Verlan

Deborah Steinberg
for Chad Liffmann

When Samantha Lévy woke up the next morning and found that the Marais, the neighborhood in Paris where she had lived her entire life, had been displaced from the right to the left bank of the Seine, she knew that her actions the previous day had generated improbably large consequences. The enormity of the change was magnified by the fact that everyone she encountered on her way to school — her parents at breakfast, the leering proprietor of the café on the corner, the woman at the Patisserie from whom Samantha bought the challah for Shabbat dinner each Friday, the man sweeping the synagogue steps and the woman hawking flowers in the Place de la République — everyone but Samantha seemed oblivious to the fact that Paris's historic Jewish quarter now sat on the opposite side of the river from where it had always been.

Samantha's head reeled throughout the long school day. What did this mean? And what further inversions might occur were she to persist in what she'd begun?

Would she come home to find pork sausages sharing a plate with cheese? Would her family, and the rest of the congregation, observe the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday? What if they now believed that Jesus was the son of God?

How many tiny reversals might rewrite everyday life?

Would fatty steaks and cigarettes now ensure good health, and broccoli be a guilty pleasure? Would exercise make you fat, and watching TV make you smart?

How far back would history be hacked?

Would the Jews carry the shame of perpetrating Europe's twentieth century genocide in place of the trauma of having been its victims? Would Jews in the Middle East use terrorist tactics to fight for freedom from an oppressive Palestinian state? Would European nations struggle to regain linguistic and cultural autonomy following centuries of colonization by African and Asian powers? Would a fragmented United States flounder to recover from economic defeat by the USSR in the Cold War?

Just how fundamentally might oppositions invert?

Samantha tried to imagine a world in which women held most positions of power and men feared for their safety walking alone at night.

And what if she continued, and continued, the action that had caused such ontological upheaval?

Would the very concept of opposition be erased? Would the age-old master-slave dynamic finally cease? Would men and women at last treat each other as equals? Would wars around the world end?

The unpredictability of the potential results was so terrifying that Samantha thought carefully about desisting now, before perpetrating more inversions. But the moment Mohamed Bahari walked into sixth period math class, she remembered the bliss of kissing him yesterday behind the cafeteria after school, in a mutually agreed upon act of defiance against their families' inevitable reactions. And Samantha knew that she would kiss him again today, and again tomorrow. She would not stop kissing him until they had flipped Paris end over end, until they had turned the entire world upside down and inside out.



Note: "Verlan" is a form of French slang that was popularized by urban immigrant youth. It is created by inverting the syllables in a word. "Verlan" is the inverted form of the French word "l'envers," which means "the inverse."

Deborah Steinberg's

writing has been published in Necessary Fiction, The Red Line, Monkeybicycle, Blood and Thunder, and other journals. She is a founding editor of Red Bridge Press and is the fiction editor of the press's online journal Rivet: the Journal of Writing that Risks. Deborah lives in San Francisco, where she works as a freelance editor, facilitates writing workshops with a focus on healing, and sings in the a cappella group Conspiracy of Venus. http://deborahsteinberg.wordpress.com


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