Post Road Magazine #11

All or Nothing at The Fabergé

Peter Granbois

Roman sees a Parisian skirt decked in green and says he’ll meet me in a second. I watch from the side of the strip as he makes his move; he keeps one eye on Johnny and both hands on the skirt. I know what he’s thinking. Even though he’s two-time national champ and got his spot on the Olympic team locked up, he’s still scared of Johnny. And the sad part is he doesn’t even know why. Not like me. I’m the one who should be scared. I fence my bout to make the final eight in an hour. Johnny and I both can’t make the team. This weekend decides everything. All or nothing at The Fabergè—that’s the name of this world cup. The one who makes it the farthest is in. The one who fucks up, well, he doesn’t just head for the showers.

You’ve got to admire the way Johnny walks to the strip. It’s not attitude. It’s fucking nobility. Like he’s the great Shimura—the leader in The Seven Samurai. Man, that guy just oozed nobility. People know Mifune’s character cause he’s the crazy one—like me. You never knew what Mifune would do.

I’m waiting for Johnny, pumping him up and thinking how the hell did I get into this insane sport. I’d been a linebacker at USC, but my sophomore year I tore my anterior. The doctor said I should take up fencing to help with the rehabilitation. Do I look like fucking Cyrano? I told the doctor. Fencing. A half black, half Jap from Watts. Fencing. Shit! But, hell, I loved those Errol Flynn movies, so far from Watts.

The ref prepares to begin the bout. He’s Hungarian, though he’s dressed like a frog. Damn French, makin’ the refs wear tuxes. What do they think this is? La Cage aux Folles? Still, I love refs from the eastern bloc—so open to negotiation. They announce the bout over the P.A. The crowd settles—a few thousand scattered about the stands, not bad for fencing. I’ll give the Parisians that much. They’ve got class, know a good fight when they see one. Johnny and Bianchedi test their weapons, but I’m sticking to the strip.

I make a big show of it. The Hungarian puffs up his neck and pushes me away because I’m right there yelling in Johnny’s ear to get nasty. I don’t want to leave him. If I leave him, the die is cast, and I’m not sure I want to throw it. But then I see Johnny’s dad in the stands, looking tense, even though he’s a Vietnam vet. He’s my out. I can sit next to him and look clean. I like Johnny’s dad, met him the night before. So, I signal Roman, then glance back at the ref to make sure. He nods at me, his eyes closing the deal.

En-garde, s’il vous plat, the referee says, and Johnny gives him that perfect en-garde, back arm raised above his head, like the tail of a cat on

 

the attack, weapon pointed straight at the opponent’s chest, knees bent forty-five degrees. Bianchedi’s arms hang down, the point of his weapon drags on the strip. He simply leans forward a bit at the referee’s call for engarde. He’s already bouncing. I’m thinking Manolete and the bull.

tes-vous prt? The crowd hushes. The referee raises his hands, then drops them,

Allez!

I remember four years ago when Johnny moved from Colorado to San Francisco to train. I hated him. We’d fenced each other on the circuit before. He usually won. I didn’t so much mind losing. No, that’s bullshit. I hated losing. But, what I hated most was losing to a country boy whose technique and control were better than I could ever hope for. He fenced an upright game: no surprises, no tricks. Totally by the book, and I still couldn’t beat him. The only way I could get him was to fence dirty: do the opposite of what a fencer should do. Then, when he got flustered and I was in close, hit him with a cheap-ass move. He didn’t understand street fighting. That way I could sometimes win. He hated that. And in a sense so did

I. I don’t know if Johnny was rubbing off on me or if I was a samurai reincarnated, but I was getting hooked on the purity of the action—you know, the union of mind and body. All that Zen shit. Hell, I even read the old samurai masters, Soho and Musashi. Sever the edge between before and after. That’s Soho. That’s why I never went back to football. How can you compare that to, “No pain, no gain.”? Besides, everyone was on the take. Christ, I had friends who spent more time in their BMW’s than in the classroom. And it only gets worse in the pros. Sometimes I wonder if my body knew I had to get out of there, if it knew and made it happen. To know and to act are one and the same. I don’t know who said that, but I know it was a samurai. I’m telling you I’m full of that shit.

