firey-sunset

1956, November

Elenore did not want to be a keeper. By nature she was a trasher, a dumper, a thrower-outer,a get-rid-of-er. Just when she thought the tossing-out had come to an end, she discovered an unexpected storeroom at the back of the second floor of a sixty-year-old brick commercial building, which unbeknownst to Elenore, was the oldest brick building in town.

Until 1930, the first floor was a tailor shop and clothing store. As a hedge, it also sold fabrics and sewing supplies in the back. Except for a rare purchase of a church suit or a Sunday dress, store-bought clothes were for those who lived over on blue-stocking row, which made the store victim to terrible events two thousand miles to the east.

Until 1921 the second floor had been a photography studio. Photographers seldom make good businessmen, this one worse than most. He was more interested in his camera as art and history than as income. The second floor sat empty until 1927, when it was replumbed and rewired into two small apartments with a shared bathroom. Two elderly couples rented it.

In 1931, simply by throwing out most of the display cases, the first floor was converted to a feed store. Chicken feed was now in greater demand than a new hat, even on blue-stocking row. Most of the blue-stockings had troddled east where they too lost their small fortunes. For a time it was a joke that two glass cases which once held celluloid collars and cuff links now held calf halters, chicken watering jars, udder balm, and nose-rings for bulls

In 1938 the second floor also became empty, time doing what it does to the elderly. After that, the feed store kept its excess lighter goods up among the deteriorating old-fashioned furniture.

In 1954, when people were abandoning self-sufficiency and when the rural areas were becoming more residential than agricultural, the feed store closed.

In 1955 Elenore and her husband Willy rented the building and opened a store, Willy’s Radio & Television Store, which in 1959 would become Willy’s TV Store and in 1963 would become Will’s HiFi & TV. In 1977 it would become empty space and even emptier space after Elenore sold off the tin ceiling. It lapsed to town property by tax-forfeit. The town officials wanted to raze it, but the town would have to pay the cost, and once you started on one empty store, you would have to level all of them, which only leaves you with vacant lots to keep free of junk and weeds.

By 1956, after fourteen months in business, Willy’s Radio & Television became established enough for them to buy the building. Elenore and Willy were a good match as partners in a business selling the right product at the right moment. Elenore wielded the checkbook, the dust rag, and the good judgment. Willy wielded the screw driver, the electrical meter, and the warm personality. It was time, Elenore told Willy, to rid the building of the must and haul the junk to the reeking, smoldering town dump a mile from the edge of town where you could watch bears and junk collectors forage through the pile.

Elenore cleaned the building from bottom to top. Everything in the basement was hauled away in several pickup loads by their teenage sons, leaving trace odors of mildew, chickens, and feed to be scrubbed away by Elenore and her twelve-year-old daughter. Elenore had one hurdle to completing this job in the rest of the building—Willy, a history buff and an amateur photographer, who hoped to set up a darkroom somewhere in the building. The back storage room of the first floor Willy had plundered before they opened, but his plunder only made it upstairs. After Elenore and Willy gave the main floor walls a new coat of soft tan paint and shined the old wood floors, it was time for her to climb the mountain to the top floor.

The boys hauled the dessicated furniture to the dump. The next trip they saw a bear seated in the horsehair couch eating garbage. Willy wished he had been there to take snapshots. Elenore allowed Willy, after she had scrubbed and painted it pale blue, one of the old bedrooms as a place to keep his plunder, cleaned plundered, of course. Some of the kitchen goods Willy kept. He wanted to keep some of the clothing, but Elenore drew a line in the dust, literally in the dust, more as a joke, this being a friendly war between husband and wife. The daughter was on her side. One son was in Willy’s army. The other son was Switzerland.

Finally only one locked closet remained in the back of the second floor, which it turned out, after the sons broke the lock, was not a closet but a five foot wide and thirty foot long dark storage room, one end crammed with wooden crates, tin boxes, and junk, the other end of the room crammed with stale air.

Elenore was alone in the room when she became Benedict Arnold. From the top of the pile she removed brittle old dark cloths to be trashed, and glass trays, which she moved to the stale air end of the room. This could make a darkroom; the glass trays would work, not that she had yet relented on the darkroom. Didn’t darkrooms smell?

