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Duellers
by Suzanne Verrall

I sign up for duelling classes at the sports and recreation centre. It doesn’t do much for cardio but it’s great for flexibility. Anton the instructor tells us about the history of duels. Swords, firearms, what to wear. Whether to serve refreshments even. He’s really into it and I must admit it’s pretty cool. And not as murderous as you might think. Apparently, it wasn’t unusual to miss your opponent on purpose to fulfill the conditions of the duel and keep everyone’s dignity intact. Or you could miss them as an insult, like they’re not worth shooting. Of course you could just miss because you’re a bad shot.

          Anton wears dark green leather trousers but everyone seems to like him. Classes are held in the big studio where they teach jazz ballet during the week. I joined the group for the social interaction but there isn’t too much of that. Anton works us solidly. One whole wall is mirrored and we line up with our backs to it. We practise spinning around and aiming our fake pistols at ourselves. We stare ourselves down, sometimes focused on being the person in the face of a deadly weapon, sometimes being the one with our finger on the trigger. We do a lot of breathing exercises to cope with the experience of threatening to shoot-slash-be-shot-by ourselves. It helps, but occasionally I have to step forward and hang onto the dance rail for air. The pistols are only replicas but they are very realistic.

          The other thing we do is practise pacing. First we do leg stretches on yoga mats. Hamstrings, quads, hips, calves. Lunges, hugs, tucks. Anton’s thorough and it’s a good workout. We all increase the length of our stride significantly over the weeks, and everyone reports improved balance. When we do the whole back-to-back pacing routine, I never, unfortunately, manage to get paired with Moira. She’s the one person in class I have in my sights. I stand next to her at the mirror a few times and try to catch her eye but she’s always dead-set concentrating on herself. Probably a good thing. She has a very steady hand. I envy her spin. It’s compact, but with a touch of wild west.

          For the final class, Anton takes us out to the oval. He has a couple of oversized sports bags with him, full of paintball equipment. We strap on the vests and goggles and Anton explains the paintball guns. He’s all business but we can see he’s excited, so we get excited too. They’re loaded, he tells us, with a single capsule. It’s pistols at ten paces. One shot. When Anton asks who wants to go first and Moira raises her hand, I push to the front. Her eyes are swallow-blue. We shake hands, Anton counts us down and we pace away. My adrenalin rises with every step. Then Anton calls the turn. Time stops – I spinnnnnnnn – and starts again and I’m flat on my back staring at pink egg splat down my chest. The sun is shining. I’m going to hurt like blazes in a moment but right now I’m so happy I cry.

Bio

Suzanne Verrall lives in Australia. She is the author of the poetry collection One Day I Will Go There (Vagabond Press, 2022). Her poetry, flash fiction and essays appear in various publications including Australian Poetry Journal, Southampton Review and The Interpreter’s House. For links to her work go to www.suzanneverrall.com

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