“You’re the friend I met at the club last night,” Johnny’s dad says when I sit down next to him. And I’ve got to think what to say, because my first reaction is How’d you learn so little about the world? But I don’t. “Yeah, we’re teammates,” I say.

“Must be tough,” he goes on. “Cheering for him on one hand, on the other knowing if he wins it’ll affect you.” He puts his hand on my shoulder.

“You get used to it,” I say. But what I’m not used to is the fact that he leaves his hand on my shoulder for a moment, and I think maybe he really means it.

Bianchedi charges, like I knew he would, his blade low to the ground as he runs, daring Johnny to attack. Johnny lunges straight to Bianchedi’s chest, and it looks like he’s taken the bait. But it’s only a half-lunge. Bianchedi stops on a dime, whips his blade to sweep the line and knock Johnny’s blade away from his chest, but Johnny deceives the attempted parry and finishes his lunge. Finta in Tempo. Pure Shimura!—Like when he went into that hut alone to face the crazy thief.

Oh shit! What are you doing here? That’s the first thing I said to Johnny, when he arrived at the club down in the mission district of San Fran. Ladies and Gentleman, if it isn’t John Denver. He hated when I called him that. So I still do. The thing that got me was he just smiled when I said it. Then he put his arm around me and said how glad he was to be there and train with the best. So, Roman and I decided we’d fuck with him a bit. Roman did it by beating him every chance he could, and while I couldn’t always beat him, I could at least show him what it meant to fence with the men, you know, an elbow here, a knee there, maybe sometimes slap him with the flat of the blade across his back. Shit, two years of college ball taught me something. But the boy just kept coming back for more. And the crme de la crme was that he kept getting better. Pretty soon Roman wasn’t winning all the bouts. And that’s when things got ugly.

Don’t get me wrong, Roman wasn’t a complete prick. He’s just a bit insecure underneath all that bravado.

The crowd roars. L’attaque pas de droit, touchè. Bianchedi pulled that one out of his ass. “Come on, Johnny,” I yell. “Your game!” Johnny’s dad is yelling too. His dad seems nice enough, not like one of those vets with post-traumatic stress. Couldn’t blame that on my old man. He was only stationed in Japan back in the early 60s, didn’t actually see combat. I got to hand it to Johnny’s dad, flying all the way to gay Paris to see his son. You don’t see that too often. Still, I got doerai respect for my mom, even if she didn’t want me to fence: a Japanese woman raising two kids on her own in the hood.

Don’t be like your father, she’d say when I’d skip school. And though I loved her I wanted to hit her. Instead, she hit me. Told me I was running out of chances. She was right. I don’t get another shot. I’m thirty. I got in this game late, like I said, and I need an Olympic medal to set me up for a nice cushy college coaching job. Maybe I’ll get me some coed booty then too.

Bianchedi’s moving the second the ref signals the action to begin. It’s like he doesn’t know how to retreat. Johnny retreats, matching the speed of Bianchedi’s attack, then at the last moment he jumps back in double time, extending his arm. Bianchedi slaps Johnny’s blade to the ground and lunges to Johnny’s chest. The impact is hard; the blade practically snaps.

“What just happened?” Johnny’s father grabs me, almost tearing my arm off.

“Bianchedi’s touch, if you call that a touch. It’s five to three for him.”

“The Italian looks like he’s insane.”

“Crazy wops. No, Bianchedi is good. He’s still pissed from being kicked out last year. He’s got something to prove. I’d say his style is unorthodox, but I don’t even know if he has a style. He’ll hit you from anywhere though.”

“Can Johnny take him?”

“He’ll take him,” I say. “But it ain’t going to be easy. Bianchedi’s the antichrist.”

