Thursday, November 24, 2005

Rejected Boy - A Short Story

Here's an indication of my slightly warped sense of humor....

On an April afternoon in 1890, an infant was born somewhere in New York City. At birth, the child’s mother and father took one look at the boy and shook their heads sadly.

“I’m very disappointed,” his mother said.
His father agreed, “He’s hardly worth the effort.”
Without pausing even to name the child, they brought the baby to the closest orphanage they could find. The Orphanage Director took one look at the infant, and slammed the door in their face. Undeterred, they left him in a basket on the steps of the dark stone building.
Martha, a portly old woman who swept the grounds in and around the orphanage, had no interest in disposing of a rotting carcass, and so fed the infant with random food scraps thrown about by the children inside. During the winters, she kept the trash fire burning by the growing boy, who remained quietly in his basket, awaiting an adoption that never came. Even though every potential mother and father saw Boy as they arrived at the Orphanage, they ignored the dirty little child.
As he turned ten years old, life changed for the boy. Martha, supplied with a new broom, felt inspired to redouble her already dedicated efforts to keep the grounds free of refuse. Boy was in the way.
“Move along,” she said, indicating the nearby park.
Boy quietly obeyed, taking his only possessions – his basket and his ragged little blanket.
At first, he walked across the street to the park, though the gravel roadway hurt his bare feet. From the safety of his basket, he had gazed at the park all of his life, and had dreamed of playing under the great trees and grand statues.
The groundskeeper at the park was quite offended by the odd naked child with the long matted hair, and chased Boy back to the street. Boy was soon walking along a great boulevard, crowded with thousands of horse-drawn carriages and pedestrians – darkly clad adults who didn’t see him at all, knocking him over and over again to the pavement as they hurried on their way.

Before long, he reached a gate behind which children played. He wondered if this, too, was an orphanage, and stared at the four story building beyond the playground.
Boy again was thrown to the ground again as a man, a woman and little girl arrived at the gate and walked through onto the grounds, ignoring him completely. He slipped through the gate behind them, and watched as the man and woman hugged the girl goodbye. He wondered if they were returning her to the orphanage. The girl seemed unconcerned, however, as her parents left her and walked past boy and back through the gate.
Boy turned around and around, watching all the boys and girls playing and laughing around him. As he was a boy that never had such experiences, he was quite curious.
Two boys, to his surprise, walked up and looked right at him.
“Who’re you?” the taller boy said.
Having never been asked a question, Boy was too startled to answer.
“Gimmee that,” the shorter boy said, pointing at his basket.
Boy did as he was told. The shorter boy inspected the basket, while the taller boy looked on enviously.
“Gimmee that,” the taller boy said, pointing at the blanket. Boy gave him the blanket, and the taller boy inspected his new acquisition.
A bell rang by the door to the big building, and all the children began to scurry inside. Without much else to do, Boy wandered inside with them, following them as they filed down the hallway, some disappearing into one room or another. Wanting to be close to his former possessions, he followed the two boys he’d met and entered a large room. Children sat at small desks facing a large blackboard, and a neatly dressed man sat behind a large desk facing the children. Boy had never been in a school, and hadn’t any idea what was happening.
The man behind the desk looked at the stinking, naked little boy and shook his head.
“This will not do.” The man pointed out the door, and Boy walked back out into the now-empty hallway. All the doors were closed, now, and Boy could only walk back outside and onto the street.
As he stood outside the gate to the school, contemplating which direction he should walk, something caught his eye on a nearby bench. He walked over and picked up a newspaper, neatly folded and apparently forgotten. Though nobody had bothered to teach him to read, he was curious about his discovery, having seen many newspapers drift down the street by the orphanage. He was about to unfold the paper when it was snatched from his hands, replaced by a shiny nickel. He started at the nickel for a moment, and looked up only as a man in a top hat walk away.
“Thank you!” the man said, waving his cane in the air in a backwards acknowledgement.
Boy sat on the bench staring at the nickel. He had never held money before, and wasn’t quite sure what to do.
After two hours, a boy with a bagful of newspapers walked by, holding one of the papers in his hand and shouting out, “CITY HALL SCANDAL!” A man walked up to the newsboy and gave him a nickel and opened the paper as he walked away. The newsboy noticed that Boy was staring.
Boy could only point at the bag of newspapers and say, “I sold one.”
The newsboy pulled his cap down further over his eyes, tilting his head back, “Who do you work for?” He looked over Boy with scorn, “They can’t pay very well.”
Boy had no idea what he was talking about.
“You should work for the Herald,” the Newsboy said with a hint of pride, “I bet they pay better then what you get now. You could get clothes, even.”
As he had never had clothes, Boy was very interested and followed the newsboy for two hours as he sold newspapers and then returned to the Herald headquarters for the evening edition. Watching the newsboy, he learned that he could buy several newspapers from the Herald for a nickel, and then sell them to passerby for a nickel a piece. Boy decided to become a “newsie.”
He was not an immediate success. Though he saw other boys sell newspapers pretending to be wide-eyed and hopeless, passers-by weren’t interested in him. His dream of turning his nickel into a dime almost seemed lost as the night grew long. He stopped to rest in an alleyway beside a small tavern, curling himself into a ball the size of his lost basket, and nearly falling asleep. He was startled awake to the sound of a man yelling, “RAT!” Boy jumped up, and realized that the drunken man was talking about him! When the giant rat asked for a nickel, the man could do nothing less then obey, throwing him all the change in his pocket and running off down the street without collecting his paper. Boy earned a profit of twenty-five cents on his first night.
Boy had enough money to buy a set of used clothes, including a cap just like the other newsboys. Unfortunately, having never had clothes of his own, he hadn’t any idea how to buy them, and wore pants, shirt, hat and shoes many sizes too big. He found half of a pair of scissors and cut his hair as best he could. Having never done that either, the result was chaotic. Customers pitied him and bought papers. Newsboys just scorned him.

