Wednesday, January 11, 2012

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

An icy rain came down to claim the snow covered city, sealing all under a frigid, glass-like veneer. The little boy skittered and ran all the way back to the outdoor market off Wenceslas Square. Napoleon, her shoulders hunched and nose pressed down to the ground, trotted after him. She was so cold and so wet. As soon as they claimed a spot under one of the heavy, gray tables he dried her. He took off his scarf   ( in itself a true sacrifice) and rubbed the bone numbing chill from her fur. She kissed his face. He laughed. Then he flapped the woolen scarf in the wind (fortunately, the rain couldn't reach this corner) and wound it round his throat. Other street urchins occupied similar positions, sitting in their under-the-table shelters and staring out, just like animals in a zoo. No one came to bother them, even the child-stealers. Some said the snatched ones wound up in sup-alpine salt mines. They needed children there to squeeze into the tiny, little narrow places. Others claimed they sold them east,  to spoiled Russian-Ukrainian nobles for 'domestic' work on country dachas. But the latest story was even more sinister. 'Pharmaceutical' factories were establishing themselves throughout the Hapsburg realm. Indeed, there was a new wonder drug, aspirin, on the horizon, plus other sometimes miraculous elixirs as well.  Clinical functionaries kept such unfortunate young ones locked in primitive laboratories, where they were regularly dosed with a veritable rainbow of bitter nostrums. Strong, canvas belts secured them to the beds. Movement was difficult. And the sheets were rarely changed. Death was common, almost a given. The fresh, new corpses turned profits again, as they assumed vivisectional duties upon gurneys in well respected, university medical schools. No one asked questions. They just did not want to. 


But the little boy did not know this. He had his own troubles. First there was a weak, small itching at the back of his throat, courtesy of the tram-ogre's filthy spit. It made him cough. He wedged himself deep into the corner, up against a store front. But it didn't really chase away the cold. Then his head began to feel hot...and his neck too. He loosened the scarf and pushed his cap back from his forehead. At least he had the dog. She kept him warm.  And in all probability, he returned the favor. But the itching got worse, blossoming into a growing red-hot fire. If he were a well-to-do boy, hired doctors might recommend quinine or some other pricey treatment, but he was not. So he 'made do' with an icicle snapped off from the edge of his table-roof and slowly sucked at it in an attempt to lessen the pain. He trembled. He shivered. His little head hurt and his ears hurt too. But at least he was out of the rain.


And he lay there with the dog, waiting to get better.


Another boy, from under another table, tried to snuggle in against Napoleon too. But she snapped at him and drove him away.


The wind died down at sunset. The dampness vanished too. But the air just got colder and colder.


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