She opened a tin box; it was full of old photographs, which explained the glass trays. She remembered an old man telling her that this had been a photography studio. She carried one tin box out into the light and gasped when she opened it. It was a photograph of her grandmother at ten years of age. No, that could not be. Her grandmother came to America from Poland as a young woman. But the face! Oh, my, the face was her grandmother’s, and now on closer look, it was like her mother’s face. Was it like Elenore’s own face? But women looked much alike in early photographs, as did men. One day women would look much alike in 1950’s era photographs, as would men. Elenore replaced the picture in the box. She dusted off the boxes and brought them out into the sunlight and laid them across the floor. The wooden crates were too heavy for her to move. She opened two to find them full of squares of glass with negative images on them. A few plates were cracked; on some the black had flecked loose. Most seemed fine.

She returned to the front room and stood over the tin boxes of photographs, knowing the simpler approach was to sneak them off to the dump herself. Flanking the opponent is acceptable in war. After folding and unfolding her arms several times and sighing a few deep sighs in curiosity and love for her big dumb oaf of a husband, she sat on the floor and opened a box. She strewed pictures across the floor and scanned them. Formal poses, community events, church groups, school photos, random images of the town and its people, pets, houses, trains, railroad workers, wash on the lines, cows in backyards, people fighting a fire. Cows in town? She would have to ask some old people about that. She began sorting, first into two piles, “Worth Keeping” and “Trash.” After ten pictures, she added “Fading.” After twenty-five she added “Town History.” By the end of the second box, she had a dozen categories.

After closing the store three hours later, Willy came up to check on her. He stood over her, enthralled by what she had found. She said, “I forgot to tell you Old Johnny Sorenson says this was a photography studio about the time of the First World War. The back closet is a huge storage room with these pictures and boxes of glass negatives.”

Willy bent down and picked up a small print from the “Fading” pile. He took it over to the window to study it. “Now here is a man’s pictures, you know.”

She came and looked. “That one? Two boys and a mutt? How so?”

A boy with his pet dog and a buddy in the summertime. Tons of memories for all us guys who had a pet dog and lots of buddies to play with. You can just tell the boy on the left owns the dog. The two boys are pals, like Denny and me.” He stared into and through the picture. She watched his face.

In the foreground of the photo was the edge of a gravel road and a low wall of boulders. In the background on a hill stood a two-story four-square elementary school. The lawn was dirt and patches of weeds. A large bell hung on a pedestal by the front door of the school. The center of attention was the trio sitting on the stone wall.

On the left a dark-haired boy, who appeared to be about eight but could be older, leaned back on both arms staring into the camera with a smirk on his face. On the right a larger boy with blond hair sat up straight looking to his left, as if listening to someone talking to him. In the middle, his head held higher than either boy, sat a Heinz 57 dog, well past puppyhood but not yet to canine dotage. Even though that part of the photograph was the most faded to brown, the expression on the dog’s face drew the eye—pride, relaxed ease, camaraderie. A dog with his boys.

1908, August

The rising sun was a half-hour late penetrating into the bower beneath the spruce tree. First it had to rise over a dense horizon-hugging cloud bank. When it did, Hoont awoke, sat up, yawned, and smelled the air. Under the tree dripping its spruce odor into the bower, the dog could only catch nearby scents. For the moment that was ample security. His bower was top-dog sleeping spot. Why? Because he was top-dog and he liked the seclusion. He could not just declare it as his; he had to defend it, frequently.

He smelled four dogs who posed no threat; they accepted their inferior status to Hoont. Hoont did not know his name was Hoont. A boy who was top-dog in his pack despite his small size called the dog Hoont in mockery of his father, who called all dogs Hoont. The father came from Bavaria to work in sawmills in northeastern Minnesota. He brought with him his skill at sharpening saws and axes, his Bavarian German accent, his alcoholism, and his Bavarian wife, who agreed to the dockside marriage to escape a bleak future in Bavaria.

