Crazy B – Episode # 6

I’d never been sued before.  All I got from the attorney was that my dog had been reported to such and such an agency and I should prepare myself for civil court.  I stared at the package of legal papers at one end of my dining room table for maybe twenty minutes before googling up a lawyer.

The guy I talked to on the phone sounded like he thought it was a bullshit case after I’d gone after the details with him a few times, which made me feel a lot better, until he asked if Martha had ever bit anyone before.  That’s when I told him I’d just adopted her recently and had no idea and his breath made a funny sound.  He said I should call the shelter where I’d gotten her and animal control and find out.

I spent all day and half of the next morning trying to figure it out.  The shelter told me no, after a ridiculous amount of time on the phone with them.  The people at animal control had never had a problem with any dogs named Martha.  But, they had had issues with a stray who’d bit a number of joggers on the butt over the years, and the description that they had, of a large, vaguely-colored maybe-female could have applied to my dog!  She could have been a stray from that same litter.  Or, her unassuming alias might be a cover for a long run as an outlaw.

When a phone call I ran to answer from the bathroom turned out to be Sensei, I let loose a good strong stream of angry bad words on his ass.  He said he was having problems processing my debit card from last month’s dojo fees, and that I’d have to go in in-person to fix it.  I wondered briefly if he was going to try and extort me for more fighting.  But then, he was the one with something to hide; maybe he wanted me to take a bribe.

I went.  Lawyers ain’t cheap.

“Hey,” I said, trying to sound tough when I’d walked through the dojo doors.  Sensei nodded; he was in the middle of a children’s class.  The kids yelled in unison when Sensei told them all to practice and came to meet me by his desk against the rear wall.

“Hey,” I said toughly again, in case he’d missed it the first time.

“Hi,” said Sensei briefly, and started fumbling in his desk.  He came up with a handful of receipts and a smart phone.  “Look at this,” he told me, and put the phone in my hand.

It was a video he’d taken at the tournament.  I watched myself step into the ring, and I could hear the smirking of the crowd again, and its disappointed snorts when my rival joined me.  He was so awkward-looking it was gross.  I didn’t look bad.  Then the fight started and…fuck!  The thing that happened to me there, was fucking hot.  I’d have bought a copy if they’d sold the video, even it was two strangers I was watching.  I made that milkdud snap alive.  I made the whole snorting crowd turn into howling animals, we made spasms of pain and elation go through the people when our arms, our fists, our shins and heels made contact in the air.  And none of it after a point was awkward – our movements sharpened, and grew powerful, exhilarating.  I was, objectively, ravishing, and the guy I’d had to fight was looking actually fucking hot once I got him going.  The whole place in the background swayed and breathed on our command, and we didn’t know any of it but the power in the middle.  The shudder that went through me when my body took a real good hit, that left me gasping and somehow seeming more alive than the second before that, was a memory I’d thought lost and buried in shame.

And there I was, standing with a video in my hand, getting all hot and bothered again.  I swallowed.

Sensei was watching my face carefully.  “You’re good, you know.”

“So what?”  I snapped, acting not-turned-on.

“You know what.”  Sensei grunted.  “Lookit this.  Look at what we made.  This is you.  Who showed you this is how you do it, huh?  Who showed you how to be this?”

“I don’t owe you jack, buddy.”

“That’s not what I’m saying.  You want to leave my dojo, go right ahead.  Just remember everything that you’ll be leaving.”

A kid across the room was trying something fancy with his foot in the air.  He’d bust his ass any second now.   Sensei still watched my face, but not as carefully.  His lips were wry.

“You knew,” I said, almost not out loud.  He’d seen me for the horny, pulsing, craving freak I am the second I set foot on his floor, and he’d decided to keep me because addiction works out to more than the liability of strangeness on a spreadsheet.

“Yeah.”  He grunted.  I knew that we weren’t fighting anymore.

“Was I at least the one you were betting on?”

Sensei nodded.  “I bet on you.  I bet on Sam.  I didn’t bet on Than.”

“You bet against your own student?”  I hissed.  “See, this is why you’re not a good sensei.

“He lost, before you showed up.”  He touched the screen of his phone a few times, and a video of Than popped up.  Than had to fight a good-looking guy with a glass jaw.  I’d have bet on Than, if it was me.  Sensei was right though – Than lost, but good.  He took a power-house kick in the chest that laid him out flat, and before he could stand the pretty boy had jerked him off the mat and walloped him another time in the side of the face.  The refs called it nonchalantly in that guy’s favor.”

“What’d you do,” I snorted,  “Tell Than to throw his match?”

“That wasn’t baseball you just watched,” Sensei laughed.  “You couldn’t pay a guy to take a hit like that.  And if you did, he’d forget it the second he got out there.”

