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  • One Frame at a Time
  • Sarah Bird

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Figure 1.

Sarah, with older brother John in their father’s flight jacket and middle sister Martha, waves from their home in Travis Air Force Base a few months before being transferred to Yokota Air Base, Japan.

Hello South Central Modern Language Association. I’d like to officially welcome you all to Austin, Texas and congratulate you on coming in October rather than August when we’re all just the tiniest bit on edge and might shoot you if you change lanes without signaling. The truth is, no matter what time of year you visit, if you can’t manage to have just a wee tiny bit o’ fun in Austin, you might want to stick a mirror under your nose. Feel for a pulse. We have not legalized marijuana yet. But really with the quality of our margaritas, that would simply be overkill.

Thank you all for inviting me to be with you this evening. It has been a pleasure to work with Richard Golsan, Diana Hodges, and Emily Johnson. When your lovely professor Golsan invited me I questioned whether I was fit to speak to you, the illuminati. He assured me that I [End Page 2] was, but only because I didn’t confess to him that I was a total washout in your formidable modern language world. For, you see, I once aspired to belong to your ranks. In my undergraduate years, I was a French major and fully intended to teach this lovely language. The only trouble was that, though I had no problem doing my dictées and reading the pre-Hugh Jackman “Les Miserables,” I had never actually encountered a real French person. Or spoken a single spontaneous word of francaise. Given that I was at the University of New Mexico at the time —Go Lobos—I was far more likely to hear someone speaking Navajo than I was to encounter the language of love.

I thought I would remedy this situation by spending some time on the continent. The period right after I walked in on my fiancé in bed with the waitress from the restaurant where he had proposed a few months earlier seemed a propitious moment. I found a job as an au pair with a family in the Alps and I was off. There was, however, une petite probleme with my program, and that was that the only French person I spent any amount of time with was the three- month-old baby I’d been hired to take care of. And his French was even worse than mine. Stupide bébé.

Tant pis, you might say, and I might have to slug you. But I didn’t give up that easily. Instead, I turned to photo-romances for help with learning colloquial French. Photo-romances are comic books illustrated with photographs of steely-eyed garcons and raven-tressed mademoiselles caught in the cross hairs of l’amour. Sometime after learning how to say, in French, “Oh, Guillame, ze fragile oiseau d’amour, once crushed to the airth, will nevair fly again,” it occurred to me that someone was getting paid to write these lines. Before you could say “Ew, ay la biblioteck?” I was back in laze Aytazz Ooneez checking out the equivalent American market and confessing that I was half a woman loving half a man, that I had kidnapped my own child, seduced my parish priest, lusted after my son’s karate teacher, and stolen my mother-in-law’s meatloaf recipe.

At just about the time that I had established a comfortable little niche for myself as a writer of pulp fiction—when I had learned how to confess in the first person using a thoroughly authentic blue collar voice—that entire world imploded. Printed on high acid paper that crumbled practically before you were done reading a story, pulp fiction vanished overnight.

I so wish I could stand up here today in front of you distinguished scholars and say that I got my start at Breadloaf or the Iowa Writers Program. But no. Seedy, sleazy, down...


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