1636 The Devil’s Opera – Snippet 12

Simon was another of Frau Zenzi’s special people. She had allowed him to begin sweeping the bakery every evening in exchange for some bread. At the age of twelve — he thought that was how old he was — Simon was determined to work for his food. No beggar he. And Simon did work. Frau Zenzi was never able to find anything wrong with her floors when he was done.

         And so it was tonight. Simon finished cleaning out that last corner, then swept the pile of dust and flour and who-knows-what-else over to the front door with care. He flung the door open, swept the pile out the door, then leaned out to sweep it off the outside step. Once that was done, he closed the door and turned to put the broom away.

Frau Zenzi was standing behind him. She took the broom from him. “I will put that away,” she smiled as she handed him two rolls. “Here. Take these and go, so I can bar the door. We will see you tomorrow.”

Simon took one roll and tucked it inside his jacket, then took the other and gave a slight bow to the mistress. “Thank you, Frau Zenzi. And I will be here tomorrow.”

Outside in the gathering twilight, Simon walked down the muddy street chewing on his roll. After walking a short distance, he stopped and sat on the front step of another building. He waited. The evening air was past chilly and moving toward cold. He pulled his jacket tighter around his chest.

The evening had not advanced much farther when he saw what he was waiting for. A small dog, nondescript, brown with a white splash on the face, was nosing her way down the street, sniffing and rooting around, occasionally gulping something that she found. Stray dogs weren’t common in Magdeburg, and the ones that were seen from time to time were pretty wary of people, as the city council would often set the knackers to hunting them. This one was obviously female, for her dugs hung heavy with milk. There were pups somewhere, waiting on her to return.

Simon tore a sizable piece of bread from his roll with his teeth, dropped the roll in his lap and took the fragment with his fingers. He gave a low whistle. The dog looked around, ears perked. “Here, Schatzi,” Simon called. Schatzi, Simon’s name for the stray, looked around, then trotted over to face Simon. She kept her distance, though, not coming in reach of hands or feet.

Simon held the bread out to one side, and whistled again. Schatzi edged in, tail between her legs, keeping an eye on his feet, until she could reach up and neatly nip the bread from his fingers. She scurried back several steps until she felt safe enough to stop and bolt the bread. That was the work of only a few moments, then she looked up at Simon again, head cocked to one side. After a moment, she whined a little.

“Sorry, girl, that is all I have tonight.”

Schatzi, for all the world like she understood what he said, shook all over like a shrug. She turned and resumed her trail down the street, sniffing through the detritus of a day in the city, searching for anything that might feed her, no matter how noisome. Simon watched until she disappeared in the gathering gloom. He stood up, stuck the roll in his mouth again and brushed off the seat of his pants, then reached over and tucked his right hand farther into his jacket pocket with his left hand. Even though the arm was useless, or maybe especially because it was useless, he felt the cold with it.

Simon’s path led in the opposite direction from Schatzi’s. He kept looking around while he tore at the roll, chewing and swallowing as fast as he could. It wasn’t unknown for others to take from him whatever he had. Being alone, small for his age and crippled on top of it, he was often an easy mark. Living on his own, as he had now for some time, could be very hard.

The last bite of roll went down with a bit of a struggle, as his mouth and throat had gotten very dry. He could feel it slowly working its way down his throat. A smile crossed his face at the thought that at least tonight he had eaten it all. He patted the breast of his jacket; there was even food for the morning. Although he hadn’t made any money anywhere today, at least he had food. And a sheltered nook, if no one else had discovered it. He headed towards it with a jaunty step.

Steps sounded behind Simon, and before he could look around he was shoved to one side, almost falling in the street. “Out of the way, boy,” said a harsh voice. He looked up to see two large men stride by him. There wasn’t much he could tell about them in the dusk besides their size, but that voice was memorable.

More cautious now, Simon walked close to the buildings, keeping to the deeper pools of shadows. Ahead of him, the two men suddenly ducked into the mouth of a narrow alley. Simon stopped, nervous all of a sudden, and waited. After several moments passed without movement from the alley, he edged forward until he was almost at the corner. The temptation to peer around the corner was strong, but he resisted, listening instead. He could hear voices muttering, but the words weren’t clear.

More moments passed. Simon looked around. There were other people in the street, but not many. On the other side of the street a man passed by, a shapeless hat pushed back on his head, jacket open, whistling tunelessly through his teeth for all he was worth. Simon winced; whatever the song was supposed to be, it bore a certain resemblance to yowling cats.