Croque Monsieur and Belgian Boys
Maureen Fielding has an MA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English, and she teaches English and Women's Studies at Penn State. She is working on a novel inspired by her experiences as a Russian intercept operator in West Berlin during the Cold War.
Pinball flippers snap. Bells ping.
We are young and crossing borders.
We are les Américaines exotiques.
They are native boys, les Belges.
We share our
Croque monsieur bought
With pooled pocket money.
We want to know each other deeply,
Struggle in limited English and rudimentary French.
They consult, and René, the most fluent, translates,
His voice soft and melodic, almost a whisper:
"What are your ambitions in life?"
Carla and I look at each other, surprised.
Who are these strangers who ask such absurd questions?
We are sixteen, expat American girls,
Our daddies executives of the sovereign state of ITT.
We have no need for ambitions.
We consider ourselves autonomous and independent, but
This question cracks that mirage for a moment,
And we can almost see that others have decided our paths, our futures—
College, marriage, house, children.
We can almost, but not quite, see.
These boys, though only sixteen, have ambitions,
But no executive daddies or club mommies.
Nando's daddy spends his days on the couch trying to breathe,
His lungs suffused with coal dust.
René's hawks pomme frites from a stand.
Marc's is dead.
We have not yet seen their houses,
The dirty gray stone,
The outhouse behind,
The cramped bedrooms.
They have not been to our posh, suburban homes,
Gazed around at oriental carpets and crystal,
Through French doors at lawn and landscape.
We have not yet privately mocked their poverty.
We have not yet seen the yawning chasm between us,
Or turned a corner in the night on a dark, unknown street
And fled from them.
Sharing croque monsieur, we hear his question,
And see absences where ambitions should be,
And think, think, think.
What new language is this?
Is the translation wrong?