Questions at the Stairs

Try absense of blade this time. “Allez.” Here you go buddy, take that center while I shows yous my entire target area. Hesitates — hasn’t seen this before, doesn’t know what to do. Step forward, he backs up, matching my tempo, this is working perfectly. Attack, here comes the counter don’t flinch, EEEP EEEP. “Attack left, is tooch.” Awesome awesome, got it tied at 4. Not enough to make a noble comeback, going for the WIN.

The coupe conveyed its silent occupants through the town, turning east on the county road, three point two miles past the Gulf station, a house seemingly far too large for its two occupants on the left, the windows dark. The Bird remembered her mother was filming in the city, would be home late — her mouth opening as awareness came to her.

Car tires crunched into the soft gravel of the driveway; hitting a hidden pothole, the car jerked down to the right, splashing the partly unfrozen contents underneath, then righted itself as the vehicle regained level ground. The front door, a second later.

The Bird thanked Double-J for the ride home; he peaked his right cheek, inhaled, kchk. “No problem. Good talking to ya.” Clearing her throat (which she rarely did), The Bird then suggested he come in for a while. She examined his face, saw the briefest glimmer of a smile, then a look of serenity proffered with a conviction that would, she thought, have pleased her thespian mother — “Awright. If that’s what you want.”

His slender passenter unlatched the coupe’ door, swung it open with a push of her right hand without looking. Caught Double-J’s gaze, smiled at him with her eyes. Waited for him to begin exiting, before swining her legs out of the coupe.

She walked swiftly up the front steps, flipped a switch to the left of the door, an overhead light beaming down on her. She turned, saw Double-J approach. Held up a hand. Her face hidden in the shadow formed by the light.

Double-J held his arms up, as if pleading. “What’s up?” So she told him about the afternoon she had called him, at the shop. How she didn’t think he would want to talk to her about the fencing team, how she’d assumed he was done with it. The burly teen nodded up at her — “That’s right.”

The Bird sighed, frowning. Said that’s what she thought, and why she’d assumed he wouldn’t want to meet with her. And nothing he’d said on the phone that afternoon, gave any indication he’d changed his mind. And then — her lips turned up — then, she said, he asked when her mother was bringing in her car for the new brake pads she’d ordered.

His eyes widened, head nodding down to the left. “Figgered since they’d come in — ”

I told you, she continued, that the earliest she could come in was Thursday. Because she was working in the city through Wednesday, would be home late each night. And after I said that, she added, he’d changed the subject back to the fencing team, and all of a sudden he was like sure, I’ll meet with you, but it had to be that day, Tuesday, or tonight, Wednesady. That you were working evenings, rest of the week.

Double-J dipped his head down, closed his eyes. And began to grin. Lifted his head — “I believe you are insinuating — ” opened his eyes, grin spreading — “that I have an ulterior motive.”

A cold brace of March wind whipped against The Bird’s face. Then said she was actually suggesting he was trying to get her to do what he’d wanted.

He nodded. Then raised his palms gently up at her, approached slowely. Lifted his right foot, placed it on the first step. “Seems to me, that all I’m trying to do — is go to that place you’ve always wanted to see me at.”

He waited, looking up at her. The Bird took her hands out of the coat pockets, said she had one more question — was there anything someone could say, anything somebody could do, that could change his mind about the fencing team, make him come back to practice, show up for the regional tournament at the end of the month.

Double-J was shaking his head before she could finish her question. “There ain’t nuthin’ there for me, no more.” And then his left foot raised, landed on the second step, The Bird waiting for him as he continued to ascend towards her.

[“Gray Metal Faces,” March 18]

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