Practice 2X

Annie looked quickly across the three squares of black tile that separated her from Coach Dan, as the conversation betwee Jimmy and Double-J ended. She saw him nod in approval, and when he turned his attention back to her and her line of fencers, she nodded as well.

“Now that we have everyone in position,” Coach Dan called, “let’s get this practice started.”

Bending his knees and extending his arm into en garde position, and commanding the team to follow his movements, Coach Dan raised the toes of his front foot, pushed the heel across the tile in front of him, landed the foot, brought his rear leg back, and watched appreciatively as the Bark Bay High School team took a unified step in retreat.

End of “Practice’

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Practice 2W

Coach Dan stood along the long edge of a white rectangle among the sea of black tiles on the cafeteria floor, and motioned to the edge of another rectangle, three black square tiles away. Butch, Bernie, Kassie, Annie, and Rex formed a line along the line separating black from white, bent their knees into en garde position. Double-J held back from the line, uncertain not on what to do but rather his willingness to participate.

“Over here,” Jimmy called, motioning for Double-J to join him in the row of white rectangles to the team’s right. Jimmy got in position in line with Coach Dan, and pointed to the white rectangle opposite him, in line with but still apart from the rest of the team.

Double-J looked over at Jimmy, did not move from his position, several feet behind the line. Standing, neither particpating nor refusing to participate, just — standing. He looked at Coach Dan, then at his teammates, their bodies facing Coach Dan, but everyone’s eyes turned towards him.

His move. He smiled, appreciating the power of his position, before finally saying, “OK then, let’s get started,” and getting in line opposite Jimmy, crouched into en garde position.

Practice 2V

“You do epee?” Jimmy turned in the direction of Rex’s question, his smile filled with hyperbolic exhaustion.

“Patience, young man. As I’ve been saying, it’s been ten years since I’ve touched any weapon — foil, sabre, or epee. Let me work with your friend Double-J over here — ” he turned in Double-J’s direction — “I assume you don’t take offense at the word ‘friend’?”

Double-J shrugged, shook his head, the thin black wires of his hair waving chaotically.

“I can do sabre as well.”

“Patience, patience.”

“All right then.” Coach Dan stepped into the approximate center of the irregular circle formed by the Bark Bay High School fencing team. “You’ve all had a chance to meet Jimmy. We’ve got, what, about 30 minutes left,” glancing quickly at the large clock above the kitchen windows. “Let’s line up, get some footwork drills, then do some sparring — give Jimmy a chance to feel what it’s like to weild a weapon again.”

Practice 2U

Jimmy turned to Kassie. “I’m glad you feel comfortable here.”

“And I am glad everyone is comfortable with me.”

Jimmy raised his eyebrows, then quickly turned. “Daniel, I believe the only member of your team I haven’t met –” right arm waving in Rex’s direction — “is Slim over here.”

“Rex.” The tall teen stilted forward, right arm extended.

“Jimmy.” They swiftly shook hands. “Your weapon, son?”

“Foil. Epee.”

“No sabre?”

Rex frowned. “Only when Double-J challenges me.”

“I’m thinking that happens fairly regularly.”

Rex shrugged. “When he’s at practice.”

“‘When?'” Jimmy quickly scanned the room, caught Double-J’s eyes. “By the tone of Mr. Rex’s response, I take it your appearances on Tuesday afternoons are — infrequesnt?”

Double-J shrugged. “Nobody wants to do sabre. What’s the –”

“Well, you now have me.” Jimmy stepped forward, breezing past the team members as if they were not present, his eyes fixed on Double-J. “And if I’m going to give up my time for this team, I want to make that time worthwhile. I’m not like Daniel, son — no offense,” he said, looking briefly at Coach Dan, who nodded — “but if I’m here and you’re not, I’m going to want to know why.”

Double-J smiled, exhaled a snort of laughter from his nose. “That sounds like a challenge.”

“You will find, young man, that working with me is, indeed, a challenge.”

Practice 2T

“I find this interesting, Daniel.” Jimmy raised his head, turned in Coach Dan’s direction. “I’ve been here all of 15 minutes, and I’m hearing a lot of talk about identity — your students being glad for feeling they belong here, or glad they’re not like those nasty fencers from the Academy.”

Jimmy spread his arms wide, his white jacket inviting the attention of the entire Bark Bay fencing club. “I haven’t touched a fencing weapon in over ten years. I’m not affiliated with the school system, and I’ve only had passing conversations with anyone in this room. So, before we get started here, I have to ask — does this team have room for an outsider like me?”

Jimmy scanned the room after he spoke, making quick eye contact with everyone, the sardonic smile on his face showing that rather than pleading for the teen’s acceptance, he was challenging them to confront, acknowledge their biases.

Double-J stepped forward. “Well Coach Dan says you’re going to work with me on sabre, so if you can do that, I don’t give a rip who you are.”

“That’s what fencing’s all about,” Coach Dan announced. “What can you do on the strip? Who you are, what background you come from, none of that matters when you compete. This is a sport that crosses gender and generations — women compete evenly with men, the young with the old.”

Veterans,” Jimmy called out suddenly. “We’re veterans, Daniel, not old guys.” The teens laughed appreciatively.

