Initial Inkling

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Joanne Simpson had known the man perched on the black leather and chrome stool opposite her for five minutes; normally long enough to decide whether to make a hasty exit or stay for another drink.
Tonight Joanne was unsure. She ran her palm along her thigh to flatten the creases in her black Jaeger skirt and plaited her fleshy fingers on her lap like a freshly cooked apple strudel. On all of Joanne’s previous thirteen internet dates the man had taken charge of the preliminary exchanges; saying a little, or a lot, about himself before ordering drinks. This made life easier for Joanne, but tonight she sensed she would have to take the initiative, as her date sat, Buddha like, waiting for things to happen around him. Joanne did not think this augured well for the chances of a relationship but she decided to persevere, as frankly, date number fourteen was far better looking than the other specimens the First Impressions Internet Dating Agency had served up.
‘Is this your first time Ross?’ asked Joanne.
‘Is it that obvious?’ said the man opposite with close cropped black hair and

a neatly trimmed beard that gave relief to a face as angular as a rocky outcrop.

‘Relax,’ said Joanne. She could tell that Ross was unused to wearing a jacket and tie but he’d made an effort, and that pleased her, but she wondered if his shyness was due to the surroundings rather than the fact he was a first timer. He did not have the telltale red face or portliness suggestive of a drinker which Joanne welcomed. Joanne had specified the ‘Sinatras’ bistro on her acceptance e mail to Ross, because its’ cocktail menu was expensive enough to deter cheapskates.
Ross said: ‘I remember now what it was like going to the school disco; wondering what to wear…or say.’
‘And plucking up courage to ask a girl to dance?’ suggested Joanne.
‘I wouldn’t have been brave enough to actually speak to a girl,’ conceded Ross.
Although Joanne thought that her date’s shyness was more appropriate for an adolescent, his comments sounded promising. After all Joanne was tired of listening to oversized egos: men whose world view didn’t extend beyond their beer gut. Joanne said: ‘You know, posting details about yourself on a website for, let’s face it, the whole world to see, is like, a massive step, but we’ve all been there.’
‘But would you recommend ‘First Impressions?’ said Ross.
‘I’ll tell you at the end of the evening,’ said Joanne, in jest and seriousness in equal measure.
Ross tugged the knees of his loose fitting black cotton trousers, turned his head at a slight angle and asked: ‘Perhaps you could guide me through the initial stages?’
‘Blimey! You make it sound like a military operation?’ said Joanne.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to.’
‘Why don’t you start by telling me about yourself? Your profile didn’t even list the usual hobbies of “socializing” and “going to the cinema.” All I know is that you’re thirty seven. Do you mind me asking if you’re married?’
‘I see,’ said Joanne reaching for her handbag. ‘With respect Ross, that’s what they all say.’
‘No, honestly it’s permanent; we haven’t lived together for over a year. The papers are signed and the decree absolute will be announced next month.’
‘Any children?’
Ross said nothing.
Joanne said: ‘Sorry for being abrupt, but if there’s one thing that tends to get in the way of a relationship its kids. I could pretend to like them but I don’t. Simple as.’ Joanne knew she was being impatient but couldn’t bear to waste another evening on someone looking for short term sex rather than a long term relationship.
‘I have twin twelve year old daughters; Gabrielle and Annabel. They are quite grown up now and prefer to spend their time with my ex wife and her new partner.’
Joanne replaced her handbag on the bar top: ‘I’m sorry for being abrupt. It must be difficult for you being apart from them.’
‘They’re settled and happy which is the main thing.’ Ross centred his frosted glass of San Miguel on a coaster with a photograph of a beaming Sammy Davis Junior. Ross’s shirt cuff rode up and Joanne noticed his thick forearm crisscrossed with thick scar tissue and fresh scratches that reminded her of her split with Dominic, her first serious boyfriend. Ross said: ‘I can see how my current situation doesn’t make me sound like much of a catch. I suppose I imagined that the Agency might portray me in a better light.’
‘But you looked handsome in your photograph,’ teased Joanne, thinking that for once, her date looked as good in the flesh.
Joanne thought that Ross’s shoulders looked less hunched and hoped that he’d relaxed. Ross pressed a fingertip onto a drip of condensation running down his glass. Joanne continued: ‘tell me, what job do you do?’
