During our occasional morning recitals in the auditorium, I sat in the front row of the school orchestra. That’s where the teacher always wanted the cellos to sit. You could look out at the audience if you wanted, but mostly you had to concentrate on the papers in front of you on the music stands.
That, and keeping the cello upright and steady right there between your legs.
There was no school uniform, but there were rules, and girls were not allowed to wear pants or jeans. Skirts were not really so short in those days, but you were still on display up there on stage. You didn’t need to show much more than a knee. Anything more could be left to the boys’ imagination.
When the performance was over that morning, I put my cello away in the music room and headed up to Latin class. A dead language, yes, but I enjoyed sorting out the words, the cases, the tenses to discover the hidden meanings.
Good training for the civilized mind, our teacher used to say, It will make you a better thinker and a better person, whatever kind of work you do.
He was not a young man, Mr. D., but he looked kind of cute when he got excited about Catullus or Virgil. And it was interesting to watch the way his brushcut bristled on the top of his head.
That morning he came by my desk softly, from behind, put his hand on my shoulder and bent down. Excellent performance, he said quietly.
I thought he meant last week’s test.
I loved the way you stroked that bow between your legs, he whispered.
And then he handed me a slip of paper with a line of Latin printed on it.
See if you can figure this one out, he said.
I said nothing. I just turned red, and he went back to the front of the class.
That night I got out my dictionary and my grammar text and worked my way through the puzzle.
Stulta puella, it started. Adjective with noun. Then a conjunction, another noun with a possessive, a short adverb, a verb in future passive.
I couldn’t believe what I had.
A foolish girl… and her legs… are soon…
I don’t even want to write down the whole thing.
My mother was sitting in the front room, doing a crossword puzzle as she did most nights.
I showed her the slip of paper Mr. D. had given me.
That’s a schoolboy thing, she said. Back in the day, we used to get that all the time. Just tell the boy to get lost. You don’t need a silly boyfriend like that.
Oh, she said, I have a saying for you too, this one in plain English, and worth remembering.
Some boys look good from afar, she said, but are far from good.
I did not tell my mother that my teacher was the one who had given me the slip of paper. And when Mr. D. asked if I had solved the puzzle, I told him I’d lost it and did not want another one.
Maybe today things would be different. I did not drop the class. I finished it with high marks.
Excellent performance, Mr. D. would write on my tests. But he never touched me again, and I think he always seemed a little sheepish when he returned them.
Eva Jean is a middle-aged person living in a mid-sized city in North America, where Latin is no longer taught in the public schools.