Маргарита Щеглова

«Но песнь мою теперь я сим лишь скончеваю, И музу к будущей на помощь призываю; И ежели она устроит лирный глас, Потщусь еще, потщусь взойти я на Парнас». -В. И. Майков

«But here I’m ending my song And call the muse to help me with the next one; And if she’ll manage the lyre accompaniment, I’ll endeavour, I’ll endeavour to climb Parnassus» -V. I. Maykov

Отрывок из произведения «Page 49 And Other People»

“Page 49!”, the demanding cry was ringing in the air. “Page 49!”.

Ziggie listened to it with blank curiosity but then the meaning of the cry leaked into his mind at last, and he jumped to his feet with a wince.

Page 49, that was his name now.

Just for how long had the Poet been calling him? Not for too long, he hoped, as he ran upstairs. The last thing he needed was to fail on his very first day as G.P.’s page. Ought to stop daydreaming. Ziggie had a rather vague idea of what he was supposed to do, as a page; but daydreaming wasn’t one of these things, that was clear. It was the only clear thing so far – he was to find out the rest very soon (he expected).

He had been instructed, of course. You can’t just go and be G.P.’s page uninstructed. But then being 11 years old he didn’t bother to pay attention. That is, he tried but it was so formal and thus incomprehensible that he let it be. Besides, it wasn’t easy to concentrate on the briefing as the stuff came straight to his school, broke in in the middle of Geography and so this briefing was taking place right outside the classroom while everyone in the room pretended to go on with the lesson but who needs longitudes when your ears grow long from eavesdropping? After all, boys are not taken to be pages every day. Never, in fact, had it happened before.

Personally, Ziggie wasn’t surprised when he was selected, taking it as naturally as we are taking unlikely events in our dreams. But everyone else couldn’t believe the news – the teachers, the classmates, whoever — a boy, to be General Poet’s page? — Well, the Eye of Harmony can’t be wrong, can it? Getting a bit rusty these days, the old thing…

And now he was here. The Poet’s Hall was a spacious place, much bigger than his school, or so it seemed, and infinitely quieter. And why would a single Poet need so many doors?..

Page 49!” — the voice was fairly impatient. Ziggie pushed the door which he thought was leading to the Poet, and fell into the room, not at all ready to face the Poet.

Instead of General Poet, the Head of Defence and the Holder of Rhyme (such was G.P.’s full title) he eyed a big table, and on the table, a big box. The voice was coming from there. Something clicked in it, and the looped recording began to call for page 49 again.

“Turn it off”, a different voice came from behind Ziggie. He turned around, confused.

The Poet was thoughtfully looking at him.

“It’s very annoying, this voice-box, but I wouldn’t waste my breath crying for a page, would I?..  I could send you a telepathic call but considering the energy required to get through I thought I’d rather not. Now will you turn it off! The code is “go to slumber”.

“Go to slumber”, Ziggie said into the box, and it became silent. That didn’t take much skill.

“So that’s my new page? They should have sent me two for the price of one, of this size. What’s next, a mouse?.. Nevermind. We’ll work on this draft of a page”.

The Poet wasn’t talking to Ziggie – at least, he didn’t look or sound like he was; but there wasn’t anyone else in the room. So that’s what the great poets are like. Uh, what is he supposed to do now?..

It occurred to Ziggie that he had to introduce himself. The Poet knew that Ziggie was his page, obviously, but Ziggie couldn’t think of anything else and he really did not want to fail. He even remembered a few words of the opening speech they gave him at the briefing. He stepped a step closer to the Poet.

“I am your new page, sir. I… er… I am here to – er…”. No, that was no good.

The Poet waved at him, dismissing his attempt. “Miserably performed, and pointless, too. You know, if you are called page 49 that’s because I’ve had 48 more before you. Have they no imagination at all?” — and then he answered himself, “At least they have some sense of humour, sending me a schoolboy. I can only wonder what my new Muse would be”.

Schoolboy? He’s not going to ask him about school, is he? Better not talk about it.

“Are you only telling what you were told to tell?”.

“N-no, I, er… speak”.  He regretted now not to try harder to listen to the instructions. Perhaps there was something on how to respond to this weird kind of speech. Should he adopt the style? But he wasn’t a poet, not even for a laugh. He would have to talk in his clumsy way.

“Oh boy, and that’s my page? What are you called, or should I call you 49 till death will part us?”.

“Zig… Siegfried”.

“Zigzigfred? What a tongue-twister of a name. I shall call you 49”.

Capital. But one doesn’t argue with a Poet about names. Certainly not with General Poet. So he was a number now. Capital.

“Enough time is wasted, and will be no more”, the Poet went on. He tidied impatiently one of his silvery locks. “Now, see that turquoise file folder? You are to carry it. Carefully and delicately, that’s the monthly lot of my wonderful poems. Leaving for the Palace in five minutes and half a second, and for goodness’ sake get dressed. I can’t be seen with a page dressed as a schoolboy. They should have sent the robe of your size by now. Probably left it at the door. You’ll have a key a bit later. I’ll do it for you now. Take the file and follow me”.

Being a page was more complicated than he had expected. The Poet lost all interest in Ziggie and spoke no more. In fact, he left the room without looking at his page again.

Ziggie, unsure he got it right, came back to the table with the box. He noticed now that the box was resting on a bluey-greeny folder. Ziggie didn’t know what “turquoise” meant –  made him think vaguely of turtles – but since there were no other folders around it had to be the one. Ziggie tugged it. The box turned out to be unexpectedly light and fell over; Ziggie dropped the folder to catch the box but it hit the table anyway and was now mumbling in a muffled voice, “Nein… Nein… Nein…”.

Ziggie told it to go to slumber.

It wouldn’t.

“Go to slumber! Shush!”.

The box continued its chant. Nein… nein…

There was nothing he could do. At least it wasn’t loud so Ziggie left it alone. Then he leaned to pick up the folder and groaned: the folder wasn’t locked and opened when he dropped it; the floor was tilted with papers.

It took him not five but full twenty minutes to collect them and to put them in right order.

Not too bad for the first day, say you?

With the folder in his hands he hurried out of the room, along the corridor and down the stairs, by some miracle never stumbling as he ran.

Just as he feared, General Poet was waiting for him. The Poet was dressed smartly, and looked smart in his smart robe, and Ziggie felt even worse and clumsier than before. Such a simple task as fetching a folder took him nearly half an hour and a broken talk-box. It’s back to school for him, and what will everyone say?

“And what  kept you so long, 49?”, the Poet asked him good-naturedly. Not angrily. Poets are strange.

“I’m sorry, sir. I think I broke your box. Sorry. And your poems fell from the folder, I had to put them back”.

“It took you twenty-three minutes to put a few papers together?”.

Ziggie reddened a little. “Those are very good poems, sir. It was hard not to read them all. I was only glancing at them, to put them in order. I tried to. Sorry”.

So there.

“Are you sure you don’t have any Military blood in you?”.

“What?”. What do these aliens have to do with him? “Er… I know I was a bit, uh, destructive but I didn’t mean it, honestly!”.

The Poet’s grey eyes were glistening with mysterious excitement.

“Destruction”, said the Poet, “Is not all they are famous for. Self-control is one of the other tendencies”.

A poetic joke? He didn’t get it.

“No, sir, I don’t think I have any… Military relatives…”.

“Hear, hear”, said the Poet. “And have you no self-control? Or have you?”.


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