Fiction by David Lewis
“Mr. Jones,” I said as I polished a prime $1.35 apple, a Delicious, and placed it on his desk. “You gave me a failing mark on my translation of Caesar just because I missed three words.” Mr. Jones was my Latin teacher and he seemed to regret that the Empire had tumbled around 400 AD. He would willingly go back to the past if he could, and he’d wear one of those toga things and drive a chariot, too. Until entering Mr. Jones’ class, the only time I’d seen a toga was on John Belushi when he wore one in “Animal House.”
Once Mr. Jones wore one to read us a speech from some dead Roman. It might have impressed the class if we really knew any Latin, because Mr. Jones orated it in Latin, not English. Mr. Jones knew more Latin than a lot of old Romans. He would converse in Latin in class just to impress us. The pupils caught on to only a smidgen of it.
The class figured that Mr. Jones wore the toga to impress Ms. Ford, the cute Home Economics teacher. Ms. Ford had no relation to the Ford associated with automobiles but she did have a distinctive chassis and bumpers. Why Mr. Jones thought that showing off his legs––they could be mistaken for a German Shepherd’s, and yes, I mean the dog, not an actual German with a flock of sheep––would wow Ms. Ford seemed absurd to all his pupils. To impress Ms. Ford was obviously the reason, though, because Mr. Jones blushed and stammered whenever Ms. Ford showed up. There is nothing funnier than a grown man stammering in Latin. That in turn made Ms. Ford giggle, which thrilled all the boys in class because it caused a lot of oscillation around her diaphragm. Mr. Jones, however, got a glazed look in his eyes and stammered all the more. “ET…et…et…” he repeated with a rapidity that sounded like a Roman jackhammer until his breath gave out and he turned red.
“My goodness Cyrus,” said Ms. Ford. “Do relax and lend me your stapler.”
That is when we learned Mr. Jones’s name. He always went by C.D. Jones in the yearbooks and all the students were required to address him as “Mr. Jones.” Mr. Jones was not proud of his first name, apparently. When Ms. Ford spoke it, “Cyrus” had a nice ring to it and sounded distinguished. This made Mr. Jones blush a deeper crimson than the oxygen deprivation crimson.
Mr. Jones fiddled in the desk drawers for the stapler then fiddled in his own drawers to smooth the toga and then tried his best not to look embarrassed. Ms. Ford sashayed out of our class with the full attention of every male, and Mr. Jones began to breath again. Mr. Jones loaded us up with homework, and excused the class.
As I was telling Mr. Jones earlier, he had given me a failing grade for a small mistake on a test and it could impact my passing the Latin class. I didn’t want to repeat a semester of Latin during the summer.
Mr. Jones blustered, “ ‘ET TU BRUTE,’ ” does not translate to ‘I had two burgers.’ If you want to be a wise ass and insult the great Caesar, you can try it in the summer instead of driving your convertible up and down Hempsted Avenue through July and August and leaving long, ugly tire tracks.” He was about to get into rage mode but he started to blush and stammer. Behind me, Ms. Ford had come on the scene.
“What is the talk about convertibles, Cyrus? I just love convertibles. They make me… so excited and carefree,” cooed Ms. Ford.
“Well,” I popped in, “I was just asking Mr. Jones if he would like to try out my convertible during the weekend. The dealer doesn’t have the deluxe model of the Pantera Lioness in stock. Mr. Jones was interested in buying one but wisely wanted a trial first. They must be driven carefully or the wheels spin and the acceleration can absolutely pin the passenger into the seat. Since they have to be ordered from a custom shop in Italy, it’ll be a while before one will be stateside and they get gobbled up before many fans get to drive one. There is probably a long waiting list to consider also. I’m sure Mr. Jones would give you a spin if he wishes to try mine out.”
“Oh, Cyrus. A Pantera Lioness! How elegant. I just knew you had excellent taste. I would love to ride with you.”
Mr. Jones turned white, red, white in a long succession. He seemed to be doing rapid mathematical calculations in his head while simultaneously looking at Ms. Ford with glassy eyes.
Mr. Jones spoke with increased self confidence, and didn’t stammer when he said, “Yes, very well, Julius if you would drop by the keys and the manual Friday afternoon you can tell me if the car has any foibles. In the meantime, think how you will enjoy your place on the Latin Honor Roll. Yes, very well, you may go now.”
“Vini, vidi vici,” I said as I left. The last Latin I have uttered.
Dave Lewis, originally a Wisconsin farm boy, is now retired from 35 years as a design engineer of rocket and jet engines. He left the humid Southeast to come to California for the twenty-first century, then came to Sonoma for love.