• Francois Bereaud

First Year

Updated: Jun 13

By Francois Bereaud


October  It is lunchtime and, as usual, Claudia's nimble thirteen-year-old mind is far outpacing mine. She is talking animatedly about the relationship between history and math, contending that if we accept Martin Luther King's statement about the arc of the moral universe as a postulate, and place the Crusades at the top of that arc, then it follows by transitivity that the Iranian hostage crisis which ended the Carter presidency was a just act. I think she is probably oversimplifying the history and misapplying the math, but I am unable to articulate a counterargument. Finally, I tell her, not untruthfully, that I need a few minutes to prepare for my afternoon trigonometry class. I watch her walk toward the quad where most of the students eat. As far as I can tell, she does not eat and has no friends. She is one of the brightest students here and one of the few on scholarship.            Today I caught Mr. Feldman staring at my breasts. He disgusts me but I am more concerned about the breasts themselves. Why must I stand out in every regard? A scholarship kid from the barrio. L'esperanza de mi familia. Now this. Boys who act as if female anatomy is the second coming. Phony girls who tell me they wish they could have a quinceañera. If they only knew. Before Ramona's quince, my father, who was still a foreman then, had us put on frilly dresses, the pink crinkly kind whose polyester gave me an immediate rash. He took us for a ride through one of the rich neighborhoods in a borrowed convertible. Son mis hijas, he yelled. My sister waved like royalty. I wanted to slit my wrists.

April. Claudia's lunchtime visits have stopped. Although I’m relieved at not having to worry about appearances, I miss our conversations. When I see her in the hallway, she smiles weakly; just that seems to be an effort. Her hair appears uncombed and unwashed. Feldman and others tell me her grades have slipped. I should reach out to her, but I rationalize that I have my own problems. Two parents have complained in the last month. The principal has said my teaching is erratic. Claudia and I are approaching the end of our first year at the Academy and I wonder if either of us will be here in the fall.                     I was slapped twice this week. I told Ramona that I should follow in her footsteps and get my GED. She's done well: armed with a golden tongue and push up bras, she is the top salesperson at the mall's Apple store. Lord knows the money helps with the supposed man of the house reduced to being a day laborer. She slapped me hard and told me to take a shower and get my head back in those books. The next day I saw my mother, not yet forty, stooped as an old woman over the god forsaken fideo. I asked her why I was light skinned and everyone else dark. Slap again.  Who do I get to slap?




 

Francois Bereaud celebrated turning 50 a few years back by completing an MFA at San Diego State University. He was the bosque journal’s “Discovery Author Award” winner in 2017. In the last year, he has been published online at Rejected Manuscripts, Sundial Magazine, The Write Launch, the Dillydoun Review, Roi Fainenant Press, and in print at Blood & Bourbon and ABQ InPrint. He earned a Pushcart nomination for his essay in The Twin Bill.


He has written a novel and two short story collections which he dreams of publishing and seeing in the window of his beloved neighborhood bookstore.


In his non-writing life, he is a husband, dad, lifelong educator now as a full-time community college math professor, retired youth soccer coach, mentor to a Congolese refugee family, and mediocre hockey player.




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