 

The father has the same long, pretty-boy eyelashes as Johnny. The same blue eyes. Both of them looking too skinny and delicate to be in the military. I asked Johnny once what the hell he was in the Rangers for anyway. Cause my dad was a Ranger, was all he’d said, as if that explained everything. That’s the way Johnny was. He assumed things worked a certain way. That if you acted with respect the way your old man raised you, if you busted your ass, you’d succeed. And Johnny’d busted ass. Took his master’s in Russian from Stanford last year. He was supposed to start his tour with the Rangers right after that, but he asked for a year off to make the Olympics and they gave it to him. He never once doubted that he would make it. He believed it, had seen it in his head every day, and knew it would be so. My world doesn’t work that way.

He’s fencing Bianchedi so close. That’s pure belief. You’ve got to know you’re invincible to fence him that tight. Now it’s Johnny’s turn to make invitations. He’s dropping his point, giving Bianchedi the opening. Bianchedi’s wary. He makes a feint, but Johnny fakes the parry four, Bianchedi attacks, Johnny makes his real parry and scores to the flank. Sometimes I admire him so much it hurts.

His dad stands and cheers. I see Roman yelling encouragement over his shoulder to Johnny, but then turn his back, focusing only on the skirt. Roman’s already in the final tomorrow. He beat Pavlovitch. I didn’t see the bout, but I heard the Russian rolled over for him. Roman’s a natural for the sport—all ego and two hundred proof killer instinct. Without that, why bother fencing. Just go into curling or speed walking or something. I won’t even mention bowling. If that ever becomes an Olympic sport, I’ll quit.

There’s got to be anger, or why fence? Anger at a father who ran out, or at a hugs and kisses father like Johnny’s, or like Roman, angry at the world. They say the only thing in sports faster than the point of the blade when a fencer attacks is a bullet fired from a gun. No time to think. My guess is that’s why we all do it.

My problem is now I’ve got too much time to think. Too much time ‘til my bout starts. I can watch Johnny’s bout, then warm up for awhile, but I don’t like sitting still. Don’t like it at all.

There’s a flurry of touches. Bianchedi muscles his way in with a bind. Johnny fights back, lunging low and wide as Bianchedi jumps in the air, spread-eagle fashion and thrusts landing a counter just below Johnny’s neck. I’m watching, but I’m not seeing it, like Soho’s story of the monk stuck in the mud—I can’t let go. I smell that sick formaldehyde smell of the hospital, that smell that never covers up the real smell of decay, only mixes with it to make the spit grow thick in your mouth. I see Momma laid out in that hospital bed after her stroke three months ago, and I hear my sister Kay’s words, You need to think about our family. I am thinking about our family, I want to tell her, I would tell her if she were here, that’s why I’m doing this, to get us all the hell out. But she’s not here, never could be here even if we were another family, cause she’s at home taking care of Momma now.

“Did you see that move Bianchedi just threw at Johnny?” Roman’s back in the stands now, sitting next to me, pretending he’s interested in the bout. “He invented a new parry for that one. Jesus Christ. What’s the score?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I hear the Russian gave you a present. That was awfully nice. I don’t suppose Bel will do the same.” I give Roman a knowing look.

“Hey, he needed the money.” Roman says, keeping his voice low. “And he wasn’t going to make the Russian team anyway. They’ve already picked their team. Two hundred dollars can buy a lot of Rubles.”

“But you didn’t need the bout. You’ve already got your spot.”

“I’ve still got to let them know who’s boss,” he says, giving me that slick-shit grin. “Now Bel’s a different story. Besides, the French don’t take bribes.”

“No.”

“Maybe you’ll get lucky with the ref.”

“Maybe.”

“But I suppose you wouldn’t do it anyway. Cause you want to be like him,” he says, pointing to Johnny.

“Shut up.”

“Just telling it like it is.” Roman laughs.

“Shut the fuck up.”

But all Roman does is flash his smile. “What did you think of that Parisian piece?”

“Not bad,” I say. “I’ll lay five to one you don’t get no booty tonight though.”

Johnny glides down the strip, changes tempo to throw the Italian off, then a double disengage.

“That a way, Johnny!” his dad yells. “Eight to seven for Bianchedi, but Johnny’s gaining.”

I nod my head.

“You know I don’t party the night before the finals,” Roman says.

“What do you care? You’re already on the team.”

“It’s a pride thing.”

“Yeah, sounds like you bought the Russian with your pride.”

