Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chapter 5, Girl Punches Out (Sen No Sen)

Chapter 5
Bows and Arrows

The ceiling of Emily’s studio was only partially finished. The area over the kitchen, bathroom, walk-in closet and dining table was overhung with standard acoustic tile under joists covered in turn by a rough plywood floor. It was just exposed rafters over the sofa, coffee table and the sleeping area. There were a few recessed lights here and there along the walls, but most of the floor above the ceiling was clear. She had often mused about moving the bed, or at least the mattress, to the attic and creating a sort of loft. The area under the peaked roof was barely high enough to stand up in near the center. But for a bedroom it would be high enough. On the downside, there was only one small window at one end which was shaded by a large magnolia tree. No direct light ever entered there, and very little air either. In the end, this reflection always ended with Emily deciding it wasn’t worth the trouble to move the bed, even if it would have added to her usable floor space.

The glare from the morning sun squeezed through a gap in the window shade and peeked into her eye. It was six fifteen, time to get ready for school. Emily picked out a slinky outfit, something stylish, elegant. She showered and dressed, and then put together a bento box for her lunch, rice and black beans, some pickled cabbage and teriyaki tofu. It occurred to her that she’d better make a little extra since Wendy would undoubtedly want some. But she had to be careful not to make too much, or Wayne might notice. If he did, he’d pester them until he got some too. And “some” in Wayne’s terms would be most. She packed everything into her backpack and went down to her truck. She tapped on the horn to speed Danny along, but he was nowhere to be seen. She found him in the kitchen stuffing the bulk of a plate of pancakes into his mouth.
“Morning, Emily,” said Mrs. Rincon. “Do you have time to eat? There’s plenty.”
“No thanks. I’d like to get to school a little early today. I’ve got some paperwork to take care of.”
“Sorry, Em,” Danny mumbled as he swallowed. “I was trying to get a head start until I ran afoul of my mom’s pancakes.”
“I can see that, mister. A few minutes more and I’d have to roll you out of here.” He washed a last mouthful down with milk, reached for his backpack and stumbled out the door after her.
Emily pulled her truck into the high school parking lot and steered over to the student section. Walking up to the front entrance they ran into Billy and Wendy. They all trudged in the front door together and her friends headed off to their respective homerooms. She popped into the front office.
“Good morning, Miss Tenno,” said Mrs. Telford. “Did you bring your test scores?”
“Yes ma’am. I got ‘em right here.”
“I’ll make a photocopy of the whole packet. With your transcripts and letters, that ought to be enough for ‘em.”
“Thanks again, for going to all this trouble, Mrs. Telford.”
“Oh, it’s nothing, dear. That’s what I’m here for.”
Emily rushed off to homeroom. Because of her new name she had been switched into Wayne’s homeroom for purposes of alphabetization. Some of the girls there were annoyed by her intrusion into a space they considered their own.
“What, still here, Tenno? Or is it Kane? Or do you have another new name now,” said Amanda Terwilliger with a sneer.
She sat behind Emily and in front of Wayne in the ‘T’s. There was a time when Wayne would have said something in Emily’s defense, told Amanda to shut up or something to that effect. But she didn’t really need defending, and it was better just to ignore Amanda anyway. Leave her to Emily’s tender mercies, perhaps indulging in one disdainful snort. Amanda was quite pretty and had enjoyed the attention of all the boys in that part of the alphabet for a few years. Until Emily transferred in, that is. She wasn’t prettier than Amanda, though more exotic around the eyes. Also she radiated the sort of self-assurance that was hard not to notice. The boys certainly did. And so did Amanda.
“Don’t worry, Amanda,” she replied, turning to look behind her. “This is the last one I think I’ll need.” Emily smiled ambiguously as she said this. Amanda looked into her black eyes and seemed a little disconcerted. What had she seen there? Generosity, an implicit offer of friendship, or a vague, unsettling menace? That was in Emily’s eyes too. It was always there, but it coexisted with her kindness. Wayne knew all too well how odd an experience looking into her eyes could be. They were like a touchstone of sorts. People seemed only to see in them something analogous to the sentiments they peered in with.
