Too Much

Struggling for inspiration these days, and returning to my novel at times like these usually gets my juices flowing. This scene takes place before the events in the January chapter.

“So what, exactly, is a squire supposed to do?” Rune cleared the long cords of his greasy hair from his forehead, revealing a large carbuncle of acne at the edge of his scalp.

“Whatever’s needed.” Annie, her arms through the large ovals of the lame’s sleeveless arms, turned her back towards the restless teen, the unzipped rear of the lame hanging loose. “Start with this.”

Rune struggled with the zipper, as Annie was using the lame with the missing bottom stop. His eyes caught a pair of students from the Academy, standing nearby and each fastening their own zippers, running down the left front side of their lames. Finally aligning the two rows of teeth, Rune pulled up the slider, his shoulders relaxing as the zipper crawled up Annie’s back without resistance.

As Annie twirled back, the Academy pair walked toward the half-dozen fencing strips assembled at the center of the large court. Confident they wouldn’t see his motion, Rune pointed at them. “That’s what we need.”

“What’s that?” Rune glanced over at Annie, who wasn’t, as he’d assumed, looking in the same direction as he, but rather had been clasping the alligator clip of her body cord onto the back of her lame. That’s my job.

“Lames that zip up the front, like those dudes from the Academy.” His arm swept in an arc in front of them. “All these college fencers, too. They’re so much easier to use, you don’t need no help getting them on.” He lifted his arms above his shoulders, like he was about to take flight. “Why can’t we have this stuff?”

“We’re lucky Bark Bay even has a team.” Annie began walking toward the strips, glanced at Rune with a look that silently commanded him to follow. “Besides, back zips can be used by both lefties and righties. And since we never know who’s goin’ to show up at practice, we need to be flexible.”

Old swords

[Today’s assignment for Blogging 101 is to post a response to a prompt, yet still is written in a manner “that fits right in with everything you normally blog about.” Fortunately for me, this is something I do routinely — use a prompt to explore a character, scene, or location for the novel I’m drafting, or to start a new short story. And the subject for today’s prompt from The Daily Post is childhood toys — this scene would go near the start of the second chapter, October.]

“So, my friend — ” Coach Dan spread his arms wide and leaned back, as if he were spreading a map across his broad chest — “tell me about this fencing experience you say you have.”

“Oh!” The follow-up question seemed almost to strike Butch physically. The teen glanced over at Rune (sitting with Annie next to the team’s equipment bags), then back at this man, this teacher, who had just asked to address him as coach during practice. “Me and Huey — ”

Rune.” The greasy-haired teen’s voice had shot across the cafeteria floor like a missile seeking to destroy its target.

“Oh! Yeah. Well, I was saying, me and Rune, when we was kids, we’d go out back of his place — we’d always go to his place, ‘cuz of my parents, one time they seen me and H — Rune, we was wrestling out back of my house, this was back in oh I don’t know, must have been third grade — ”

“My friend!” Coach Dan had walked over to the portly teen, the teacher placing his hands on the top of the student’s shoulders. “As much as it pleases me to hear the details of your friendship with that fine young man, may I remind you — ” his smile avuncular, his eyes less so — “that I was asking about your fencing experience.”

“We had these fake swords.” Still sitting across from Annie, Rune had shifted his body a quarter-turn in the direction of his coach and friend. “They were curved, like scimitars. We made them out of cardboard, for Cub Scouts.”

“They were silver, with red handles. We were pirates!” For the first time that afternoon, Butch seemed comfortable, animated. “Our den mother, she wanted to be sure they held up through rehearsals, so she gave us good materials to work with. After the play was done, she let us take them home — Rune and I would use them to have sword fights.”

“I see.” Coach Dan scratched the short black curls of his bearded chin. “You still have those swords?”

“Oh! They weren’t real swords, they — ”

A quick wave from his coach’s hand stopped Butch as if a spell had been cast on him. “The swords you made, in Cub Scouts.” The seven-year English teach at Bark Bay High School shifted his attention to where Rune was sitting. “Do you still have those?”

Rune shrugged. “Beats me. Ain’t seen that old thing in years. Threw out a bunch of junk from my closet over the summer, might have gotten tossed with that.”

Annie sneezed, the end of her brown ponytail lifting and nearly touching her head. Coach Dan turned back towards Butch, widened her eyes. A moment later, the tow-headed teen startled, as if waking from a nap.