The boy knew the word was supposed to be hund. When the father was drunk, as he often was, being able to sharpen a saw drunk or sober, his Bavarian consonants got sloppy and his vowels got longer. Hoont was not a kind name, but the dog did not know that. The boy’s name was Viktor, which suited the boy in the best and worst ways.

Hoont’s spruce tree stood on the northwest corner of the town, the higher end of the town, the poorer end of the town. Hoont pushed through the low spruce branches into the open. He stretched with relish, yawned in gaping ease, and took a long-range survey of odors. No females in heat. No interesting food smells from the young town only a hundred yards away. It was time to forage.

Shedding red needles from his matted thick coat, Hoont loped gracefully into his favorite alley. The many dogs of the town did not know alleys from streets. Nor did the human residents, except for the signs, when they were atill in place. Because of the many free-roaming gangs of boys, street signs did not last long at the north end of town. The streets were not much wider than the alleys and no less muddy and dusty, the only two possible conditions of streets and alleys at this end of town. Alleys were distinguished by backyards, which were usually fenced, often with slab wood from the lumber mill. The fences confined chickens, often a horse, a cow or two, and perhaps a domesticated dog, not necessarily a pet dog.

Hoont was not owned, which he did not know. He only knew he lived a freer life than some other dogs. Nor did Hoont know he had distant grandfathers and cousins who had seen the arrival of the first Europeans. No dog in town had a pedigree. No human in town knew about pedigrees. Status among all the dogs, and many of the humans, was by power and bravado.

The first house Hoont approached once had a hole under the fence by which Hoont would enter to steal scraps from the chickens. But one day Hoont, finding no scraps, tried to take a pullet. Buckshot had roared. The next day the hole was blocked. For weeks after, rocks were thrown at every passing dog. The second house had one wall of the barn directly on the alley, which allowed Hoont access to mice. He ate three. The next few houses offered nothing of food interest. One had a female dog chained in the backyard whose regular batches of pups were Hoont’s offspring. By the hand of the owner, the pups did not live long, or Hoont would have killed them himself, driven by instinct he lacked the mind to question. Down the alley and across a street was a house with a missing gate where a woman sometimes left food in a bowl for Hoont, if he got there first, which he usually did. Today she left a bounty. As he lay in her yard and ate, she came out to pet him and talk to him. By an instinct the dog lacked the mind to question, Hoont liked when humans touched him and talked to him.

The town was fully awake. It was time for the cows to be herded down the alleys to the community pasture. Each cow was driven along or led to pasture by a child, usually a boy. In mild interest Hoont followed along. Fed and rested, he was seeking only knowledge and amusement, perhaps more human contact. At Viktor’s house he stopped to check on the boy with whom he had built a bond, top-dog to top-boy. Viktor was small but had that manner that made most others back down. If not, he was a fierce and dirty fighter, undeterred by pain. Sometimes the large Hoont was an unwitting part of Viktor’s bravado, or perhaps he was willing.

Hoont could see the cow in the backyard being milked by Viktor’s sixteen-year-old sister Hilda, who always drove Hoont away with small rocks and big swear words, to the delightful annoyance of the neighbors. Hoont moved on towards the pasture. He found a place under some brush to wait for Viktor. He fell asleep but woke when Viktor came by with the cow and opened the gate to let it in to graze.

Viktor’s night had been rough. It began as a normal night. His father came home from work late and drunk. His parents fought. Hilda screamed at them both and ran out of the house, clipping Viktor on the ear as she passed him on the back stoop. Viktor’s father, a true bully, did not hit his wife. She, bigger than he, gave him back better than she got. Viktor was the easy target. She allowed the father to switch Viktor a few times. She assumed Viktor had done something during the day to deserve it, which the neighbors would have been glad to tell her about, if she had ever listened to neighbors. When she deemed Viktor’s punishment fit the unknown crime, she drove the father to bed. When Hilda came home late, the mother called the daughter a whore and dragged her by her hair to bed.

