Tag Archives: Flash Prose

On Speaking Spanish in a Spanish Land

I don’t speak Spanish.

Never has this fact been more clear to me than when I moved to my current neighborhood. I was buying groceries the other day, and as I loaded my things on the belt, the cashier started speaking to me in Spanish.

“Hola! Como estás?” she asked.

“Um…bien,” I replied hesitantly.

This opened up a can of worms. Or rather, a can of rapid fire Spanish. I froze.

I flashed back to a conversation I had in the hallway of my undergrad university almost two years before. I was taking eight weeks of concentrated Spanish because the university had mandated I review from the four years I had taken the language in high school. I was angry about it at the time; I didn’t feel like I needed the review.

“Tienes un oído para español,” my professor told me after we finished our midterm conversation in her office.

You have an ear for Spanish.

“Graciás. Me gusta aprender.”

Thanks. I like to learn.

“Su alta escuela español ha llegado de nuevo a tú. Qué vas a hacer con tu español? Por qué estás en mi clase?”

Your high school Spanish is coming back to you. What are you going to do with your Spanish? Why are you in my class?

“Necesito dos años para estudios de posgrado.”

I need two years for graduate school.

“Tú podrías ir más lejos en ella si quería.”

You could go further in it if you wanted to.

“Lo haría si tuviera tiempo.”

I would if I had time.

There is never enough time.

I didn’t have to think about the Spanish then. It just came naturally.

I came back to the present and the cashier was staring at me. What had she said? I understood her just fine. She had asked how far I had to walk. Whether I wanted the plastic bags doubled so they’d be easier to get home. There were at least a hundred things I could say floating just on the tip of my tongue, Spanish words just within reach that I couldn’t quite shape. I could communicate. If only I could make myself do it, say the words.

But if I said the wrong thing?

This is not my home, not my environment. Not my comfort zone. I am overthinking; I am taking to much time to reply.

What if I said the wrong thing?

“No hablo español,” I muttered quietly, pulling my debit card from my wallet and swiping it in the machine.

The cashier shrugged and doubled my bags without my asking before handing them to me and thanking me for coming.

I walked out of the store, two bags in each hand. Silent.

I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish, but I could if I could just be unafraid.

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Seventh Grade

Lissa was the most popular girl in the seventh grade class. She had curly dark hair and a winning smile. The boys all said that she was pretty, and they also said that I wasn’t. But I didn’t think she looked that different than I did. Sure, she wore brand name clothes and makeup, and I didn’t. Sure, her hair was glossy and combed and perfect, and mine wasn’t. Sure, she could carry on a conversation that didn’t involve a book or an animal, and I couldn’t. Sure, she was interested in boys, and I wasn’t. To me, we were really just the same.

Everyone wanted to be around Lissa. To sit at her table at lunch, to walk with her in the hall, to carry her books. Her upcoming birthday party was the talk of the cafeteria. I heard that the invitations were selective, not the normal “everyone gets one just for being in class with me” type we had grown up with. I heard that she was handing them out herself. I heard that they were on glittery Lisa Frank Stationary, with cute, brightly colored animals plastered all over them. I heard that there would be boys at the party.

I viewed the invitation as a ticket to … something. And god, did I really, really, really want that ticket. I wasn’t sure why. Did I want to fit in? Make friends? Finally get interested in a boy? Or did I really just want to be invited somewhere, to be a part of something?

Lissa’s shoes clacked against the cafeteria tile as she walked towards the seventh grade area, invitations in hand. My seat was at the edge of the table, with at least two spaces between me and everyone else. Just out of conversation range, because no one really talked to me anyway. I stared at my bright red compartmentalized lunch tray, digging my spoon down and scooping up mashed potatoes that might as well have been soup before letting them drip back onto the tray without putting them in my mouth. I held my breath as Lissa got to the table.

She gave an invitation to everyone.

Everyone except me.

There would be no cute glittery animals. No party. No presents. No boys. Not for me.

For the rest of the year, I refused to eat lunch in the cafeteria. I stayed in one teacher’s classroom or another, reading books or doing homework. It only cemented in my classmates’ eyes how weird I was, but I didn’t care anymore. I figured that if I wasn’t going to fit in anyway, I might as well not fit in doing something that made me happy.

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It All Ends

A broom.  Wooden.  Used for sweeping and cleaning the floor or getting cobwebs off the ceiling.  It moves back and forth, controlled by another’s hand.  It gathers more dirt in its bristles than in the dust pan.  It is meant to be used vertically.  The fact is, this is something even a child knows; this is how it goes.

A pink treasure chest.  Flowered.  Locks with a key.  This chest is filled with pennies, the perfect collection for a small child.  The lock can be pulled off with a strong enough hand.  Eventually the chest will disappear.  Unhappiness will turn the world black; you can’t go back.

A bow.  Plastic.  On the back of a black skirt.  This skirt is well loved, though much too short by society’s standards.  It does not belong on a child, but the child will not take it off.  This was the beginning.  Dress-up is nothing more than a game of pretend; we promised each other it’s ‘till the end.

A dollar.  Paper.  Purchases commodities.  The value of a commodity is determined by the user.  The higher the use value of a particular commodity to a particular user, the more dollars will be spent.  The dollar is used as a type of exchange, and this commodity should have more value than it does.  The damage caused is hard to see; how wild it was, to let it be.

A baby blanket.  White.  A fuzzy replica of Winnie the Pooh.  It is meant to hold a baby that’s not there, that will never be.  It will stay in its package in the memorial on the upper shelf of the bookcase.  It is the only thing left.  Life is filled with much regretting; your smiles at the wake and your tears at the wedding, forgetting.

A stool.  Leather.  Much too short to be sat upon.  It is used as a table, piled high with books and papers but never people.  The back is short, the legs stubby.  A method of control.  Learn not to stray; and more, much more than this, I did it my way.

A knife.  Sharp.  Used in the kitchen.  Cutco makes a most expensive brand that is touted for its ability to stay sharp under pressure.  Children are taught from an early age to use it properly.  Using it incorrectly places a large amount at stake; I think that I might break.

A stain on the carseat.  Pomegranate.  Faded by repeated attempts to exterminate it with disposable cleaning wipes.  The remnants will always remain.  It clings there like a poison to your insides.  Red does not come out of gray; nothing gold can stay.

A series of items.  Seemingly meaningless and random.  When put together, these things are the sum of the decisions of others to cause pain.  Life is not always used as was intended.  There is no such thing as normal, not anymore.  Even though the world is prone to warp and bend, it will all be okay in the end; if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

And remember: no matter how it feels in the moment, everything will be okay.

It all ends.

(The quote sources, in order-if you spotted them:  Aimee Mann, The Strange Familiar, Vanessa Carlton, Cheryl Strayed, David Gray, Frank Sinatra, Sia, Robert Frost, and John Lennon)

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