“Are you paying Than?”  I gasped.

“He’s paying me.”

“Oh, I’m not paying you!”  I shouted.  “Not ever again.”  Three of the kids stopped what they were doing and stared at me.  I decided it would be immature to stare back, and turned my body so I could only see the Sensei.  He was busy flattening out the crumpled receipts in his hand.

“I’ve already refunded your last month’s fees.  See?”

“I could join another dojo, you know.”

“No you couldn’t.”  Sensei shook his head, cocksure.  “Not the way we do it here.  Not the way you did it yesterday.  You go someplace else, they’ll stop you before you get like this.  You go to their competitions, the refs will stand in your way and block you.  You don’t want a sport.  No one will give you that but me. You got to places like this with me, and I guarantee you what you’re after.  You can stand in the ring and spar and there won’t be anyone pulling you to safety when you get in over your head – just you, just your instincts, dealing with it like you need to.”

I thought about Martha, and the way she might have been living in the woods before she met me.  I wondered what kind of people she’d lived with before.

“You’re making money.  I want money.”

Sensei looked around with a grimace.  “I don’t make a lot of money on the fighting.  It subsidizes kids and people who can’t afford lessons.”

“I don’t have healthcare.  I can’t fight without healthcare.  Give me four-hundred a month, I’ll stay.”

“You can’t find a cheaper plan than that?!”

I looked Sensei in the eyes, and he grumbled.

“Fine.”

“Then I’ll see you tonight.”

Crazy B – Installment #5

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.”

“So, evil!”

“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.

Crazy B – Installment 3

Carlos made a move with his hand like he was tipping an imaginary hat, then walked on with a big cheese-eating grin.

When I got online later and started researching martial arts studios, I still hadn’t quite committed to be being a freak.  I rationalized it to myself as being a defensive measure; I needn’t run screaming to any man’s magenta house if I had the powers of crouching tiger, hidden dragon up my sleeve.

There turned out to be three karate studios in the area – one in town and two in towns next-door.  I went first with the furthest of the out-of-towners.  Just in case anything untoward happened, I reasoned, it’d be easier to avoid a reputation.

The Crimson Orchid karate-do was tucked under a couple of offices in a kitchy downtown.  When I got inside the first thing that hit was the smell of wood.  The walls and floor were oak, and there were boards along the walls that some of the students were pounding against with their bare hands and feet.   At one end of the dojo, a jumble of interesting-looking equipment was set up that looked like a more dangerous and metallic version of a kid’s jungle gym.  At the other end there were a good number of chairs set up, and a writing desk with some neatly-piled notebooks.  No one was sitting in the chairs, except a small dog with a white coat.  I stared at the dog, unsure of whether I’d misinterpreted something I’d read online.  Eventually, an encouragingly buff old man came up and introduced himself as the dojo’s Sensei.  I shook his hand, then started talking about his dog.  It turned out the dog belonged to one of the brown-belts on the floor.  She spent so much time at the dojo she didn’t feel right leaving her dog by himself.

“So you allow some people to bring their dogs?”

“Well-behaved dogs, yes,” said Sensei.  “Do you have a dog?”

I said yes.  I said bringing her along would make things much easier, that she was very well-behaved and mature and would probably sit there on a chair looking straight ahead just like the other perfect little dog.  Then I asked about the jungle-gym at the other end of the dojo.  Sensei smiled.  That stuff, he explained, was for sparring.  This dojo, he was proud to say, consistently entered and emerged with honor from local and regional sparring tournaments.  Some years they even achieved victory at the national and even international levels.  This dojo placed a great emphasis on practical combat.

“But,” he said, “It all starts with the kata.”

I followed the Sensei’s instructions, partnering with a lithe redheaded woman who helped me stretch out my legs, putting bare feet on the inside of my ankles and pushing them out.  If I was a freak I bet that would have bothered me – having her crotch pointed at mine, separated only by the rusty tension of my inner thighs.  The redhead was chatty and her name was Karen.

The class started after we’d been stretching awhile, and Sensei put me in a group with two other beginners to learn a kata, which meant basically we had to do the same three moves over and over for the next half-hour.  He seemed to think there was something important I should have been learning – some body compressing technique that would have made my moves stronger and faster – but I couldn’t get over how bored I felt.  It wasn’t even a workout as far as I was concerned – my lungs weren’t burning by the end, and I couldn’t have seeped into a tantric bog if I’d wanted to, and felt my body.

It was more interesting after that.  We broke into pairs first to use each other for body conditioning.  Sensei had me partner with a broad-shouldered guy who had a black-belt and thin glasses.  Thom, his name was.  We stood at odd angles to each other and began by rubbing our arms together, stepping back and forth and hitting each other with our other hands.

