Thursday, January 12, 2012

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

About nine hundred thousand people lived in Prague at that time. Art Nouveau salons flourished throughout the city creating masterpieces of all kinds. Political theorists grappled with all manner of problems in the great, Bohemian Diet. And wealthy dilletantes from glittering capitals the world over drifted in and out of the 'better' hotels and cafes. Stylish titled folk from Vienna and Budapest flocked to their palaces on the Vltava. But all that happened during the summertime. This was winter and things were quite different.


The little match boy drifted in and out of delirium. He saw great, warm, bowls of stew and cozy, thick quilts.  Maminka and Tatinek were there. Sweet babkas and bundt cakes occupied places of honor on the smooth, white, enameled kitchen table and he sampled it all. Moments latter an icy breeze would rouse him and he'd cry into Napoleon's fur. 


The pain in his throat was less searing now. Maybe he  could just no longer feel it. But the trembling was still there. So was the fever. Perhaps being light headed was a good thing. The boy reached into his pocket, a chunk of one of the large cookies still remained. He broke off a piece and chewed it. Swallowing was hard, but he did it. Another child, perhaps a girl, under another table cried out for help. She kept it up for fifteen minutes. And then her voice grew still. A bit later, the boy had to pee. He just wanted to lay there and do it in his pants. But a part of him was still the good, little baker's son, so he struggled to get up and slowly stumbled down to a crate by an alcove. Dizziness overwhelmed him, yet he managed to stay upright and empty his bladder. It felt good. He shivered. 


Then he turned around and made his way back to the spot under the outdoor market table.  A few loose pages of newsprint blew down the aisle, plastering themselves against his stomach. The boy mechanically gathered them up and used them to fend off the cold. But soon the pain came back. Yet even so, he slept. This time he had no dreams.


Two hours later the sun came up. The sky was blue. Teams of men with shovels and ice picks worked their way down the aisles and among the tables, readying them for the soon-to-arrive vendors. The few children left got up and ran away. The little boy watched them leave through half opened eyes. He did not want to go. But when he saw the men kick and beat an older boy, not so far away, he grabbed onto a table leg and pulled himself up. A few fluttering heartbeats later he shuffled 'round a corner and disappeared from sight. Napoleon went with him.


Almost all the children were gone. Only the one who cried last night was left. But she, at least, was dead.


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