canvas sack from Jimmy. 

Quit?” Jimmy hadn’t asked about Double-J last week, had assumed he was working at Lefty’s. “What kind of nonsense — ” he shook his head as if trying to shake off a buzzing insect — “we ain’t got time for this, none of us. Everybody up!”

At the volunteer coach’s command, Annie pointed her index finger to Coy and Big Paul, curling it forward. Her head then darted to the left — “Butch, The Bird, you too, let’s line up.”
The Bird let Butch walk in front of her as they approached Annie, standing on a border between the floor’s white and black tiles, one of several such lines used by the Bark Bay High School team at the beginnig of team drills. Annie remained at the far left of the line, with Rex on her right, followed by Big Paul, Coy, Butch, and, in her usual and preferred position at the  right end, The Bird. Jimmy took a position in front of the line’s center, several tiles in front.

“All right, all right.” Putting his right foot forward and pointing his left perpendicular to his body, Jimmy then raised his hands to shoulder level and lowered them; all but one team member crouched down into en garde position. Jimmy frowned — “Butch?”

“Oh!” The portly teen with the short crop of tow looked surprised. “Yes, sir?”

“Don’t call me sir. We starting.”

“Oh!” Butch crouched down immediately. “Sorry, s — I mean, coach.”

Jimmy blinked. “Don’t call me coach, neither. Just Jimmy, all right?”

“Oh!” Butch opened his mouth again, then closed it with the sudden wisdom that further words would provide little to no additional benefit.

“All right. Now, like we done last week, just keep distance. Small steps.” Raising the toes of his right foot and then pushing out only a few inches, Jimmy slowly advanced, the team in front of him responding with a retreat nearly in unison. 

The Bird whispered at Butch to move backwards. With a flinch and suppressed oh, he hastily complied.

Making Decisions – GMF, March 2B

A harried waitress (coolant leak, late fall) delivered a pair of menus, double-sided and legal-sized, plastic laminate curling up at the edges. The Bird did not raise her hands to take the menu, and a moment later the waitress laid it on the table in front of the frail teen before hurrying back to the kitchen.

“Know what you want?” The Bird replied that she’d never eaten here before; Double-J grunted, jabbed his finger at a line about a third of the way down on her menu. “Chicken parm’s pretty good — ”

The Bird replied that she didn’t eat meat. “Didn’t know you were vegan.” She replied that she wasn’t a vegan, she just didn’t like the taste of meat. “That so?” Nod.

Double-J wiped the back of his right hand across his black moustache. “They got an eggplant parm too.” The Bird asked if it was good; Double-J shrugged. “Dunno. Never had it.” He then leaned forward across the table. “Don’t like the taste of eggplant.”

The Bird blinked, looked down at the menu again, finally deciding that she had enough money for a salad (Double-J telling her he’d never had a salad here, but said he’d heard they were good) and a glass of water. Double-J considered ordering the chicken parm, but the peckish impulse overruled the puckish and he ordered his usual — “Italian sausage, no onions. And a Coke.”

“Diet?”

Double-J glared back at the waitress’ question. “No, regular — ” he leaned back in his chair, pated his round belly — “Like being fat.”

The waitress left, slightly embarassed but even more annoyed. The Bird told Double-J that she didn’t think the waitress had been insulting him; the burly teen ran his left hand back across the thin black wires of his hair. “Might not’ve been what she was thinking, but it was in the back of her mind.” He wave his right arm in a sweep across the restaurant’s dining area. “Everybody in this town, think they’re so polite ‘cuz of not saying what’s on their mind. But really, it’s just dishonesty, putting up false pretenses. Five thousand people, all just putting on a show, saying one thing but acting entirely different. Seems to me, Bark Bay needs more people like me, calling people out.”

The Bird then asked if that was the reason he’d agreed to meet with her, to call her out; Double-J snorted. “Nah. Nothing personal, but seems to me you’re pretty harmless.” The waitress arrived, handed him his Coke, left briskly. “Honestly, my first instinct when you called me last night, said you was worried about the fencing team — ” she nodded quickly, head bobbing in the fashion Double-J remembered from that practice in the fall when he said she moved like a bird — “wanted to say, sorry but that ain’t my concern no more. I’m done with team, done with school, and with any luck, done with this damn town come summer.” He raised the plastic tumbler of Coke to his mouth without looking, stopping as the translucent plastic straw struck him in the cheek; he snatched the straw with his other hand, threw it down, drank deeply as tiny pools of brown carbonated liquid formed around the straw 0n the table.

The tumbler was half-empty when he turned his attention back to The Bird. “Don’t really know what changed my mind — guess I decided to find out if everyone’s still as messed up as they were when I left.” He smiled, contorting his face in a way which made his dark moustache seem to frown. “So, tell me, my avarian friend. What’s on your mind?”

The Bird cleared her throat, and with eyes looking down at the table, began to speak.

A Faulty Door – GMF, March 2A

The second Wednesday

“Mind closing that door?” The shaven head of Henry Jennings scowled from the dim yellow rectangle of a kitchen window along the back wall of the Pizza Place, his annoyance amplified at his recognition of the young man who had just entered his restaurant.