All of that was a typical evening. What made it atypical and rough for Viktor was that he awoke twice in the night from nightmares. The first time he awoke silently. The second time he awoke screaming and crying, which brought the other three members of the family to his room to shout at him and knock him about. At breakfast, as punishment for waking the family, the mother denied Viktor his breakfast. When the mother went outside to pump some water, Hilda passed Viktor her breakfast. She was feeling very ill. Viktor wolfed down the food so the mother would not catch him eating it. Viktor hid in the cowshed waiting for Hilda to finish milking the cow, a task at which she was slow this morning. The mother told Viktor to get right back home from taking the cow to pasture; she had chores for him to do.

And so Viktor stood at the pasture gate wanting to leave it open. That would fix the whole town, cows wandering all over, maybe even down to bluestocking row, everyone trying to find the family cow. That was his problem. If he let their cow loose, too, he would have to find her. If only their cow was not loose, everyone would know he was the culprit. Viktor’s cow stood and grazed in the open gateway. She was an easy target for his anger, except he kicked her in the belly with his barefoot, hurting himself more than her. He locked the gate, ready to kick it, too, but remembered his bare feet.

Hoont crawled out and showed himself to Viktor. The boy picked up a stick and drew back to throw it, which he did, but high over the dog. Viktor debated: escape and suffer a later beating or go home to chores. He walked home, stepping in every fresh cow pie along the route. Hoont trotted beside him, sniffing the boy’s informative blend of odors. Viktor’s dog-like smell was part of his attraction to Hoont.

Viktor heard his mother from four houses down the alley. She was on the back stoop screaming at Hilda, who was standing hands clinched in the back yard. Even though most of the mother’s words were in German, the word hure was standing out. Hure was close enough to the Swedish hora for neighbors to translate it into whore. They had often heard her call her daughter a whore in English. The woman’s use of German indicated a deeper level of outrage. Everyone’s mother tongue served better at times of high emotion. The neighbor women were gathered in the alley to smirk and tut and titter at the row. The word schwanger had been heard several times. They fetched a German woman from down the street to translate. Pregnant. “Such a pity.” “Such things never happen in good families.” “I guess it’s that Harper kid.” “Spoiled rotten, he is, down there on bluestocking row.” “It’s always the girl who pays.” “How old is she? Can’t be but fourteen.” “Fifteen at the most.” “The little brother standing over there listening. What’s he gonna learn?” “Just think about what he is now.”

Viktor had stopped in the alley to listen with Hoont by his side, who was wary of the gathering of women. Hightailing it seemed smart to dog and boy, but Viktor’s mother spied him. “What you gawking at? Grab the coal sack. Get us some coal.” To Viktor that was an invitation to hightail it. When he had the sack, he lit out down the alley away from the gossip circle, which soon moved indoors for coffee. Hoont followed the boy. After they turned onto a street one block over, they slowed their pace to a walk, which in Viktor’s case was a swagger. Two boys ran up to tag along. Boys tagged along with Viktor. Viktor tagged along with no one, not even older boys. Viktor never over-reached in the bruise-and-bully world of the village boys.

The railroad provided a pile of coal on the north end of town for the use of their employees. No one ever checked who was making use of it. With the forest close at hand, those who gathered coal from the pile were infirm, lazy, or drunken. Firewood was the superior choice for heating and cooking. The odor of coal about a house informed the neighbors of events inside the house. The two tag-alongs asked where they were going. When Viktor answered, they started to tease him about the coal, for which they got slapped on the head. Viktor felt better for that.

As the boys continued on, pushing and shoving each other in the manner of boys everywhere, Hoont stopped. Hoont heard voices, familiar voices, voices of dogs he knew. He ran to join the excitement, as top-dog must.

Five dogs had chased a rabbit under a woodpile in an unfenced backyard. Clamoring in high excitement for being close to the kill, they tore dirt from under the woodpile. The wife of the house and two other women tried to drive the dogs away with stones and sticks. The pack’s instinct for the kill was too strong to feel the blows. As Hoont drew near, a shotgun blasted. The dogs scattered, whimpering from the acid bit of bird shot under their skin. The man with the shotgun trotted into the alley; Hoont stepped behind a parked wagon. The man looked both ways down the alley. Hearing the fading barks and whimpers, the man left in satisfaction. Hoont crept up to where he could see around the corner of an adjoining fence. A small crowd was talking near the house. Hoont retreat out of their sight. Sometimes patience wins the day.