It was really more graceful than it sounds; there was a pattern to our movements that required us to move in synch, like a dance, only much more strict.  If I made the wrong move, the dance stopped, until I figured out how to fix it.  If my mind started to wander, Thom told me to look him in the eye and not look away.  If I didn’t hit hard enough, the black-belt would take my arm and force me to re-do the move, teaching me to push through initial contact, so the sound was a denser thunk than the surface smacking it had made.  I got to feeling very intense, very intense, as I stared into Thom’s eyes, hitting him deeply and moving in instinctual response to every flicker of his limbs.  His eyes were wells of experience, seeing my every incongruity, his body was hard beyond my ability to harm.  He was better than me – we both knew it, there was no tension over that.  He was responsible for keeping me safe and drawing me into the sphere of greatness with him. Don’t look away, I felt myself sweating, I felt my pulse ratcheting inside of me, felt the nerves trampoline-ing in my gut and knew for certain I would soon explode – from one end or the other.  Thom stopped.  I stopped too, looking at the floor and feeling blood gush into my cheeks.  How could I escape those expert eyes, now, that surely knew I was this close to getting off and judged it safest to break off our interlude?

“Any questions?”

I breathed, finally catching on that the Sensei had been giving new instructions.  I looked up.  This was the reason Thom had stopped – to listen to him.  He wasn’t looking at me and hadn’t noticed what had been building up inside of me.  Sinsei caught my eye.

“You, new girl – how is everything sinking in?  Need a break?”

I nodded, relieved, and got myself a drink from the washroom.  When I came back, two other students were sparring in the middle of the floor, and the rest of the dojo sat at the edges of the room, watching, as the Sensei critiqued their battle tactics.  They were both green belts, one a blue-eyed fellow with immaculate skin and the other a gorgeous Indian chick who moved like a scythe and seemed to have the upper hand.

“Stop, stop, stop,” Sensei breathed impatiently.  “David.  It’s not going to end the way you think it will.  You know what it is you’re missing out there, right?  You know why it is you’re losing?”

David shook his head, embarrassed.

“You don’t know where she’s hitting you.  How is she beating you this badly, David?  Listen up, all of you, because  this is a terrible, terrible thing to miss.  When someone puts his hands on you, what do you know?”  Sensei waited.  When no answer came, he leaned forward and answered himself.  “You know where his hands are!  I don’t want to see you missing this anymore, David – no more!  You pay attention to where she is.  When she hits you, you use it.  You learn about her.  You make her react to you.  You’ve spent this whole time running away.  How is this a fight?”  David looked ashamed.  Sensei sighed.  “Go sit down,” he said, and by his tone I guessed this was an act of mercy more than reprimand.  Sensei turned to where I had taken a seat on the floor.

“How about we put the new girl in there and see what she’s made of.”

Instantly, I felt my heart pop up in my throat.  “Sensei?”  I gasped.  I just watched the girl in the green whallop the greenbelt boy black and blue.  I did not want to be out there with her.

“Go,” he said – and said it in such a way that I found myself obeying as though there wasn’t any other option.  I stepped into the center of the ring.  Blackbelts standing at attention thrust a safety vest over my head and lassoed it behind me.

“That girl there is named Sam,” said Sensei.  “New girl,” he continued, as they finished strapping me in.  “There’s something I need you to know before you start.  What you’ve seen, and what you’re going to see – this isn’t violence.  Violence means violating someone or something.  You come here, we will make you into an absolute pacifist.  What do I mean by that?”

I shifted feebly.  “You only hurt people in self-defense?”

“We don’t hurt people,” Sensei corrected. “Even when we fight them, even when we have to.  Even if a man attacks you in the middle of the night and you break eleven of his ribs.  You’re still not hurting him.  You have a spirit – this is something real, something you need to accept and believe in.  The man who attacks you also has a spirit.  The man who tries to crush your spirit will be hurting his own on the way.  So we do not let them crush us.  We use our bodies here to serve the spirit.  Where you see a violent person, you see a spirit that’s bursting from its body, leaving its animal writhing in agony.  You hit the man who tries to get inside you, and that force of yours reels his spirit right back in.  You put him in his rightful place, set him on a better path.  Do you understand?”

I nodded, slowly.  Sam wasn’t looking at me.  I could tell by the ease of her shoulders that she was not even the littlest bit worried.  She hadn’t noticed I was even there yet.  I wasn’t sure whether I was really hearing words beyond my heartbeat or just imagining.

“Ok,” said Sensei.  “Go.”

I stared wide-eyed at the Sam, waiting for attack.  She held my gaze steadily, not making a move.  I started forward clumsily, but I saw her watching my body and seeing where I was going, so I stopped short and turned, going at her from another direction.  She didn’t get surprised, just kept watching until I’d nearly closed the distance between us.  She popped backward into a comfortable horse-stance before I could get her and watched again as though on a sofa.  When I got close enough this time, I was sure she’d use those crouching legs as springs and kick me in the chin, so I launched a kick at her middle.  She swatted my calf aside, then reached for my belt and tried to pull me in.  I kicked her with my other leg and jerked away.  I couldn’t get to her.

