AR Logo
Volume I, Number 2 (Summer 2007)
ISSN 1934-4324

Sign up for
The Aroostook Review Newsletter!

To do so, send an e-mail by clicking on the link above with the word "Subscribe" in the subject line. To unsubscribe, send an e-mail with the word "Unsubscribe" in the subject line. Please allow a week for processing.



NEW-CUE, Inc. is a non-profit, environmental education organization founded primarily to assist writers and educators who are dedicated to  enhancing  the public's awareness of environmental issues.




Gary Beck

Gary Beck's recent fiction has appeared in 3AM Magazine, Fullosia Press, EWG Presents, Nuvein Magazine, Vincent Brothers Review, The Journal, Short
Stories Monthly, L'Intrigue Magazine, Babel Magazine and Bibliophilos. His poetry has appeared in dozens of literary magazines. His plays and translations of Molière, Aristophanes, and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. He is a writer/director of award-winning social issue video documentaries.

To the Point

In his first semester at Hunter College, Roy was required to take a physical education course. He was a little over six feet tall, blonde, blue-eyed, with a strong body developed while playing high school football. On an impulse, probably based on silly swashbuckler movies from his childhood, he signed up for fencing. He was placed in a large class that shuffled up and down to the bored refrain from the teacher, Neil, a young African-American, who was a member of the fencing team. “Advance, advance, advance. Retreat, retreat, retreat. Lunge.” They didn’t touch a weapon for two weeks. Then they were issued masks, jackets, foils and an elaborate set of rules that governed combat. Neil cautioned them not to fool around with the foils. They were instructed to signal an opponent that they were attacking by extending the blade and beating it against the opponent’s blade before lunging. They learned two basic parries, numbers four and six, to defend the left and right sides. They paired off and they were fencing. Roy had excellent reflexes and was soon paired with the best student, who he easily beat in free play. It was fun, but not what he had anticipated. There were all sorts of conventions and restrictions that regulated how you stabbed your opponent. There were no flamboyant duels.

One morning, Roy was in the locker room changing into his uniform when the fencing team came in. They were a quiet bunch, primarily engineering and math students, very different from the locker room jocks Roy had known on the high school football team. They didn’t look very much like athletes. He stopped to watch them practice and saw a remarkable transformation. The nerdy looking guys with piles of books suddenly looked like killers. Two of them, using weapons larger than foils, were attacking each other and defending themselves in a violent ballet of human motion. Roy watched in fascination, until they took a break. They removed their masks and one of them was Neil. Roy immediately went to talk to him.

“That was great, Neil.”

He didn’t recognize him. “Thanks.”

“I’m Roy, from your fencing class.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

“What’s that weapon? It’s much bigger than the foil.”

“It’s an epée. It’s like a dueling sword.”

Roy couldn’t contain his eagerness. “Can I try it?”

“Yeah. Hold the hilt with your thumb and index finger and use the other three fingers for balance. Keep your knuckles against the bell and your wrist straight. The bell will guard your arm up to the elbow.”

“How does that work?”

“If you’re in the right position, your opponent can’t easily hit you past the elbow without you hitting him first. Put on the mask. I’ll show you.”

Neil showed him how to stand en garde, faced him, made some kind of movement that Roy couldn’t follow and jabbed him hard in the face mask, jarring him.

Roy protested. “You hit me in the head.”

“The whole body’s the target.”



“But you didn’t extend your arm to announce your attack.”

“Right. Whoever gets there first, scores.”

“What about all those rules you taught us in foil?”

“They don’t count in epée. It’s closer to the real thing.”

“I’d like to learn epée.”


“It’s exciting. Would you teach me?”

Neil was reluctant. “I really don’t have the time.”

“Just for a few minutes before or after class or fencing practice. Whatever’s convenient for you.”

“You won’t get extra credit for this.”

“I don’t care.”

Roy was persuasive and Neil gave in. “All right. Meet me tomorrow after practice. It’s over at noon. What’s your name again?”

“ Roy. Thanks a lot. See you tomorrow.”

