I almost didn’t go to the karate competition. It was the day after Martha bit Greg’s butt, and I didn’t honestly feel up to it. But Sensei kept calling and leaving messages on my machine expressing concern, and on the last message he was so near to begging that I picked up and told him, yeah, yeah, I’ll go, all right, see you there. So then I had to shave my legs and put on clothes and kiss my dog goodbye to drive an hour to where the tournament was going on.
Sensei was waiting there with Thom and two other students. He looked relieved to see me, which was kind of surprising because I thought if he was serious into tournaments like he said he was he wouldn’t sweat a little dinky local competition. Thom nudged my shoulder and I stood by him, watching the sparring that was going on already. It was Sam, that fucking firecracker, just demolishing a bear-shaped man whose strategy seemed to be to wait and brace against her attacks for the moment when she’d tire and make a mistake. I wondered at first whether this was going to be one of those embarrassing PR fights where they put a woman against a man and just all the managers or his manly pride encourage him to lose and the female audience members act like they don’t notice and cheer like crazy for the woman to win. A few of her kicks bounced off with shallow slapping sounds, but then she got in a jab that ended in a crack.
The big man wobbled and his sensei screamed at him across the ring, words I couldn’t make out because the rest of the crowd was also growing louder, and the whole time Sam kept striking. The big man let out hisses, then lunged, finally, losing patience with himself. That was stupid, because Sam was quick and sharp and tripped him without any effort really. He stumbled out of the ring, so I thought the match was over. But Sam followed him out, and launched herself at him through the air, kicking his shoulder and knocking him down. My jaw dropped, and I looked sideways at Sensei. He just stood there nodding quietly as Sam acted like she was going to continue beating the crap out of the big guy on the ground, until the referee, chuckling, called the match in Sam’s favor. Sensei prodded me smugly as Sam returned to us, all hot breath and triumph.
“That’s…intense,” I murmured to Thom. He didn’t answer – he was watching the entrance of the next two solemnly, and tilting his head just the tiniest bit in sync with the metal-pumping music they had on. I suspected he was turning every match into some epic montage with his feelings. Maybe he wasn’t the only one; there was a hyper-brilliance to the crowd, as if everyone in the room was taking this seriously but me. Well, me and probably the ref. He made fun of people sitting in the lowest tier of bleachers in-between matches.
Over the course of the next match, I felt the energy creep in despite myself. There was a tall, lithe blonde lady battling a short, stubby girl with brown hair. The stubby chick was kicking ass, and there was heartbreak and fury in the faces watching them at times. At one point, the graceful blonde attacked with an arching scissor-kick; the stubby girl seized her calf and pulled, her eyes all crazy, and actually shook her opponent in the air before dropping her. Watching it all seemed, to me, somehow perverse – like watching porn. There was a cheap thrill ringing down my abdomen and toward my silken lady-place. I’d rather be making the thrill myself.
The next match wasn’t nearly as interesting – a couple of big guys who spent most of the time, it looked like, hugging each other. It was during that match that I noticed Carlos, my neighbor, sitting halfway up a set up bleachers on the other side of the arena. He smiled, maybe at me – it was hard to tell across the room. It looked like he winked, but I might have been mistaken.
There were two more matches after that, and then, they were announcing me over the loudspeaker. I stepped into the ring with my fingertips tingling adventure and waited for my match. They’d pitted me against somebody named Dave, and I could feel the crowd cool off and begin to squirm when he showed himself – a scrawny thing with nothing but weasel teeth to show beneath his nervous lips. He was sloppy, even, in the way he moved – shuffling his feet towards me unevenly. It disgusted me to watch him – made me want to beat the snot right out of his gross milkdrinker face.
The bell sounded, and Dave stumbled in toward me. I cut him off at a very sharp angle with one leg and waited, the air of his surprise moving past me as his arms drew back, seeking balance. It was then, for the first time, I found pleasure in his eyes. Not his pleasure, mind you – mine. The sense of falling gripped him, and moved like a light through his face. I pushed, my foot against his chest, and watched his mouth pop open in one flickering moment’s scream – a silent one, but one my body heard. I hooked my foot around him suddenly, heel jabbing very near but not quite on his spine and he straightened, flailing like a willow, though still with his face lit up. I was moving, not to beat now, but all around this boy as if to kindle his horror, replanting fear in his stance with the slice of a forearm and jab of a palm. He didn’t fall, but thought he might, and that feeling was a brightness coming out. Before it melted away, I slid back and crack-slapped the half of his face that included some temple and an eye, some of his lips and his cheek, then ripped my hand away and watched, with distance between us, the shock well and ebb and the rage replace it and flood his eyes with natural, gushing force. Now there was a fight.
The crowd on all sides swelled – you felt it – and the craving of my body made sweat like putty drip between my knees. I laughed, dizzy when he came at me again – straight and strong this time, his dirty leaking nervous energy all sucked inside and springing only where he hit. I blocked, but not in time; his palm met my ribs and pushed through, intent on breaking into me. I gasped, body taut, then bending as a little stream rushed out of me in a burst of good feeling and down the one straight leg that bore my weight. The other leg was coiled just above the ground. The small part of my arm that was blocking already had slammed his aside, turning his body on an invisible axis. I snorted, finding balance enough in the time it took David to pivot and come back at me that I was able to high-kick the kid right in the jaw. David stood too straight; the blow landed just beneath his chin and shot up, and you could almost see tremors ripple down through his tissue when his board-stiff figure fell. TKfuckingO is what just happened.