After morning announcements, it was off to Chemistry class, then World History, English, Gym then lunch. Two essays were due today, one she had written on The Scarlet Letter and the other on the rise of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Emily was fascinated by the life of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu, who had outmaneuvered his rivals to achieve the supreme power in feudal Japan. She was also intrigued by the story of Hester Prynne, the heroine of Hawthorne’s novel. The consummate outsider, a sinner and an outcast, she managed to turn her isolation into a source of power and ironic moral authority. Emily could hardly miss the similarity, imperfect though it was, to her own life. She had occupied the margins of her high school, but found in her devotion to the martial arts access to an inner power that became the basis for something like authority, at least among her friends. But unlike Hester, this was a role she felt events had thrust upon her, rather than one she had elaborated out of her own handicraft.
She found Tokugawa Ieyasu even more interesting because of his striking combination of caution and boldness. Of him it was said he won the empire by retreating. He led his rivals to believe they had forced him to accept a weaker position, which he then turned to his advantage and used to destroy them. He subsequently became shogun in 1603, but resigned the office shortly afterwards in favor of his son, only to rule Japan in fact as ogosho, or retired shogun, for another decade. His descendants ruled as shoguns for another two and a half centuries. She saw in him an expression of what she and Sensei called go no sen, the initiative that holds itself in reserve. Holding in reserve is not passivity, as Emily well knew. In fact, she had come to think of go no sen as the primary form of initiative. But she also knew that there were situations in which it was better to force the issue by attacking first (sen sen no sen), or to attack the attack simultaneously (sen no sen).
There was a new teacher for fourth period gym class, an emergency replacement hired just a week earlier. She introduced herself to the class as Hana Park, though she pronounced it more like “Back.” She was quite pretty with bleached blond hair, which looked even more striking since she was clearly of some Asian extraction. The rumor was she had been a gymnast, maybe even had an Olympic tryout a few years ago. The kids on the cheerleading squad were thrilled, and the rest of the athletic set too, kids like Amanda and her friend Melanie Birdwell. She took a personal interest in Emily right away, which didn’t please everyone.
“I heard about the tournament,” she said. “Congratulations! I wish I’d been there to see it. I hear you took on some pretty tough guys.”
“I suppose. But how are you doing,” Emily asked, changing the subject. There had been talk of a broken engagement and an abusive boyfriend. Emily had offered to give her self-defense pointers.
“I’m okay, I guess,” she said quietly. “Like a weight’s been lifted, you know.” She sounded just a little shaky. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling.”
“I suppose not. You really should come to the dojo one of these days.” She had resisted the offer before, perhaps reluctant to train alongside her own students. But Emily was persistent.
Today’s activity was archery, one of Emily’s favorites. She used to go camping with her father most weekends in the spring and fall, and they would practice with all sorts of weapons: slings, arrows, throwing knives, rocks, etc. She was pretty accurate with all of them, but best with the bow. Something about the flight of the arrow, its nearly silent parabolic passage, responded to the trajectory of something deeply quiet inside of her. Miss Park asked her to demonstrate proper technique for the class. She stood with her shoulders lined up with the target, fitted the arrow to the string, raised the bow to eye level and drew the string back a little more than half the length of the shaft until the feathers brushed her cheek. The string sang out and the arrow flew in a gentle arc to the target, sticking in one of the outer rings. Amanda and Melanie giggled together on the side of the gym.
Miss Park organized the rest of the class opposite the row of targets. Emily drew an arrow out of the quiver hanging from her shoulder and in a single, continuous motion pulled it across the bow string and back to her ear, the full length of the shaft, released the string and sent it in a fast flat arc to the center of the target. She sent two more arrows to the same spot in quick succession. With a little smile of satisfaction, she put the bow and quiver aside, went over to the bar on a side wall of the gym and did twenty pull ups.
“Pretty impressive, Emily,” Miss Park said. “I don’t think I can do more than two.”