“Enough,” said Sensei.  “I see where you are, now.  Very good.”

I wanted to ask him what he saw, but I had the sense that would be embarrassingly novice of me.  I guess that was his business model, or something.  He knew something about me right away, but he wouldn’t let me know what.  He’d make me keep coming and keep paying for lessons and let out what he knew about me bit by bit.  But he got me as a whole, in a glance.  I was sure.  I could feel it.  I signed up anyway for lessons there, committing to four hours a day on condition that my dog could be there.  If she couldn’t, I’d probably just take the hour-a-week class.

I brought Martha by the next day to see what she’d do; she gave the little dog a judgmental sniff, then settled herself down on the dog bed I’d brought and watched the humans beating each other for the next four hours with faint amusement.

*          *          *

I felt great after the long workout.  I was ready and most likely had just been waiting for an obsession like this to come along.  I didn’t have a boss or any time commitments at all, really, and all of a sudden the whole concept of fighting and working out was exciting to me.  Working out made me feel good, in the moment, and then again afterward when the shower was over and the endorphins tickled my veins.  It was like drugs, except that instead of getting smelly and weak I’d be getting sexier and stronger every day.  Thank God I’d ended up fighting the bag lady, instead of making friends.  If things had gone the other way I’d probably have gotten into heroin or some such.

I took Martha home and wrote and watched TV, and that was how every day went after that.  Sparring and working out all the time made me into a cocky, able fighter pretty quickly.  Sensei liked that while I was there it was all I did; I noted a small glint of relish in his eyes when he spoke to me and watched me spar.  After class one day he pulled out a number of applications and had me sign up for four or five weekend tournaments.  At this rate he predicted I’d have a brown belt inside three months.

The next day I looked at the clock and felt a block pop up in my mind when I considered going to the dojo.  I didn’t have to go.  I could, if I wanted, just go for half the class today, spend the extra hours facebook-liking the typical pictures of owls and beaches that sprawled across my newsfeed.  Or I could watch a movie.  It had been forever since I’d watched a movie.  But Martha kept standing by the door and looking at me like I was crazy, so I couldn’t watch the stupid movie in peace or relaxfully keep my feet up.  I grabbed her leash, muttering things.  Maybe if we just walked around the block, she’d get it that our old routine was changing.

It was dark out and rainy, but I didn’t notice this to be unpleasant.  I’d kicked the heads off three dandelions growing out of sidewalk cracks before it occurred to me that I might not want to go to karate anymore.  I completed the walk with Martha, then unleashed her in the house and went out again looking for a bar.

I settled on a hole-in-the-wall looking joint with one motorcycle out front and another pulling in just as I was parking.  All the rain and dark outside gave a blustery expression to the red strobe lights and fries-smell leaking into the lot, like the place meant to be strange and exhilarating but instead had the look of a red-hearthed cottage by the winter sea with its door swinging open and closed.  The guy getting off of his motorcycle moved fast until he got just ahead of me, and then he turned his head and smiled, reaching for the door.  I stopped, feeling my coat for my phone, and pretended to be delayed with an important text exchange until the biker gave up being friendly and went in by himself.  I kept outside pretending to text another minute; this wasn’t going to be like the dog park, when I had to get myself an indigenous escort to vouch for my belonging there.

The biker from the parking lot had already settled into a barstool next to a crew of obvious regulars and had a cold mug in hand by the time I’d ended my exchange with the bouncer by the door – a smile of mine with the flash of my ID returned by his dark nod.  It was early, and the place was relatively deserted, but the music bantered on and the bloody-lips smell of liquor had me senselessly delighted.  The bartender raised a skeptical eyebrow to ask me what I wanted, so I shrugged.  I was thinking, you want my money more than I want your crappy watered-down alcohol, it’s sure as fuck not on me to initiate the verbiage.  I also thought, maybe he thinks it’s not his job, since he’s the dude and I’m the chick – like, maybe during nights and weekends he has a bubbly expressive waitress to actually sell his shit and he just has to stand there stoically pouring and maintaining an impression of stern control that all the regulars reinforce for him to curry his favor and garner free refreshments.  Maybe now that it’s the early part of his shift and in the absence of a smiling yeswoman he just expects all of his customers to demand his attention like mens men or charmingly engage him, playing yeswoman to themselves.  If I don’t say anything at all, he’ll have to break face and eviscerate the whole charade that says he’s in charge, proving that, in fact, the money’s in charge, and I have the money so, actually, I’m in charge.

