French Lessons (Rasputin)
Very brief summary
The hungry year of 1948. The narrator lived in a village on the bank of the Angara River. He had no father; he and his two younger children were raised by his mother.
The hero had already graduated from a rural four-year school. He studied well and was considered a great literate in the village. The villagers told his mother that he had to continue his studies. She thought it over and took her son to the district center.
The narrator settled at his mother's acquaintance and started going to school. He liked school, but he was hungry. His mother sent food to her son, but it was stolen by the people he lived with.
One day the hero fell in with a group of teenagers who were playing "chica" for money. He quickly learned the rules and tricks of the game and started winning. He used the winnings to buy food, and life became easier. But his buddies did not like the fact that he often won, so they beat him up and chased him away.
At school the beaten boy was seen by Lydia Mikhailovna.
She learned from a classmate that the narrator was gambling, and began to leave him after school on the pretext of extra French lessons.
The hero's French pronunciation was failing, and Lydia Mikhailovna told him to come to her house for lessons. She tried to help the starving boy: she invited him to dinner and once sent him a parcel of food, but he proudly refused any help.
Then Lydia Mikhailovna started gambling with the hero for money and deliberately losing to him. The boy would take money from the teacher, believing it to be an honest winnings, and buy milk with it.
One day the school principal, who lived next door to Lydia Mikhailovna, heard loud voices, went into the teacher's apartment and saw that she was playing with her student for money. A scandal broke out, Lydia Mikhailovna was fired, and she left for her homeland, the Kuban.
Some time later the narrator received another food parcel from Lydia Mikhailovna. In it he found three large red apples, which until that day he had never seen.
Detailed chapter-by-chapter retelling
The chapter titles are tentative.
New School. Hungry Life in the City
It's strange: why do we always feel guilty in front of our teachers, just like we do in front of our parents? Not at all for what happened at school, no, but for what happened to us afterwards.
1948. The narrator graduated from a rural four-year school. In order to go to fifth grade, he had to move to the district center fifty kilometers away from home. Of the three children in the family, he was the oldest. They lived very hungry at that time, especially in the spring. The hero and his little sister swallowed eyeballs of sprouted potatoes and grains of rye and oats and watered them with "Angara water" - they wanted to "grow plants in their stomachs" so that they didn't constantly think about food.
In junior high school, the boy did well. In the village he was considered a literate, everyone told his mother that he should study further. His mother decided that it would not be worse and hungrier than at home, and assigned him in the district center to her acquaintance.
He did well in his new school, too. The exception was French. The narrator did not get along with pronunciation, he "sparred in French in the manner of... rustic syllables," from which the teacher "helplessly crinkled and closed her eyes.
At school, among his peers, the boy was fine, "the worst thing began," when he came home - he was filled with terrible melancholy. His mother, who came to visit her son, was horrified by his thinness and decided to take him home, but he did not go.
The hero was severely malnourished. From time to time his mother sent him bread and potatoes, but these foods disappeared very quickly. The boy suspected that food was stolen by the people he lived with, but he feared to keep track of them and didn't complain to his mother, realizing that this would not make things better for her.
Unlike in the village, in the city he could not catch fish or dig up edible roots in the meadow. Often the hero got only a mug of boiling water for dinner.
Money Game. The narrator gets beaten up
The narrator was brought by the youngest son of the woman he lived with to a company that played "chica" for money. Vadik was the leader.
Of the boy's classmates, only Tishkin appeared there.
The shy village storyteller had not yet made friends with any of his peers, and they were not attracted to him either.
The game was simple. Coins were stacked upside down. You had to hit them so that the coins would turn over. Those that were eagle up were the winners.
In the village, the hero played dough and accurately hit the target with pebbles. Gradually he mastered all the tricks of the game and began to win. Once in a while his mother sent him fifty kopecks for milk - he used them to play. The boy never won more than a ruble a day, but his life became much easier. However, the rest of the company did not like his moderation in the game at all.
How was I to know that never and no one has ever been forgiven for being ahead of the curve in his business?
Vadik, previously the most successful player in the company, forced the narrator to play until he lost, and then he started cheating and. When the boy tried to catch him, he was badly beaten. He felt like the most unhappy man in the world that day.