‘I’m self employed.’
Joanne widened her eyes inviting an explanation.
‘I’m a martial arts instructor,’ explained Ross, as if issuing an apology.

‘Really?’ said Joanne, sounding surprised. Ross may be another fantasist, Joanne considered, but he deserved credit for being original. Joanne accepted that her dates were marketing themselves, and if their 9 to 5 lives were as dull as her new diet then a little embellishment was forgiven. ‘So what do you teach, Kung Fu, Karate or the one in that Tarantino movie; with the swords?’
Ross frowned like a tetchy headmaster: ‘My art is nothing like those portrayed in the movies.’
‘So tell me! I’m fascinated. I like watching boxing on the television but I don’t really know about martial arts.’ Joanne leant forward, crossed her legs, and rested her chin on an upturned palm: ‘Do you get some sort of thrill out of hitting people?’
Ross said: ‘No, it’s not like that at all.’
‘So you don’t get to batter anybody? Sounds like a strange martial art to me,’ said Joanne reaching for her drink.
‘There are various reasons for taking up a martial art.’
‘Such as?’
‘Some students are interested in the history, others try to keep their fitness up. As for self defence, I teach the style most appropriate for a particular situation and student, and draw from various established martial arts.’
‘And your martial art is called?’ asked Joanne.
‘Ikimono Te,’ Ross enunciated: ‘That’s Japanese for ‘The Way of the Animal.’’
‘So let me get this right, you’ve not like studied just one martial art, but a whole loada different ones?’
‘From all around the world.’
‘It’s like a full time occupation then?’
Ross said: ‘More a way of life. My students are my family.’
‘Leaving little time to spend with your daughters?’
Ross winced: ‘Not as much as I’d like. My ex, Janine, has certain, how shall I put it? Issues.’
‘Don’t they ever,’ said Joanne.
‘Sorry, I expect it’s a ground rule on these dates that you don’t start talking about your ex?’
‘It’s inevitable,’ sighed Joanne, ‘it’s all some people have got to focus on.’
A gang of six twentyysomething males arrived at the bar. Joanne remembered passing them on the way into Sinatras standing outside the nearby Dragon pub, beneath a large banner proclaiming a happy hour between 6 and 8 o’clock. One of the group, a thickset youth wearing a dark blue polo shirt and chinos had raised a glass and wolf whistled her as she walked past. A couple who Joanne recognized as Sinatras regulars peered disapprovingly over their bar snacks of Thai fishcakes and glasses of white wine at the interlopers. To accommodate them Ross moved his stool nearer to Joanne. Their knees touched. Joanne gave a thin smile and Ross shuffled his stool back a fraction.
Ross’s serious expression disappeared and he said brightly: ‘Enough about me. I bet my life is pretty humdrum compared to that of “an entrepreneur”.’
‘Neat,’ thought Joanne, ‘he’s pretending to be vulnerable while dishing out the compliments.’ But Joanne, for the moment, was happy to play along and said: ‘I dance a bit of salsa and enjoy normal girly things like chocolate and trashy novels, watching trashy American sitcoms, but starting my own design consultancy has taken over my life for the last six months.’
‘Sorry?’ said Ross cupping a hand around his ear and leaning towards Joanne.
‘I said,’ began Joanne. The gang burst into a rendition of ‘Crazy by Gnarls Barkley. ‘Shall we try downstairs? It should be quieter.’
The polo shirted man behind knocked over a pint of lager on the bar which spilled onto Ross’s jacket.
‘Hey I’m really sorry mate,’ said polo shirted man putting his hands in the air in mock surrender.
‘No problem,’ said Ross, moving away from the lager dripping over the edge of the bar.
‘I didn’t see you there,’ said polo shirted man.
‘Because you weren’t looking,’ said Joanne.
‘Oooerr,’ said polo shirted man who nudged Ross’s arm, winked and said: ‘I bet she’s a real tiger between the sheets when she gets angry.’
‘Tigress,’ corrected Ross.
‘Eh?’ said polo shirted man.
Joanne seethed: ‘Why don’t you just fuck off and crawl back under your stone?’
