Aleksander Kartsev

A Great French Writer

A Short Story


Yes, it was a big problem to find a real goose quill. Its absence could pose a threat to a whole idea. Great French writers were known for writing their books just for using goose quills. The only question was arisen - where they got them: definitely not from a shop.

It was pure luck that in his writing desk at home, on its lower shelf, the ink had been found, the real blue ink although a little bit dry, but with his little ingenuity and some tap water, this problem can be fixed easily. As a matter of fact, all of these started with this discovery and then he was enlightened with the idea...

But as for a goose quill… Probably, any French writer could give up due to not coping with all obstacles related to his idea and would have gone to the nearest tavern for drinking wine with his musketeer-friends instead. But he was different, he was not an ORDINARY, he was GREAT! This is why he would not give up for doing anything halfway through anyway.

Walking through endless streets and squares and searching for places inhabitant by the geese, it was not easy to find the goose quill. There were no geese around in the whole city! Soon another idea has crossed his mind - to use the raven ones if the goose one could not be found. However, the raven feathers were not easy to find too. As ill luck would have it, the Ravens did not want to change their plumage in autumn. But he was lucky! Not far from a grocery store, he found what was looking for. Even more: not one - two raven feathers!

In the same evening, he began to work on his dream. As the first necessary step - to do a little practice on a normal sheet of paper. It turned out that to write with a raven feather and ink was not difficult at all, but, to tell the truth, letters were very thick and uneven. They looked almost French, except they were not beautiful.

Moreover, some blots spoiled the whole picture! Fortunately, a way how to fix this problem stroked his mind: to take a knife in the kitchen and do sharpening a tip of the feather. At once all things took a lucky turn!

However, there was another problem:  he did not know a single word in French! Of course, he knew some words “Madame”, “Cherchez la femme”, like every one of us, but had no clue how to write them in French.


For any beginner writer in French, it would be an unsolvable problem too. But not for the GREAT one, who definitely knew how to write in Russian!

Now, the most difficult problem was to select a correct book. Undoubtedly, the most logical decision should be to chose “Three Musketeers”. This was a thick book with a shabby cover and yellowish pages that excited his imagination by promising a distant pilgrimage, adventures and courage. Although he had not read a single page yet from this book, he already felt a presentiment of its magic hidden under its cover.

Yes, it was exactly what he needed. This book was substantial for his plans! However, Dad could belt him for “Three Musketeers”. As sure as hell, he would!

But, to tell the truth, his father could not do it at any means- not because he never belted his son before, but mainly because he died in some mysteriously distant Afghan two years ago.

But it was pleasant to think that his Dad could punish him. This kind of thoughts was a usual for him, especially in case of doing something wrong or forbidden. It first happened when he and his friend Igoryok pulled down a cigarette from the package hidden by some boy in an empty mailbox, and then two of them smoked secretly in bushes near a railroad. At that moment, he thought that if Dad could see them, for sure a punishment would be evitable. These thoughts helped him to consider Dad to be alive, not to be just the photo hanging on the wall in their room.

Tomorrow will be his birthday. Damn luck that Igoryok had caught the flue, and he won’t be able to come! With no other friends, he will have to celebrate the birthday with his mother.

In the writing desk, he has already found his birthday gift from her - a set of watercolour paints and a sketchbook, which she will present him tomorrow.

To tell the truth, he was dreaming about a new rod. It was his dream: bamboo, three-kneed one, like every adult fishermen have. But the rod costs a lot. All right, a set of paints is okay too, let leave it as it is! He is not a little one anymore; tomorrow he will be eight years old! He understands well enough that there no money at home. His mother was working all days long, Even in evenings she was washing a floor at the entrance of some official building, but she cannot even repair the cost of her winter coat. On top of it, every month she should pay for their accommodation. They live in lodgings. They do not have their own place.

But it is okay. When he will grow enough to be an adult, he will buy a rod by himself! Every day he will go fishing and will bring a catch to home. His mother loves to fish so much!

He heard how she cried at nights. She cried very often. She is old, but she cries as if she is a little girl. And why does she crying? It should be better for me to pretend that I am very glad to get her gift – the paints and a sketchbook. He knew that she will be happy.