“Well, that’s probably two more than any of them can do,” Emily snorted.
The other girls had lost interest in archery by this time and began to wander off, except for Amanda and Melanie who were whispering together a few feet away. Miss Park noticed and blew her whistle.
“C’mon ladies,” she shouted. “If archery’s not your thing, let’s try some fitness exercises.” She brought everyone to the end of the gym where three ropes were hanging from the ceiling. “Form three lines, ladies. Everyone climbs to the top of the rope, does ten push-ups and one pull-up.”  Lots of moaning ensued. Most of the girls would not be able to complete all three tasks, especially the pull-up, and they dreaded being forced to fail in public.
“Do we have to?”
“Amanda, demonstrate for us how to climb the rope,” she said, breaking through the collective whining. “Melanie, you’re in charge of the push-up line. Emily, you help people with their pull-up.”
Amanda climbed the rope quickly and efficiently, showing the class how to wrap the rope around one foot and lock it with the other. She was quite fit and strong, and was obviously pleased to show off in front of the class. Most of the girls were able to make it to the top. The ones who couldn’t did not adequately control the rope with their feet and had to rely mainly on arm strength, of which they did not have enough. The success rate for the push-ups and the pull-up was less inspiring. Amanda and Melanie were able to finish all three, as of course was Emily.
But Emily was in a whimsical mood on the rope, and maybe she just wanted to annoy Amanda. Instead of using the foot-lock technique, she let her legs dangle as she climbed the twenty five feet from floor to ceiling hand over hand. At the top she trapped the rope around one foot, surveyed the room from on high, and then allowed herself to slide down slowly only regulating her speed with her feet. She seemed to hover at various positions. All eyes were fixed on her. At the bottom there was lots of hushed whispering. Most of the kids looked like they had just seen how much fun climbing could be. Some wanted to climb up again.
“Don’t scare me like that,” cried Miss Park, laughing and shooing everyone to the locker room. Lingering in the corner Amanda fumed, huddled with her friend Melanie who looked more bemused than angry and towered over her. She was a big girl, at least six feet tall. She played on the girls’ basketball team and knew first hand what athletic discipline looked like.
Most of the girls just got dressed, perhaps uncomfortable with the idea of showering in public. Emily either didn’t notice or didn’t care that she was usually alone in the shower. Today she also didn’t appear to notice Amanda lurking in the vicinity with her cellphone. But anyone else would have seen she was trying to take a picture. It was perhaps not as clear what Melanie’s role in this adventure was supposed to be. She just looked uncomfortable standing by the lockers. It was steamy, and Miss Park was hovering. Melanie was clearly having second thoughts despite Amanda’s making impatient faces a few feet away. Finally she spoke up as Emily was getting dressed.
“Hey, Emily, have you put on weight,” she said in an insinuating tone. The point must have been to trick an embarrassed look out of her.
“Gee, I hope so,” Emily replied with a curious smile, probably thinking about the advice she’d gotten from the doctor. In any event, that wasn’t the reaction Melanie was expecting.  There were no questions in her eyes, no doubts about her appearance. Just serenity. Was there an offer of friendship too? She also saw something else, something darker lurking at the bottom of her eyes, a flash of something unsettling. Is this what Amanda had seen in homeroom? In any event Melanie saw it all now. She was taken aback, perhaps even a little ashamed.
She smiled nervously and turned quickly towards Amanda, effectively blocking her view. Amanda huffed and growled as Melanie pushed her out of the locker room.
“What are you doing, Mel,” she said as soon as they were around the corner.
“This isn’t interesting anymore. I’m hungry. Let’s go eat.”
“What? So now you’re on her side?”
“No,” Melanie insisted. “But why do you hate her so much anyway? What’s she ever done to you?” Amanda said nothing.