“It’s all part of the game, man.”

“Yeah, all part of the game,” I say, but suddenly I don’t want to think about the game, I don’t want to watch Johnny, or focus on my next bout. I’m feeling like some fat Sumo wrestler is sitting on me, and I want to call the whole thing off. But I can’t. And Roman won’t shut up.

“Hey, maybe tomorrow night, after I win, we’ll hit the Latin quarter, and we can find that ugly bitch again.” Roman laughs. But my stomach feels like it’s trying to crawl out of me. Like it doesn’t want to be part of me anymore. “Don’t worry, if we find her again, I’ll share with you.” Roman’s always trying to be buddy buddy with me. But he doesn’t know shit. He lost

 

his older brother in a drive-by nine years ago back in the Bronx, and now he wants me to be his older brother. He doesn’t know that his presence makes me want to run from myself, that I usually want to hit him, except I don’t and that’s the part I hate. Like two nights ago when we were at that bar, I don’t even know what it was called and couldn’t get there again if you asked me; I just know it was somewhere in the Latin quarter.

Omnes is the greatest fencer ever, Johnny said, taking a swig of beer.

Bullshit! You like him because he fences like a king with a poker up his ass, Roman laughed at his own joke. Mathias Behr rocks! Omnes was lucky he didn’t have to face him in Barcelona.

You like him because he’s German, I said. Roman, how come you got a name like Roman and yet you’re German?

Roman is a German name, asshole.

Doesn’t sound it.

Roman got all fidgety, swirled the beer around in his glass, then took a big swig. My parents wanted to get away from Germany, but they didn’t want us to lose our heritage. That’s why I got the name. It was a compromise. It’s German but it doesn’t sound German.

Maybe they should have named you Cicero or Seneca, Johnny said.

Shut up! Roman shifted his gaze to the bar where a homely looking girl sat by herself. I think I found us some company. I’m going to have a little fun.

Leave her alone, Johnny said, trying to grab Roman and missing as Roman dodged out of the way.

Gentlemen, this is Claudette. Roman made an exaggerated bow, keeping one arm around Claudette’s waist. She doesn’t speak English.

That’s great, Roman, since between the three of us we can barely ask where to take a crap in French, I said. Johnny wasn’t laughing.

I know more than you think, Roman said. Then to the girl, Voulez vous boisson? She giggled to herself and nodded.

Roman signaled the waitress for a drink, then, smiling, turned to the girl. You sure are an ugly bitch, aren’t you? He kept the smile on his face and nodded appearing as if he was the girl’s best friend.

Oui, said the girl, smiling back.

I laughed along with Roman.

Stop it, Roman. Johnny shifted his glass to my side of the table. It’s

not funny. You’re so ugly, Roman continued, and you think I’m interested in you.

That’s really pathetic. His voice was soft and sweet.

You’re pathetic, Roman. Johnny’s tone was unmistakable.

The girl glanced nervously between Roman and Johnny, unsure what was happening.

What did you think a guy like me would see in you? Roman said, still smiling at her. Maybe if you’re lucky, I’ll take you out back, in the alley, stick my fingers in you. . .

Johnny jumped at Roman. Beer splashed over the girl. She stepped back, covering her face. The glass shattered on the floor, as Johnny threw Roman over the table. They fucked around, each trying to pull away enough to land a punch. Why would you do that? was all Johnny kept saying in between the grunting and yelling of you asshole, or you fucker. I stood watching, kind of curious as to who would win. In fencing, Johnny was technically better, but he didn’t have the killer instinct the way Roman did. And I wanted to see if Johnny had it now. He did. He landed a punch to the side of Roman’s head when I pulled him off.

You’re gonna fucking break your hand before the tournament, I said.

Roman jumped back up and tried to get at Johnny, but I stopped him. Told him he’d been an asshole enough for the night.

He spit. Just fooling around, he said. I wouldn’t hurt him. Then he’d have an excuse for not making the team.

Two angry looking waiters came over and shoved us out the door, yelling. Roman yelled back, Fucking French! Who wants to fight? I’ll fight you, you French faggots.

Shut up, Roman! Johnny yelled when we were outside.