He also knew that there is a small round melon kept in a refrigerator…and it is very tasty. Of course, it is not as tasty as that huge melon which his Daddy brought for the New Year eve three years ago. All the way from some unknown Tashkent! He still recalled how it was juicy and unusual. And it was transparent because it let the sunlight through each slice! And how it smelled!!! That melon was not the same as this one. This one was tasty because it smelled as THAT one.

…Yes, it is bad that Igoryok could not come. He could not taste this melon. Besides, it would be more cheerful to celebrate birthday with him. He is a good friend. A real one! They even go together to the same school. However, Igor is sitting in the class one level below, he is younger than him. Once or twice he had to deal with Igor’s schoolmates when they bullied him. He felt as he was Igor’s elder brother. He felt comfortable because of it. He wished he had such brother in real...

Well, he got distracted from his book with all these thoughts... He had to put “Three Musketeers” aside. He wished he did not, of course, but he decided to take some colouring book for children, with its motley pictures although it did not look solid at all. It was too childish. It does not matter! It will be suitable to hide idea too.

Diligently sniffing, he put his hand to the plough. Written with the raven feather, the first letters started to appear on the back cover of the book. These letters formed into words, words into a sentence - “To Sergey Smirnov, the pupil of Class 2A...”

After “Class” his hand trembled treacherously and the big ink blot jumped straight to the paper. But it was only one blot, and he continued: “...from a great French writer AlYxandre Dumas”. For a moment he became thoughtful. Then he accurately crossed out a letter “Y” in the word “AlYxandre” and drew a letter “E” above it. Then he considered for a moment and added “Count” after “Dumas”. With a comma. Certainly, was Alexandre Dumas a count? Of course, he was!

He leaned back with a great satisfaction and took a deep sigh. Yes, it is hard to be a great French writer! Blood sweat came out until you finished one autograph. Next, he began to blow very hard at the writing on the paper so the ink will dry quickly because he wanted very much to show the book to boys who were playing outside.

They will be so jealous!

For sure, none of them had a book signed by an ordinary French writer, to say nothing, by Count Dumas! Seryozha has no doubts that Dumas was a count.

Many boys sure will seek his friendship as soon as they see this book. He will be not objecting it.

But then he remembered how boys teased him because he was fatherless. But they do not have SUCH book. Does it mean that he is teasing them too? He does not want to do it. He is not a little boy!

Seryozha took a cardboard box out of the writing desk. In this box, he kept his treasures. His Diploma for finishing his first schooling year successfully. A few multi-coloured bits of glasses that he had found last summer on a street. Felt-tip pens which his Dad gave him. They were dry and writing with them was not possible, but Seryozha could not throw them away. At the very bottom of the box, there was the Medal for Bravery and the Order of Red Star. It was all that left from Daddy.

Mujahidin had killed his father. Military men told this when they had brought a big “iron” box in which, according to them, his father was. It was difficult to believe. But when his mother began to cry violently as never before, he believed. He believed that something bad had happened. But also he believed that in few days Daddy definitely will return home. And then he would tell to doctors how confused they were because he is, his father is actually alive.

After the third day this “iron” box was buried at a cemetery by accompanying men. All people were in black and cried. His mother was in black too. And she had a black face. But she did not cry; although everyone asked her to do it. Daddy never came back...

That day Seryozhka decided that he would kill all mujahidin. But then a new thought came into his mind – these mujahidin's could be someone’s fathers too. He did not want those boys from some far-away country were brought up without their fathers. It was too bad to live without Dady. So after having serious thoughts, he decided that when he will be an adult, he would never kill anybody.

Seryozhka put this book above all other things. It was the dearest gift for his birthday. Because it was a gift from his Daddy to him. His father was not only a good man but also a very brave. Certainly, if he would be alive, he could be on friendly terms with Count Alexandre Dumas. Surely, the Count would sign one of his books to his best friend’s son. If only Daddy was alive...

P.S. Sergeya Smirnov (aka Seryozhka) died during the Second Chechen War. He kept his word. He killed nobody.

Aleksander Kartsev,

Translated by Natalya Volkova, Karina Morozova, Ayush Kapadia.

Edited by Irina Vasilenko.

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