Latin As A Second Language

Latin As A Second Language

“Do you understand Latin?” Mr. Horace, the principal, asked.
Standing my ground, I admitted to terra firma.
After all, I was in the midst of a second trimester of seventh grade Latin. 
At twelve years of age I was quite small then.
The spilled marbles cascading about the classroom had tripped me up. 
Needle and thread. 
I must remember me to patch the hole in my jacket pocket. 

“Do you know what innuendo means?” Horace asked. 
He’d closed the door to his office.
“Vaguely,” I replied. "Insinuating something wicked about a valued classmate?"
"Close enough,” he said, torching up a cigar.
When Ms. Strangle heard the marbles roll, every girl 
in the class had turned and stared at me.
 How about ipso facto?” he asked.
“Never heard of it,” I admitted, silently cursing my ignorance. 
“I may have been down with malaria that day.”
I gave him a moment, then added, “Or something very much worse.”

“The enemy of one’s enemy, ipso facto, is a friend,” Mr. Horace recited proudly. 
“Ms. Strangle accuses you. Ray Cole and Doug Brender vouch for you.”
“Ipso facto,” I said. 
“Bully for them.”
When the marbles rolled, Ray, had stood and pointed at Lucky Lucy Rabbitz, a known felon.  
Lucky Lucy sat two desks behind me. She had done hard time somewhere in Tukwila. 
She sharpened her pencils as if she were honing carving knives.
The hair on my neck stood on end every time she came near.

“Are you at all familiar with locus delicti?” Horace asked. 
“Of course,” I replied. 
“The scene of a crime. But in this instance, no crime was committed.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” he said, blowing cigar smoke in my face.
Mom smoked cigars of course, but I got carsick when she did, so I never took it up. 
I felt the familiar gagging deep in my throat.
The air was so thick with cigar smoke I could barely make out Mr. Horace’s face.                        I fumbled through my Latin note cards. “Getting nauseous here,” I said.  

“Not my problem,” he replied.
“Do you play marbles during recess?’ he asked, his voice piercing the thick cloud.
“Interdum, I said. 
“When the mood strikes.”
“Did the mood strike you this morning?” he asked. 
He moved the cigar’s glowing tip close to my face.
“No. I played tetherball with my colleagues to relieve the stress brought 
on by studying Latin under the clumsy guidance of Ms. Strangle.”  

“Odd,” he said. “She thinks otherwise.”
“She has been misinformed,” I said. 
“An obvious instance of ad absurdum by a consortium of tattlers.” 
I added a footnote. “Let’s face it, some people are not cut out to teach seventh grade.”
I paused for effect. “But she might make a jim dandy cafeteria supervisor.” 

Mr. Horace giggled. 
“I was thinking the exact same thing,” he said, stubbing out the cigar on his desktop. 
“Off with you now, kid. Stay out of trouble. Do no harm. Go to law school. 
You’ve a knack for cover-up.  Et cetera.”
Photo by Arthur Krijgsman on

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