by Robert Pope

I STARTED WRITING because of John Jones, who came to my high school the second semester of his senior year. He perplexed and embarrassed everyone but me because of the strange foreign-sounding accent or dialect in which he spoke. I had read stories by William Saroyan, so I think his mother spoke Armenian at home, his father Russian or Bulgarian mixed with English in a family pidgin no one understood. Not sure how I know this, if this is actual knowledge.

I did admire the way he raised his hand in history class one day to ask a question in this opaque tongue. Mrs. Halleck, our aged history teacher, listened, and she paused, and she reflected, and then she asked the class if anyone had a response for John Jones as thoughtful as his question. No one did.

For some reason I did not yet know, I spoke up. I began in English, explaining what he said, which I had not understood myself, then turned to him for a special private comment in an attempt at this bizarre collection of sounds. Next time John Jones raised his hand, Mrs. Halleck asked me to translate. When I realized what I had gotten myself into, I came up with something quickly. Not surprisingly, he said what I myself had been thinking. He nodded to indicate I had gotten it exactly right.

In this manner, my participation in class discussion became an integral part of history. Other kids took enough pleasure in my performance that it increased in frequency. This meant hours of preparation at home. I wrote out explanations of exactly what John Jones said after reading a chapter in some history text. At some point, I needed more gripping material, so I turned to fiction and poetry to supply my stores.

I grew a few years older that last trying semester of high school, but that’s when I started writing, and I haven’t really stopped since. If you are reading this, John Jones, and I hope you are, I wish I had gotten to know you better. We were a team. I never understood a thing you said, but I don’t think I have ever felt closer to another human being, and never one so disturbingly profound.


Robert Pope has published a novel, Jack’s Universe, as well as two collections of stories, Private Acts and Killers & Others (2020) and a chapbook of flash fiction, Shutterbug. He has also published stories in journals including The Kenyon Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Fiction International, and anthologies including Pushcart Prize and Dark Lane Anthology.