Polo shirted man gave an arpeggio with his fingers on his lips, pretending to look scared as the rest of his gang laughed.
‘Come on,’ Ross said to Joanne as he shepherded her away.
‘Pillock!’ muttered Joanne.
‘He’s just had a bit too much to drink,’ said Ross.
‘Can’t you just smack him? I would if I was a martial artist.’
‘First rule of self defence is to avoid conflict and only engage in combat as a last resort.’
‘But you must be tempted?’
‘Come on lets go,’ said Ross inviting Joanne to go first down a spiral staircase and into a darker room infused with Coltrane version of ‘A Love Supreme’. There was a haphazard arrangement of settees and tables before a dance area and a step onto a small stage dominated by a drum set. Ross asked a barman to bring over a bottle of Rioja, two glasses, bowls of olives, potato wedges and dips to their table. Joanne stifled a giggle as she sank to an unexpected depth into a black sofa beneath a framed poster of the advancing Rat Pack. Ross opted to sit next to Joanne rather than opposite, but she could tell he was still tense which surprised her. Okay, Ross may not have been on a date for a while but as a martial artist she assumed he would be used to touching people, albeit with a variety of locks and holds. And if she was honest, she was disappointed that Ross had not been more assertive with polo shirted man.
Ross poured Joanne a generous glass of wine and said: ‘Tell me the most unusual thing about yourself.’
‘You’ve become mischievous all of a sudden?’
‘Just curious.’
Joanne folded her arms and looked upwards: ‘Okay here goes. I used to play the bassoon. In fact I was pretty damn good at it. I was picked for the county orchestra although there wasn’t much competition among thirteen year old girls in Shropshire around 1982.’
‘Impressive, but not that unusual,’ said Ross.
Joanne moved her head closer to Ross: ‘Listen mister, it’s the juiciest confession you’re getting out of me on a first date!’
Ross’s leant back into the sofa and his serious expression returned: ‘What persuaded you to try on line dating?’
Joanne was irritated at Ross’s switch from playfulness to the formality of a job interview. She stabbed an olive with a cocktail stick and said with obvious disinterest: ‘I’m a bit too old for clubbing, and it’s time- consuming joining a society or club on the off chance there’s a fella I fancy.’
‘I see.’
‘And what made you decide to finally give it a go?’
‘My hobby is my job. I even live above the dojo so decided I need to widen my horizons.’
‘Dojo. It’s the Japanese term for training hall.’
‘But you must get plenty of female students who take a shine to you?’
‘It happens, but it goes no further.’
‘Go on tell me,’ chided Joanne, ‘are these dojo-thingies real dens of vice?’
‘I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’ve been students I’ve been attracted to but a relationship would be out of the question. It would be a breach of trust as a sensei; teacher.’
‘That’s frustrating and sad,’ said Joanne, ‘all that unrequited love.’
Ross shrugged. ‘I’ve taken a decision to lead my life that way, which is fine, but it’s my own fault for neglecting the outside world.’
Joanne squeezed Ross’s hand: ‘You’re being too hard on yourself. It takes courage to go on a date like this, even for a tough guy.’
‘And how am I doing?’
‘It’s early days but I do feel at ease in your company.’
The couple continued to chat. Like a boxer landing heavy body shots, Joanne managed to get Ross to lower his guard and she began to like what she saw. She had stopped thinking about whether Ross was happy to dine just on the bar nibbles and began to talk freely about her hopes and ambitions. Perhaps that was why Ross was different to the other dates; he was prepared to listen.
Ross returned from a trip to the gents and this time sat right next to Joanne so that their legs touched. Ross said: ‘Listen Joanne, I have no expectations. Even if you don’t want to see me again it’s still been a pleasure meeting you.’
Joanne laughed: ‘You do have a say in this date?’
‘It goes without saying that I’d be delighted to meet up again. You’re kind, genuine, which you don’t find with a lot of human beings, and you look terrific.’
Joanne playfully punched Ross in the arm and said: ‘Don’t let me stop you!’ Ross said: ‘Tell me, your online entry stated that you’re a cat lover?’
‘Yeh, I’ve got two: Mainecoons an American breed, long fur.’
‘And large fluffy tails?’ added Ross.
