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Mark M Lichterman

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Climbing Boy 8: St. Nicholas?
By Mark M Lichterman
Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Last edited: Thursday, July 30, 2009
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.

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Coming a step or two closer, the lady looked at the boy.
Standing before the fireplace, his coat and scarf were lying at his feet and, out of the long-coat, seeing the tattered,threadbare appearance of his trousers, his shirt, Zachariah appeared to be even smaller, even younger, and even, if at all possible, more pathetic then she’d originally thought.

_______________________________________________

Reaching the bottom, What? feeling a tug on his trouser

leg, stopping, pulling the scarf from his face, turning he…

 

Squatting in front of the fireplace…

 

…poked his head through the two overlapping drop

cloths, and, Lordy!

________________________________________________

 

 Climbing Boy 8: St. Nicholas

London, England

December 24. 1843

 

My Lord! The lady was so startled by Zachariah’s

appearance that, jerking backward, loosing her balance she

sat flat onto her derrière.

 

The boy’s forehead, eyebrows and the bridge of his nose

were coated with loose soot and, looking as though he was

wearing a black mask, if possible, Zachariah’s face was

blacker now than before.

 

Lordy! Momentarily unable to comprehend what he saw,

the sight of this beautiful, properly dressed lady sitting flat

on her rear directly in front of the fireplace so startled him

that, his eyes bulging, his mouth dropping open, not knowing

what to say, “Mum?” he questioned and, looking at his filthy

hand, not knowing if she’d accept his help if he offered it,

“Mum,” he repeated, and…

 

Sitting flat on the floor, the lady saw the look on his face

and Zachariah’s look of amazement was so complete it was

actually a look of stupefaction. Thinking of the situation,

My Lord, in her mind picturing how she must look to the

boy, giggling, “My, Lord!” she said aloud, then laughed, and

as she began to laugh so did Zachariah.

 

Their laughter growing louder, harder, the lady attempted

to stand but, weak from laughing, “My, Lord!” she only

succeeded in falling again.

 

Catching his breath, rising from his knees, soot and ash

dropping from his clothing, “Mum,” forcing himself to stop

laughing, “le’me ‘elp ya.” Offering his hand, Zachariah came

out of the fireplace.

 

The boy looked so pitiful, but yet the situation was so

funny that the lady could not stop herself and began to laugh

even harder.

 

“Mum,” reaching forward.

 

Hesitating, the lady looked at the boy’s filthy hand… then

clasped it tightly, and as their hands touched the

laughter stopped.

 

“Mum?” Helping the lady to her feet, he held her hand a

moment longer then necessary, then reluctantly let go.

She looked at her hand, which now was coated with soot,

then looked into the boy’s face, and the two pair of blue

eyes stared at each other until, after what in reality was no

more than an extended second or two…

 

“Zachariah,” she said, forcing her eyes from his, “would

you like something to eat? That man, your, uh, ‘owner,’ was

kind enough to allow me permission to give you something

to eat.”

 

“Me owner?” If there is a distinction between the two,

Zachariah did not know it. “Master Johnson’s not me owner,

‘e’s me master, an’ yes, Mum, I’d surely like somethin’ to eat!”

 

“‘Master’! That man shouldn’t be master to a dog! He

doesn’t have sense enough to…” Seeing a look of confusion

on the boy’s face, stopping, she changed the subject.

“Zachariah, if you’d like to stop working, I would truly like

to give you something to eat.”

 

“Mum, I’m awful ‘ungry an’ I thanks ya, but me work’s

almost done an’ soon’s I finish this…” parting the

overlapping cloths he stood aside to show her that the fire

wall, the back wall, was finished and all that remained were

the two smaller and considerably cleaner side walls. “The

rest is easy, an’ I’d just as soon finish so’s I might rest up

‘fore Master Johnson comes back, an’, if it’s all the same to

you, might I eat then?”

 

“I understand. Whenever you’re ready, come to the

kitchen.” Her maternal instinct still at play, without thinking,

the lady rubbed the top of the boy’s bristly head, turned,

and as she walked through the door into the kitchen, wiped

her hand over the front of her apron leaving a wide black

streak on the starched, white material.

 

Other than a push, a slap, or worse from Johnson, rarely

touched by another human, the heat of the lady’s hand

warming the boy from his head to his toes, Zachariah

watched as the lady left the room, then, sighing once again,

went back into the fireplace and, wanting to finish quickly,

increased his effort. Soon both sidewalls were brushed clean

and all that remained was to sweep up the debris that was

lying on the floor and cart it to the compost bin. Feeling his

stomach growl, Do this later, the boy thought, his stomach

growling again, after I eat.

