Caring, More or Less

[An essay on semantics from LionAroundWriting has inspired me to write about one of my linguistic pet peeves.]

“Francis?” Rex shrugged his shoulders, the action on his tall slender frame resembling a coat hanger being pulled straight up. “Thought he didn’t fence saber.”

Annie tugged a glove onto her right hand, its sleeve extending several inches down the forearm, covering the jacket sleeve. “He’s beaten just above everyone in the state in epee, and foil. Guess he’s looking for a new challenge.”

“Huh.” Rex pulled a mask down from the top of his head, covering his face, voice now muffled through the tight gray metal mesh. “Good for him. Me, I could care less.”

“Couldn’t.” Annie stopped preparing for practice, stared intently up at Rex. “You couldn’t care less.”

Rex nodded, confusion evident on his caged face. “Yeah, that’s right. Don’t matter to me, if he does saber.”

“So why’d you just say you could care less?” Annie’s left arm hung down her side, fencing mask dangling loosely from her hand as if she were about to let it drop.

Rex lifted the mask off his face, resting it back on top of his head. “What — ”

“You said you could care less.” Annie now grasped the mask firmly, pointed it up at Rex. “But you meant, you couldn’t care less.”

Rex blinked. Frowned. “OK. Couldn’t care less. Got it.” He raised a hand up to his mask, but as he grabbed its cloth bib to pull it back down over his face, stopped himself. “Can I ask, why you care?”

Annie had already masked her face. “I don’t care. Just thought you should know, that what you said, isn’t what you meant.”

“But you knew what I meant anyway, right?”

Annie’s face froze behind its protective fence. “Perhaps — ” the sound of thin metal blades colliding on the strip behind them bounced off the tiled floor of the cateria — “we should start fencing.”

With a smile of relief and just a hint of victory, Rex pulled his mask back down.

Maybe, Part 3

[Concluding my response to Wednesday’s Daily Post prompt]

Coach Dan cleared his throat. “Don’t worry about Stu. Yeah, he’s disappointed the team doesn’t have the numbers it had the last couple years, but we’re also pretty self-sufficient. Only money we need is for sending the jackets out to the laundry.” The corners of his mouth stretched back into an expression that resembled neither a smile nor frown. “But, this conversation isn’t about numbers, is it?”

Annie exhaled, but did not flinch. “All right, it’s not.” Coach Dan nodded. “It’s not just that we need Rune here — and really, we do — but it’s important for him to be here too. He’s been acting, I don’t know, really strange lately. I’m worried about him.”

“I see,” Coach Dan tilting his head back, the thin metal sounds of the bouting near them all but ignored.

“It’s all the maybes that worry me.” Annie bit her lower lip. “If he’d say no, or said he needed a break like you were just saying — yeah I’d be annoyed, really, but I wouldn’t be worried. But, the maybes. It’s like he doesn’t really know what he wants, and worse, he doesn’t care. Like he’s drifting on a river, letting the current take him wherever it will, rather than swimming.” She shook her head, arms folding across her chest. “What happens if the current pushes him towards some rocks, or a waterfall, and it’s too late for him to break free of the current?”

At the far end of the cafeteria, one of the two large metal doors ka-kalcked open. A moment later, the angular figure of Rex walked in. Annie turned, waved a smile in his direction. In the center of the large room, Micky and Butch drew their bout to a close.

“Go fence,” Coach Dan’s voice gently commanding. “Rune has a few classes in rooms near mine tomorrow. I’ll catch his attention, come up with some reason for him to see me after school.” His black beard grinned. “And I won’t let him say maybe.”

Her eyes brigthening, Annie nodded, then turned to accept the fencing mask offered by Micky.

Maybe, Part 2

[Continuing yesterday’s response to a Daily Post prompt]

“Don’t be so quick to judge, my friend.” Arms folded across his chest, Coach Dan watched Annie, the gymnast and ballerina who had stumbled onto the fencing team’s practice last year and taken to the sport like a lion closing on its prey, as she sorted through the canvas sack of masks. “Not everyone — ”

“MICKY!” Annie’s head swiveled over her right shoulder, in the direction of the makeshift fencing strip (one of many large rectangles of white tile among the black-tiled surface of the cafeteria floor) where the senior was about to begin a practice bout with Butch. The two students froze. “Micky, you wearing my mask?”

McKay Morgan came out of her fighting stance, lifted the front of her mask onto her head, exposing a face whose defiance chased away the lingering shadow of embarassment. “Don’t see your name nowhere on it, and you weren’t — ”

“No, it’s cool.” Annie, who had taken a few steps in the direction of her friends, now waved her hands dismissively, her voice softening. “I just — wanted to make sure it didn’t get left behind in the furnace room.” Clasping her hands behind the small of her back, Annie nodded at Micky, then Butch; after a curt “go ahead,” she then turned back towards her coach.