By the time they had settled on a table, Melanie fully regretted the whole episode. Maybe she could get Amanda to delete the photos. Just then her phone vibrated. Phones around the room went off and the rest of the table was snickering. She looked at the pictures. There was a blurry one of a girl in the shower. Thankfully the face wasn’t recognizable. A second one clearly showed Emily smiling in her underwear, pulling on her pants. Melanie hung her head and let out a sad sigh. The text purported to be a forward of a lurid message Emily had sent to Danny.
“This is BS, Amanda.”
“What exactly is your problem, Mel? It’s not my fault if she’s a slut.”
Melanie stood up abruptly and walked out on the patio. She found a bench in the corner and looked again at the pictures. Something caught her eye about the second one. When she zoomed in several dark bruises became clearly visible on her arms and legs. She hadn’t seen them before because Emily wore sweats in class. But now they were unmistakable. It was a disturbing sight.
By the time Emily made her way to lunch, Danny, Billy and Wayne were waving her over to their table. Wendy arrived a few minutes later. She took one look at Emily’s bento box and was already trying to work out a trade. But Emily just slid it across the table to her. Wayne eyed this transaction hungrily, but said nothing. He was biding his time.
“Hey guess what, guys,” Billy crowed. “There’s a new video of the tournament on the web. It’s even better than the one I took. Check it out!” Billy pulled out his phone and found the video. It was a montage of various matches with a soundtrack. But most of it was of Emily’s matches with the last three guys. They all watched it, with Wayne hooting and Wendy saying “Oh my God!” at various points.
“When that guy hit you before the match started,” Wendy said, “I mean you just looked at him. That was so cool.”
“What did you say to him there,” Danny asked.
Emily was a little uncomfortable with this conversation.
“Put that away, guys,” she pleaded. But then she looked at Wendy and relented.
“I asked him if he wanted me to hit him as hard as he tried to hit me.”
“Well you hit him pretty hard the first few times,” Wayne said. “When you hit him in the chest with your elbow, I thought he was done right there.”
“But what did you say to him at the end to get him to forfeit the match,” Wendy asked.
“He hit the floor pretty hard there. I just asked him if he was okay,” Emily replied. “I think he was embarrassed, and maybe a little ashamed.”
“Well, you really cleaned his clock,” Billy said. “I don’t see how he was gonna be able to continue, no matter what.”
“Guys, can we talk about something else?”
Wendy was holding Billy’s phone when she noticed a text message about Emily. She tapped on it without thinking. She stared at the phone for a long moment, and then glared angrily at Danny.
“What the hell is this,” she demanded, jamming the phone under his nose. The boys leaned over it. They all looked stricken.
“I have no idea…” Danny sputtered out. Billy and Wayne were speechless.
“Give me that!” she snarled as she snatched the phone out of Wayne’s big hand. Emily looked at her with arm extended. Wendy hesitated, reluctant to comply, but finally passed it over. She looked at the pictures for a moment. A weary, sad expression crept across her face.
“Em, I swear I had nothing to do with that,” Danny whimpered.
“I know. Amanda must have taken these in gym. I thought she and Melanie were being extra furtive.”
“That little bitch!” Wendy exclaimed as she took the phone back and deleted the text. She looked at the other guys and demanded their phones.
“I guess they’re all over the school now,” Emily sighed. She seemed more disappointed than angry or embarrassed. Kids around the cafeteria were looking at their table. At least that’s how it felt to Wendy. She stood up and tried to get the attention of the room. Billy whistled loudly and Wayne bellowed “Listen up, everyone.”
Emily got up abruptly and walked off. She noticed Melanie sitting alone outside. She went over and sat beside her. Neither of them spoke.
“If any of you just received some pictures on your phone,” Wendy shouted, “you should know they were sent by Amanda. She took them a little while ago in the gym. You should ignore her and delete them.” The room was silent for a moment as the news was digested. Then the buzz of conversation returned to fill the silence. Wendy couldn’t tell if it had done any good, but she couldn’t miss Amanda glowering at her from across the room.
“So, what’s the big idea,” Emily asked sharply. Melanie sighed. They sat in silence for a long moment. Melanie turned to say something, but nothing came out. She stood up, hesitated for a second, then ran back into the building.

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