Monday, January 9, 2012

THE LITTLE MATCH BOY ~~~~ a re-telling of H.C. Andersen's poignant tale part XVII

Napoleon smelled the blood. She squirmed free of the sobbing match boy and made her way down the aisle. At first she just stood there, watching the new boy retrieve their things from the ogre's pockets. He carefully put them down on a seat, checking and re-checking to make sure nothing was missing. Then he rummaged through the tram's storage box (where the crusty, old beast was sleeping) looking for some type of bag. There was a folded, canvas sack at the bottom,  meant for mail, but the Czech Postal Service still used horse carts, so he pulled out the pristine heavy fabric and quickly filled it with their belongings. Napoleon wanted to lap up the blood pooling about the old man's groin, but he stopped her. She nudged him away and nosed back, eager to taste the derelicts salty fluid. The new boy yelled and cracked her across the muzzle. Not too hard. He knew how to handle dogs. And she recognized this, so she backed off. 


After the bag was all packed, the new boy went back to the storage box to get some rope. He took out a medium weight, five meter coil and used it to fashion a crude harness and leash for the spaniel. There's a way to do it. Country people know how. You weave the rope through the animal's front legs and around it's rib cage, leaving two equal lengths going back from the shoulders, rather like a bridle.  Napoleon basically cooperated. Apparently she wasn't homeless for long. 


Then he pried open the door with a bit of metal tracking salvaged from the same box. It made his hand bleed, but that was all right. It didn't bleed much. A bright orange knit glove (taken from his meager inventory) covered it fine. He dragged the still curious dog away from the ugly corpse and took her outside into the bitter, knife-like air, where he tied her up to a shuttered kiosk before going back in. 


The little match boy hadn't moved. He still lay curled on his side at the back of the car. Tear tracks staining his cheeks......... Get up! Get up! - yelled the new boy. He shook him hard to rouse him.......... Come on. We have to get out of here. Do you want the police to find us!? You know what they do with orphaned criminals, don't you?....... W-what? - hiccuped the match boy............. They sell 'em to the Zid in Josefov. I know. My uncle told me. You want that to happen? You want it!? You want it!?........... N-no - sobbed the little match boy, though he had no idea what it would be like to live with the Jews in the ghetto at all. So he stumbled to his feet, wiped his nose with a bit of old handkerchief and fell in behind his 'friend.'


When they got outside, Napoleon started to bark. And you know how much barking echos on  cold, dark winter days. Even though the icy streets were empty, they shut her up with tiny crumbs of left over cookies. No telling who else might be creeping about out there. The old man was enough. The street-wise glove merchant washed his face and hands with crusty snow. He made the match boy do the same. They had to appear as presentable as possible, just in case they did run into a gendarme. Pass for kids out larking about in the cold. So they picked up the canvas sack (actually, the glove merchant did that) and trudged off through the snow-bound city. Heavy, bronze church bells pierced the frigid air, as a watery daylight disappeared behind thickening clouds.


Ten minutes later, resting against the back of a half buried bench in a little park, they heard a noise. Jing, jing, jing, jing, jing, jing, jing. Soon a little Cikan (gypsy) caravan came round the bend, all colorful and bright against the wintry streetscape. The owners had it fitted out as a sleigh. It was pulled by a trim, little, high stepping Gypsy cob, a fine, showy pinto, complete with a flowing ivory mane, streaming tail and fine, thickly feathered hooves. The boys held their breath (steamy vapor would be a give-away) and froze, trying to become invisible. But Napoleon started barking. She just couldn't help it. The high pitched wail echoed 'round the little urban copse. And the multicolored domicile skidded to a smooth, jingly stop.


They could hear grown-ups yelling inside. And then ten heartbeats later, the back door slowly opened. 


The dog shut up and pressed in close.


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