Where Serpents Change Their Skin

Flash Fiction

Jim Latham


Where Serpents Change Their Skin by Jim Latham | Photo by Max Letek on Unsplash

If you ask me, there’s too much English in the world already, but I’m not so principled I won’t earn money teaching it while traveling indefinitely.

These days I live in Puebla, a central Mexican city of four million dominated by the automobile industry. I help executives, engineers, and logistics experts polish the conversational skills they need to wine and dine decision-makers on business trips to Gringolandia. It pays well and prevents me from having to deal with teenagers and children.

Speaking of wining and dining, Arlet is my last student of the week, and tonight we’re holding class on a rooftop terrace boasting a view of the Great Pyramid of Cholula and drinking a blended white from Baja California’s Valle de Guadalupe.

The wine pairs well with mild cheeses, seafood, and poultry, none of which we’re eating. Food slows the absorption of alcohol, and the 13.7% this wine carries goes well with the sheer fabric of Arlet’s blouse. She’s started dressing up for class, and I’ve been pretending not to notice, pretending I don’t know what that means.

While I refill our glasses, we indulge in our running argument about whether or not it is exceptional that Arlet speaks five languages.

“Five,” she says, “is not so many.” She twirls a finger in her hair and reminds me of her time volunteering in Uganda, where in addition to their own language, everyone she met spoke English and Swahili plus the languages of at least two neighboring tribes.

“Outside of Uganda, how many people do you know that speak five languages?”

Arlet’s glossed lips curl. “Hakuna mtu,” she says. “Nadie. No one…other than UN translators.”

“UN translators.”

Arlet nods.

“How many of those are there in the world?”

“Hundreds, thousands. Who knows? I’m not so special.” She says especial, not special. We’ll work on it another time, when wine hasn’t slowed our tongues.

“But you won a scholarship to study French. Two years, all expenses paid.”

She swirls her glass, her gaze fixed on the wine. “In Quebec City, ma puce, not Paris.”