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Mark M Lichterman

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Books by Mark M Lichterman
The ClimbingBoy18: Clean People
By Mark M Lichterman
Posted: Sunday, January 01, 2012
Last edited: Thursday, August 16, 2012
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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Is it possible, do you think, to be so cold that one may no longer feel the cold?

The Climbing Boy can now be purchased as a Kindle eBook @ $3.00

Zachariah’s teeth had stopped chattering and he no longer felt the damp coldness that had penetrated his
clothing and chilled his flesh just a few short minutes ago.

Also…
_______________________________________


Stretching upward, Mousy stuck his head through the

slit of the pocket.

 

Becoming aware of the mouse again, smiling…

 

Smiling?

 

Looking down, the boy rubbed the rodent’s head with

the tip of his finger. “Yeah, Mousy, if ’n I ‘ad a safe pocket to

‘ide into I would, too.” Giving the pocket a gentle pat,

Zachariah began on his way home.

 

 

____________________________________________________

 

Climbing Boy 18: Clean People

London, England

December 24, 1843

                             Christmas Eve

Sober, Johnson was far from an easy man to live with, but

when drunk was irrational and wholly unreasonable.

Zachariah knew that he would not be able to think of an

excuse that might placate his master, and did know that he

was in for a beating—how bad a beating, however, depended

on just how drunk Johnson was.

 

His hands shoved deeply into the pockets of the longcoat,

the top hat wobbling on his head, trying to think of

some excuse for the loss of the money, the equipment, and

this long standing customer, desperately wanting to think

of any excuse that would take the blame for the behavior of

Hobbins from himself, no longer confused about the

direction, Zachariah began the long walk home.

 

Is it possible, do you think, to be so cold that one may no

longer feel the cold?

 

Zachariah’s teeth had stopped chattering and he no

longer felt the damp coldness that had penetrated his

clothing and chilled his flesh just a few short minutes ago.

Also…

 

Is it possible, do you think, to be so frightened that one

may no longer care?

 

Zachariah was terrified of Johnson and what awaited

him when he arrived home, but for some unknown reason

he no longer seemed to care.

 

For the first time ever the boy had a sense of…? Safety?

 

No longer cold?

 

No longer frightened?

 

How could this be possible?

 

Warm and safe and…?

 

What?

 

The boy took a deep breath and suddenly an entirely new

sensation loosened the tie that bound his heart.

 

Peace.

 

Warm. Safe. At peace!

 

Yet…

 

Yet there was something else.

 

What?

 

It was something the boy had never felt.

Had never in his closer to nine than eight years felt…

 

Freedom.

 

Warmth! Safety! Peace! And now a sense of freedom!

 

Zachariah felt as though an enormous weight had been

lifted off his shoulders, and from his heart.

 

Confused with these new sensations, breathing deeply,

the boy easily saw the smoky vapor that came from his mouth

where but moments ago there had only been darkness.

 

Calm?

 

The wind had stopped blowing.

 

Stopping, standing perfectly still and looking skyward,

he saw a widening chink in the dark gray clouds where,

rather than this winter night’s black nothingness, there was

now a brightly lit moon and thousands upon thousands of

brightly shining stars. Even as he looked skyward a lofty

breeze spread the ragged edges of the rift outward, widening

the fissure further, fully revealing the skies’ heavenly

brilliance.

 

Tilting his head back, turning in a circle, holding the rim

of the top hat with both hands to keep it from falling off,

“Lordy!” the boy whispered and wanting to share this night’s

sudden, unusual beauty, “Mousy,” he said to his pocket.

“Look at the sky; it’s beautiful!”

 

But the mouse, being content and warm, remained

cuddled in the bottom of the boy’s pocket.

 

Drawing air deeply into his lungs, Zachariah sensed the

wonders that were totally new to him: inner warmth, safety,

peace, freedom… and now, beauty!

 

“Mousy, I ain’t never been out by me-self a’fore.”

 

And a sixth marvel flooded his senses…

 

Adventure!

 

“An’ I got me money, too.” Jiggling his right pocket, the

two coins jingled merrily against each other. “I won’t be

spendin’ the money what the pretty lady in the ‘ouse gave

me, only the copper from the crazy lady from the carriage.”

 

Licking his lips, “Mmm!” envisioning all the unobtainable

things he’d always seen in bakery or confectioners’

windows… Especially in the confectioner’s window.

 

“Gotta get cleaned off! Gotta get some’a this filth off!”

Looking, watching for something, he began to walk again.

“Aye!” Peering across a yard the boy saw what he’d been

watching for: a rain barrel in the shadow of a house that

appeared to be dark. “Maybe ain’t no one ‘ome ‘ere,”

Zachariah said aloud to the mouse in his breast pocket, and

to whatever God there was that looked over as

insignificant—but no longer wretched—a creature as a

climbing boy.

