Friday, January 6, 2012

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

Men with huge brooms came out to sweep the snow, but it did no good, for five minutes later it was back. People looked out through the frosty windows fronting the vast square, secure in their steamy warmth.  Those less fortunate huddled wherever the could. The little boy and his new friend cleared a spot under a heavy, municipal bench by a tram stop. The city was quite proud of its modern electric transit  system. A new century, the twentieth, was but seven years away. Yet on this night, scientific breakthroughs did not matter. And even the twinkling lights decorating Prague's own replica of Paris' Eiffel Tower surrendered to the snow. 


Each boy ate one of the thick, chocolaty cookies. They talked about going into the U Fleku rathskeller. You could buy fat, hot sausages in there. In summer, there was even a beer garden outside. But neither one wanted to chance it. The Anti-Semitic League met there, not on a regular basis, but every once in a while. And tonight was one of those nights. They could hear the loud singing. They could hear heavy, glass tankards pounding down on long, oak tables. Neither one of the boys was Zidovsky (Jewish), but the scene frightened them just the same. So they crouched there under the bench by the tram stop. Every few minutes they brushed away the snow, lest it seal them in. Few trams came by that night.


A few hours later a watery, cold sun slid up into the sky behind a gray-white, cloudy veil. But it only made things look worse. The tiny yellow lights behind frosty windows were gone. At least they seemed to look warm. Come, I'll take you to that place. - said the new boy. So they brushed themselves off, dabbed at their cheeks with a bit of snow, ate a little more, gathered up their things and set off. It was hard stepping through the thigh-high drifts. The men with the brooms could only do so much. Three streets down a 'wild' dog started to chase them. But the little boy broke off a piece from one of his last two cookies and threw it at the snarling beast, which was in reality a twenty five pound spaniel, and nine heartbeats later they had a new-found, furry friend. He made them laugh. And his kisses tickled. Two minutes later, they stopped behind a closed up shop for a good pee. Napoleon (the spaniel) peed too. And although he turned out to be a Josephine, they still called her Napoleon.


But most of the stores were locked up tight. What lunatic would venture out on a day like this? A little red and white, tin thermometer quivering in the wind against the facade of an apothecary read minus fifteen degrees centigrade (5F). It was very cold. They'd have to replenish their stocks tomorrow, or perhaps even the day after that. 


The new boy said he knew where they could warm up. There was a depot, more like a little storage yard where they'd keep maybe three or four out of service tram cars. The watchman wouldn't be out on a day like this. And he knew a way to jimmy open one of the side windows, so they ran off. Their feet were starting to get wet. They had to run.


When they got there, a back window on the last tram was already slightly open. That was good. The last car was up against a brick wall. It'll be warmer in there. The new boy looked around. He was street-wise. He knew what to do. Some snow covered wine crates littered an alley behind a shuttered bistro. He managed to drag a few over. The little boy helped. Napoleon wanted to help too, but all she could do was yelp and bark. Soon they had a rickety ladder, two crates high. From there, they could squirm through the window. And if they fell, so what? Everything was covered with  forty five centimeters of snow. It was like a mattress.  The new boy went first. Then the little match boy stretched up as far as he could and handed in their 'supplies.' For a few heartbeats he was scared. What if the other boy decided to rob him? What if he slammed down the window and left him out in the freezing cold? He turned and looked toward Napoleon.  She met his gaze and panted hopefully. Apparently she wasn't worried. A few moments later he heard  an icy metallic shriek, as the tram door scrapped open (the new boy obviously knew how to 'jimmy' lots of things). So they quickly scrambled in and pulled it shut.


But then the dog began to growl. Not loud, but she meant it, for someone else had found the tram car first....


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