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From behind the nearby wall came the monotonous voice of the tour guide.

“On this significant day in 1811, the grand opening of the Imperial Lyceum took place, which was attended by future students and the royal family...”

Pavel Falke was not interested in who attended the opening of the Lyceum and in the Lyceum itself. However, after the obligatory tour their teacher promised to take the orphanage residents to the park. Pavel expected to see the same grand fountains he had admired last year in Petrodvorets, but the older guys told him there were almost no fountains in Tsarskoe Selo.

Falke kept pulling the damned door latch. 

“But surely there are some stalls here,” Pavel muttered. 

Ms. Tatyana, their matron, always bought them sweets.

His stomach began to growl, but the latch did not budge. Falke looked in confusion at the cramped toilet, where the cloudy mirror reflected his tousled head and the navy jacket with a red collar, which Pavel and the rest of his group received in the Lyceum lobby.

The guide directed her pointer towards them.

“Today, we prepared an immersive experience,” Pavel even opened his mouth. “That means we are immersing you in the historical realities. You are wearing the uniform of the Lyceum students. Now listen to me, and don't interrupt.”

The latch was thoroughly stuck. Pavel wanted to shout, but at twelve, it would have been humiliating for him to do so. Instead, he kicked the door with a flourish and leaned his shoulder onto the frame.

Nothing helped, but it occurred to him there might be a second way out from the toilet. Turning around, Falke slapped his forehead. Right under the smudged mirror, he found a small door. Pavel could have sworn a minute ago, he saw just white plaster.

He remembered reading “Pinocchio” as a child and the door covered with cobwebs in the closet behind the fireplace.

The guide said somewhere nearby, “Now we will get acquainted with the daily routine of Lyceum students.”

Turning the handle, Falke stepped into the deserted corridor. Siding along the polished floorboards, Pavel rushed around the corner, almost knocking down a curly-haired boy in a navy jacket just like his.

“Bonjour and watch where you’re running,” the stranger put his hands on his hips. “Were you brought in later, or what? “I’m Alexander,” he tilted his head to the side. “Alexander Pushkin.”

Falke grinned.

“I'm Pavel. My last name is Falke. Have you seen our matron?”

“You’re an orphan,” Alexander said shrewdly. “Your matron left because the servants are not supposed to stay here. It’s okay, Falcon,” he patted Pavel on the shoulder.

The low sound of a gong flashed over their heads, and Pushkin tugged at his jacket sleeve.

“Let's run, Falcon. Lunch is at one o'clock. Cabbage soup and porridge.”

Falke, who respected cabbage soup, hurried after the boy.

“Immersive excursion,” Pavel remembered the guide’s words. “Very neat.”


The servant's boots creaked behind the thin wall. Having buried his face in the flat pillow, Pavel did not notice the coarse feathers pricking his cheeks. The trembling candle flame danced in the rain-streaked glass. A cold autumn deluge poured over Tsarskoye Selo in the evening. 

Seizing a moment, Pavel examined the corridor, where, as it seemed to him, the toilet was located, but did not find a trace of it. Falke assumed they were looking for him all over Tsarskoe Selo, but the orphanage was now further from him than the Moon.

So far, no one has exposed him, and even his navy school trousers and lace-up boots have not aroused suspicion. Falke received writing materials, as the bespectacled teacher called them, and remembered the matron’s name. Pavel pretended that his aunt had brought him to the Lyceum.

“Ms. Mamonova,” he said, and the teacher ordered, “Go, Mr. Falke, and get settled.”

“Falcon, why are you crying?” a curly head appeared at the top of the partition separating the students’ cubicles. “Because of French?”

A French teacher called Falke stupid and forced him to rewrite the alphabet ten times.

“I’ll help you,” Pushkin promised.

Pavel wiped his nose with a pillow.

“I’m good at math,” he sniffled. “One for all and all for one.”

“You said you don’t know French,” Pushkin winked at him, diving down.

“Quiet!” the servant’s loud voice thundered, and Pavel plunged into the blissful sweetness of sleep.


“News came from the Caucasus that our poor Falcon, who, after certain events, was sent there as a private, was killed in a skirmish. Truly, he was not a man of our world, and may God rest his rebellious soul.”

Alexander Pushkin to Pavel Vyazemsky, 1827


  • Nelly Shulman is a writer based in Jerusalem.Her short stories appeared on, in the Vine Leaves Press Anthology of the Best Flash Fiction, and the various literary magazines and anthologies.

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