by Margaret McNellis

KarateRose’s elbows trembled. A drop of sweat splashed onto the red jigsaw mat beneath her face. She scrunched her eyes shut and tried to remember to breathe. She tried to remember that this was what she wanted. She tried to remember that she signed up for this, that she wanted a black belt. Her sweat soaked bangs poked at her the corners of her eyes; Rose tossed her head to get her short dark hair out of her face, but they just fell back into her eyes.

“Again,” Master D’Angelo commanded.

Rose heard a throat-ripping kiai. Please finish the form, she begged silently. When told to hold the push-up position while someone tried to remember one of their earlier rank forms, Rose initially counted the seconds ticking by, until a back spasm interrupted. She lost track then, and all she knew now was that the girl standing before them was on her fifth attempt. Rose knew the consequences for falling out of position, but she wasn’t sure how much longer her arms would hold out.

The sharp scent of sweat wafted into her nose so that Rose could almost taste it. Thick condensation covered the dojo windows. With the clock removed, and no clear view of the sun, she didn’t even have a guess at the time. The test started at nine in the morning, with what she guessed was an hour of punches, kicks, and low horse stances, leaving her limbs tingling and loose. Techniques came next. The most tiring part wasn’t getting thrown to the mat–it was getting to her feet over and over.

“Again.” Another kiai.

Rose’s arms shook now so that she had trouble holding a solid position. Somewhere behind her, a body slapped onto the mat. She wanted to cry out, to let the pain in her muscles reverberate around the room. She wanted to collapse. It would be so easy, to have a quick break, to fall. She ground her teeth together.

“Keep breathing,” one of the black belts suggested as he walked by. She could only see his feet and the cuffs of his gi pants as he came to a stop before her. He had hammertoes, and Rose wished he’d walk away. Feet grossed her out, and his were right under her face. “Just breathe, in through your nose, out through your mouth.” He repeated the words in a calming mantra.

Rose took a deep breath, letting the odor of feet and sweat in through her nostrils, and gagged. Coughing, she tried again, this time letting the fetid air pass into her lungs, and expelling oxygen through her quivering lips.

“Again.” Sharp impatience lurked in the master’s tone. Frustration laced the answering “kiai” and Rose wanted to ask how that girl could dare to be frustrated when the rest of them had to hold push-up position until she got her form right.

The feet walked away. The palms of Rose’s hands slowly slid outwards. I am going to fall. Rocking onto her left hand, she pulled her right one in again, under her body, and repeated the action on the other side. Cramps radiated up and down her back; she tightened her abdominal muscles in response. They ached in protest, from the one hundred sit-ups earlier in the day.

“One more time with the form. If you’re not hitting hard, then everyone does one hundred push-ups.”

Rose knew Master D’Angelo was just playing the part of drill sergeant…but that didn’t mean she had to like it. One hundred push-ups for everyone because one girl couldn’t hit an imaginary opponent with force? A string of curses formed a train in her thoughts, for both the master and the girl. She didn’t even know the girl’s name–she was from a different school. Rose knew what she looked like, though. The girl had shoulder-length blond hair that made Rose think of a lion’s mane. She wished she’d act like a lion and hit harder. The girl was practically screaming with every strike now, but that didn’t necessarily mean that she was hitting hard.

Rose’s hands squelched out to each side and she fell onto her chest. Tears gathered in the corners of her eyes.

The hammertoe feet padded over to where Rose lay, prone on the mats. “It’s okay,” he said, “just get back up into push-up position.”

Rose nodded and wiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands. She let out a shaking breath and pushed up once more. Hot pain traveled like dozens of electrical shocks through her muscles. Her back ached. Her arms ached. Her shoulders were on fire, and her abdomenal muscles twitched. Laying down for a moment didn’t help. Saline tears chased sweat drops down her cheeks and nose to splat onto the mat.

The girl’s final kiai sounded far away, as though Rose wore earplugs.

“Very good.” Master D’Angelo smiled. Rose could hear it in his voice. “Alright, join everyone else. Two of you fell out of position. Twenty push-ups each so forty total. When you’re finished, hold the position until I tell you to stop. Don’t fall. Push yourselves. Begin.”

“One, two, three…” The entire room counted almost in unison. Rose counted louder and louder, so that by the time they were in the high thirties, she and everyone else around her shouted each number. “Forty!” Her arms were strong and sturdy. Her muscles ached, but Rose loved it. A smile slowly stretched across her face. She could taste the sweat in the air, but each breath sent a wave of energy throughout her body.

“Attention position.” Master D’Angelo’s order disappointed Rose. She felt like she could have stayed in that position forever.

She jumped to her feet and snapped her arms to her sides. Answering slaps of palms on pants rippled around the room.

“We’re finished with forms and techniques. You’re going to go for a run now–when you return, put your sparring gear on. If you lag on the run, you’ll spend the whole sparring session in push-up position. Dismissed!”

Rose ran out of the room with everyone else to lace up her running shoes. In the corner, resting against the wall, she saw the dojo clock–two in the afternoon. Five hours down, and probably one more to go. That belt is mine.

Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student, Uncategorized