I was looking at the bartender while I thought this, and I could see by a tic in his throat that he was becoming uncomfortable with my failing to help him.  It was daytime – there was no one here but regulars and a random girl.  How was he going to keep up the impression of having a scary exotic place to work at now?  He cleared his throat, and I breathed, excited for him to drop a solicitous word to see what would happen to the bar and to his weak mirages.

“Pretty lady, let me buy you a drink?”

It was one of the regulars – bearded, too old for me – interrupting and ruining what was going on between myself and the stoic custodian of booze.  The regular sidled over and made a wall with his arm where the bartender was standing so I couldn’t see him anymore.

“What’s your name, darlin’?”

He spoke as though with standard-issue politeness, but I could tell it was the bartender he was acting to rescue.  No man with that amount of lazy in his drawl would have bothered leaving his beer to initiate something romantic.

“In answer to your first question – no.”  I said, then swiveled in my stool so I was again staring at the bartender, through a hole in his regular’s arm.  “I want a bloody Mary,” I said to him.

The regular stood for a second, shocked, then re-oriented himself around me on the other side, maybe to hide his failure from his buddies down the bar.

“That’ll be eight ninety-five,” said the bartender authoritatively, with a dead fix on my eyes, as though I didn’t already have my card in my hand and my hand extended.  I shook the card a little, and he snatched it, not breaking his dead stare.

“That’s mine, Bill.  Put it on me,” said the regular.

Bill glanced his way and gave a grunt, which I took to mean agreement when he tossed my card back without having swiped it anywhere.  I watched him mix and pour my bloody Mary, garnish it with a sprig of celery and hand it to me.  I removed the celery, then threw the drink into the regular’s face and watched with interest as he gasped and stomped and craned his head backwards, making it all dribble harder down his neck and onto the fringe of his nice black t-shirt.

“Now pour one for me, and put it on my card,” I said, shoving the celery into the empty glass before giving it a push that would have sent it sailing back to its caretaker if the bar was polished and nice.  Instead it went five inches forward and stopped.  Bill was gonna have to reach for it.

“What!!!”  The regular roared, having stomped halfway across the room rubbing at his eyes as though his inability to see through bloody-Mary-mix also somehow necessitated his flailing around this much.  “You stupid bitch!!”

I grinned, beside myself, as the regular man lumbered, howling, toward me again.  I was ready for it.  I’d seen already that what worked in their world of small imaginings to keep the gruff façade a symptom of heroism instead of barbarism worked because of network.  Push on one, another across the room would respond, as though attached.  Peer pressure kept them all in check, like teenagers, and that meant any one of them could be shamed; peel that one away, the structure of the system would collapse.

“Walt,” Bill grunted in alarm, as the bearded regular grabbed with hammy hands for the scruff of my neck.

I laughed a bit.  I knew all about Walt now.  I knew his boundaries were beyond his own control, and that all it would take was a small push to send him toppling over the precipice of honor or reality.  “You know,” I remarked, imitating Sensei’s condescending tone.  “When you put your hands on someone else, they know where your hands are.”  I erased the girly smiles from both my eyes when I said that, and made my eyebrows low, so he’d think he had to stand his ground because of all the people who were supposed to have his back.  He was slow, but eventually he was coming to the conclusion that he couldn’t fight with me and be a hero, and he’d have to act too big to take me on.  I watched his wheels working, snagging, working, and then at the very last second when he could possibly change his mind, I cracked my head back and down, whipping my hair at eyes face and flashing him back to our drink-in-the-face shame and shock of a moment.

Today I wouldn’t know karate, wouldn’t fight him like I’d been trained and groomed to do.  It was Greg wielding all the force of meat and rage versus me and just my superior sense of direction, and I was sure I’d win; his hands went from my collar to my throat and he gripped and shook me once to clear the hair out of his way.  I waited for his face to be open to mine, waited for a moment like I’d had with the woman outside of the store, where there was no fear between us and our yings and yangs went snapping at each other, cleaving out each force but power, rolling me back to laugh through egregious ecstasy.

But no – there was the biker who’d tried to walk me in, now intruding on my plans to make the patriarchy crumble in incident to masturbation.  Biker-guy was throwing Walt off and standing between us, filling up the hero-vacuum that existed because of Walt’s burst cowboy vision of himself.  Walt looked to the regulars for support, and they looked by instinct at the bartender, who averted his eyes right away to the bouncer who was already crossing the room to the obvious relief of everyone but me, making loud and tough and general demands to all of us to settle down.

“Why don’t you get out of here,” said the bouncer to the biker, after considering the three of us for a couple of seconds.  The biker nodded, and put an arm around my back, guiding me alongside him.  I let him, giving myself as far as the parking lot to decide whether I’d continue to foster his hero-gets-the-girl presumption.  He was a young guy, about as old as me, and I could feel him bouncing beside me, high on endorphins and pleased at the upgrade to his self-image.  That was my buzz he was enjoying.