Practice 2S

“So what parts of you are here today?” Jimmy was not able to remove all sarcasm from his voice. “Just your body, or your mind as well?”

Kassie stared back at Jimmy as she considered how she should respond. Direct confrontation, I don’t need to listen to this — no, not her style. Breezy dismissal, does it really matter — no, it does matter. Comic non-answer, well I’m talking to you now and you’re close enough to smell my breath, so all systems appear to be ‘go’ — no, she didn’t trust her sense of humor. Not that she trusted the truth either — no, the truth wasn’t the problem — or her judgement, yes she knew what the truth was — but could she communicate that truth, could her words represent that truth, and even if yes, she could speak the truth, would Jimmy understand her words, see the truth behind them?

But the truth was all she had, for better or worse.

“This is the only place I want to be.” Kassie felt like smiling, but her mouth did not turn upwards, as if the required muscles were atrophied. “This is the only place where I feel like I belong.”

Practice 2R

“And you,” Jimmy said, turning and walking in the direction of Kassie, who had retreated to the rear of the team’s circle. “I don’t recall seeing you at the Hutchinson’s party last month.”

Kassie looked at him cautiously. “I didn’t see you, either.”

“So you were there, just — not very present, shall we say.”

Kassie nodded, looked quickly at Annie. “I — wanted to be there, with my friends. Mrs. Hutchinson, Annie’s mom, she’s friends with my mother, donates to the theater. But still, I didn’t feel comfortable, like I belonged.”

“Of course you belonged.” Annie’s tone was assertive, almost indignant.

“Thank you. But — you know how people say ‘But I was there in spirit,’ when they can’t go to an event? That night — it was like, I wanted to be there, with my body, but not in spirit.”

Practice 2Q

Jimmy walked in front of Annie, ponytail smiling behind her head. “Daniel — Coach Dan tells me you’re ready to try other weapons.”

“I’ve done a little epee with Rex.” Her ponytail pranced as she nodded in the direction of the tall teen. “And I’ve told Double-J I’ll take him on in sabre, any time he wants.”

Jimmy turned, found Double-J with his eyes. “Here you go,” he said, waving his arm in Annie’s direction. “I believe you were complaining about not having anyone to practice with earlier.”

“I wasn’t complaining.” Double-J’s voice was emotionless, analytical. “I was stating a fact. I got no problem with Annie, but I’m not here for her amusement. She wants to play around with sabre, she can do that with Butch or someone.”

“Why are you so arrogant?” Annie’s sudden question caused Jimmy to turn towards her.

“What you call arrogance, I call confidence.” Double-J’s voice remained emotionless. “Sabre’s not like foil, you can’t be tentative, decisions have to be quick. If you hesitate, you’re dead.”

“Same could be said for any weapon.” The tone of Jimmy’s response matched Double-J’s analytic disinterest.

Double-J shook his head. “Worse in sabre,” he replied, turning his back to show that he was finished with the conversation.

Practice 2P

“What’s your name, son?”

“What?”

Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Aside from ‘Biscuit,’ I don’t know what else you don’t like to be called. I don’t like calling out hey you, and if I just call youson I might get your friend Double-J here confused. So, if you don’t mind — tell me your name.”

“Bernie. Bernie Scott, sir.”

“Ah, sir again. Listen, the name’s Jimmy, and if this assistant coaching thing’s going to work out for me, I need you to help me out by getting rid of the bone that’s stuck up your ass.”

The chorus of nervous laughter rising from his teammates broke through Bernie’s anxiety, caused him to smile back at Jimmy.

“Well it’s a start.” Jimmy now turned his attention to the teen to Bernie’s right. “Young man, I believe I heard someone refering to you as ‘Butch.’ I’m assuming that wasn’t the name your parents gave to you.”

“No sir — I mean, Jimmy.”

“I begin to like you already, son. And what would your Christian name be?”

“Benjamin, si — Jimmy, I mean. Ah, not Benjamin Jimmy, just Benjamin — ”

“I gathered that.”

” — Goodman! Bejamin Goodman, that’s my name.”

“Yes.” Jimmy looked at Butch thoughtfully. “So I take it you prefer not to be called Benny Goodman?”

“Who?”

Jimmy smiled, shook his head. “Nice to meet you, Butch.”

Practice 2O

“Before you two go off on your own,” Coach Dan called in the direction of Jimmy and Double-J, “let’s have everyone line up.” He waved his arm down at one of the edges where black tile gave way to white.

Jimmy looked over at Double-J. “You don’t have any trouble with footwork drills, correct?”

Double-J shook his head, the long black wires of his hair rising as if from static electricity. “Nah. It’s kind of fun, actually, watching Biscuit trip over his feet.”

Jimmy scanned the faces of the teens as they formed a line along the black tile’s edge. “Judging by facial reactions,” now looking at Bernie, “I would guess that you are ‘Biscuit’.”

“Last name’s Scott,” Bernie replied. “‘B – Scott,’ becomes Biscuit.”

“It sounds like you’re not particularly fond of that name.”

Bernie shrugged, looked down at the tiled floor.