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Fencing with Gloria
by B. Russell

I can't believe I'm doing this, he thought as he followed the short, shapely brunette up the stairs to the fencing hall. He had met her just a few minutes ago, literally bumping heads going for a drink of water and now they were going to stab each other with blunted swords. He didn't know how to fence, but he had learned things quickly before and he did not doubt that he could pick this up as well.

Her name was Gloria and she was a grade below him, but he didn't mind that much. She said she was the captain of the fencing team, and he liked to play lots of different sports occasionally but not this one before. He wore a Reds baseball cap because he was from Ohio and a big loose-fitting shirt because he was very tall and thin. She wore tight black jeans and a sunny orange tank top and it was nice to follow her up the stairs, being below her and looking up. Then they reached the top of the stairs and he was above her again and looking down, and she was very nice to look at from there as well.

Well, David here it is, she said. She made a broad sweeping gesture to present the plain, hardwood hall with tape marking a long rectangle on the floor and benches lining the mirrored walls. Come on, I'll show you the equipment room, and she led him over to a small room off to the corner. She was enjoying teaching this boy she had just met downstairs a thing or two. She knew she was younger but here in this room she was the elder and he the newcomer. She pointed out the different swords, explaining the basic differences between sabre and foil and epee, and then handed him a foil and told him to find a helmet and jacket that fit him.

All of these are too small for me, isn't there something a little longer in here? She laughed, a friendly laugh, and helped him search for something in his size. It was a little tight. I look silly, he said and she laughed again, or course you don't she said. He did look ridiculous.

She had her gear on as well and then they stood facing each other within the long taped rectangle, no wires because they weren't keeping score, that would come later. For now she showed him how to hold the foil and to stand with his body tilted to the side to decrease the area he needed to defend. He felt awkward having his back foot sideways and his front foot forward and his body tilted, waddling up and down the lane in this silly contorted position, but she said David you're going to lose if you don't learn how to do it right so he did it, silly or not. He wasn't aiming to lose.

She showed him how to thrust with the sword, lunging and stretching the front foot forward and planting it into the ground as he stretched his arm out to get distance into the attack. He didn't want to do it because he tried not to hit girls as a general rule and he didn't want to hurt her, but she assured him the protective gear would keep her safe and to prove the point thrust her blade into a spot just above his groin. The point stuck and the blade bent up into an arc, and he admitted that he didn't feel a thing. He wasn't worried about thrusting anymore.

They practiced, his guard being pretty good for a beginner but not enough to keep her from scoring points on him. Still, he was much taller than her and his reach much longer and she said that with practice he would be able to beat her easily. Of course not, he said, you are a better fencer, but he knew that he was probably faster too and that if he knew more technique he could win every time, if he wanted to. Right now he was not winning, but it was practice.

She was already getting tired, she could feel it in her thighs and in her forearms and the sweat was in her eyes. Just before this Gloria had spent an entire afternoon fencing with the team, and was feeling the exhaustion creep in. But she could see that she had impressed this boy and it felt good to be in complete control, a bit of a turn on as well. She wasn't ready for the lesson to end, and maybe after he lost a match she would buy him dinner.

He could see that she was teasing him as they sparred, parrying him easily and throwing in an aggressive move when he wasn't expecting it to show off her technique. He found himself attracted to her, even with the mask and off-white coverings, but he also felt that rush of adrenaline that he usually felt when he was being challenged, and wanted very much to impress her. He could see that she was a little tired and realized that he could use that to his advantage. He was stronger than her so he started to bat away her sword forcefully, making her expend energy to keep the foil in her hand. He used his reach to keep her at bay, and aggressively moved, letting her get points on him but wearing her down. He had great endurance and could do this all day, but she would get tired, and then, technique or not, he'd beat her.

They sparred now in earnest, she not in good humor anymore, now openly criticizing him for his poor technique, letting himself get hit instead of playing defensively, not realizing what he was doing. She could feel the burn in her legs now and her arms felt like lead weights, and she found herself not parrying as well and ending the points winded. And he kept that grin on his face that seemed at first open and cheerful but now was mocking her, and she regretted bringing him here. After scoring a few more points with him, she backed away and said that she was done for the night, and that she'd probably see him around later.

Why don't we play a real match, just for kicks? Or are you afraid you'll lose, he said. That same grin, and she agreed. He was looking forward to it, and maybe afterwards he would buy her dinner.

They ran the wires up through their sleeves, into the butt of the foils and the other end plugged into the electronic scorekeeper on the wall above the mirrors. First to 15, and he felt fresh. As soon as they were plugged in he started in again, batting at her sword to make her lose her grip. She feinted him and thrust and got another point, and as soon as they were at the center again he started in, not giving her time to catch her breath. A few more points were hers, but she felt exhausted and could barely keep her guard up. He smacked her sword out of her grip and thrust into her chest. His first point of the match. She was angry now and advanced on him. He was lucky and deflected her first couple of attacks and then arched his body back, using his reach to make more distance between his body and her, and let her push him back, then waited for that hesitation where she tried to catch her breath and went hard at her again. Another thrust. Point two.

Back to the center again, and she surprised him by making a quick attack, and another point for her, 5 to 2. But then they started again and he batted her sword to the side and thrust quickly, and he realized that she was too tired now to react as quickly as he did. She wasn't moving fast enough to make up for his reach advantage, she could see that but maybe she could make it to the end of the match. He batted away her next attack and arched himself up and thrust down on her, over her guard. Another point. She was frustrated, and started to get careless. Another point and another, she still scoring on him, but increasingly too tired to keep up. Then he had reached 15 and he felt that rush that comes from a first victory. Captain of the fencing team, huh, he thought.

She took her helmet off and trudged back to the equipment room. He was still beaming at her. Not bad for a beginner, huh? Hey, maybe I'm a natural at this. She came out again, back in her regular clothes alarmingly fast, her head tousled and sweat on her brow, her orange tank top drenched in sweat and clinging to her chest. He stared at her, not seeing her eyes, still standing in the fencing gear playing with his blade.

He walked into the equipment room and started to hang up his gear. Hey, after I get this stuff off, how about I buy you dinner to celebrate my victory? The nerve of this guy, she thought, and grabbed her gym bag from the floor.

I'm actually not hungry anymore, maybe I'll see you later. He could hear the door swing open, and he dropped the helmet on the floor and trotted back out into the hall. Hey, where are you going, aren't you going to wait for me, he said. It suddenly occurred to him that he must have done something to upset her. At least let me walk you to your room.

Some other time, she said, and next time, I might even let you win. She let the door slam shut, her tight jeans disappearing from his view as he stood, white uniform in one hand, the other empty.

But I did win, he said.



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