“As I was saying — ” Dan Jacobs, English teacher at Bark Bay High School and volunteer fencing coach, tilted his head down at Annie — “not everyone shares your passion for this sport.” He waved an arm toward the strip behind Annie. “This is the first time Micky’s been to practice since when, November?”

“But she’s always been like that.” Annie tilted her head back, heard the ting of colliding thin metal, a squeal of delight from Micky. “Never been to any tournaments, even when Myles was here. Rune’s different, he’s been competing all year — ”

“And so maybe he needs a break.” Coach Dan sounded indifferent. “Been in this sport longer than you, my friend, I see this all the time. Sometimes the best thing a fencer can do, is to take some time off.” He raised his right hand, tapped a finger on his temple. “Fencing can be just as mentally taxing as it is physically — surely you know that?” He waited for Annie to nod. “Rune will — ”

“We have three people tonight.” She pointed behind her without looking, eyes still arguing with her coach. “Every Tuesday, we have no idea who’s coming, who’s staying away.” She swallowed. “You had that talk with Stu yet?”

Coach Dan was unable to keep himself from frowning upon hearing the name of the school’s athletic director.

[To be continued, for at least one more day]

Maybe

[Been a while since I’ve responded to a Daily Post prompt.]

February — the third Tuesday

Coach Dan stroked his short black beard. “So, what’d he say?”

“As little as possible.” Annie reached behind her head, pulled her brown pony-tail up as Butch, standing behind her, zipped and fastened her white fencing jacket. “No committment, not a yes or no. Just, maybe.” Feeling her teammate finish his work, she let the brown mane fall down her back.

“Rune said the same thing to me, yesterday.” Butch walked from behind Annie, faced their coach. “I was like, you coming to practice tomorrow — ” concern slapped onto his round face — “I mean, today, not tomorrow, because I was speaking to him yesterday — ”

“And he said maybe to you as well?”

“Oh!” The rotund teen stared up at the ceiling a moment. “Don’t remember exactly what he said — maybe it was maybe — ”

Annie laid a hand on his shoulder. “But, he didn’t say yes, or no, did he?”

Butch stared back at his team captain. Blinked. “I don’t remember.”

Coach Dan pointed past Butch’s left shoulder, towards the center of the cafeteria floor. “Looks like Micky’s ready for you.” As if late for an appointment, Butch turned and hustled to the area of white tile where the senior stood waiting.

“I don’t get what’s going on with him.” Annie had resumed the tone she had used when discussing Rune. “Ask how he’s feeling, and he’s like, I dunno,” her voice dropping a mocking octave. “If he’s competing at the Academy tournament Saturday — maybe. How’s the family — fine, I guess.” Shaking her head, the sophomore reached down into the sack containing the team’s masks.

[To be continued]

The Goodman Family

For my novel, I’m making some changes to one of my central characters, Butch. His character data remains essentially the same (he now has an assigned hobby), but his family, specifically his parents, are now different.

Butch’s biological mother, Polly, died thirteen years ago, when he was two. Unlike his seven older siblings, Butch has no memories of Polly. She was killed by a gunshot wound suffered in the woods outside the Goodman’s home; Butch has been told by his father, Cyrus, that the shooter’s identity has always been a mystery. Thirty-nine at the time of her death, Polly had been a stellar basketball and track athlete at the seminary college where she had met Cyrus.

Two years after Polly’s death, Cyrus married Faith, a former parishioner and daughter of a Bark Bay policeman and nurse. Much younger than Cyrus, younger even than the two eldest Goodman children, Faith is 31 at the time of the novel, and has no children of her own. She is 5′ 8″ (like Polly, notably taller than Cyrus), 135 lbs., and while she appears slender and graceful she is actually quite clumsy. Faith volunteers with several charities associated with her husband’s church.

Cyrus and Polly had five sons:

  • Asher (32), who lives in the city and works as a surveyor
  • Levi (29), who has been in trouble with the law since his teen years, and now works in a Bark Bay convenience store
  • Simeon (26), who lives at home
  •  Naphtali (20), a seminary student
  • Benjamin (16), who has always been called Butch

All five sons are active hunters, and were taught how to track and shoot from their father, who has not fired a gun since Polly’s death.

The three Goodman daughters:

  • Dinah (31), who fled the Goodman home immediately after Cyrus and Faith were engaged; now married and living in the city, she is completely estranged from the family
  • Rebecca (27), a stay-at-home mother to three children and wife of a minister in a town north of the city
  • Sarah (23), who lives at home

Too Much 15

Coach Dan, his face squeezed tight, took a step forward, laid hands on Rune’s outstretched arms, and with gentle yet assertive pressure, forced them down to the teen’s sides. Behind them, a scoring machine buzzed, followed by a referee’s command to Halt.