 

Coming out of the fireplace, Zachariah removed the cloth

screens, folded them and, carefully folding it from the outer

edges inward so as not to spill soot onto the floor, folded the

large cloth that lay directly in front of the fireplace. Going

to the front door, stepping outside, shutting the door behind

him, he shook all three, refolded them, and placed them

alongside the door.

 

While outside, the boy removed his scarf and coat, shook

both and, using the scarf, rubbed his hands, face and head

in an attempt to remove as much loose dirt as possible.

Back in the house, “Mum,” in the parlor, “Oh, Mum, I’ve

finished!” he called.

 

Opening the door to the kitchen, standing within the open

doorway, “Zachariah, come in here, why don’t you.”

“Oh, no, Mum! I wouldn’t want to get your things an’

nice floors all dirty,” he said sincerely. “Please, Mum,” he

asked, pointing to the fireplace, “mightn’t I eat ‘ere?”

 

Coming a step or two closer, the lady looked at the boy.

Standing before the fireplace, his coat and scarf were

lying at his feet and, out of the long-coat, seeing the tattered,

threadbare appearance of his trousers, his shirt, Zachariah

appeared to be even smaller, even younger, and even, if at

all possible, more pathetic then she’d originally thought.

Not wanting to cause the boy any discomfort, “All right,

sit down and rest. I’ll be in shortly.” She did want to speak

to him and would rather he came into the kitchen, but was

able to understand why he’d feel more comfortable here.

 

Sitting on the raised hearth, looking about the well

appointed room, the boy’s eyes stopped at the large,

sheet draped, cone-like thing standing in the corner.

Noticing something glittering at the top, standing, he

crossed the room. It’s a star. A five-pointed star!

Curious, “Mum!” Still, being a child, curiosity getting

the better of him, “Oh, Mum!” he called.

 

“Yes, Zachariah?” Coming through the door, she saw him

looking at the star.

 

“What is this thing, Mum?”

 

What is this thing? Thinking, How could he not know?

Going to the cone, she carefully removed the sheets.

 

His eyes widening, “Oh… It’s beautiful! It’s the most

beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!” thinking, Other than you…

“Oh, Mum, what is it?”

 

“Zachariah, you’ve never seen a Christmas tree? What

does that man do at Christmas? What do you do at

Christmas?”

 

Staring raptly at the tree, “Master Johnson, ‘e don’t ‘old

with Christmas,” Zachariah answered, “so mostly we do

nothin’.” Correcting himself, “I don’t do nothin’. Master

Johnson, ‘e gets drunk. ‘e say’s that rich fools likes to buy

the likes of ‘im drinks on the day afore Christmas.”

 

“Oh, yes,” suspecting as much, “that’s the ‘important

appointment’ he wasn’t able to miss! I’ll surely be giving

your Master Johnson a bit of my mind when he returns!”

“Oh, Mum, no!”

 

Fear showing on his face, “Please! ‘e told me not to be sayin’

nothin’ to ya ‘bout where ‘e’s gone off too. Please don’t tell

‘im I told ya!”

 

Seeing the fear on his face, in his eyes, “Zachariah, no! I

would never say a word that would make trouble for you.

No! I’ll not mention a word. Rest now till I come back. I’ll

finish getting your food.”

 

Relaxing, “Thank ya, Mum.”

 

Going back to the hearth, sitting, staring across the room

at the Christmas tree, putting his elbows on his knees, he

held his head by cupping his chin between the palms of his

hands. Leaning forward, putting the weight of his body onto

his arms and knees… Zachariah’s eyelids drooped…

closed… fluttered open, then closed again. He forced his

eyes open… then they closed.

 

His mind goes to his comfortable place… to his

clean place.

 

He is younger, no more than three years old.

Straddling her waist with his legs, his head resting on

her shoulder, his arms about her neck, he is sitting on his

mother’s lap. He cannot see mama’s face because the mama

of Zachariah’s dreams, as in his memory, always has her

face hidden in deep shadow.

 

“Ah, Zachariah,” her voice sweet music to the ear of his

mind, “my little Zachariah,” she coos, winding a finger into

one of the tight curls over his ear, and…

 

Now, for the first time in his memory, in his dream, in

this dream…

 

Mama

 

Putting both sweet-smelling hands onto her baby’s cheeks

mama holds his face and…

 

Mama’s face came out of the darkness and…

 

Mama…

 

Zachariah is able to see her face, for mama’s face is the

face of the lady and he looks at her closely, wanting, needing,

to etch mama’s face into the eye of his memory. To never

forget again!

 

To never allow the face of mama to be unseen… to never

be hidden in shadows.

 

“Zachariah,” softly, “my little Zachariah.”

 

Zachariah feels her warm, soft lips on his forehead.