 

Cutting across the lawn, standing on tiptoes he looked

through a window.

 

The house was in total darkness.

 

“Good!” Going to the rain barrel, Zachariah removed

the coat and took his shirt off. Bare-chested, testing the

temperature by dipping an elbow into the near freezing

water, “Oh, Lordy, it’s so cold!” Wanting to wash just his

arms and face, quickly, before changing his mind, closing

his eyes the boy plunged his arms up to the armpits into the

frigid water then rubbed his hands and arms vigorously,

but, deciding to go further, looking about he saw a planters

box. Carrying the wooden box to the rain barrel, standing

upon it on tiptoes, taking a deep breath, the boy thrust his

entire upper body into the barrel and, while beneath the

water, scrubbed his face, neck, ears and scalp with his hands.

Pulling out of the water, the boy looked into the barrel a

moment while trying to make up his mind then, “Can’t get

much colder.” Glancing about to be sure that no one could

see him, quickly, Zachariah quickly removed his shoes and

trousers then, grasping the edge of the barrel, flipped himself

over the top.

 

Standing chest high in the frigid water, the boy rubbed

his groin, buttocks, and legs.

 

Too cold to stay in the water much more than forty or

fifty seconds, but those few seconds seemed a frozen eternity.

His lips blue, his body stippled with goose pimples, the

boy’s chattering teeth were clacking together so hard that

he was afraid they’d break.

 

Finished—as finished as one extremely dirty little boy

could be using his hands only, washing himself without

benefit of soap, to say nothing of warm water—Zachariah

pulled himself out of the barrel and, standing naked, palmed

as much of the water off as possible. First flapping his shirt

back and forth to shake out whatever dust that could be

shaken, he then used it as a towel.

 

Washing this way, without soap, without warm water,

did little more than remove the loose soot and dust and

equalize the varying shades and streaks of blackness,

so—although still dirty—the dirt was fairly evenly

dispersed. What was most important, though, was that

Zachariah felt clean.

 

Off his body, the damp clothing had become cold.

His teeth still clacking, still shivering, the boy put the

wet shirt on.

 

Shaking the dust from his trousers, stepping into them,

he tied the rope belt.

 

Sitting on the box, he put his shoes on, retied the twine

around the one without the buckle and, slipping his arms

into the coat, he pulled it about his chest.

 

Fully dressed, the boy was still cold. “Be feelin’ much

better now, Mousy,” he said to his pocket as a shudder rippled

through his body, “but it’s so cold!”

 

Cutting across the lawn, starting towards the road,

“Opps!” remembering, the boy turned back.

 

Returning to the rain barrel, picking up the top hat he

put it onto his head; by merely covering his cold,

still damp scalp Zachariah felt warmer, and now…

 

The undertaker forgotten, Johnson forgotten, the

coldness forgotten, once again the sensation of

euphoria overcame the boy and he began to run.

 

Zachariah had never felt this happy.

 

He ran. Holding the brim of the bouncing hat with both

hands, he ran till…

 

There, up ahead, there were the lights of shops, and there

were people.

 

“Mousy, it’s near Christmas an’ I don’t know if that bloke,

that…” thinking, “…that, uh…” thinking, trying to remember

what the pretty lady in the house had said, “…that St.

Nicholas is gonna be able to find me, an’ I’ve been good so

I’m gonna get me-self me own present. I’m gonna get

somethin’ for me, somethin’ for me-self!” Slowing, holding

the hat with one hand and opening his pocket with the other,

he looked inside. “An’ you can ‘ave some, too.”

 

Now, within the crowd, savoring the sensations of

warmth, of safety, of peace, of adventure—savoring his

freedom—the boy walked slowly, looking about, interested

in everything he saw—and everything he saw looked so…?

 

Different.

 

He’d been here before, dozens of times, but somehow it

all seemed… New.

 

People were milling, rushing, strolling, looking for a last

minute gift or for food, for pastries, for candy.

 

The people went into and came out of shops singularly,

in pairs or groups, young and old. And the people—most of

the people—upon seeing the little climbing boy in the

tattered long-coat and dented top hat, would smile and,

“Merry Christmas to you, lad!” many said, and most would

reach out to touch him.

 

And each time he was touched, Zachariah was touched.

He had never felt that he belonged among the “clean people.”

 

Forgetting who he was and what he was for the first time

in his life since becoming aware of his lowly station,

Zachariah felt that…? That he belonged. His eyes becoming

shiny and wet, he became one of them, one of the happy people…

One of the clean people.


Web Site: mmlichterman.com  

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Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 1/3/2012
Great story, Mark; well done!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Texas, Karen Lynn. :D

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