Latin As A Second Language

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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 seventh grade Latin. 
At twelve years of age, I was quite small then.

The spilled marbles cascading about had tripped me up. 
Needle and thread. 
I must remember me to patch the hole in my jacket pocket. 
Crucial details. 

“Do you know what innuendo means?” Horace continued. 
He’d closed the door to his office.
“Vaguely,” I replied. "Insinuating wickedness about a classmate?"
"Close enough,” he said, torching up a cigar.

When Ms. Strangle heard the marbles roll, 
every girl in the class swiveled 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 much worse.”

“The enemy of one’s enemy, ipso facto, is a friend,” Mr. Horace recited. 
“Ms. Strangle accuses you. Ray Cole vouches for you.”
“Ipso facto,” I said. 
“Bully for him,” I muttered.

When the marbles rolled, Ray, 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 honing butcher knives.
The hair on my neck stood on end whenever she came near.

“Are you at all familiar with locus delicti?” Horace asked. 
“Of course,” I replied. 
“The scene of a crime. But 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 I could barely make out Mr. Horace’s face.                       
 I fumbled through my Latin note cards. “Nauseous here,” I said.  

“Not my problem,” he replied airily.
“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 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.” 

. . . j
from the Childhood Remedy and Other Such collection