Action and Reaction


Are you sure that’s a good idea? I said to her, because she had let him in—a boy, must-be-ten- years-younger-than-us, and supposed to be in recovery.

Of course. He’s not going to do well where he’s at, she said.

I’m just not sure it’s our place.

He won’t be bother you, but taking space on the couch.

I took my things and headed out and she appeared satisfied, cooing beside him on the couch and reassuring and reassuring him through his hesitation. My cat was waiting beside the door for his chance to bolt—you can’t open the door on your way out at all, really, at risk of his decampment. His head rotated the unblinking orbs of his eyes about three times around and independently from the rest of his body as my backpack caught a moment on the frame.

Lengthwise, caught under my wiper and wet from the morning, a revelatory advertisement for me: REACH YOUR FULL POTENTIAL WITH WHITE MOUNTAIN KARATE! Get started today with our EXCLUSIVE offer! Request more information today to find out how you or your child can start training! The backside had their number under Sonia’s account that WMK had helped her son Ant develop Discipline, Confidence, Character, and Leadership Qualities.

On the phone I said, Sensei, mostly I’m in need of help, can you help me?

Call me Paul for now.

I’m thinking I may need to lay my wife out in order to save her from herself.

All right then, we’ll put you with Sensei Mark at 3:30 in the Tuesday-Thursday slot.

I calmed down then in recognition of a way to channel what was frustrating me so much. I pushed in and let out my high clutch and drove toward the studio despite its being only Sunday then. I wanted to see what I would be working with.

The leather interior of my car pulls at you and moans as you move around, and so a cacophonous creasing and crinkling ebbed and flowed back and forth with me in excitement, looking through the driver’s-side window from my parking space across the street. I could see who I imagined was Sensei Mark standing powerfully forward in Zenkutu-Dachi in front of his Karate-Ka. In excitement I started the car up and pulled out in second gear, gassing it up to pull into traffic.


At home my wife was feeding the boy a Hungry Man dinner. The cat’s head and not his body followed me around, my looking at the boy spearing the loaf. He had milk on his face and microwaved mashed potatoes on his fingers.

Where’d you get off to? she said from the kitchen, reheating her risotto. I think that I’m going to find a way to express what’s been going on.

Would you mind, very much, driving him to get his medicine tomorrow? she said.


In the car he asked me questions like: Do you think the free market is really so free? Do you know how much sugar we’re actually supposed to consume in a day? Do you know of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel?

I don’t know, I said—two towns over from my own—but where is this Walmart?

I don’t know, he said, but it’s Walmart, after all.

On our way into the Walmart he high-fived the one-and-a-half legged greeter whose name badge was obscured by Minion stickers.

God help us, I said.

We are so blessed, he said.

Past aisles he would look down for moments and then turn wordlessly from, he approached the pharmacy counter, the lights above which were depleted to simply read H-A-R-

M. And he spoke quickly and took quickly from the pharmacist his Risperidone, at risk of my seeing it.

What have you got? I said.

Thanks so much for bringing me, really, he said.

Are you comfortable at home—on the couch, that’s to say? I said, then walking out and to the car.

I’m so grateful, really, he said from the passenger’s seat.

What do you know about martial arts?

I don’t know much of anything, he said.

What about the sugar and all of that, I said.

I’m so grateful to your wife, especially. She’s really been an enormous help.

His bottle of Risperidone was clutched in his hands between his legs, wrists near his knees in his leaning forward, the pills bouncing and clicking against the sides and top of the bottle as the car would hit cracks and bends in the road. I looked at him in profile, then moved my head and looked at him in the rearview, and then forward onto the road.

All right.

My wife took to him immediately on his getting through the door.

Did you get everything you need? she said.

Thank you, he said.

I took my wife aside as the cat eyeballed us and the kid made his way to the couch.

Look, I said, you should see his bottle. I’m worried is all.

And they sat down beside one another on the couch, him face-first in meatloaf and her with one hand on the TV tray looking back and forth from him to the TV. They watched Frank fight with Marie/Marie condescend Debra/Ray condescend Robert, and she said she loved the episode, then with a finger against the warped plastic tray, sticky with condensation from proximity to the mashed potatoes and molten brownie.

I’ll be upstairs, OK?

Upstairs, under blankets, in underwear, feverishly watching adult karate on the Internet. The laptop rocked back and forth on my knees and to my chest, how exciting. And in the morning I woke with only the laptop having disturbed my wife’s place beside me. Her car was gone, I saw from the window, from the driveway. At work already, then.

Downstairs, the boy was asleep on the couch, splayed and vulnerable, not even a blanket. The warped black tray sat on the stand among innumerable brownie-stained napkins. There was brownie on his fingers and mouth, and I couldn’t much take it so I left, cat trying to leave with me but only getting its head as far as the door and nothing else.