You don’t tell me what to do. Nobody tells me what to do. Roman made another run at Johnny, and I stepped in the way. He stared at me for a moment, then ran off down the street, yelling up at the apartments above the shops that stood closed on the street below. Come on, you French faggots! Who wants a fight? He stood in the middle of the street, screaming. I’ll take you all on. Pansy asses! Come on and see if you can take a real American whooping. A young couple that had been getting it on outside the bar across the street looked at us like we were gang bangers and ran inside.

Johnny looked at me and shook his head. The idiot, he said. He’s going to get himself killed.

At that moment I felt closer to Roman than I ever had.

Bianchedi is attacking again, his blade moving in front of him like a blender. Johnny’s standing his ground. Bianchedi launches, looking like he’s going to the high line, but finishing low. Johnny knocks the blade away with a circle six parry just as the point grazes his flank and hits Bianchedi with a one, two riposte to his belly. Score eleven all.

“You’re a fucking samurai!” I jump up, yelling. “A samurai!” Roman looks at me like I’ve gone crazy.

“If he wins, it’s not helping your cause,” Roman says.

I glance down at Roman. Maybe I’m different than you, I want to tell him, but I say nothing because I don’t believe it.

Bianchedi digs in, and when the ref says, “Allez,” he doesn’t even lift his point up for the attack. He charges, and Johnny raises his point to Bianchedi’s chest. Johnny gets the touch, but Bianchedi doesn’t care. The

 

bastard runs straight through Johnny, knocking him to the floor, then kicks him as he passes. I can see the referee reach for the black card in his suit pocket, then hesitate, glance around the arena, and put his hands to his sides. He clasps his hands together behind him so that he won’t be tempted to draw the card. Johnny’s up. He takes off his mask, but stays on the strip. He doesn’t yell at refs, but I can hear the tension in his voice, as he asks why there was no warning for corps a corps. Body contact, I laugh, if that was just body contact then those police were using feather pillows on old Rodney King. Johnny turns to me in exasperation. I shrug my shoulders and shake my head, like I can’t believe the way he just got screwed. Sorry, those are the breaks, kid. There’s too much riding on this bout. It’s not my problem if he doesn’t understand.

Johnny puts on his mask, and I can see he’s pissed, though for Johnny that means he’s going to be coldly efficient. The ref backs away from the strip and calls, “En-garde!

Johnny’s dad is asking me what happened. I pretend I’m talking to Roman. But I can’t ignore it when he grabs me by the arm again. He wants to know why the guy didn’t get kicked out. What can I tell him? I tell him European refs sometimes let offenses slide because they believe in the purity of combat. They don’t want a ref’s call to decide a bout, they believe in mano a mano. That’s what I tell him anyway.

“Johnny ought to get mean then,” he tells me.

“He doesn’t know how,” I say, but I’m thinking, In Watts we learn to get mean before we learn to walk.

“It’s my fault,” he says. “I always told him that if he worked harder than anyone else, if he drilled to the point of perfection then he would win.”

“He’s damn good, there’s no question about that. Even Roman here’s afraid of him.” Roman gives me another look.

“But it’s not enough.” He rubs his hands together, over and over, in his lap.

When is it ever enough? If I had a fucking clue when it was enough, would I be here now? “It’s going to be all right,” I tell him. “Johnny can take care of himself.”

When I was nine, my momma made me take piano lessons. She’d sit on the bench next to me while I practiced. I remember, when I’d make a mistake, she’d slam the lid down on my fingers. She wasn’t big on affection. But I didn’t care. Made me try harder. I’d sit and play that damn piano all night just so she couldn’t sleep. After awhile she stopped sitting on the bench with me, thinking she’d made her point. That’s when I stopped practicing for good.

“Man, Johnny’s up twelve to eleven. It looks like you’re gonna have to go another round to make the team,” Roman says. “I bet you’ll fence each other in the final eight.” He laughs, even though it’s not funny.

Johnny moves him down the strip, accelerating his tempo as he goes, then a sudden burst, ballestra lunge. Bianchedi falls backward to the ground. He’s up immediately, and in the ref’s face. The ref pulls out a yellow card: “Avertissement, corps a corps.