We reached the parking-lot, and we reached his bike, and he looked at my car across the way.  “Listen,” he said.  “I’d hate to leave that here with everyone inside so worked up.  Can we meet for dinner in an hour?”

“Sure,” I said, without thinking too much after all.  His giddiness was catchy.

His name, he said, was Greg.  Greg suggested a place I’d have figured to be way out of his price range.  I went home and dressed again, nicely but not in my nicest, and way less slutty than my sluttiest.  I found Greg sitting at a candlelit table, looking conspicuously nice and equally slutty, standing to greet me as I arrived.  I wondered whether, if I was him, it would have bothered me to remember that my date had recently and for no reason tossed a bloody Mary in someone else’s face.  Greg didn’t mention it at all.  He still seemed buzzed from his part in the drama; he practically giggled as he explained in boring detail all about his life as a law-firm lackey.  I managed to convince him all of me was there by mirroring expressions and enthusiastically re-stating opinions, leaving most of my neurons free for re-investment in bigger, fancier thoughts.  Like, figuring out how long it would take for my strange new source of lust to burn itself away.  I still had no idea, for example, when or why I’d decided to get into a bar fight, but I was sure the fight was the only thing that drew me to the bar.  I’d noticed the guys there in a way that wasn’t useful except for fighting – noticed their connections, putting pressure at the faults to see what held.  They were lame and old – tribe was all they’d had to defend them.  It wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t been out to start some kind of war.

And here in the restaurant, I could see it still, the force of tribe – acting as some tangible agent against us all.  The waiters moved like bees through their secret language.  The diners crowded around their tables, their arms opened to each other and closed to those outside their little spheres.  When one moved, the rest followed, keeping each other attached with waiting looks and matching pace.  There was one guy across the room, with his back to me.  By the angle of his table against a projection of brick, I couldn’t tell whether he was there with someone else.  I watched the movements of his head, trying to see his motions as those of a single man, then trying to see them as the motions of someone in a conversation, to see which way made sense.  I watched the ripples by the back of his jaw, and at first they looked like the slack motions of someone speaking, but they also, at times, looked like the elastic decisions of someone chomping food.

“I should really send her a thank-you card,” Greg said, and waited for me to laugh.  He was talking about an ex-wife, I recalled with a bit of effort.  It was due to her vindictive lawsuit and the loss of his beloved pet, Cowboy, that he’d begun to study law.  He figured this path was leading directly to his future as a rich-and-powerful guy with one of those filthy-sexy-slutty secretaries everybody wanted.

I wanted to ask what kind of animal Cowboy was, again, but that would have made it too obvious I hadn’t been paying attention, so I stopped being interested.  The man at the strangely angled table had his face turned sideways, toward the brick wall, so I could see a little of his mouth curving down.  His shoulders were relaxed; he hadn’t any intention of moving.  Either he was alone, or his partner had said something so terribly underwhelming as to make him forget she was there.

I liked the idea of him either way – eating alone.  That was proof of a man who couldn’t be shamed – someone, if I met in a bar in the middle of the day, I couldn’t lead astray.  The only way I’d get his hands around my throat would be to convince him I really needed it for the good of my health.

“Any man ever disrespects a woman in my presences, he’s gonna have to answer for it,” Greg announced, looking at me.  For a second I thought he was reading my mind and reprimanding me for having daydreams about ditching him to lure strangers into street-fights; I prepared some off-the-cuff stabbing insults to return for his antagonism, then remembered Greg had no superpowers and was just finally angling to talk about his heroic intervention earlier.

“I really appreciate what you did for me,” I told him, lowering my eyes in observance of his sense of honor as the waiter arrived bearing entrees.  The world has to go on working the way we expect it to most of the time.  Otherwise all our time would be wasted with getting to know each other instead of just doing things that feel great.

“It’s the way I was raised,” Greg said, loudly, chuckling, drunk.  “I grew up in all the rough parts of town, so I got to be really good at fighting.”  Greg followed this with a soothing laugh to assure me that I was in no danger.  I giggled while doing the wide-eyed glimmering thing you’re supposed to do to make a man feel nice who’s been of service to you.  That set him on talking about all the ways he was a defender of innocents in his day-to-day life.  I liked it at first when he was talking about breaking peoples’ faces, but his story-telling was vague and I had an idea he was lying much of the time.  I wouldn’t have minded if his imagination wasn’t so dull – I knew that plastering over his fantasies with my own would be a far better use of time.  I toyed around with ideas for making something sexy and gloryful of his wreaking-vengeance-against-the-man-at-the-circus-who-mocked-a-child-for-crying-in-fear-of-the-lions yarn, but before I could land on anything solid he expanded it to include his law-firm, so that the vengeance he was wreaking was as boringly litigious as it was glaringly fabricated.