In less than two weeks, Boy became one of the most successful newsboys at the Herald, though nobody cared to tell him. The other newsies, ignored him, and the clerk who sold him his papers made a concerted effort never to acknowledge him.
The other boys wouldn’t let him stay at the Newsboys lodging house, and nobody else would rent him a room, so he spent his nights sleeping outside the building housing the Herald’s printing press. Scores of workers stepped over him as they came and went, barely aware of just what they were stepping over.
By the third week, Boy had sold so many newspapers that the publisher himself, General Alexander Tuntley, called for the boy. As Boy paid his money and collected his morning newspapers, the clerk pointed to a building across the street and told him to go into the Herald Building and present himself to General Tuntley’s office. Boy looked at the imposing building, with THE HERALD engraved in granite on the face. They were the first words he had learned.
“Go Now!” the clerk ordered, and Boy, ever obedient, followed his instructions.
As soon as he stepped into the marble-floored lobby, the man behind the reception desk stood up and looked upon the boy with the scorn Boy had always attracted.
“Newsboys are not permitted in this building.”
Boy was very frightened, “I’m to report to General Tuntley’s office.”
Quite annoyed, the man pointed at two large oak doors, and Boy saw long golden words over the entranceway He adjusted his oversized pants and walked through the doors, his newspapers still in hand.
The room, like the doors leading into it, was oaken as well. Four prim, nearly identical women sat stiffly at four nearly identical desks. They each stopped typing and looked up at Boy with equally sour expressions.
“May we help you?”
Boy repeated his explanation, “I’m to report to General Tuntley’s office.”
Another woman asked, “Purpose of your visit?”
Boy thought for a moment, “I don’t know.”
“You’re the newsboy,” the third woman said, “the boy whose sold all those papers.”
Boy nodded his head.
“Leave the newspapers here, and step through the door,” the fourth woman instructed.
Boy handed his stack of newspapers to the fourth woman and opened the heavy doors into General Tuntley’s office.
The general sat at the far end of his office, facing Boy amongst a collection of his hunting and Civil War memorabilia. The head of a great black bear hung directly above him, its mouth wide, ready to take a large bite out of anyone who offended its owner.
The general was a bearded, gray-haired man of advanced age who glared at his guest with piercing blue eyes. Boy stood quietly for several minutes, until finally General Tuntley spoke.
“You’re the boy?”
Boy nodded his head.
“I find that hard to believe.” The General opened a small box on his desk, removed a large cigar, and lit it with a large wooden match. Taking his first few puffs, he considered Boy.
“You’re hardly Herald material. I find your feat unlikely.”
Boy was puzzled, and remained quiet.
“You may leave. Your time with the Herald is over.”
Boy shrugged and left his office. Retrieving his newspapers from the outer office, he returned to the streets and sold his supply. Only when he returned later for the evening edition did he understand that he was no longer to be allowed to sell newspapers for the Herald.
Boy thought nothing of his dismissal and took his profits with him to the New York Sun, selling their morning edition with the same zeal and the same success he’d had at the Herald.
Boy could sell newspapers at a pace unmatched by any newsboy at any paper.
Before long his pockets would bulge with nickels. He drew the attention of the management at the Sun, just as he had at the Herald, and like the Herald, was immediately dismissed as a likely fraud. The cycle was repeated at three other newspapers, the Press, the Gazette and the New York Times. After his fifth week as a newsie, Boy had been hired and released from all of the important newspapers in New York City, and had gathered together a small fortune dwarfing that of any other newsboy. He remained unaware of his great success, for his fellow newsboys kept a good distance away. Nor was he aware of the outstanding reason: he had never learned to wash, and so produced such an odor that the citizens of New York quickly bought newspapers from him simply to keep him away.
Having exhausted opportunities as a newsboy, Boy tightened the rope holding up his pants, adjusted his cap, and joined the crowds along the wide boulevard before him. Now familiar with the hectic pace of the sidewalks, he could dart around and through the crowds. He let the crowd carry him far north, into a part of the city with which he was thoroughly unfamiliar.
With no warning, he was deposited from the crowd onto a narrow side street lined with small neighborhood stores and street vendors. Windows displayed products from dry goods to clothing. In one window, a man with a large cleaver sliced a side of beef. Boy watched with fascination, having never seen a cleaver, nor a side of beef. He pressed his face against the window for a better look, and saw that the man with the cleaver was accompanied by a boy not much older than himself, who watched the activity with much interest. Both the man and the boy wore white smocks smeared with blood.