The crowd around the ring was out of control; I felt the noise like drums against my skin, rough and vigorous. All my nerves were stretching tensely in me, like the surface of a trampoline; everything my skin could feel fired through my neurons, unbearably acute. The flapping of my ghee against my arm made me twitch three or four times in a row as I bowed at David and the medic tending to him.
All my pleasure had been running from my panties down the one leg most of my weight was on, and soaking into my sock. The pants were loose enough I didn’t think anyone could see, but even if they did, I was covered in sweat. No one would know what had happed. For a second while I waited, twitching, for the announcement to come that I had won, the medic looked at me. I had a flash of panic, thinking maybe he’d see this as some kind of seizure, insist on a full medical exam, and who knows what those medics would find? Would they walk over to my Sensei, shaking their heads and saying, “We regret to inform you, sir, that your star fighter is actually a big horny freak who was only using this tournament as an excuse to get off”?
The moment passed, and I hurried from the fighting floor back to my group, where everyone gave me pats on the back and said what a great job I did. Thom looked a little shocked; Sam suspicious. Sensei had a wry sense of appreciation about his congratulations. Maybe they couldn’t put it into words, but I was under the impression they’d sensed something sexual at work.
“That was a good match,” Thom said, after a speechless few minutes had already gone by.
* * *
Carlos came by a little later to congratulate me. I wasn’t thrilled to see him – by then my adrenaline was gone and I could feel the bruises on my ribs whenever I breathed too big. There was a tenderness in one of my arms, too, though it didn’t look any different.
“Are you going to be fighting soon?” I asked.
“Already did – you didn’t see me?”
“I came in late.”
“Yeah!” I snorted. “Did you win your fight? I won my fight.”
“I saw!” Carlos’s eyebrows raised when he said this, as though he, too, had picked up on the sexiness and was both judging and impressed.
“Did you win your fight?” I pressed.
“Lady, when you get to my level you don’t even keep track of single fights. The average is all that’s important. My average is way, way high. As you can see, my belt is brown, making me uncontestably your superior. This is why we’ll never fight, incidentally.” He winked. That bastard.
“That move you did at the end,” Carlos went on, “That wasn’t karate. What was that? Where you stood with one leg completely straight and wiggled your foot while kicking? It looked so dangerous.”
“What can I say? I’m an innovator. It’s a new move I invented – call it Crouching Bitch.”
“I will never call a lady such a thing.”
“Oh my God, I meant bitch like the animal bitch, because they’re sleek and powerful, not like the slang term for woman. You really are a sexist, wow!”
Carlos grunted, looking past me. I glanced at Sensei, who was returning to our group after a walk around the room. “I didn’t know you were with his group,” Carlos muttered, close to my ear.
I laughed, although it hurt my bones. “You take tribalism too seriously, like most men. This will be your downfa –”
“No, I mean – seriously. This is not a good dojo.”
“Yeah, they all told me to Sweep the Leg or I wasn’t their friend when I went out there, but I didn’t listen.”
Carlos looked at me quickly, then with a hand on my shoulder whispered for me to come with him and steered me back behind the bleachers when I moved my feet. I thought I was going to get a chance to make fun of him for taking the first move despite his prior protests and for being so stereotypically high-school about it, but as soon as Carlos stopped walking he pointed through the gaps in the bleachers and said matter-of-factly, “Your guy’s mafia. He’s making money on your ass.”
I looked through the gap in the bleachers and, sure enough, there was Sensei, folding up a wad of money and shoving it into his pants. Probably his underwear, actually – his pants were too loose to contain money.
“Noo,” I said, laughing. It all made sense, suddenly. The extreme energy of the crowd, the strange amount of personal contact allowed by the ref, Sensei’s nervousness when I showed up late. There must be bets out on all the fighters.
“Yes,” said Carlos. “I’d never go to a tournament like this under a guy like that. He’s making money on your ass, and if you get hurt you’re the one who’s going to have to pay for it.”
“Huh,” I said.
I went back to my group and nodded at Sensei. “Can I talk to you about your lack of ethics?”
We stepped aside. “What lack of ethics?” Sensei was looking nervous again.
“I saw you collecting money that you got from making bets on m–”
“Shhhh!” Sensei put his hands up, looking around. He turned back to me with his eyes scrunched up. “How do you think we’re keeping the dojo lights on?”
“Um, by charging money for those classes you teach?”
“I don’t charge half of what I should, and the students that can’t afford it don’t pay that much.”
“So you’re a good Samaritan just doing this out of kindness?” Sensei looked away wryly. I leaned in. “I quit!”
I made for the parking lot, where I was just in time to see the tail end of a fistfight break out between a group of four guys who I was pretty sure had been losing money most of the day. I blasted my music all the way home, and then when I got there I stopped in the driveway, staring at the porch. A man in a suit was standing with a package in his hand, knocking on my door. He ended up being a lawyer – Greg’s lawyer – here to serve me up a lawsuit. It seemed Greg was still mad at having teethmarks in his butt, and wanted compensation, in the form of my Martha being put to sleep.