I gave up on including Greg in my fantasies then, and looked back at the stranger against the wall who had gone out to eat by himself.  Maybe there would be a chance, someday, to get him alone and onto the field of battle against me.  Bodies aside and doomed as I might be to lose to him, we’d be driven by sheer force of fervor to engage, to join not mere lust to lust but urge to urge for combat.  My eyelids had a heaviness all of a sudden – the good kind of heaviness that comes when your eyes roll back in your head and you’re still awake.

“Uh-huh,” I murmured smoothly, smiling at my date without making my eyes focus on him.  The silhouette of a lonely stranger took up my mind’s vision, weighing on my faculties like a pillow pressing down.  I felt my fingertips tremble from the effort of seeing it as I reached for my water glass.  Taking too long to drink, I let unsteady breaths fog up the shining facets inside.  I noted offhand that Greg had gone quiet and sent a loose stream of chatter into the air above our caviar.

“Yes.  That’s the way to do it.  You’re right.  Good things come to those who assert themselves.”

“Yeah?”  Greg breathed.

“Hells yes,” I said, then forgot about Greg because, all of a sudden, the mystery man with his back to me was standing – leaving his crumpled napkin on his plate.  This would be it, then – the culmination of his meal, our moment of truth and triumph.  He would turn, his eyes would meet mine.  It might be curiosity that bonded us.  It might be hate.  It wouldn’t be any weak or dense, condescending pretense – we’d know each other with a brutish, banal, incurable honesty where we stood and sat, the better to exist thereafter.

“Yes,” My hiss escaped me as I leaned forward, ready to catch that man’s face with my eyes.

“You like that?”

I started; Greg’s hands had taken mine under the table, jerking me forward even more so the insides of my elbows crushed into the table’s cloth-draped edge.  His voice had gone sly and low, his tongue going over his teeth as though he thought we shared some context.  I remembered vaguely now what the conversation had turned to after he’d started talking about his job – how he’d offered me a position at his imaginary future law firm and then begun explaining my secretarial duties in suggestive bad grammar.  I smiled at him, like my mind was all completely his.  Our table was too wide for us to be holding hands between our knees; he had to lean so far forward to pull it off that his shoulders were touching the tablecloth, and now his eyes were grazing the blouse I’d worn over a lacy non-push-up bra – the kind that draws attention to nipples sticking out. Which mine were, still, and my arms pulling forward pushed my breasts together even more.  There were goosebumps on me, from my daydreams and I had at some point in my deep contemplation pressed my hand to my mouth and begun biting down on my own lips.

All that good feeling was gone along with chance of catching the eyes of one interesting man; he was heading to the restroom, with his back to me again.  When he came out if I wasn’t paying attention at the right moment he’d pass by me and leave.  And he’d be facing my table, one single man among a stream of single men leaving to return to their tables or exit the establishment.  How would I know him?  I’d spent all this time staring at the back of his head.

This was better for my dreaming, I told myself.  Our meeting would be like the one with my bag lady, uncrafted and original.  More intimate than marriage would be the meeting of our eyes across the public bathroom’s threshold now – it would be our deaths, and not our lives, that we’d have spoken for.  We’d vow right there to kill each other, someday, then watch our lives passing from each other’s shadows, always ready for the moment when our perfect storm should brew.  If it came when there was no spark left to light each other’s passing, too late for either of us to claim the forfeit, it would be sad.

I imagined the one that died too soon would be me.  It would be a different type of glory, to be wasted on the pavement for just no reason, but I would make it worth it.  It would be a mugger, likely, or a gang of mugger’s, spattering my blood into the gutter.  So I would hold onto the head thug before he got away, laughing and making him peer in to the gulf of death in my eyes so that he couldn’t help but see himself for who he was and shattered by it.

Greg’s entre and mine were gone when I realized we’d stopped talking.  I’d answered a question of his and he was waiting now for me to tell him more – so it seemed we had come to the part of the night where he wanted to know about me.

“Oh, I write a lot of very different things,” I said.  “But mostly, at the moment, what I tend to write is androgynous erotica.”

“Oh…really?”  He leaned forward in his seat, intrigued.

Just at that moment, our waiter came around with a fabulous array of desserts on a cart, and as I was admiring the miniature cherries’ jubilee I happened to glimpse the stranger man passing by.  I gasped – not out of fire-hearted vows-of-death euphoria, but in genuine disappointment.  Because that man was just disappointing to look at in every regard.  He was old, but old in the sallow, shaky way of bankers and not the good weather-beaten crusty-language way of anyone I ever wanted to meet.  His eyes held water and sheltered contentment, and by his side, there strode, a lady.  Plump and with bouncy curly hair, she looked as if she’d leached every morsel of vitality out of him.  I didn’t know it was him until he was passing, and I saw the line of his jaw and turning saw the back of his head.  It was him – I’d missed his wife around the angle of the wall, and taken his stillness for stoicism rather than rheumatism.

