The three others running already, hauling himself up, the
fourth boy quickly followed.
“Go on…” calling after them, “ya bloody bastards! I’ll
‘urt ya next time! I’ll ‘urt ya good next time!” Turning back,
“‘ere, there.” offering his hand, Johnson helped Zachariah
to his feet, but did not help the boy gather the scattered
Climbing Boy 6: Fish Wagon
December 24, 1843
“Aye, William, Zachariah! Whoa! Ya be needin’ a lift?”
Thick plumes of vapor streaming from the horse’s nostrils,
a horse and wagon clattered to a stop.
Johnson and Zachariah did not have to look to see what,
or who, it was.
Crinkling their noses, they looked at the wagon.
“Of all the bloody people,” Johnson muttered to himself,
then, “Aye, Marcos,” forcing a smile, “that we can! That’s if
you be ‘eadin’ towards Broad Street.”
“I am that! Come on, ‘op aboard!” Reaching behind the
seat, “William, put ya tools ‘ere.” he brushed away fish heads,
scales and entrails, then, heedless of the refuse clinging to
the fibers of his mitten, Marcos held his hand to Johnson.
Johnson looked at the offered hand, then up to Marcos’
face, back at the hand and, not knowing what else to do,
shrugging his shoulders, handing the poles to Zachariah,
hesitating another moment, taking hold of the viscera covered
mitten, he allowed himself to be helped up onto the
wagon’s splintery, wooden seat where, grimacing, he rubbed
his hand on the underside of his trousers.
Aware of his master’s discomfort, smiling, Zachariah
handed the toolbox up first.
Looking at the partially swiped area, then skyward,
“Christ!” Johnson muttered as he put the toolbox onto a
bloody rope of entrails, two severed tails, a fish head, and
countless silver scales. The coil of rope was placed on the
toolbox and the brushes and drop clothes on the rope. The
poles stood wedged between the toolbox and the wagon’s
Unwilling to sit any closer to the fishmonger then he
absolutely must, moving to the far end of the seat, reaching
down, Johnson pulled Zachariah up and onto the seat
between Marcos and himself.
Clicking his tongue, Marcos snapped the reins.
Dropping a load of steaming manure, the old horse looked
at Marcos over its withers then, with a jerk, plodded forward.
Swaying with the motion of the wagon, Zachariah closed
his eyes and within moments fell asleep.
Even though it was winter and the fish were in deep,
wooden crates covered with ice, still, the odor was
“So,” Marcos asked, glancing at the boy, “the two a’ya
are doin’ what tonight?”
“Aye, William, ‘this night’! This night afore Christmas!”
Looking straight ahead, the tone of his voice near
belligerent, “Nothin’! Not on this night, not tomorrow.”
“William, surely you’ll be doing somethin’! If not for you,
then surely for the lad!”
Looking at Marcos, “Y’ve no need to be tellin’ me what
I’m to be doin’ with me ‘prentis!” Johnson said angrily.
“Christmas? Ha! What’s ‘Christmas’ ever done for me?”
Glancing skyward a moment, then back at the fishmonger,
jerking his thumb upward, “‘e ain’t never done so much as
this for me,” circling his thumb and forefinger. “Nah! All’s
this day means to me is the free drinks at the pubs that the
fools what’s got money likes to be ‘andin’ out. And,” winking
his eye conspiratorially, “I’m gonna be at every pub I can
‘elpin’ ‘em enjoy their bloody ‘oliday, an’ I’ll be do’in it soon’s
I get the boy ‘ere workin’ on the job you’re takin’ us to.”
Beginning to cough, leaning over the side of the wagon,
Johnson hawked a glob of bloody phlegm onto the street.
“After all,” he continued, “a man gets mighty thirsty doin’
them dusty chimneys.” The thought of getting drunk bringing
a grin to his normally somber face, “Aye, lad?” he said, poking
Zachariah in the side with his elbow.
The boy’s eyelids fluttered open, closed again and, his
head tilting to the right, fell upon Johnson’s shoulder. Sitting
a few seconds, inwardly enjoying the weight of the boy’s
head on his shoulder, Johnson then shrugged, pushing the
boy’s head off, where it listed to the left a moment, then
reclined against the fishmonger’s shoulder.
Glancing sideways, the fishmonger smiled.
Dirty streets, factories, and gray-stoned tenements slowly
changed to storefronts, newer buildings, and well-kept
Having nothing more to talk about, Johnson and Marcos
no longer spoke.
The boy’s head bouncing gently on Marcos’ shoulder, the
horse pulled the wagon along the bumpy cobblestone street.
Reaching the Broad Street intersection, pulling to the
side of the road, the fishmonger, “Whoa!” drew up on
Poking Zachariah in the side with his elbow, when he
didn’t waken immediately, Johnson poked him again, harder.
The boy’s eyes opened and, seeing that his head was on
Marcos’ shoulder, quickly pulled away.
“It’s all right, lad.” Marcos smiled. “You ‘ave a good rest,
Smiling back, “Aye, Sir.”
Waiting till Johnson was off the wagon, reaching behind
the seat, grunting with the weight of the toolbox, Zachariah
handed the equipment down.
Taking the equipment, laying it on the street, standing
aside, Johnson let the boy scramble off the high seat
“You’re a ‘ard man, William,” shaking his finger at
Johnson. “No matter, I’m still wishin’ ya a good Christmas.”
Marcos looked at the boy. “An’ you, too, Zachariah. You ‘ave
a good Christmas, too.”
“I thanks ya for the ride Marcos,” cutting the boy off,
“but ya best be keepin’ ya well wishes to ya’self.” Turning,
hefting the poles and box, beginning up the street,
“Zachariah,” Johnson called over his shoulder, “move
Lifting his burden, looking up at Marcos, smiling again,
the boy turned and, being careful not to trip on the trailing
rope, ran after Johnson.”
“May God ‘elp ya, Zachariah!” Marcos shouted to the
receding boy. “Giddy’ap, ‘orse! Giddy’ap!” May Jesus ‘elp
ya, lad! And he did; Marcos the fishmonger did pray for
Seven staircases from the corner, the chimney sweep and
his apprentice climbed the stairs to a neat, white row house.
As always, steps behind, climbing the last few steps,
looking straight forward, Lordy, grimacing at the sight of
himself, Zachariah saw his reflection in the shiny brass
Leaving black knuckle prints on the clean, white paint,
Johnson knocked on the door… Waiting a few seconds he
knocked again, harder.