Johnny does a double take. He can’t believe it. He didn’t touch Bianchedi with anything but the point of his sword. He knows it. I know it. The ref knows it. Hell, even Bianchedi knows it. But that doesn’t change the facts.

“Where the hell’s your coach?” Johnny’s father asks. “Can’t he stop this?”

“He’s the guy in the corner with a hangover,” I say. And I know what Bianchedi’s thinking right now. He’s thinking put that one away for later. And Johnny’s thinking this is not right, and there is no doubt within him.

Allez!

Bianchedi scores with a double coupe to Johnny’s back. I don’t know how he finds the target back there. He’s like a goddamn heat seeking missile. Twelve to twelve.

Johnny fights back with a clean, long attack, his point dancing through the air. Bianchedi ducks, thrusting his weapon blindly in front of him. The trick works.

“Jesus Christ,” Johnny’s dad says, “Is that legal?”

“It’s legal, but it’s a low blow.” Literally, I think. Now I see where Johnny gets it from. His dad’s as bad as he is. My motto is: on the strip, as in life, anything goes. I make a move to leave. I need to warm up for my bout, but then I see Roman lying with his eyes closed on the bleachers next to me like he couldn’t give a shit and something in me clicks. “Kill him,” I yell, and Johnny’s dad looks up at me.

Johnny’s moving in and out like a boxer. “Stick him!” I yell, not able to control myself, and wonder what the hell is in my head. Is this all an act? But I don’t know what part of me is the act, and I can’t help feeling the thrill as I watch Johnny stick and move. And I see, without looking, the way in which Johnny’s father arches his neck, breathing deeply, yet never getting enough air to ease the anxiety. And I feel, the sweat on the palms of his hands as he rubs them together, then folds them in his lap. “Stick him!” I yell again.

“I hear your dad was in the military too,” Johnny’s dad says, almost like he wants to calm me down.

“Yeah.”

“Too bad he couldn’t make it here.”

“Yeah, too bad,” I say and flash him that smile again. But this time it’s like he can see right through it. He holds me in his gaze, and I sit there and let him.

“We’ve all got our fights,” he says, nothing more than that.

Part of me is pissed off, thinking that’s all you got to say. But all I can say is, “He lost his a long time ago.” And I turn away.

 

“Hard to know sometimes if you’re winning or losing,” he says.

“I know I’ve lost when I want to hit someone, and I don’t like the feeling.”

“Nobody does, ” he says. And then he smiles, and I can’t decide if I feel like hitting him or not, cause I know the smile is real; the goddamn smile is real.

Johnny gets the next point with a blinding attack that evades Bianchedi’s defenses. Thirteen up. And suddenly, I’m quiet. I rise and make my way to the gym floor.

They trade touches, fourteen to thirteen Bianchedi, then fourteen up. Johnny used to brag that he never lost a bout at fourteen apiece. And I know what he’ll do. He’ll stand there arm straight, point aimed at Bianchedi’s chest, waiting for Bianchedi to make that big preparation, to sweep the line with that windmill circle parry of his, and he’ll deceive Bianchedi’s blade with finta in tempo, and lunge sure and straight. And the thing is, I don’t care. If he ends it like he began the bout. If he keeps it pure and true, I don’t care. In that moment all I want to see is the feint deceive. I want to see Bianchedi try to stop as he impales himself on Johnny’s point. I want to see the arrow line of Johnny’s lunge, back foot planted in the floor echoing the surety of his mind. I want to see the arc of his blade as it impacts Bianchedi’s chest, feel the tension flowing through that arc. In that moment, I want to see a touch that I know I have no chance in hell of ever making. I don’t do finta in tempo, never have. I win any way I can, like I said.

The sound of the impact of the point on Bianchedi’s chest brings me back, and I know it’s all gone the way I imagined. I can see it in the surprised way Bianchedi’s body folds up, the way Johnny stands there, both arms outstretched, as if inviting the world to partake in the moment with him. But then Bianchedi falls down. He rolls around a couple times rubbing his thigh before standing up and limping about the strip, yelling, demanding a red card.

