Diminutives

by Samuel Stevens

He’d come to France teaching English, with thoughts of poetry and the Lost Generation. Well, he thought, watching over his class of Algerian and West African faces, they did not know how good they had it. The students sat and worked on their test. It was a secondary school class. The boys looked like men and the girls wore different variations of the veil. He was surprised they went to school at all, a thought the teacher specialist (his immediate boss) said was an incorrect one to have. He’d simply nodded and the word sedition had popped into his head.

He watched two of the students cheating off each other’s papers. He let them. Why do the right thing when it did not matter? He sat and looked in his desk drawer at a long neglected notebook of his writing and some pornographic pictures of French women he’d taken from the two students who were cheating at the moment. He called time. The students handed in their papers. A few of them offered him a good day or a goodbye, the girls. The boys—if they could really be called that—usually said nothing to him. That was fine. He started to mark up the tests and Mademoiselle—no, it was just Madam now, no “diminutives”—Le Blanc came in dressed in the navy blue skirt he liked on her. “Monsieur Fitzgerald, one of the other faculty told me you made an inappropriate comment today.” She always spoke in English to him. He always used French to piss her off. He spoke it pretty well.

“What did I say this time, Madam Le Blanc?” He set his red pen down and leaned back in his chair. “Please, let’s have a sit-down,” he said the last part in English.

She looked at her phone even though he knew she had it memorized. It was her material. “One of the other teachers—”

“Madam Rimbaud,”

“An anonymous source told me you said, ‘I came to Paris to see France, not the Kasbah.’ Is this true?”

He nodded.

“I cannot believe you, Mr. Fitzgerald. If this continues, if there is one more incident, we will have to release you.”

He nodded.

“Do you not care about your position, Mr. Fitzgerald? There are many expatriates who come here with romantic, petit bourgeois dreams like you to take your place.”

“You can guarantee that those illusions I might’ve had are long gone.”

She rolled her eyes. “You are a xenophobe in a foreign country. I will never understand you.”

He got up and put on his jacket. “Maybe we can talk about this over a drink.”

“Are you asking me out on a date?” she said, switching to French.

He shrugged. “If that’s what you want to call it.”

“I most certainly will not.”

He nodded, got his bag and stepped out. She watched him lock up the classroom. “I won’t make any more comments,” he said flatly.

“Not if you want to keep your job you won’t.”

“Good night, Mademoiselle Le Blanc.”

“I will attribute that to a slip in your French.” She turned and headed back to her office. Her heels clicked down the hall. She was younger than him, very pretty with blonde hair and sharp green eyes. She dressed well, always professional and never gaudily.

paris cafe

He went to a bar and drank alone, as he often did, wondering if his idea—dream—of writing would come true. It was his way of trying to find a higher purpose, he supposed, if that really existed. He was a pragmatist though. It would probably remain a dream. There were no subjects to write about any more, either in America or here; the world was too mixed up to really stop and look at it.

He left four whiskeys later, feeling a little light in the head but not too bad, and headed home. He passed by the school again. He heard an animal noise in the alleyway and squinted into the dark. He saw a flash of navy blue and a leg. He approached the figure. A woman sat in a pile of garbage, battered and weeping. He reached into his pocket for his cell phone, but heard police sirens coming. “Mr. Fitzgerald,” the woman choked out.

Oui,” he said. He crouched down and tried to examine her but he could not in the darkness and he did not want to move her and hurt her more accidentally.

“I called the police.”

“Are you alright?” he wondered for a brief moment, did she deserve this? He grimaced. He wondered if she did, for her stupidity. But that was not something for him to decide and seeing her with her clothes torn and skin spotted with bruises he could not wish that on her.

The sirens came closer and two police cars arrived. The gendarmes jumped out of their cars, pistols drawn, and told him to put his hands up, punctuated with two cracks of pistol fire.

***

Samuel Stevens is the author of the military espionage novel Phoenix Operator. He lives in Maryland and blogs at his website on books, military history, and Modernism.

Link to his book: Phoenix Operator

Link to his site: https://samueljstevenswriter.wordpress.com/

Our interview with Samuel is here.

He also wrote an essay for us here.

***

Artwork, “Premonition” by Walter Nessler, copyright Royal Air Force Museum

 

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