Had someone been in the car? The backseat was cleaned of my couple of shirts and dirty tissues—they’d been swept to the floor and left exposed the cracked upholstery with cat hairs standing on end springing from it. I was so worried, in fact, that I called Sensei Paul on the drive over, trying to shift/steer/speak at once.

Sensei Paul, my thinking is that someone’s been in my damned car.

You can just call me Paul, he said.

It’s probably a good thing, then, that we’re getting started—don’t you think?

Check in on the right when you come through the side door. Our main entrance is being painted, so come in through the side door.

Sensei Paul was right: the main entrance was wet with paint and some degenerate had taken down the sign and put it in the bush beside the entrance, I saw. So I mistakenly stood in the paint a moment.

Sensei Paul, I said, I’m so sorry—I stood in the paint.

Well is it all over the floor, or?

No, I wiped it off.

All right so if you could fill this out, he said handing me a clipboard that I imagined chopping in half with my bare right hand. And when you’re done you can follow Ant, he’s your class’s Deshi and he will get you your gi, he said.

Ant took my paperwork from me when I’d finished.

I accidentally signed on the guardian signature line, I said. Is that all right?

Follow me.

In a small storage closet they had dozens of white gis but the largest size they had was a Youth XXL. Ant told me that they are supposed to crop short at the wrists and ankles, and then he watched me change in silence in the storage closet before leading me out to Sensei Mark and the rest of my class.

We have someone starting late this session with us, everyone, Sensei Mark said.

I was not the oldest in the class, incidentally, but I was one of three adults. Myself, Temperance, and Keegan who was blind. And in this way, there was essentially no evading gross humiliation: Keegan who was blind was the best in the class and countered my Sochin Dachi with a formidable Iaigoshi Dachi; Temperance could already break boards and she was one hundred fifty five years old; and every eleven-year-old I was paired with brought me into submission with a Bluetooth headphone in one ear.

You showed great promise today, Sensei Mark said.

I’ve got to tell you, Sensei Mark: I’ve never felt more embarrassed.

Embarrassment is the root of invigoration, he said.

And his black belt had enough pieces of electrical tape wrapped around it that I believed him.


At home I ran by the cat and the boy and my wife and straight to my room. It ceased to bother me that my wife was appearing less and less at night. Sensei Mark had told me that perception can be our greatest enemy—that my wife was likely faithful and I needlessly worried.

Sensei Mark, I said.

Yes, Karate-Ka?

You’re really an inspiration to me.

Do you want to come with Tempy, Keegan, and me to Three-Dollar-Deweys tonight? he said.


Keegan was looking straight at Temperance, who was face down on the table beside her half- drunk seabreeze, saying, Sensei Mark, what do you think of the newbie?

Great promise, Sensei Mark said. In fact, I see some of myself in him.

What drove you to Karate? I said.

Sensei Mark told us that he been inspired by his own father who used to fight cocks in their garage.

I wanted a better outlet for my desire, he said.

Sensei Mark told us that Temperance had followed Karate because on her eightieth birthday she realized that she was bulimic.

And she wouldn’t mind my telling you, he said.

For me, Keegan said to Temperance’s unconscious person, Karate helps me understand purpose. If I can visualize an action, a reaction, and how I can conquer the sequence of events, I can apply that to my life.

Action and reaction, I said.

And yourself? Sensei Mark said.

I’ve realized, thanks to you all, that I need not lay out my wife, but, instead, the kid sleeping on my couch.

I tabled my mojito with a sopping dollar bill beneath its base and ran to my car. It rained and I tensed my body, coming closer to the wheel following each swipe of the blades against rain. Ippon Dachi into a thundering kick.

And through my door, it was at once uneasy. My cat was gone. My body assumed Ura Neko Ashi Dachi and each corner was tucked into, leaned into, rolled into. The couch was empty and bereft of napkins/trays/brownie. And then, in my room, I could hear through the door the sounds of my Karate videos, blaring from my laptop, televising passion and I burst through the door: Kokutsu Dachi. My wife cupped her breasts and I could see the cat cradled at the crook made behind her knees on the bed. She stared straight at me and the cat was cooing and standing beside my side of the bed, wet and shaking. The boy sucked at the empty bottle of Risperidone. His buttocks lit with light from my laptop screen before they disappeared in his lunging at me.

I called, I sincerely pledge to honor my instructors and school with loyalty and support, and to value and carry on the Martial Arts tradition with respect and dignity. I accept honor and privilege and hereby swear to uphold the standards of honesty, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, and indomitable spirit. I pledge to treat my family and others with respect, courtesy, loyalty, and carry on excellence throughout my life!

But, my laptop in his hands, crashing against my skull, I fell to the ground. I kicked at him, my feeble feet and my feeble effort. My wife cried and I bled onto the carpet from my head and my cat’s head turned and turned, must have been three hundred sixty degrees.  

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