By the Sword: 1

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

This essay continues the “B-sides” series — segments removed from my MFA thesis for thematic reasons. Photograph of “The Night Watchmen,” bronze monument to Rembrandt, Amsterdam.

“A sword, a spade, and a thought should never be allowed to rust.”

— James Stephens 

The bag smelled of urine. Cat urine, to be precise. Kylan prodded me. “Can’t we just get rid of it?” she pleaded. I finally concurred. It was smelling up the basement.

I have a lot of bags: one duffel, two backpacks, two satchels, one messenger sack, a man-purse, a camera-tote, and an extra-large rucksack that I’ve carried through three continents. But this bag was different. Long, bulky and red, it could have passed for a cadaver pouch. For 17 years, it had been stuffed with the same contents – three foils, two epées, a pair of masks and a silvery lame.

This was my fencing bag.

“You were a fencer?” friends exclaimed when they saw the bag huddled in the corner of the basement.

“I was,” I said. “In high school.”

“That’s awesome! Can you teach me?”

It astonished them that I could hold my own in a “duel,” if the occasion ever came up. Yes, I was out of practice, my fencing muscles had atrophied, but if I was ever required to “sword-fight,” I could, and damned well.

But I didn’t teach them, even the friends who were serious. I hadn’t competed since my senior year. Nor did I miss fencing – the sweaty hours in my starched plastron and breeches, the zippered coverall that felt like a straight-jacket. Now and again I’d affix the mask and remember the claustrophobic grille, how hard it was to breathe, how hot and dizzying. When I felt the dents – from epée-strikes to the face – my neck instinctively ached. For years I’d dragged this baggage from closet to basement to attic to garage. If anything, I relished my role as agéd musketeer. The swordsman whose rapiers were hidden. D’Artagnon retired to la campagne.


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