A YOUNG MIND
I have often wondered what became of that young boy. The afternoon outside was frigid, spitting white flakes from a gray sky. Inside, our fire and lanterns made for more pleasant surroundings. Father was so happy when we were here, it made me wish the establishment could be open for business every day and not just Saturday. Mother thought the entire idea foolish but Father was a persistent dreamer. Truth be told, we never did a large business at Henry's Emporium of Shooting. Our village was small, but a few souls enjoyed the targets and competing games Father devised.
Christmas was but days away and Father was giving away little candy canes to any children who came in with their father. The tasty candies were still white, but this year they also had the new and very popular red stripes. Word of free candies had spread and it was our busiest day ever, full of laughter and gunshots!
The little boy--he could not have been much more than ten years, whereas I was a seasoned fifteen--came in alone. I, of course, gave him a candy cane nonetheless, which he seized in his pale hand as if it were gold. Then he looked up at me with big blue eyes beneath a mop of dark hair. "Can I shoot?"
I smiled. "Where is your father?"
He stuck his hands in his trouser pockets, looked down at the floor, and shrugged. A particularly loud shot boomed and cheering and clapping erupted from the onlookers.
"You need someone with you to shoot," I said between shots. "Someone grown up, and with a gun."
When he looked back up at me, I thought my heart would break from the sadness in those bright blue eyes.
"Wait here," I said.
"But, Father," I said directly into his ear. "He can shoot your gun. I will supervise him."
He bent and put his mouth close to my ear. "Anna, on another day, I would say yes. But today is too busy." He gestured at the veritable crowd of men and children. "Now come, it is time for the candle shoot!"
"Yes, Father," I said. He looked so happy, which filled my heart as well.
I looked over at the little boy. He stood where I had left him, eyes on me, mouth parted and head cocked a little. I hurried to him and bent over so I could look him eye to eye. "When we finish with the others, I will help you shoot. Can you wait?"
He nodded with great vigor, dark mop bouncing.
The remaining hours of shooting time passed with much holiday festivity in the air. Men shot. Boys and girls shot. One woman even came in and shot in the Strike A Match game. She didn't light the match--Father is the only one I have ever witnessed do that--but she sure shot that matchstick into pieces! And let me tell you: That turned many a head.
Through the merriment, the boy stood against the wall near the door. He clutched his candy cane and waited.
Late in the day, when the crowd was sparse and the gunshots fewer, I approached Father. He was poking logs in the fire, causing it to flare and pop as a green log caught on proper. "Can we let the little boy shoot now, Father?" He glanced at the boy. "Please?" I said in my best pleading girl voice.
He whooshed out a large sigh. "All right, Anna. When the paying customers are done."
I smiled and stood way up on my toes so I could kiss him on the cheek. Then I looked over at the boy and gave him a big smile and a nod. For the first time, he smiled too, and it was a large grin full of teeth.
The last customer left and I walked over to where Father's rifle hung on the wall. As I reached for it, the bell on the door jangled. I looked and saw Mister Carl Lowenstein come in. Not just Mister Carl, either. He had the whole brood of Lowenstein boys with him. I effort to be a friendly girl, and that was easy enough with Mister Carl and four of his boys.
The fifth one, I must be honest about and say it is a challenge. His name is Maximillian and everyone calls him Maxy. This little brute of seven or eight years may be the youngest, but he has the meanness and wiles of any grown man I have met across my years. He is not an attractive child; his nose is too big for his face. Perhaps his disposition is related to his appearance.
"Hello, Lowenstein!" Father said, smiling. Then he glanced at the boy and turned his head toward me. He did not have to say it, because the look on his face did: "I am sorry."
By the time the Lowensteins finished, it would be too late for more shooting. Villagers would be going to bed. I began what felt like a long walk over to the boy.
Just as I was delivering the bad news to the lad, that evil little Maxy Lowenstein looked right at the poor boy and stuck his tongue out in what could only be a mean taunt. Something new flashed across the boy's face as he stared at Maxy, and to this day I cannot be sure what that look was, but it was not pleasant. The boy stood and reached for the door.
"Wait," I said. "Come back next week, and I promise you I will help you shoot."
He only looked at me with those eyes.
I said, "Oh, I am Anna. What is your name?"
"Adolf," he said. Then he was gone, through the door and into the snow.
Translated from German to English, date and translator unknown. From the estate papers of Heinrich Adler, citizen of Austria, 1865-2038.