“I’m not asking you to do anything, my friend.” The older man’s commanding voice a contrast to his calm face. “If anything, I’m asking you to stop trying so hard.”

“To do what?” It was a sincere question, Rune realizing he really didn’t have any idea what he should have been looking for this day, even before the incident with Annie and JanHar.

Coach Dan jabbed an index finger into Rune’s chest, softly. “Searching for answers. They’re funny things, I’ve found, it’s like they know when they’re being hunted and do their best to hide. If you just relax, not worry too much about finding those answers, sometimes — ” now it was time for the older man to spread his arms, inviting the world around him into his embrace — “they just, come to you. See what I mean?”

“OK.” Rune nodded, both his words and body language a lie. Coach Dan then excused himself, leaving Rune alone at the center of the large field house, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the energetic combat around him.

End of “Too Much”

Too Much 14

Rune responded to his coach like a private reporting to his sergeant, the success of Annie and Rex so far in the pools tripping off his tongue effortlessly, like a well-executed lunge. Coach Dan nodded, waited for the teen to finish.

“What I meant — ” a thirty-five-year-old hand squeezing the outside of Rune’s shoulder — “is, how are you doing? Are you having fun today? What are you learning?” The coach had thought freedom from competition pressure would allow his student to view the sport with a new perspective. An assignment which had slipped Rune’s mind until just this moment.

“I dunno.” Rune looked down, his coach wearing Pumas. “Annie, she did some nice . . . ” Voice trailing off as the memory of her prosecutorial face came back to him. His attempts at explanation, to her, and JanHar, and Rex. Not even sure what he had been trying to explain, only the reality of his futility remaining with him.

“She’s good. So’s Rex. And JanHar, and Franken — Francis.” He had raised his head without realizing what he’d done, was now looking above his coach’s head, up at the gray high ceiling of the field house. “Everybody’s good. And I dunno, I guess it’s fun, watching everybody, how good they are. Learn anything — I dunno. Everyone I see is so good, I dunno what to look for.” Hands wide, as if trying to put his arms around the tournament.

Too Much 13

“Really.” Annie’s voice was tinted with suspicion, like a detective doubting the evidence of a crime scene. She drank from her bottle again.

Rune shook his head, long curls waving across his shoulders. “Look, I’m sorry — ”

“What you do is your own business.” From the far strip, her last name was called. She handed the bottle back to Rune. “No need to apologize for your decisions. Just — ” she bit her lower lip — “I need to know, is all.” Turning her back, she walked briskly back to her strip.

Still holding her water bottle as he stood in the middle of the large and mostly empty field house, Rune suddenly realized he was by himself, Rex and JanHar having returned to their strips during his brief conversation with Annie. He spun around slowly, reviewing the scene around him — the competitors in their white uniforms and silver lames and gray metal faces, thin cords tethered to their backs as they combatted, metal blades singing to their dance, barked exclamations of joy and frustration. The cicadan buzz of the scoring machines, the crisp judgments of the referees. Squalls of independent activity among the four strips, all of it coordinated toward a common goal.

He suddenly felt more alone than he ever had in his young life.

“How goes it, my friend?” The avuncular voice of Coach Dan, approaching him from the left.

Too Much 12

Rune nervously examined JanHar’s face, which maintained its placid curiosity. He felt Rex’s presence behind him like a judgment, wordless grunts a gray cloud bearing down on him.

“Hey.” The familiar voice behind and to the left of Rex stabbed into Rune’s ear. He spun on his heels, faced his accuser.

“Hey Annie.”

Brown pony-tail a comma behind her head. “Five-two. Could use that water now.” Bare left hand pointed to Rune’s left side, her gloved right hand retaining its hold on her foil.

He brushed past Rex, handed her the water bottle. Told himself to relax, she had just arrived, hadn’t heard his hasty explanation. No, no problem at all.

“Thanks.” She took the water bottle, drank quickly, then pointed its bottom past Rune. “What’s up with JanHar?”

“It’s just pizza, all right?” He felt the words coming out of him involuntarily. “She just asked me about going to the Pizza Place, so I told her yes. And that’s all that happened.”

Too Much 11

“What he didn’t know —  ” the words came out before Rune knew what he would say next — “is that Annie and me, we’re — it’s not that we’re just friends, of coure we’re more than that. But it’s not like, we’re official or anything.”

“Nobody said you were married.” The dismissive sarcasm in Rex’s voice was not in any characteristic.

“And we’re not.” Rune scratched his head, shifted anxiously between his feet, grew more anxious under JanHar’s doubting glare. “I guess, what I’m saying — let me ask, do you still like pizza?”