But even then I didn't understand why we couldn't just try talking to him, because, after all, even if the suicide bomber did believe some weird stuff and even if he did have Weapons of Mass Destruction (which I sincerely doubted), at the end of the day he was still a person. And that's when the analogy stopped working, because my tumor is not a person.)
The Year 5 is still there. I tell him to get to fuck, which is not in the script.
Normally I try not to swear. I learned to swear when I was seven in Wales when we went to stay with Uncle Tony and he dropped a frozen leg of lamb on his foot. A few weeks later I was watching football with Dad and his team conceded, so to empathize I said "Shit!" Dad washed my mouth out with soap (because it was "dirty" (which suggests he doesn't understand metaphors)). But that wasn't half as bad as the time Mum heard me call Pete Sloss a cocksucker on the way to the cinema. She didn't get angry with me, but that night when she was tucking me in she asked if I knew what one was. And when I said no, she said she didn't have a problem with me using rude words if I felt they were necessary to express myself, but she'd prefer I didn't use words I didn't understand. So she explained it to me. She told me about oral sex and foreplay and lubrication and even flavored condoms (I had previously thought vaginas had taste buds), and finally when she was finished she made me repeat it back to her. After that she kissed me good night, which made me feel queasy.
I can swear in sixty- seven different languages. But I can apologize in only three, which means I could get beaten up in sixtyfour countries.
One of the languages I can do both in is French, which is my first lesson on a Monday. In French class we're not allowed to speak English. Instead, we have to do everything en Français. There are a lot of things I do en Français that I'd never do in English. For one thing, I help out around the house a lot more. Every weekend I spend a minimum of one hour passing the Hoover in my bedroom, and each night I set and clear the table before and after dinner (respectively (obviously)). I have a younger sister who calls herself Marie-Clare (who has nine years (whenever anyone tells you their age in French it sounds like they have a terminal disease) and enjoys horse- riding), and what is more, an older brother (Serge) who likes to play football. Moreover, I have a diet that consists exclusively of the potato in its various incarnations (plates of chips, bags of crisps, and baked), a father who is a doctor (because I don't know the word for a driving instructor), and a mother who works at home (because I don't know the word for sexism (or legal secretary)). Every summer the five of us go on holiday without fail, and always to the same place, La Rochelle, where we practice windsurfing and pass a fantastic week with one another and our dog, who calls himself Sausage. I even have a different name in French. (Madame Berger made us each choose one at the start of the year and explained that in her class that is what we would be known as. At first it felt a bit like we were losing our identities, like we were going into prison and being given a number, but actually now I quite like my French name.) It's Marcel.
"Qu'est-ce que tu as fait le weekend dernier? "
At first the question confuses me because I don't know if last weekend means the weekend that's just passed or the weekend before that. Both are in the past. I can tell that because I'm in French class.
"Oui. Le weekend dernier. En passe compose."
In truth, it doesn't matter which weekend. Madame Berger was only trying to be helpful. But in French I do the same thing every weekend: "Samedi j'ai joué au foot avec mon frère et dimanche j'ai lu un roman." (I am a much more active person in French, and I read novels only, because I don't know if the Internet is masculine or feminine.)
Excerpted from Ostrich by Matt Greene. Copyright © 2013 by Matt Greene. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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