“Hey, Davey,” David looked up from the conversation he’d been having with Les about the younger boy’s current list of spelling words as they waited in line for the evening edition, and saw that Racetrack was the one calling his name. There was a look in his eyes that David had already learned to be wary of in the six months or so that he’d known the boy.
Still, he’d looked up already, so he probably couldn’t get away with pretending not to have heard, even though that was probably his only hope for avoiding whatever mischief was afoot. “Yes?”
“You don’t gotta look so scared Davey!” Racetrack bounced his way over, seemingly full of energy even after having already spent most of the day selling. “I’ve just got a question for you. How do you spell Chanukah? Me and Albert were talking about it, and he says it starts with a C, but I said that doesn’t make sense, because it’s got an H sound.”
David knew what was coming before Les even had time to open his mouth, and he really didn’t see why his family had to be so unreasonable about this. Sure enough, Les groaned dramatically, and said, “Oh, sure, just a question! Hope you guys weren’t planning to get much selling done tonight, ‘cause David’s never gonna shut up about it now you’ve got him going.”
“That’s not fair, it’s just a complicated question, Les, and you don’t have to be like this every year,” David could feel himself pouting, which was infuriating, but not actually as infuriating as the question. “See, the thing is it’s not like it’s an English word, Race, it’s Hebrew, and it’s really easy to spell in Hebrew, just Chet, Nun, Kaf, Hay, but English doesn’t even really have a letter that makes the same sound as Chet, so do you approximate it with an H, which doesn’t have the right kind of guttural quality really, or do you pull from something like German where the C H at the start of a word sounds more like the way it’s supposed to sound in Hebrew, but of course in English we usually pronounce those letters together like “Ch” the way you do in chicken. And that’s not even getting into the question of how many Ks you want in the middle.”
David paused, looking hopefully at Race who seemed vaguely stunned. “That seems…” he paused, “complicated?”
“Why are you encouraging this?” Les hissed at him.
“I already said, I got a bet!” Racetrack gestured to Albert.
“And you don’t have to spend all night listening to Dave keep harping on about it.”
David stuck his tongue out at his younger brother, which he felt was an extremely measured response. “First of all, I don’t harp on about anything.” David resolutely ignored the many snorts that met this entirely factual statement, which he thought was very generous of him, before continuing. “I’m just saying that it’s not really straightforward, and since the word isn’t really English I don’t think anyone’s actually codified a standard spelling. I bet if you asked all the papes they’d give you different answers too. I like to start it with a C, because at least that sort of indicates that it’s not just a straight H sound, even if it means people who only speak English might get it extra wrong when they try to say it.”
Racetrack nodded, “Uh huh. But, it’s a word right? So there’s got to be a way to spell it, there has to be one that’s right, and the other ones are wrong. So who’s right, me or Albert?”
“Weren’t you and Les just talking about spelling?” Boots, who had been standing next to them in line even before everyone had gathered around to see what the talking was about asked.
“I mean, yeah, but that’s different,” David was at least sure about that part. “Those are English words, so they have proper spellings, and Les’s teacher gave him the list. Chanukah isn’t English though, so it would depend on who you asked, and maybe who they were spelling it for, because you might want to pick a spelling that was specific to your audience, so that you’d have the best shot at ending up communicating the word properly.”
“Ok, but who wins the bet,” Albert was apparently pretty focused.
“I do,” announced Les, and everyone turned to him nearly in unison.
“No you don’t,” said Racetrack, outraged. “You didn’t even bet on it, you weren’t involved!”
“But you’re both wrong, and the answer is that it starts with Chet, like Davey said, but he doesn’t win because he was being boring when he said it, so you and Albert should both give me your bets.” He grinned up at them, with the kind of smile he used to get ladies to buy his papes, and David could barely contain his laughter, especially when Albert and Race both squawked indignantly, turning to Jack.
“He can’t do that, can he?” Albert asked.
Jack looked at the whole lot of them, and then specifically at Les, and David could tell that he was about a second from cracking up himself. “I think he’s made a better argument than either of you, so why don’t you give the kid his winnings and we can all get to work? These papes ain’t gonna sell themselves!”