Double-J frowned, his shoulders suddenly rising as a cold March gale blasted through the partially closed door behind him. “How many times I gotta tell ya to fix that damn hinge?”

“Jesus! You don’t — ” a telephone rang in the kitchen, Henry turning quickly to its sound as if in relief. A couple whom Double-J didn’t recognize had risen from their chairs before Double-J arrived, were now putting on their plump winter jackets as they walked towards the door. Double-J stepped aside, made contact with the man (late-twenties, the soft face and careful grooming of a professional), raised his right hand and pointed with his thumb behind his shoulder.

“Just give it a good pull, on your way out.” The young man nodded, the smiling woman behind him thanking Double-J as they passed, the man opening the door fully (the PLEASE SHUT DOOR sign on its front catching Double-J’s eye) and letting his companion walk out first, then pulling on the door handle without looking behind him, the glass barrier to the late winter evening shutting with a heavy klumpf.

Grinning, Double-J cast his gaze across the Pizza Place’s dining area. A row of booths, two at the side near the front door and three on the far side, bookended six smaller square tables, each with two plastic chairs, arranged in no particular sense of order. Nearly every table was occupied, Double-J recognizing many people as customers of Lefty’s, the garage where he worked — elderly man with white hair and dark eyebrows (brake job in November, fronts were just about gone but rears could wait until spring) sitting at a booth with two happy toddlers; woman in her forties (Mallory? Marjie? Worked at a bank) reading a newspaper while chewing on a breadstick; two middle-aged men in flannel, faces dirty with grease (one facing the front might’ve been in for his transmission, last month); another couple he didn’t recognize —

She was sitting at a table, toward the back wall. Alone, a fact Double-J found hardly surprising. Strait, shoulder-length black hair curtaining down the sides of her face, which started with blank concentration at the red and white checkered tabletop, empty save for the small metal napkin dispenser and condiment jars. If Double-J hadn’t known she had asked for this meeting, he’d have assumed she was there to enjoy the sensation of being ignored.

The burly teen shuffled past the tables and chairs, stopping behind the empty chair in front of the table at which sat this frail girl who seemed to have too many names (Kassie, Sandy, The Girl Whose Mother Was In Those Stupid Sav-Anna Commercials) and had now adopted the one he had given her as a joke during that fencing practice in the fall. He waited for her to acknowledge his presence; seeing no reaction, he cleared his throat audibly, her eyes finally raising to meet his.

“Do I call you Bird — or, The Bird?”

The Bird’s attempt at a smile failed, like a candle wick that would’t light. She said it was not up to her what name people used to address her.

“Huh.” Double-J pulled out the empty chair, sat quickly. “You order yet?” The Bird shook her head. “Hungry?” Nod.

Pret – Gray Metal Faces, March 1A

Grab the metal adapter, pull the cord out from its reel. Attach to rear of body cord, fasten clasp, hook onto rear plastic loop. Attach front of body cord to weapon. Find end of mask cord, clip it onto mask.

“Test please.” Approach opponent at center of strip, tap each other’s masks. EEEP, EEEP. Step back to start line, point weapon above opponent’s head, bring it down SWOOSH, repeat for director. Put on mask, crouch down. “En garde. Pret.” Probably the only French this guy knows. “Allez.”

Back to “Gray Metal Faces”

Later today, I’m resuming my work on my novel, Gray Metal Faces, by drafting mostly new material for the seventh chapter, which will be set in March. It’s been almost a year since my drafting work ended for chapter 6, and while I enjoyed the labor of revising the first four chapters at the end of last year, I’m looking forward to advancing my narrative further.

As usual, I’m starting with only a rough outline and a vague notion of what I’m trying to accomplish in this chapter. Drafting is an exploration, an investigation; if I come out of this with more questions that need to be addressed in a revision than I do with answers settled in the draft, I’ll consider this activity successful.

But I will be changing the pace of my drafts somewhat. In the past, I’ve started a chapter draft or revision and stuck with it, every day, until I was finished; it’s a good discipline, but this approach takes time and energy away from other blogging activity, such as reading and commenting. My goal this time is what I call a 5/2 schedule — five days of Chapter 7 drafts, and two days of other activity. (And of course I’m writing every day, since not writing for me is like not brushing my teeth — I’m not going to fall apart if I miss a day, but I’m not going to feel good about myself.) That schedule should help me avoid that uncomfortable solipsistic feeling that comes with focusing exclusively on my own work.

Well then — enough with the metadiscourse. Time to return to Bark Bay, and see where my team of high school fencers leads me to next.

Commenting Boot Camp, Day 4

The Commenting Boot Camp assignment for today is to attempt respectful disagreement, which I interpret as commenting in a way that engages rather than enrages (I know I used that same line a couple-few days ago, but I rather fancy it, thank you very much). Took the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone, and came across an artile on David F. Watson’s blog about a Christian response to The Fraud — simply can’t bear to use his name, but it should be clear of whom I refer. I detected a tone of cynicism that I didn’t think the author intended, and posted my observation in a comment. Curious to see if this is the start of a conversation.