October-November 2014

French Class

Kirby Wright

The class was split in half, with two rows of chairs facing each other. Miss Davies, a heavyset teacher in a tailored blue muu’muu, rambled on in Parisian behind a podium fronting the chalkboard. Speaking English was interdit. Students were supposed to keep their eyes on Miss Davies.


The boy gazed across the room at the girl opposite him, the one with the short aqua skirt. Her blonde hair spilled past her shoulders but her ears seemed to hold everything in place. She wore a necklace of irregular puka shells that reminded him of jagged teeth. Her beauty mark hinted at Marilyn Monroe vulnerability. She stretched brown legs into the aisle between rows—it was as if she was tempting him to touch her. He saw green streaks in her hair. He knew that was from the Punahou pool, where she practiced synchronized swimming. There was the scent of chlorine whenever she’d pass him in Dole Cafeteria. The boy had felt like a creature obsessed, sneaking past the gym and squinting through the cyclone fence trying to catch a glimpse, his fingers clutching wire. He’d seen her lift a leg out of water, high arch the foot, and point her toes at the sun. He despised himself for spying without taking action.


His days were meha and dark before he had known she was alive. He’d listen to love songs like “Ma Belle Amie” on his transistor trying to imagine a girlfriend. Now the belle amie had arrived. It felt as if his very life hung in the balance of having her but he believed his fear of losing her would tip her away. Was he even worthy? He hated his dark complexion, average build, and the slanted eyes that came with being hapa haole. He wished there was a magic lever he could pull to swing her into his arms. He imagined being alone with her on a deserted beach, where he held her in the shallows as the trade winds toyed with her hair.




The girl tapped a slipper on the tiled floor of the class. She pursed her lips and appeared to be humming. The boy pretended to be on a street in Paris. “Bonjour, mademoiselle,” he whispered. She met his eyes and smiled a crooked smile. It was the kind of smile that made him look away because it cut through to his soul. His heart pounded. It was earthquake ground. Had she really heard his whisper? Or read his lips? His skin trembled with desire as he struggled for a foothold on an earth rocking with waves of emotion.


Miss Davies stood at a table beside the podium, one where a slide projector and record player were perched. Someone turned off the lights. Davies pressed a clicker and a circular tray of slides perked to life. She put on a record. Images of a cartoon couple played on a screen unfurled in back of the room. Davies advanced the slides to match the narration coming off the record. Monsieur and Madame Thibaut lived near the Eiffel Tower, shopped at the boulangerie, and existed on baguettes and steaks with fries. The boy saw himself as Monsieur Thibaut and the girl as his wife in an alternate universe, one where he spent his days worshiping Madame Thibaut while strolling hand-in-hand along the Seine.


The boy looked away from the screen. His eyes met the girl’s in the flickering half-light. This time he didn’t look away. He recognized a longing in her that mirrored his own, a hunger to be held and kissed. Her lips parted. Here was the acknowledgement he’d wanted, a communion that made him feel desirable and flicked on a switch that turned his future into a bright place.


The needle slashed the record and the narration ended. The screen froze on a scene of the Thibauts entertaining guests in their flat. The lights came on. Miss Davies ambled down the aisle between rows, stopping in front of the boy. She crossed her fleshy arms. “Monsieur,” she groused.

“Oui, Madame?”

Prenes vos yeux de la jeune fille.”

The boy recognized yeux and jeune fille and put it together. He heard snickering from his classmates.

The bell rang. Miss Davies reminded her students to check their mimeographed schedules for the next assignment. The girl glided past the boy with her crooked smile and headed for the door. She was gone. But she had found a secret passage to his mana. He realized, no matter what happened in that world beyond the door to French class, she would be a part of him until the day he died.





interdit: forbidden

hapa haole: part Hawaiian and part white

mana: spirit, divine power

meha: lonely

puka: hole



Kirby Wright is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is the 2014 Artist in Residence at the Earthskin Creative Colony in Auckland, New Zealand. His Hawaiian memoir is forthcoming in 2015.

9 thoughts on “October-November 2014

  1. Kirby Wright says:

    I was influenced by James Joyce while writing this vignette, which started out in the first person. To me, the girl across the room represented Stephen’s “girl…in midstream,” the one whose “image had passed into his soul.” The thing that brought me back to this girl was a recent dream of going back in time and giving her a red carnation lei. I believe there are certain moments that happen in high school that never leave us, that always are there to haunt during our daily existences.

  2. Karen says:

    As always, Kirby delivers much food for thought. Took me right back to my junior year in language arts class. Thank you Kirby! Love, memories and emotions are never forgotten!

  3. catalystpoet says:

    Definitely know those Prufrock-y moments. Sometimes I feel I’m still in the thrall of desire. The language here is so vividly rhythmic! I dig it. There’s this urgency that moves it along to those slower moments which punch:

    “Her beauty mark hinted at Marilyn Monroe vulnerability”

    “Had she really heard his whisper? Or read his lips?”

    and the mystery of “Prenes vos yeux de la jeune fille” to a non-French speaker is so intriguing. I don’t want to look it up. The lost in translation moments are so appealing to me. Wonderful.

  4. Nikki Wilkinson says:

    Brought me right back to high school, thanks for this.

  5. kibs33 says:

    FRENCH CLASS will appear in my Coming of Age memoir forthcoming in 2016! Most of the chapters have already been published in university literary magazines such as HARPUR PALATE, SOUTHERN INDIANA REVIEW, MOON CITY REVIEW, 580 SPLIT, and J JOURNAL: New Writing on Justice.

  6. kibs33 says:

    oops, slight delay on book publication; looks like Fall 2017.


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