Problem Students

It was awkward, sitting so close to Dawn after all that had gone on between Cara and I in the week since my last lesson. All that tension, conflict, and discussion and she was in the dark about all of it.

Add a difficult afternoon with Alex at the gym and you had an unfocused, distant student who was not making a whole lot of progress.

The complications with my own student caught me by surprise; training had been going smoothly, we were meshing well, and he had not questioned a single instruction I had given him. Until his pride got in the way.

“I will not do any of that,” he had told me, his back as straight as a ring post and his chin jutting out.

“Why the hell not?” I had asked, my voice rising in surprise.

“I go in the ring as a warrior, proud and strong. People will not see a scared child, or a clown, or a boy. They will see a man.”

I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes at him. I took a few breaths and tried to remember what I was like before my first fight – full of nervous energy and bravado and convinced I was ready to conquer the boxing world. I almost had my head taken off within a minute of the bell ringing.

“Look Alex, I know it’s not the manliest way to start your first fight, but you’re going in there with a fighter who has the experience advantage – I’m just trying to find ways to compensate for that.”

Gregor had finally sent me a name and a record: Kofi “The Killer” Agyeman, 15 wins, 3 losses. Fourteen of those wins came by knockout and all three losses were split decisions. I always hated losing that way – if one judge saw the fight go your way, why couldn’t one of the other two have seen it that way as well?

“And you say tripping over the ropes as I go in will do that? You say staring at the crowd like some scared child will help me win?”

“It will get in his head – he will be too confident, too sure of his victory,” I told him. “And then when you start hammering his body with hooks he’ll be even more confused and -”

“No.” Alex stared at me, daring me to push against this brick wall. I was the one caught unbalanced and without a reply. He stormed away and that was how we ended our day.

The piano lesson came to a close after an hour that stretched out to cover days. I thanked Dawn for her time and left a cheque on top of the piano before moving to the door.

“Nate,” she said sternly as I tied my shoelaces, “am I going to have to remind you every week?”

“About wh… oh, my side of the bargain. Sorry, it’s been a long week,” I said as I straightened. I studied the plaster ceiling and tried to dredge up some of the boxing trivia I had accumulated over the years. “How about this: up until 1882 bare-knuckle fighting was all the rage in England. That was the year the R v. Coney decision was delivered, outlawing the contests.”

“Not bad, I suppose,” she said with a slight shrug.

“Ah, but you didn’t let me finish,” I told her. “The reason the fights were against the law? It was considered assault – despite the consent of the participants.”

Dawn threw her head back and laughed loudly; I tried to prevent my smile from wandering into smug territory. Once she had regained her composure she eyed me closely for a moment before speaking again.

“Is everything alright Nate? You seemed… not entirely here tonight.”

“It’s just been a long week for me – I’m really sorry, I’ll try not to let outside problems interfere with the lessons.”

“Don’t apologize,” she said with a wave of her hand. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Lesson time is over; I don’t want to keep you…”

“It wouldn’t be a problem, really.”

“That’s very kind of you,” I said, stalling for time. I had asked Cara to scour YouTube for footage of The Killer’s previous fights so that I could come up with a game plan for Alex and had promised I’d be home in time to watch some of it with her. But I wasn’t ready to tell Dawn any of that. “I can’t stay tonight – maybe another time?”

“How about this weekend? I’m free Saturday afternoon…”

“That doesn’t work for me either,” I said with a frown, thinking of the upcoming excursion to Victoria.

“It’s okay, I understand.” Her smile was weaker than the one that usually sprung to her lips at the slightest provocation. This one twisted my guts and put tacks under my feet.

“What about tomorrow night – your Monday night is stuck out of town, right? Unless you’ve made other plans already…” It was my turn to trail off uncertainly, to offer a half smile.

“Actually I haven’t,” she said. “Maybe I can come to your neighborhood this time – go for coffee maybe?”

“I know just the place,” I said and gave her the address of Jean’s Beans. We agreed to meet at seven and we parted ways with awkward waves that, in my case at least, yearned to be so much more.

The End

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