“Wow,” Greg said, nodding as though we were on the same page.  “Those look good.  What do you think?”

He was talking about desserts.  I indicated the chocolate lava cake and Greg ordered two.  He waited for the waiter to serve them and wheel the cart away before he started talking about me again.

“So what is androgynous erotica, exactly?”

“It’s erotica that happens with or without other people’s bodies being involved.  Survivalist porn, for example.”

“Survivalist, porn?  Like, stranded on a dessert island and figuring out different things to masturbate to?”  Greg laughed.

It wasn’t quite an easy-going laugh – I could tell he was getting nervous, on the inside, perhaps wondering for the first time whether some part of me would be deal-breakingly different from who he imagined I was.  I smiled and kept talking.  “It’s not so subtle as that.  There’s a piece I’m thinking of doing now, about ancient warriors.  It may be a gay thing – I haven’t decided yet.  There could be a peaceful tribe, overlooked, misunderstood, but one among them had a warrior heart.  His enemies would hate him compulsively, by virtue of his tribe, until he engages a master warrior out alone in the wilderness.  They’d be fighting over rains.  They’d be fighting over wells.  The guy from the peaceful tribe would find a new path for rain, and stand guard at it, waiting for his village to find him.  They’ve got to claim it.  The great man from another tribe would see him guarding it and laugh at him for thinking he could hold it all alone.”

“Fascinating,” said Greg, and I knew he didn’t mean it, because I’d seen his face pinch up when I’d said the story might be gay.  He looked around quickly, obviously preparing to change the subject, and so I leaned forward and began to speak again, louder and faster.  “Or the man from the other tribe might not be a great man in spirit – he might be a shameful, cowardly man who only had a big body, and he couldn’t comprehend the little man’s conviction, and he’d say to him, ‘Why guard it, only because you’ve found it?’  Only great men dare to take new wells, the weak men try to hide them so they can take them back when the great men have passed by.  But the small gay hero stands alone, unarmed, guarding it like great men would.  The great man’s tribe would begin to arrive, scout by scout, and look at him strangely, and laugh about it.  They’d recognize him from the pacifist tribe and not make a move to kill him, because great men don’t fight small men, and you can see it in a glance when you’re from a warrior tribe, and there is no honor in downing someone smaller than yourself.  The warrior group would arrive and laugh over the small man’s presence, but not do anything to kill him and assume he was delusional and that the well belonged to all of them by virtue of their strength.  But then the tribe’s elders would arrive, and the chief elder, looking at the small man, would not laugh, and would not pass on, assuming that his mark on the well would suffice anymore to keep it.  ‘We camp here,’ he’d say, as though the little man were great, and waiting for his tribe to catch up would have evened things out and made this a fair fight.  Then the little man might begin to shudder.  What if his kin did catch up?  What if he’d changed their way of life forever?  He’d never thought of fighting as an option, but what if there was no other now?  And the whole course of history was changed by his being there too soon.”

Greg had tried to interrupt once, then politely backed away and resigned himself to listening.  His lips smiled, and the corners of his eyes were pinching painfully.  “That’s it?” He asked, when I stopped talking.  “I thought you said it was erotica,” he said, and chuckled.

I stopped talking.  I’d forgotten that some people were expecting sex right away when they heard the word “erotica.”  “Yeah,” I said vaguely, digging into my lava cake.

I looked up at a silence after a few more minutes’ absent banter, and Greg was staring.  I could tell that he was waiting for a hint from me as to where I wanted the evening to go – whether we’d both be going to one place or separating.  Really, not much at all phased him in my regard.  I wondered if he’d be the same way for a whole relationship or if this not even caring how psycho or strange I could be was his introductory offer in light of not yet having been laid.

“Ok,” I said to Greg.  “I would like you to order me a wonderful expensive cordial.  Then I would prefer it if you’d follow me to my house and take off all my clothes, slowly and sensuously.  Feel free to throw them on the floor; they’re not my nicest clothes.  You may then have sex with me, only if you promise to do a good job.  If you do not do a good job, you may take me out to dinner again, but not have sex with me afterward.  I will probably not tell you whether I approved until after we’ve had the dinner.”

“Well,” said Greg, startled.  “Yeah, ok.  That’s ok.  Yeah.  Thanks.  I mean…”  Greg blushed and tried to cover up the fact that he’d said thank-you, but I ignored all his excuses.

“You’re welcome,” I said.