‘Yeh, do you have one?’
‘No, but I’m familiar with most breeds; Mainecoons are known for being intelligent and sociable,’ commented Ross.
‘It’s funny how cats have different personalities. I don’t tend to talk about them much; makes me sound like a sad singleton.’
‘Are they brothers?’
‘Sorry?’ said Joanne, irritated that Ross had not refuted her remark.
‘The Mainecoons?’ pressed Ross.
‘Er…yes, but they look completely different; Sponge is black and Herman is a tortoiseshelly white concoction. They’re always fighting.’
‘And who tends to win?’
‘Herman, I suppose. I’d not thought about it, but Sponge usually backs away. Although the other day Herman had a big chunk of fur missing from around his neck. I assumed it was a fight with another cat but it could have been Sponge.’
‘I wouldn’t worry, they’re unlikely to do each other serious harm.’
‘I wasn’t worried,’ said Joanne relieved that the customers at the adjacent table could not hear their conversation. ‘Cats fight don’t they? It’s normal.’
‘But if you do have particular concerns I do give private training to all species, including Mainecoons,’ Ross explained and handed Joanne a business card. Below a drawing of what appeared to be a dog and a cat fighting it read:
Choose the right martial art for your pet’s needs It’s an urban jungle out there!
Joanne stared at the card and then up at Ross who said: ‘Given we know each other I’m sure we could come to some arrangement about fees.’
Joanne placed the card on the table feeling Ross’s gaze as she did so, scooped up a dollop of cheese and chive sauce with a potato wedge and quickly ate it.
Ross said: ‘I would never prevent another animal from entering my dojo; two or four legged. It’s negligent to prepare a student for combat only with its own species. Inter species conflict is rife nowadays even if it doesn’t get reported much in the press.’
‘Let’s get this straight; you teach martial arts to animals?’
‘There’s nothing natural about it!’ hissed Joanne.
‘It’s common knowledge that some martial arts are based on the movements of animal. Tell me have you ever considered how you would react to an attack by an animal, let’s say a sheep? It’s more common than you think in rural communities.’
‘I can honestly say that no, it has not occurred to me.’
‘I can tell you how to react!’ Ross stood and walked around the table, stood to attention and then gave a commentary as he demonstrated: ‘First of all, sidestep the charging sheep by placing your right foot behind your left, swing your right arm up and around to bring hammer fist to the back of the sheep’s head, followed by a left front kick to the jaw, right reverse leg sweep to both left legs if possible.’ Ross returned to his seat. ‘I can’t guarantee that such a sequence would work, but if you couldn’t run and had no alternative but to fight then it’s an option. I don’t see why a right to self defence should be restricted to humans. It’s unfair when animals have given so much to martial arts in the first place.’
‘For Christ’s sake Ross can you sit, you’re embarrassing us!’
Ross looked around; his actions had not been noticed by customers who were merry, engrossed in intimate conversations or swaying to the jazz quartet that had started playing.
‘Sit!’ said Joanne loudly.
Ross obeyed.
‘Don’t you think animals should have rights?’ said Ross.
‘What’s that got to do with teaching karate to a dog for fucks sake?’
Ross shook his head: ‘That wouldn’t happen. You see Brazilian Ju Jitsu is tailor made for dogs; you see they like to wrestle their opponent to the ground and use subjugation, restraining techniques.
Joanne looked towards polo shirted man coming down the last steps of the spiral staircase and stood up.
Ross said: ‘Sorry. I’ve upset you haven’t I?’
‘I’ve just never heard of animals being taught martial arts.’
‘I am something of a pioneer, said Ross proudly. ‘Years ago, people would have thought the idea of taking a dog to have its coat cut or nails manicure was absurd. Nowadays pet accessories are big business, whether it’s food or toys. Martial artists are only branching out into the service industry. There are dog walkers, pet psychiatrists. Only difference is that I’m providing animals with a skill that could keep them alive.’
‘And you wonder why your wife left you?’ snorted Joanne.
‘Janine used to help; she even taught judo to the dogs. The problem was that she accused me of having an affair with Bradley.’
‘Bradley?’ queried Joanne.
‘Her favourite Alsatian.’

Submitted: October 24, 2010

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