Within a few weeks Roy discovered that he had a natural talent for epée fencing. Neil was spending more time with him, two or three times a week, and his progress was rapid. The other team members teased Neil about teaching Roy, but he ignored them. Neil was a little taller than Roy, about 6’1”, with short, wiry hair, a thick featured, proud face, dark skin and a strong body that looked smaller in street clothes. He was a junior, an engineering student in his third year on the fencing team. He told Roy that all members of the team fenced foil the first year, then they could pick their weapon of preference: foil, saber or epée. Roy was eager to join the team and Neil introduced him to the coach the next day. Al Jones was medium height, heavy set, balding and the resentful leader of a perennially losing team.

“Coach. This is Roy Cafferty. He wants to join the team.”

Coach Jones was abrupt. “Why?”

“I like to fence and I like to compete.”

“Anything else?”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“Are you willing to eat, drink and sleep fencing?”

“Definitely not. But I’m a hard worker and I’ll give the team my best.”

The coach asked suspiciously. “Are you a smart ass?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Can you take orders?”

“Sure. As long as they’re legitimate.”

“Are you a locker room lawyer?”

“No, sir. But I don’t like to be bullied.”

Neil vouched for him. “He’s honest, coach.”

Jones was doubtful. “You’re probably a trouble maker. Well, I’ll give you a tryout. Come to the practice tomorrow morning at ten.”

“Thanks, coach.”

“It’s Mr. Jones, until you’re on the team.”

“Sure. Thanks, Neil. See you tomorrow.”

They watched Roy walk away.

Neil was enthusiastic. “He’s got real potential, coach.”


“He’s in my freshman foil class and I’ve been teaching him epée after practice. The kid’s a natural born fencer.”

“He’s too polite and self-possessed for a freshman. We’ll see what happens at the tryout.”

The next morning, Roy got to the gym early and waited impatiently for coach Jones, who finally showed up carrying two masks and two foils. He handed a set to Roy and watched critically as he put them on. He barked: “En garde.” and studied Roy’s position, roughly correcting him with pushes and shoves. “Advance. Advance. Extend. Lunge.” When Roy recovered, coach Jones screamed: “I didn’t say recover. Now lunge again and hold it.” Roy lunged and held his position. coach Jones tried to tip him off balance, but Roy held it, which seemed to irritate the coach, who then put on his mask. “Let’s see what you’ve got. Attack me.” Roy stood en garde and advanced on the coach, extended his blade and lunged. Jones parried and riposted and Roy parried. “Again.” This time, when Roy parried, Jones circled his blade and hit him in the chest. “Why didn’t you follow the disengage?” “What’s a disengage?” Jones turned to Neil, who was watching attentively. “I thought you were teaching him?” “I didn’t get to the disengage yet.”

Coach Jones looked Roy up and down and said: “Well, you may have some potential, but it’s hard to tell at this point. Maybe you should finish the course with Neil and come back in the spring.” “That’s six months away. I don’t want to wait that long. Neil’s class is too big for any personal instruction.” “I think you should give him a chance, coach.” “I don’t know.” Roy was really worried that he wouldn’t be accepted. “Let me show you what I can do with an epée.” “What’s the point? You don’t know enough to show me anything.” “Tell you what, coach. If I can touch you, will you let me on the team?” “You couldn’t touch me with my eyes closed. Ready?” Roy ran at Jones, the way he had seen Neil attack, screaming at the top of his lungs, swerved at the last moment and hit him on the shoulder as he went by. “He got you, coach.” Roy waited silently. “You couldn’t do that again in a million years.” “I could if you train me, coach.” The answer was begrudging, but wonderful. “Well, I guess I’ll give you a try. But remember, no epée.” “Yes, coach.”