“Oh! I, uh — yeah, I still got it, in the basement. Father says it’s silly, but I told him I really liked it, wanted to keep it, so he said I could so long as I didn’t use it on my sisters. That’s what he tells us boys, don’t you pick on your sisters or younger brothers. But he didn’t say that to me.”

“Why not?” Coach dan cursed himself silently as soon as he asked the question.

“‘Cuz I’m the youngest.”

Reasons

Did Double-J get upset because Rune had challenged him about Coach Dan? But Baseball Cap, he’d been even more direct. “I knowed you like fencing, more than anything else. Must be some reason you left the team.” And Rune had almost blurted it out right then, it’s because they made Annie the captain, instead of him.

Annie. Dammit, Annie. Rune wasn’t ready to think of Annie, so he forced himself to recall Double-J’s response, and suddenly the memory of the burly senior surged into his mind as swiftly as he rushed at his opponents during bouts, Rune remembered him waving his beer bottle at Baseball Cap like he was wielding his sabre, the only weapon he ever cared to use (foil’s for newbies, and epee is just too fucking boring). “I just got fed up with Jacobs trying to turn it into another dumb sport. Team points, phony rivalries with the Academy, other schools. Know why I like fencing? It’s one of the only sports that ain’t been corrupted by greed or celebrity. Not yet anyway.” He drank from his bottle, eyes glaring down into the glass as if he were commanding its contents into his mouth.

Spittle dripped from his lip onto the thin black wires of his beard as he lowered the bottle. “Jacobs’ trying to change that — saw what he was doing with Myles, thought he’d give up when he graduated but no, now he wants fucking us — ” beer splashed onto his sweat shirt as he slammed the beer bottle into his chest — “to pick up where Myles left off.” Leaned back into the sofa, pushing Jezz aside. “Jacobs, he wants fencing to be cool — uses that word all the time, hey new guy you should come to practice on Tuesday it’s really cool, hey Rex that was a cool counter-tempo, hey Annie you did some cool footwork in that bout — ” Annie again, Rune shook his head and continued walking along the frozen shore, invited the memory of Double-J to rush in on him again — “and he’s too blind to see that if fencing ever did get cool, it would just become another obnoxious distraction.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” That’s right, Jezz had challenged him too.

Practice 1C

Annie felt the strap of the sack dig into her left hand. She leaned forward, lowering the sack from her shoulder to the floor. Grasped the sack in her right hand, but before lifting it back over her right shoulder she stood, straightened her body, allowed the muscles in her back to relax a moment.

Her eyes scanned the last row of trophy cases in the corridor. There was a picture there, one she hadn’t noticed before — was that? Yes, that was Miles, in his white Bark Bay High School basketball uniform, legs lifting from the floor, right arm extended up towards the netted hoop, basketball just above his outstretched hand, a defender in a dark jersey, face hidden behind Miles’ body, reaching up to attempt a block.

She looked around quickly, saw nobody else in the corridor (who would run off with a sack of used fencing jackets anyway?), walked towards the photograph. Just in front of it was a short rectangular plate, mounted at an angle facing up at Annie. She read the inscription:

MILES GLORIOUS
4 Time All-Conference, 2 Time All-State Basketball
3 Time All-Conference Football
3 Time All-Conference Baseball

Surrounding the photograph and plate were some of the individual awards that Miles had won during his years at Bark Bay. Annie wondered — were they replicas of his own trophies? Or did Miles donate these from the surplus he certainly had collected at home?

She scanned the collection of Miles memorabilia in the trophy case, confirmed what came as no surprise. No fencing. Finishing third at States in foil — third! at States! — seventh, in epee. At States! The only fencer in the region who had consistently beaten Academy fencers the past two years. Arguably the best public school fencer this region had seen in a generation — and no mention, not even one, in this shrine to his athletic career at Bark Bay?

Not surprising at all, Annie thought, turning away from the trophy case and back towards the canvas sack of fencing jackets. Fencing was not a revenue sport, had no history at Bark Bay High School. “I started the team as a response to a dare,” Coach Dan often said. Miles joining the team was a miracle, his success even more so, but Miles had graduated, moved on to college, and the Bark Bay fencing team was back to its humble origins of four years ago, with barely enough students to be considered a team, or club. Rex, Bernie, Double-J, herself — Butch and Kassie, the newbies, hopefully they’d stick around — and Coach Dan. Barely a team, barely here.

Annie picked up the sack, slung it over her right shoulder, looked again at the picture of Miles in the trophy case. No, not surprising his fencing wasn’t mentioned, she thought again. But still, disappointing. It would be nice to have some evidence that we exist.