With the people in the yard, the doe rabbit had only one line of escape. It took a few minutes for her to hop out carefully, as rabbits do. A hop and a wait. Two hops and a wait. A hop and a wait. Two hops past the fence, she hopped into Hoont’s waiting strong jaws, which crushed the doe’s head. In seconds she was still. He trotted to his bower to eat what part of her his full belly would accept. By his spruce tree two dogs were rolling in the grass, whimpering softly, and licking their shotgun wounds. Hoont tore into the doe’s belly to find she was pregnant. He was soon satiated and stepped into his bower, leaving the rest for the other dogs. He slept on his side to let his body digest three mice, a bounteous feast of human food, and four fetal rabbits.

Viktor filled his sack with as much coal as he could carry easily, hoisted it as a test, set it down, and took a few lumps out as a sneer to his mother. When the tag-alongs teased him for being weak, he added more than he had taken out. His sooty hands he wiped on his pants, which gave him an idea. Some coal dust, he decided would go well as a taunt to his mother. Viktor reclined leisurely on the coal pile and sneered a silent challenge to the tag-alongs. They did not want to sit in the coal. But they did

In the middle of a spitting contest, Mick Shea sauntered up. Mick was as close a friend as Viktor had, meaning not very close. Both boys had family secrets to keep, secrets which everyone knew. Both boys had trouble with their th’s. Lacking a mother, Mick was the most footloose boy in the town. Smirk on face, Mick stood in front of the three boys. “Go on. Guess what I filched from my paw today?”

No one answered.

Go on and guess, ya dummies.”

Viktor sneered back, “If it ain’t somum good, we don’t give a damn.” The curse word elevated his challenge.

Mick pulled from a pocket a small tin. “Some of my paw’s tobacky.”

Viktor waited for his envy and therefore his anger to cool before answering. “So ya got it. What ya gonna do with it?”

Smoke it. Why else would I risk stealing it?”

One of the tag-alongs threw down a dare. “Ya got a pipe? Ya got Zig-Zag papers?”

If ya want to smoke with me, ya gotta get somum. Go filch from your paws.”

My paw’s a stinking drunk but he don’t smoke,” Viktor answered, feigning disinterest.

What about your maw?”

Women don’t smoke, dummy.”

My grandmaw back in Ireland smokes a pipe.”

Viktor sneered his disbelief of such a silly claim. He stood up and asserted leadership. “My maw’ll skin me alive if I don’t get this coal back. Everybody come back here after dinner. I’ll bring some of my Lucifers. Each of you steal what you can, you hear me?” Viktor was known for his matches. He always had a stash in the cowshed, adding one or two most days by lifting them out of his mother’s box in the kitchen.

When he made it home with the over-laden sack of coal, his mother cursed him for his tardiness. Then she kicked him out of the house for his dirty clothes and manure odor, which gave Viktor some satisfaction in the day. Outside was fine with him. So was the bread and salt pork Hilda brought out to him, a black eye blooming on her face. “I’ll be gone tomorrow, then,” she told Viktor. “The old witch is sending me to live with her sister in Duluth. I’ll be working in a laundry ’til the baby comes. Maw says she was planning to send me anyway ’cause it’s time for me to get to work. Says she had it all set up and was gonna tell me today. Alte Deutche hexe.”

Ya ain’t getting married?”

I ain’t that dumb. Then I’d end up an old witch bastard like maw.”

Viktor did not know what to say. He was not sure how he felt about Hilda. Most times she abused him. Sometimes she protected him. Mostly they ignored each other, each locked in a private misery that both overcame in sullenness. One way or another, he figured, this would be worse for him. Even he realized that Hilda faced a bleak future. Hilda took his empty dish back to the house. Viktor sat and thought. He was angry about how things were, about which he could do nothing, except lash out with bad behavior. Today required something more than walking through fresh cow pies and getting sooty.

His mother called him from in the kitchen. Chores no doubt. He pocketed all of his matches and ran into the alley and towards the coal pile. Viktor ran past two women talking in the dusty street. As he passed, they both pinched their noses. “Middle of the week,” one said. “What’ll he stink like by Saturday?”

