"Ah, oui. C'est vrai?"
This is une question rhétorique. However, I decide to answer anyway, because Marcel is a keen conversationalist. "Oui. C'est vrai."
"Et pour aider tes parents, tu as fait quelque chose?"
"J'ai passé l'aspirateur dans ma chambre pour deux heures."
"Comme un bon fils, n'est-ce pas?"
(Marcel is a good son. I take some vicarious pride from this, which is when you experience something as a result of something someone else has done.) Madame Berger is beaming.
"Et est- ce que tu as fait quelque chose hors de l'ordinaire peut être?"
I pretend to scan my brain for an irregular past participle, but really I knew the question was coming. "Oui, j'ai ri à un film." (In many ways, my life is so much simpler in French. I don't get headaches or deja vu in French, because I don't know the words for them. Moreover, I don't worry about my parents' marriage or my own mortality or why I haven't had a wet dream, because these are emotions I am not able to express. Sometimes I'm jealous of Marcel. I think that if I moved to France I'd be a completely different person. (For one thing, I'd agree with people a lot more, and for another, I'd spend much more time in libraries and swimming pools.) Do you know what the French call a Lost Property Office? They call it a Found Property Office. (But then again, they call a Potato an Apple of the Ground.))
"Et qu'est- ce que tu feras le weekend prochain? Dans l'avenir." I don't know the French for brain surgery. So I cheat.
Our next lesson is the one I've been waiting for. English. Miss Farthingdale hands back our Compositions in reverse order, starting with the worst and ending with . . . Simon Nagel's. Effingeff-word!
I come third, with 16 out of 20, behind Simon and Chloe Gower. As punishment, I decide I have to coat my forearm in the fluid from the white end of my ink eraser pen and rest my nose on it for the whole lesson. (It's made from pig urine.) Simon Nagel is an Alkaline Jew, and his grandfather was in a concentration camp (I forget which one. It's definitely not Auschwitz, but it would be one of the other top answers in Family Fortunes if they ever did that round). He always finds a way to write about the Holocaust, whatever title we get set, which is why he always wins. Chloe Gower is an albino and comes from a Broken Home. Her skin is the same color as the correction fluid she uses to write Manic Street Preachers on her rucksack, and her parents split up a year and a half ago (which is about the time she dyed her hair black (which is not a good look for an albino (because it makes her face look like apartheid))). Every few months when her dad picks her up from school in his convertible there'll be a new woman in the passenger seat. They always look roughly the same, like younger, prettier versions of her mum. It's a bit like her dad's casting for an American Remake of his life. I tried to talk to her once about the Manic Street Preachers because I quite like that song they do about being tolerant, but when I told her this she sneered and told me she liked only the early stuff . Then she gave me one earpiece from her minidisc and played me a song called "She Is Suffering" and asked me what I thought. I think that being a Manic Street Preachers fan who prefers "She Is Suffering" to the Tolerance Song is like being a Christian who prefers the carpentry to the miracles. But I told her it sounded cool, and now when we cross each other in the corridor we nod.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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