The teacher learns about the money game
In the morning, the narrator showed up at school with a broken face. The first lesson was French, and Lydia Mikhailovna, who was the class teacher, asked the boy what had happened. He tried to lie that he had fallen, but Tishkin told her that Vadik had beaten him up because he was gambling.
When Lydia Mikhailovna left the boy after school, he was very afraid that she would take him to the principal, who liked to "torture" the delinquent at the line in front of the entire school until he cried. In this case, the hero could be expelled from the school.
However, Lydia Mikhailovna did not take the narrator to the principal. She began to ask why he needed the money, and was very surprised when she learned that he used it to buy milk. In the end, the boy lied to her that he would do without playing for money.
In those days, the hero was especially hungry. He looked for other companies that played "chica," couldn't find it, and went back to Vadik's company. At first the boy won a little - for a piece of bread. But when he won a ruble again and was about to leave, he was beaten again.
Seeing the fresh bruises on his face, Lydia Mikhailovna said she would deal with him individually after school.
French lessons. Mysterious premise
For the narrator, "the painful and awkward days began. At first they studied at school, between the first and second shifts, but then Lydia Mikhailovna decided that they did not have enough time, and told the boy to come to her apartment in the evenings.
She lived in a house, most of which was occupied by the principal. For the hero these lessons were a real torture, he was lost in the clean apartment of the teacher, ashamed of his poor clothes.
Lydia Mikhailovna was from Kuban and had already been married. She concealed her defect, a slight squint, by constantly squinting. The teacher asked the boy about his family and constantly invited him to dinner, but he could not bear the ordeal and ran away.
I could not believe that I was sitting in her house, everything here was too unexpected and unusual for me, even the air soaked with light and unfamiliar smells of a different life than I knew.
When Lydia Mikhailovna invited the boy to dinner, "all appetite immediately jumped out of him with a bullet." He considered his teacher an extraordinary person and could not sit down with her at the table. After the hero ran away several times, Lydia Mikhailovna stopped inviting him.
One day a strange parcel was sent to the boy's school address: macaroni, two large lumps of sugar, and several bars of Hematogen. At first he thought the parcel was from his mother, and he was glad, but then he realized that his mother could not get macaroni and hematogen. So the parcel had been sent by Lydia Mikhailovna.
The narrator decisively went to Lydia Mikhailovna and returned the parcel to the embarrassed teacher, bravely looking her in the eyes. The teacher long persuaded the hero to take the parcel, but he flatly refused, not wanting to be pitied and fed.
The "wall game." The teacher loses money to the narrator
The French lessons did not end there. Gradually, the narrator got used to the teacher, stopped being embarrassed by her and even "got a taste for the language," but still refused to have dinner with her.
One day Lydia Mikhailovna showed the hero a game of her childhood - "wall-to-wall." Coins were thrown against the wall, and then you tried to reach with your fingers from your coin to someone else's. If you get it, you win. When the boy mastered the rules, the teacher offered him to play for money, although she herself had previously said that he could not play for money.
Sometimes it's good to forget that you're a teacher - otherwise you'll become such a naughty and bozo that real people will be bored with you.
They played every night, trying to argue in a whisper so the headmaster wouldn't hear. The teacher assured the narrator that she played for her own pleasure. Several times she tried to cheat in his favor. He became indignant - a teacher, he is called - and completely forgot that she was trying to cheat not him, but herself. The boy had money for milk again. He consoled himself that it was an honest winnings.
Once again playing the "wall game," Lydia Mikhailovna and her hero began arguing and did not notice how the director entered the apartment, who heard the loud voices. Lydia Mikhailovna quietly admitted to him that she was playing with the student for money. The indignant principal called the teacher's act "crime, molestation, and seduction."
Firing the teacher. Another premise
Lydia Mikhailovna took the blame, said goodbye to the narrator and left for Kuban in three days. He never saw her again.
In winter, after the vacations, another parcel arrived for the boy at his school address, in which "neat, dense rows <...> lay tubes of pasta," and underneath them, three red apples. Previously he had "only seen apples in pictures, but he guessed that they were."
The retelling is based on an edition of the story from the collection "Unexpectedly Unexpectedly" (Moscow: Children's Literature, 2008).