Roy joined the workout that morning, after being issued a uniform and gear. He loved the disciplined workout and only looked occasionally with longing at the epée fencers. At the end of Roy’s first week with the team, Hunter had its first fencing match of the season versus City College. Roy rode the more than half empty bus with the team to the City College campus in Harlem. When they got to the gym there were more fencers than spectators. The formality of preparations for the match was reassuring to the nervous visitors. Roy watched avidly as weapons were wired electronically to register hits that happened too fast for the judges to follow. When the first bout started, the opponents lined up on the fencing strip, a long, narrow, black sheet of rubber, saluted each other with their blades and engaged. They may not have been the best fencers in America, but they were exciting to watch. Roy studied the competition in fascination, determined to be out there next year. The foil fencers were rhythmic, the saber fencers were fierce slashers, but the epéeists caught Roy’s rapt attention, because they had the intensity and focus of duelists. The Hunter team was completely outclassed, except for Neil. He fenced the first epée position with ferocity and elegance and easily defeated his three opponents. Roy silently vowed that he would become as good a fencer as Neil. The final score was City 24, Hunter 3. After the match, Roy discreetly congratulated Neil and sympathized with coach Jones and the rest of the team for another dismal defeat.

The bus ride back to Hunter was a bit depressing. Almost everyone was huddled alone in their seats, brooding about the lop-sided loss. Coach Jones stared stonily out the window, saying nothing to his disheartened team. Roy spoke to them on an impulse.

“Hey, guys, that was the first fencing match I ever saw and I was impressed.”

One of the saber fencers, Mario, answered drearily. “With what, the other team?”

Roy said: “No. With our team.”

Mario was confused. “Why? We lost.”

“That doesn’t matter to me. Everybody tried their best and that’s the most a team can do. It’s easy to feel good when you win. It’s hard to keep trying when you lose. I’ve played football on teams where lots of guys quit. That didn’t happen tonight.”

Robert, one of the foil fencers, muttered: “We did lousy.”

Roy said: “We’ll do better next time.” If Roy had stopped then he would have made some new friends, but he went too far, as usual. “I can only root for you now, but next year I’m going to fence epée and help us win matches.”

Mitchell, a junior who fenced second epée, was immediately insulted. He asked: “Whose place are you planning to take?”

“Whoever I can beat. Maybe yours.”

Mitchell didn’t like Roy’s attitude. “You’re pretty arrogant for a freshman who just saw his first fencing match. Why don’t you shut up until you know what’s going on.”

Roy turned to face Mitchell, as his temper started flaring, and he said with some challenge in his voice. “Don’t tell me to shut up. If you can’t talk to me politely, we could always meet privately and discuss the importance of good manners.”

Before Mitchell could say anything, Coach Jones intervened. “I don’t want any arguing on my team. Cafferty was just trying to be positive. If he annoyed anyone, I’m sure that’s not what he meant. Right, Roy?”

“Sure, coach. I just wanted to be supportive. No offense meant, guys.”

Coach Jones looked around at everyone. “Then this is a closed case. Let’s save our energy for next week, against Brooklyn College.”

Most of the tensions on the bus subsided, but Mitchell was still resentful. Allen, another junior, who fenced third epée, joined Mitchell and wouldn’t let him calm down. “That guy’s real pushy. He’s not going to make first string until we graduate.”

Mitchell was glad to find an ally. “Let’s make sure of that.”

Frank, the only other freshman to join the team that year, sat down next to Roy. “You really stirred up a storm.”

Roy wasn’t sure if he was being critical. “Do you have any complaints?”

“No, Roy. I just wanted to tell you that I’m going to fence epée next year and I want one of those slots. So you and I have something in common.”

Roy was glad to make a new friend. “Well, good for you. Maybe we can practice together.”

Frank was excited. “That sounds great. I can meet you two mornings a week on the days the team doesn’t practice.”

“That’s fine with me. We can get an epée for you from the equipment room. There are plenty of old ones there. I’ll ask Neil to help us.”

Frank was eager to begin: “Do you want to start this week? How about Thursday morning?”


The team was more lively during the rest of the bus ride back to Hunter. Roy’s praise had helped dissolve some of the bad feelings of defeat. When they said good night, everyone except Mitchell and Allen said something pleasant to Roy. He knew that it would be a long time until he’d get a chance to compete in a tournament, but he went home, walking on air, feeling like a member of the team.









Original website content (text, graphics, look & feel)
by The Aroostook Review.
Authors, Photographers & Artists retain the copyright for their work(s) on this website.
Unauthorized reproduction without prior permission is a violation of copyright laws.