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French Class

Dedicated to Holly
Submitted by Kirby

THE CLASS WAS SPLIT in half, with two rows of chairs facing each other. Miss Davies, a heavyset teacher in a tailored blue muumuu, rambled on in Parisian behind a podium fronting the chalkboard. Speaking English was interdit. Students were to keep their eyes on Miss Davies.

The boy gazed across the room at the girl opposite him, the one with the aqua skirt. Her blonde hair spilled past her shoulders. Sometimes she tucked the stray strands behind her ears to keep them in place. She wore a necklace of irregular puka shells resembling jagged teeth. Her beauty mark reminded him of Marilyn Monroe. She stretched her brown legs teasing him to touch her. Her hair was streaked green. He knew that was from the Punahou pool, where she practiced synchronized swimming. He smelled chlorine whenever she passed. The boy had felt like a creature obsessed, sneaking past the gym and squinting through the cyclone fence protecting the pool. He’d watched her lift a leg high out of the water, arch the foot, and stick toes into the sun.

His days were meha and dark before he’d seen her. He’d always sing along to “Ma Belle Amie” on his transistor and tried imagining a girlfriend. Now the belle amie had arrived. It felt as if his life hung in the balance but he was overwhelmed by a fear of losing her. He wondered if fear might tip her away. But was he worthy? He despised his dark complexion, his average build, and his slanted eyes. He wished for a magic lever to pull so he could swing her into his arms. He imagined them being stranded on a deserted island and holding her tight in the shallows while the trades toyed her hair.

The girl tapped a slipper on the tiles. She pursed her lips. Was she humming? The boy pretended to be on a Parisian street. “Bonjour, mademoiselle,” he whispered, “je t’aime.” She met his eyes and smiled a sly smile. It was the kind of smile that forced him to look away because it burned her image into his soul. His heart rocked on earthquake ground. Had she heard him or read his lips? God, she was still smiling. His skin trembled as he struggled for a foothold on earth quivering with desire.
Miss Davies stood at a table beside the podium. Her brown-edged table was waffle-thin. A slide projector and a record player were perched on top. A classmate turned off the overhead fluorescents. Davies pressed a clicker—a circular tray of slides perked to life. She placed a needle on the spinning record and the silver screen against the far wall flashed cartoon images of a couple. Davies advanced the slides to match the record’s narration: Monsieur and Madame Thibaut lived by the Eiffel Tower and shopped at the boulangerie. They bought baguettes, espresso, and steaks with fries. The boy saw himself as Monsieur Thibaut and the girl as his wife. They lived in an alternate universe where they spent their days strolling the banks of the Seine.

The boy looked away from the screen. His eyes met the girl’s in the half-light. This time he didn’t look away. He recognized a longing in her that mirrored his own, a hunger to be held. Her lips parted. Here was the acknowledgment he’d craved, a communion that made him feel wanted. A switch kicked on inside him, turning his world into a bright place.
The needle slashed across the record. The screen froze. There was a scene of the Thibauts entertaining guests in their flat. The fluorescents came on, causing the boy to shield his eyes with a hand. Miss Davies ambled down the aisle between rows and stopped in front of him. She crossed her fleshy arms. “Monsieur?” she asked.
“Oui, Madame Davies?”
“Prenes vos yeux de la jeune fille.”
The boy recognized “yeux” and” “jeune fille” and married the words. His classmates chuckled.

The bell sounded. Miss Davies reminded the students to check their schedules for their next assignment. The girl glided by the boy flashing her sly smile. She vanished out the door. But she’d found passage to his secret place of longing. He realized that, no matter what happened in the world beyond French class, the girl would be a part of him until the day he died.