Friday, February 03, 2012
9. French for the F-word
They were hauled into the office and plunked into cushy brownish-orange chairs that provided no comfort. The cold eyes of Secretary Alice White froze them.
They sat and thought of doom. It was called the principal’s office but everyone knew it was owned and ruled by Vice-Principal Morris. The principal, whatever his name was, was a figurehead at best. In the silence of Mrs. White’s frosty stare they took deep breaths, smelled the new carpet, tried not to look at each other, listened to the clock’s second hand tick and tick.
The American kid muttered something strange. "Lamb-are-eh."
He was in the middle. They glanced at him, nothing moving but their eyes.
"What?" Pierre whispered.
"Lamb-are-eh," he said. "It's French for...the f-word."
Pierre snickered and Danh cackled, a high-pitch staccato wail.
Mrs. White snapped her head up. "Shhhh!"
They looked down at the grey carpet, inhaled its chemical smell. "You talk French?" Danh whispered.
"Lamb-are-eh." Pierre rolled the syllables over his tongue. His maman was Acadian but he never learned her language. It thrilled him to know she’d hate him saying this particular word.
"Boys!" Vice-Principal Morris barked them out of their solidarity. He was a red-headed giant with a grizzly face and a gap-toothed beaver smile. He jerked his thumb and led them into his personal office with the placard reading 'Morris'. He pointed at two chairs across from his desk. Pierre walked past the chairs and stood with arms folded over his belly.
Danh took the seat closest to Pierre and Gerry took the other.
"Well boys," Mr. Morris began. "Mrs. Charles tells me you all had a little scuffle in the schoolyard."
He picked at his teeth with the nail on his pinkie. When the pinkie was retracted Pierre couldn’t see anything on it or the teeth.
"She tells me there were some expletives put into play, by which I mean some references to adults-only activities were made by you boys, and perhaps some of you described going number two in certain vulgar terms."
He went back to the teeth again.
"Furthermore, as I can see by your clothes, blood was drawn over the matter. It must have been quite serious. Care to tell me about it?"
Silence, other than Mr. Morris' wall clock ticking. It sounded identical to the one in the main office, equally relentless. Pierre didn’t dare turn to see if it was the same. He smelled the fumes of another new carpet. Mr. Morris' eyes were on him now, and only him.
"Pierre?" Mr. Morris said. His eyes were blue under his bright red afro, like some kind of sadistic heathen pirate on the Indian Ocean. "Pierre?"