The other replied, “He’s a bad one. Look at him; guilty as sin. Viktor Heinrich is up to no good. Ya mark my words!”

Viktor returned to the coal pile ahead of the other boys. One tag-along had been corralled by his mother into chores. The other two found Viktor on the back side of the pile hidden from the town building a mound of coal dust, twigs, and dry grass. It had been a dry summer. Mick asked, afraid of the answer, “What ya building that for?

Killing time, waiting for you dummies. I got the Lucifers. What ya got?”

Mick still had only the tobacco. The tag-along had some butcher paper, which smelled of meat. It was the best he could do. His father was at work and had his smoking stuff with him. They tried rolling cigarettes, but the tobacco kept spilling out of the thick paper tubes. After several attempts and the loss of half the tobacco, Viktor had a make-shift cigarette held carefully to his mouth with a few shreds of tobacco lying inside. Mick struck the match, Viktor inhaled. He was overcome by rancid gagging smoke. When his fit settled down, the boys gave up on smoking for now. They made long-term plans to collected tobacco and Zig-Zags or a pipe. “Who do we know whose paw rolls cigarettes?” No one came to mind. It was a pipe-smoking era. Pipes were difficult to steal. They could have bought one; the stores did not care to whom they sold smoking supplies. But none of them had any money and were not likely to earn or be able to steal any.

Mick suggested they see what was happening downtown. Viktor told them to go ahead. His maw had work for him. He best get to home. Viktor watched them leave to make sure they were not coming back. He had built little fires many times before. Open flames were exciting. The potential for destruction was seductive. He lit his mound and watched it burn. What if fire got into the coal pile? What if he brought coal to the flames? Bigger flames were a siren call. He added three small pieces of coal. The acrid smoke blew into his face and triggered another coughing fit. He lost his nerve and scattered the fire with his foot, his bare foot, which caused more pain than kicking a cow. He found a stout stick to scatter and beat down any embers or hot spots. He sat on the coal for many minutes to be sure the fire was out. He was restless, forlorn, angry. He was angry with his parents, of course, but with something else he could not identify. At Hilda? For Hilda? That everything was out of his control, except his pack of boys? He needed a pack. He would go rouse up Hoont. He knew of the dog’s spruce bower.

Arriving near the tree, he called out, “Hoont, you dummy mutt, ya to home?”

The dog came out and smelled the boy’s odors, more richly textured than earlier. They wandered up the railroad track. Viktor found a loose spike between the rails and put it in his pocket. It might offer some potential for trouble-making. They cut across towards the sawmill into an area cut for lumber five years earlier. It was covered with piles of dead and sharply pointed pine branches, dried needles, raspberry canes, and tall fireweed beginning its explosion of purple flowers—a murderous place for bare feet. Hoont whined softy. Viktor stopped; he, too, heard it. The sawmill fire bell. Viktor knew for what fire.

Fire was the greatest threat of a forest town built of wood. Improper attention to fire was the great sin. Arson was beyond imagination. The town and mill had survived a few close calls, unlike Hinckley and some other towns. Dog and boy struggled through the mess and into the band of stunted trees and brush which had hid their view of the town. They could now see while remaining hidden, not that anyone was apt to be looking at anything but the fire. Church bells and school bells rang. Men attacked a rapidly spreading fire in the field between the coal pile and the sawmill. Even Viktor’s father had a shovel and was beating down flames. Teenage and younger boys pulled burning coal from the pile. Women were forming a bucket line up from the edge of town. The horse-drawn water pumper from the mill arrived. The town pumper was on its way.

Viktor had two choices. He could go join the boys working at the coal pile, the wiser choice. His bravado had melted in the fire. He made the second choice, to stay in hiding.

In an hour the fire was out. Men and boys would patrol the embers through the night. Viktor did not recognize the two women whom he had passed in the street or note that they were talking to three men, including the mill foreman.

In any event, he decided he best be at the other end of town. Hoont sniffed at the boy, as if connecting his smell to the fire and its cause, which made Viktor realize his smell might give him away. Perhaps he too would be off to work in a laundry tomorrow morning. Boys his age did such work. Maybe, all in all, that would be better.