Mama. Mama’s hands, Mama’s lips feel so warm,

so loving.

 

“Zachariah…”

 

Softly, “I’ve brought you your meal… Zachariah.”

 

The boy’s legs relaxed, his elbows spread and, his head

slipped from between his hands falling onto his chest and,

his eyes opening, Zachariah’s head snapped up, and…

 

Above him it was the face of his dream, and for a moment

he thought it was mama and, “Mama!” he said happily. Then,

his eyes focusing, looking to his right, looking to his left,

he remembered.

 

The lady saw his joy, then the sorrow. “Zachariah, I’m

sorry to wake you, but I’ve brought your food.” Kneeling

before the boy, she placed the tray onto the floor in front

of him.

 

Standing at her side there was a small child whom, by

the look of him, had just awoken from a nap and now

bashfully hid his face in his mother’s skirt.

 

Seeing the child, Zachariah smiled.

 

“Albert,” prying her son’s face from her skirt. “Albert, this

is Zachariah.”

 

Albert looked at Zachariah. Seeing his dirt-encrusted face

the child bounded back in fear and, grabbing his mother’s

skirt again, twisted behind her back and began to cry.

 

Vanishing, Zachariah’s smile was replaced by a look of

extreme pain as he realized that it was his appearance that

had caused such fear in Albert. He, too, began to cry.

 

Pulling the little boy from behind and beneath her skirt,

lifting him into her arms, stroking the back of his head,

“Shhh,” the lady whispered in the child’s ear. “Don’t cry,

my little Albert. This is Zachariah, and he’s just a little boy,

too. He won’t hurt you… Shhh.” Making a half turn she

looked at Zachariah and, seeing his tears, a lump came to

her throat and, her eyes becoming moist, also, This won’t

do! she thought. This just will not do! The three of us here

bawling. “Albert!” she said sternly, attempting to force her

own tears down. “Albert, stop crying! This is Zachariah and

he will not hurt you!” Thinking a moment, she added,

“Zachariah’s here to clean our chimney so when St. Nicholas

comes with all your presents he won’t get himself dirty

sliding down the chimney.”

 

At this both boys stopped crying.

 

“St. Nicholas!”

 

“Yes, Albert, so he won’t get his nice, red suit all dirty

when he comes down the chimney.”

 

His fear of Zachariah momentarily forgotten, “St.

Nicholas coming?”

 

“Yes, tonight, Albert. St. Nicholas is coming to visit

tonight, and Zachariah,” looking at him, “is cleaning our

chimney so he won’t get dirty.”

 

Wiggling from his mother’s arms, standing in front of

her, looking at Zachariah, smiling, “St. Nicholas come

tonight!” Albert said.

 

“Eh, Mum,” looking from Albert to the lady, “who’s going

to, eh, slide down the chimney?” he asked.

 

“Why, Zachariah, I’m surprised at you!” Surely, she

thought, he must be jesting. But then again, He had no idea

of the tree, the lady further thought. And for the sake of Albert,

“Don’t you know that on Christmas Eve St. Nicholas comes

to the houses of all good children?” she asked.

 

“No, Mum. Why’s ‘e come?” he asked sincerely.

 

Once again amazed at Zachariah’s lack of spiritual

knowledge, the lady hesitated because it was beyond her

comprehension that there was a child anywhere who did

not know of St. Nicholas. But he doesn’t know, she thought.

The poor child does not know! How sad. Once again, for the

sake of Albert, “He comes to bring presents.”

 

“Presents? Who’s, eh, who’s ‘e bring presents to?”

 

“Children… The good children.”

 

“‘e brings presents to the ‘good children’! All over

London?” he asked incredulously, thinking, I’m good. Why

ain’t ‘e never brought me a present?

 

Sighing, she glanced at her son. “No, Zachariah, St.

Nicholas brings presents to good children…” hesitating

because she knew how ridiculous it would sound to the boy,

“…all over the world.”

 

And it does. “The world?” The size of the world and the

amount of people occupying it far beyond his understanding,

but knowing the world is big and that it is occupied by a lot

of people, “The world! ‘e, this, uh…?”

 

“St. Nicholas.”

 


 

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Reviewed by Carole Mathys 7/31/2009
Now the story is taking a turn that is much easier to read, not quite so harsh...you do know how to spin a yarn, Mark, excellent indeed!

Carole~
Reviewed by Georg Mateos 7/30/2009
Who told the child that Father Christmas...! Who told the child?
Excellent my friend, more than excellent!

Georg

Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 7/29/2009
Wonderful continuation of this series, Mark; very well penned! BRAVO!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. ;D


Books by
Mark M Lichterman



For Better or Worse

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The Climbing Boy

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Becoming

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