Johnny’d taken his mask off, but the joy on his face vanishes as he realizes what is happening. The Italian coach steps forward, demanding a red card, but he doesn’t need to, the ref’s hand is already in his suit pocket. Our coach looks as if his hangover just got worse. I can’t watch. I hear Johnny scream, “No!”

From where I begin my warm-up drills, I can see Johnny in the corner of the gym pacing back and forth, yelling at himself. I think of Musashi, By knowing form, one knows emptiness. And I know Johnny’s perfect form doesn’t count for shit now.

His dad comes over to me, “I don’t know what I should do.” He looks bad, worse than Johnny.

“Let him be,” I say. But really I want him to let me be. I don’t want to see his face right now.

 

We both watch as Johnny slides slowly down the wall until he’s sitting on the floor, head and hands between his knees. His back arches and falls abruptly, and we know he’s crying.

His dad looks at me again, but I don’t look back. “Last time I saw him cry, he was ten years old,” he says. “I’d gone into the basement and secretly finished his model airplane for him overnight. I thought he’d be surprised.” Then he wishes me good luck and walks to his son. I work through my drills, but I can’t stop looking at them: the father standing to the side of the son, knowing there is nothing he can do.

Five minutes before my bout, and my head’s a mess. I’ve got to take a piss. I just get to the urinal and the Hungarian ref comes up and starts peeing next to me. I can’t pee. He looks at me and nods. Transaction completed. He didn’t understand English and I didn’t understand Hungarian, but it didn’t matter: a little American green overcomes all language barriers. Shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head as if to say that was much harder to pull off than he’d counted on, he zips himself up and then stands there. I’m still trying to pee. But I can’t cause he’s just staring at me, waiting for something, like he wants more. I’m watching my dick, but not a goddamn drip. And now I want to pee more than anything, let it all out, but it won’t come. I’m thinking of waterfalls, rivers, faucets, but nothing cause that Hungarian’s eyes are glued to my back. And I’m thinking this is a bad sign, you can’t fence like this, but the Hungarian’s still standing there, so I zip up, turn to him and say the one phrase in Hungarian that I know, “Baszd Meg!” Fuck you! And I walk out, but before I do, I see the Hungarian screw up his face as if I’d just peed all over him.

Bel comes to the strip. The ref’s an Austrian. He tests our points and I’m still trying to fire myself up, Come on, Al! This guy’s a chump. But nothing’s coming yet. I can still see Roman lying on the bleachers across the gym. I put on my mask and shake my legs out, when I see Johnny standing behind the ref. He’s looking at me, and there’s an intensity in his eyes. I don’t want to look back, but then I realize he’s not accusing me. He’s saying, Kick the fucker’s ass! Only he’s not saying it out loud. He just raises his fist in front of his face shaking it like we’re together on this one. And I know he’s going to stand there the whole bout, pushing me with those long-lashed blues saying, Stab the fucker for both of us. And he’s not going to yell a damn thing cause then the ref will kick him off the floor and send him back to the stands.

The ref is calling, “En-garde,” and I’m thinking about the time when I helped Johnny move to an apartment closer to the fencing club, since he had to sell his car to pay for his training. I’m thinking about how I wanted to help him. How it felt good to help him because he’d sold his car and now we both had nothing: nothing but fencing. And there was a kinship between us, and I remember wondering if that kinship started that day or

 

if it’d been there all along. Then I see Momma sitting at the kitchen table, staring into me one morning about a month after Dad left. She’s saying, You strange boy. You don’t cry for nobody, and then I’m laughing, though it feels like I’m crying cause it hurts so much, and I’m thinking how funny it is that we so often kill what we love.

tes-vous prt? •

Peter Granbois holds an MFA in fiction from Bennington College and is currently a PhD student in literature and creative writing at the University of Denver. He is the writer of The Gravedigger (Chronicle Books, Spring 2006) and the translator of San Juan: Ciudad Soada by Edgardo Rodrguez Juli, (University of Wisconsin Press, 2006). He is a former member of the United States National Fencing Team and is an aficionado of flamenco guitar. He lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife and three children.

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