Viktor took off his clothes and wiped them over the dog, who mistook the actions for affection. In the end, as near as the boy could tell, his clothes now smelled of dog as well as fire, sweat, and manure. He sauntered his way around the west side of the town. Was having the dog with him a risk? The dog might make him look innocent. His only real fear was Mick and the tag-along. Mick would stay true, wouldn’t he? The tag-along might give him away. But they would be in trouble, too. No, he felt safe. But being on the other end of town was a smart idea.

He came back into town and walked towards the grade school, a place he did not like. He missed school more days than he attended. It was a time when truancy was not pursued. It was assumed that home, the rigors of life, and work at an early age would teach children what they most needed. Viktor planned to walk by the school on his way over to the lake. He stopped when he saw a boy sitting on the stone wall in front of the school. Viktor stopped to appraise the boy. He was new in town. The cap, coat, knickers, and shoes proclaimed him a new immigrant. Here could be sport. Maybe not. To seem innocent of the worst deed, Viktor had to be innocent of lesser deeds.

When New Boy saw Viktor and Hoont approaching, he gave them a wary once over. Viktor put on his practiced polite smile, which put the boy at some ease. Foreign or not, Viktor could read him like a book, or in Viktor’s case, better than he read a book. Hoont ran to New Boy and put his front paws up on his knees, which relaxed New Boy some more.

Viktor sat on the wall three feet from New Boy and said, “Hi.”

New Boy nodded and kept petting the top of Hoont’s head.

I guess ya don’t speak no English.”

New Boy nodded and scratched Hoont behind the ears.

Viktor kept smiling. “Dumb as a fencepost, ain’t ya?”

New Boy nodded and scratched Hoont under the chin. He had not been allowed a dog back in Norway. He longed to have his own, like this boy had, even though both he and the dog stank. His parents had promised him a dog after they got settled.

Viktor said, “Up here, Hoont.” He patted the ground between the boys. Hoont complied.

New Boy perked up and asked in Norwegian what was the name of the hund?

Viktor settled into his life-induced smirk. “Yah, Hoont.” A dumb foreigner.

Viktor leaned back into the hill with his arms behind him holding him up.

Along the street came the town photographer with camera and tripod over his shoulder returning from photographing the fire. Here he found the sort of scene he liked the best: town residents doing the ordinary things of their lives. He knew the town and world were going to change, improve in fact, and quickly. He wanted people of the future to see what life had been like when Northeastern Minnesota was settled. He asked if he could photograph the boys.

Viktor answered, “Yah.”

New Boy imitated Viktor. “Ja.”

As he set up his camera, the photographer asked, “Didn’t you lads go see the excitement of the fire?”

Viktor smirked his reply. “Nah, I’ve just been loafing around by the lake all afternoon.”

New Boy said, “Nei.”

Hoont sensed something important was happening, which pleased him. Top-dog should be where important events took place.

Ready now, lads. Stay still. Do not move. I will take the photograph on the count of three.”

At “two,” from the right was heard an angry shout from Viktor’s father. New Boy turned to look. The photographer tripped the shutter.

1956, November

Peering over Willy’s shoulder, Elenore said, “That ragamuffin boy on the left looks awful dirty. Look at his feet. They are caked in mud.”

Well, you know, boys will be boys.”

But the other boy is all dressed up. Look at those new clothes, like he’s going to church.”

Yah, you’re right. But they’re pals. A man can tell those things. We were all boys like that once. And that dog. He kinda matches up with the dirty boy. He owns that dog for sure.”

Elenore took the picture and studied it. “I wonder who they are and what become of them. I suppose they’d be maybe sixty-five or so. They could still be alive, maybe walking around town.”

I just got one of my good ideas, Ellie. Let’s put some of these photos up in the store windows. We’ll ask customers to identify the people or places in the photos. We’ll keep changing in different ones. I bet I can get the paper to write it up. It’ll draw in some older people, who, you know, are slow about buying TV’s.”

She agreed it was one of his good ideas, not reminding him he had many bad ones as well. “Yes, that would be smart. But you have to wonder how things worked out for those boys, ‘specially that dirty boy.”

©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017

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