Soon, a customer entered the store, and the man turned away from his cutting block to attend to business. His boy looked up from the meat and saw Boy watching. With a careful glance at the man, the boy slid over to the front door opened it up just enough to talk to Boy.
“You want a job?”
Boy nodded.
“Come here after my pop leaves, at 6:30.”
Boy nodded again, and the door was closed in his face.
With little else to do, Boy sat down at the curb and waited, until the man who had wielded the cleaver, now free of his blood-smeared smock, left the store.
Boy walked in.
The boy he had seen earlier was waiting. He, too, had removed his smock. He repeated his question, “Do you want a job?”
The boy pointed at the counter by the window, covered in blood and entrails,
“I’ll give you fifteen cents to clean all of that, and what’s on the floor.”
Boy saw that the floor below the counter was in a similar condition.
“Make sure that it’s very clean, or you don’t get paid.”
Boy nodded.
“Come back tomorrow at the same time.” The boy turned and ran out the door, leaving Boy alone.
Boy hadn’t been shown any cleaning utensils, and hadn’t any experience with them anyway, so he began his work by gathering together all of the entrails and bone with his hands, and dumping them into a trash can below the counter. He got down on his knees and did the same with the remains on the floor. Of course, he couldn’t do the same with the blood, but noticed the leg prints he’d left when he’d knelt down, and realized that he could wipe up the blood with his clothes. He removed his shirt, wet it down at the sink, and used it to clean the counter. He wet it again, and used it to clean the floor. He repeated the process until everything was clean above and below the counter. Putting his shirt back on, he closed the door behind him and left the store.
The hour was very late, and the street outside was deserted. Though hungry, he decided he’d wait for morning and buy something with what remained of his newsie money. He ducked into an alley nearby the store and looked around for a place to sleep. Hearing the warning growl of a large dog, he quickly retreated back onto the street.
On the street, other dogs were approaching him slowly from every direction. He’d never had any trouble with dogs before. Like humans they typically avoided Boy. The dogs surrounding Boy were licking their chops and sniffing the air. He looked down at his shirt, and realized that it was soaked in blood.
Slowly, he pulled the shirt over his head, leaving his cap in place. He bunched the shirt it up in his hands and threw it over the head of the closest dog. As all the dogs dived for the shirt, Boy ran in the other direction, as fast as he could.
More dogs quickly caught Boy’s scent and soon he was dashing down a crowded boulevard with dozens of dogs in pursuit, leaving a path of chaos as people and street vendors were knocked to the ground. A patrolman soon followed the dogs, blowing his whistle and bringing others into the chase.
Outstretched arms and converging dogs turned Boy around time and again, up this boulevard, and down that avenue. The dogs stayed close at his heels, but the adults chasing him weren’t quick or clever enough to catch him. He darted in front of horse-drawn carriages and the occasional horseless ones, as well. He dashed down alleyways and scaled fences, losing dogs and people – but only as long as it took for other dogs to catch his scent and take after him in their own pursuit.
Boy was nearly trampled by a horse as he crossed over yet another street. Now, he was at the edge of a deeply wooded park, and ran headlong into the thicket of trees just ahead. Instantly, he was in a jungle – a place removed from the surrounding city by a mass of crawling ivy, overgrown bushes and massive trees. He moved ahead, but could only fight through the brush at a terrifyingly slow pace. He heard the dogs barking angrily as they entered the woods, and hoped that they too would be slowed by the overgrowth.
Abruptly, Boy stumbled out of the brush. Ahead of him lay only scattered trees, a fountain, and a great statue of a man in an overcoat. He knew where he was! There was a street a short distance ahead, and across the street, the great, dark, familiar steps leading to the stone structure that housed the orphanage.
Just outside the closed door, Martha swept, her attention fixed to the second step from the top.
Boy heard the barking dogs making their way closer to end of the brush. He ran toward the street.
“Martha!” he yelled, reaching the street and dodging carriages as he mad his was across. She didn’t seem to hear him.
The first dogs burst out onto the parkland and sprinted in Boy’s direction.
“MARTHA!” Boy screamed louder, and Martha slowly lifted her head as he started to climb up the eighteen steps toward her.
Boy tripped just two steps away and landed at Martha’s feet. Dozens of dogs were emerging from the brush – it was almost as it they’d multiplied during their run.
Boy looked up at Martha, trying to catch his breath.
Martha looked down at the panting boy. She raised her eyebrows in recognition.
“Help me,” Boy pleaded in a small voice.
Martha considered him for a moment, then offered her broom.
“Help me.”
Boy got up on his feet and took the broom.Martha turned to face down the approaching dogs, and Boy began to sweep.

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