Marianne always wished she was bilingual. The bilingual kids in the neighborhood always clustered beneath the streetlamps and laughed in response to such a human way to such inhuman, foreign sounds. It wasn’t that Marianne was the only monolingual kid on the block, but everyone whose tongues were restricted to English were so boring to her, much like everything else in her town. And really everything in her state.

She imagined them having conversations about food covered in spices and sautéed in colorful pots and pans. She imagined their mothers wearing orange skirts and their fathers singing them to sleep. Her own parents wore sky blue and steel gray and shut the door to the computer room when they talked on the phone. There were times when she thought she could share a cultural moment with her mother, who’d be baking cookies on Sunday mornings, but then she’d be told to pick up her toys and stay away from the oven. No Polish lessons or instructions on how to make sauerkraut or marinating lamb flanks and getting hands covered in oil. No hidden photographs of Holocaust-era Paris to emerge from the attic while macarons baked. Marianne just sat on the edge of her bed and flipped from Cartoon Network to Nickelodeon and back again.

When she turned fifteen, she started taking Spanish class. Fluency seemed easy to achieve, at the beginning, and she often tried to weave basic phrases into her everyday speech, even encouraging her parents to join in with what they could remember from thirty years prior.

“I’d like uno piece of chicken, por favor.”

“What? Speak in English. This is getting annoying, Marianne,” her father would say, his eyes glued to the screen of his cell phone.

“You’re putting down my dreams and inhibiting my creativity!” The discussion would not be resumed, as the dinner table would return to its normal silence.

She tried Russian and French and Dutch and Farsi, absorbing the content of online lessons on her walk to school. By graduation, she felt comfortable holding a conversation in eight different languages and had vowed to leave the country for a place where her skills would be useful, valued. She collected the graduation money she’d solicited from great aunts and uncles, bought a plane ticket to Geneva.

Published at Goon and Darling Do Flash Fiction on August 3, 2012.


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