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It's a parallel universe and everyone expresses themselves through martial arts

Luke Tarassenko is a Christian, husband, father, high school Philosophy and Religion teacher, and writer, usually in that order. He has a cool Ukranian surname from his Grandfather but was born and raised in England, where he lives with his wife and daughter. For the last eighteen months Luke has been undertaking a fiction writing mentorship with The Literary Consultancy, London, working on a young adult scifi novel. So far he has placed short fiction with 1000 Word Challenge and Philosophy Now, and has more forthcoming. To tip him for this story or read more of his writing, visit patreon.com/luketarassenko.

It's a parallel universe and everyone expresses themselves through martial arts.
The elderly Chinese ladies down the street are in the park every morning doing their t'ai chi, arms flowing in liquid movement, fanned fingers caressing the air as they twist their palms through the predefined motions.
It wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that they play amplified music while they do it which has woken you up three times now. They look like they should be easy to defeat but you've challenged them three times, right there in the park, and a different one of them has kicked your ass each time. They've been doing it for years.
Another teacher you sort of know from school practices capoeira, the Brazilian art where you spend most of your time upside down. Maybe that could work for you. You pluck up the courage to ask if you can come along to a class, where you gawk as the regulars and your teacher "friend" backflip, handstand, and cartwheel-kick to the bouncing rhythms of conga drums. It's another choreographed dance to which you do not know the steps.
It's not for you. You don't have the stomach (or the upper body strength) for it. Your own martial art is an odd blend of some moves you copied from the children's cartoon Dragon Ball Z, a few lessons of Bruce Lee-style wing chun which you once won in a charity auction, and your family's cossack fighting style which you inherited from them along with your pot belly, wonky knee-caps and hatred of small talk.
Now you're a bit older and you're in a mother and toddler group because you've decided to go down to fighting the kids at school part-time. You're the only father. Your two-year-old is in the middle of the ring, twirling to the music in demonstration of an early form of her own cossack style crossed with English bare-knuckle boxing. (When a heterosexual couple fights together without contraception the combat is brutal and nine months later the woman gives birth. The child's martial art style is a blend of their parents'.)
Into the circle steps another little girl with beautiful taut eyelids. This child practices a version of Praying Mantis-style Shaolin kung fu crossed with Chinese drunken boxing. Her hands bend downward at the wrists, fingertips pressed together into pretend tibia; her limbs lash out at random intervals as she drifts towards your daughter. You wince, but etiquette dictates that you can't intervene unless one of them does something that really hurts the other.
They settle naturally into their dance and though their movements are non-deliberate, unpolished, un-artful, they are more at ease in their own bodies than us adults. For a moment they gyrate in mutual orbit, managing to avoid each other's punches, kicks and sweeps by sheer chance.
Then disaster strikes. Someone has thrown a teddy bear into the ring and your daughter picks it up. The other girl sights it, toddles over, and snatches it, which is against The Rules. Your daughter looks at you right away, eyes wide, her expression at first frozen in shock as if to say "That's not supposed to happen," and then her bottom lip starts to tremble.
Your heart rends.
You look for the mother: A white, blonde, Mantis-like lady. (It must be the father that is Chinese.) She hasn't noticed; she is talking to another mother about breastfeeding. Sweat starts to trickle down the back of your neck and your every instinct tells you just to let it go, just to comfort your daughter and teach her that strangers do mean things sometimes.
But another part of you won't let it go. The management team at school have overstepped the boundaries in their battles with you one too many times this week and you're tired of being trampled on. You're not going to let it happen to your child too.
"Excuse me," you say, the first time you've ever spoken in the group, "but your daughter just took that teddy from mine."
The mothers fall silent.
Blonde mother looks at you with raised eyebrows as if you've just broken every fighting protocol in the book. "And what do you want me to do about it?" she challenges.
It's too late to back down now. "Er, well I was rather hoping that you would ask her to give it back and to apologize?"
"And if I don't?" says the mother, stepping into the ring.
Is this happening? You pick up your daughter, place her outside of the ring, then turn around. The mother does the same with hers, then drops into a pinched-fingered Mantis stance much like her daughter's.
You're about to fight a five-foot-two woman who's around half your weight and you're nearly shitting yourself.
The woman rushes at you and brings her right arm around in a curved backhand aimed at the side of your head.
You duck under it and dodge out of the way.
"I can't force you to ask your daughter to apologize," you say, "but I will politely ask her to give the teddy bear back and explain to my daughter that it is not kind to snatch things."
You deliver a side-on sweep to the surprised woman's legs with the front of your shin, snatching them out from underneath her, and she lands flat on her back.
Reluctant applause issues from the mothers. You can't believe it! You've won!
You politely ask the lady's little girl for the teddy back and she yields it to you.
You return the teddy to your daughter.
She looks down at it for a moment, then waddles over to the other girl and gives it back to her. Your chest nearly bursts with pride, then in almost the same moment it deflates with shame at yourself.
At least maybe there is more hope for your daughter's fights with strangers than there is for your own.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 21st, 2020

Author Comments

This story was inspired by all of my different vocational identities and by regularly walking past a poster in a street near my house advertising t'ai chi lessons, where one day the first sentence dropped into my head. It was written before the Covid-19 pandemic, but it feels weirdly appropriate for it to be being published during that incident in world history.

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