Denis Johnson

Denis Johnson
Denis Johnson 1949-2017

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monsieur Pierre Est Mort

My seventh grade French teacher, Mademoiselle Torrosian, kept a pet rock, Pierre, who looked like an average potato. She made occasional mention of him, basking in his round holder on her desk, if it meant including him as an example for that day’s lesson. “Monsieur Pierre voudrais du bifteck et les pommes frites” if we were learning to order a steak and fries. Or “Monsieur Pierre aime Juillet mais pas Janvier” if we were learning to distinguish between the months. Mademoiselle Torrosian dressed as a tablecloth, wearing a checkered yellow top above her dull brown pant legs. She had short hair and wide glasses, though I once caught her stepping out of Kramer Gifts, a shop at the mall where you could buy dirty decks of cards and fuzzy dice. A neighbor of mine, Kev Wilson, cooked up the plan to kidnap Monsieur Pierre, out of boredom, maybe, but it was easily accomplished: I slid the rock off its pedestal into my bookbag during the confusing crush at the end of class, and we had him. I’m not sure that Mademoiselle ever let on that Monsieur Pierre had gone missing, until we left her the first of our many ransom notes. Kev and I had cut the alphabet out of numerous magazines, the way we saw in the movies, and glued odd-shaped letters to construction paper, saying, in terrible French, “Nous avons Monsieur Pierre” for “We have Monsieur Pierre,” and if she’d like him back unharmed, she’d give everyone in the class an “A.” Mademoiselle Torrosian took to reading the notes out loud, correcting our French as she went, and then would utter pleas for his return. She would say, in earnest, “Monsieur Pierre est mon bebe, mon petit oiseau bleu, mon chanson et mon danse” or something like that, and the class would stare ahead without much sympathy. We, in turn, would write more and more perverse ransom notes, describing that we were cutting off Monsieur Pierre’s ears, or putting out his “oeil” or breaking his nose. Mademoiselle Torrosian’s brow would darken each time she entered the classroom and saw a new note lying on her chair. It was a small class; fifteen or twenty kids, and she probably guessed it was me and Kev, but then again, there was always that dickwad Marvin DeLeo, that girl, Angie, who always pronounced “besoin” as “boz-wan” and was always peeved when Mademoiselle corrected her, and Overman, too, that big, crazy, silent loon of a timebomb just waiting to throw someone out the window. Meantime, Monsieur Pierre resided in my backyard, in a regular area where many other rocks lived, and sometimes Kev and I would have a hard time distinguishing him from your typical shale, or quartzite, or whatever we were learning in earth science. One time, I put him in the oven, after my mother had begun baking a load of potatoes and she freaked when she tried to stab him with her big fork, scratching him mightily. Kev and I used him as a hammer once, when we were trying to build a wooden ladder in the backyard, and there we chipped him, but the coup de grace came when we were tossing Monsieur Pierre back and forth in a game of “you’re it” and he fell onto the patio and cracked in half, perfectly. We vowed to superglue him back together, a clear thin line of paste at the fissure, and soon afterwards, I snuck him back into position, on his little round holder beside Mademoiselle Torrosian’s grade book, even as Mademoiselle erased the blackboard. “Oh la la,” she said, turning around a minute later. She held him up to the light, smiling, at first, then dropped him into the empty metal trashcan, where he landed with a good boom. “Monsieur Pierre est mort—dead,” she said, then barked: “Ecoutez!”

Daniel Gutstein

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