Hope Lane curves through the overcrowded alleys near the workhouse. Footsteps ring out on the cobbles as a stream of notes curls down the narrow street. The blacksmith's apprentice presses his face against a grimy window. He forgets the dull ache in his arm, and runs outside. The old and infirm shuffle to the doorsteps of their tiny homes. Gaunt women carry skinny babies. The accordion's picture of the impending season muffles their sadness.
The old man limps down the street, swathed in a cheerful red coat and hat. His deft fingers manipulate the keys, oblivious to the frosty air. The scent of cinnamon and roast chestnuts wafts in his wake; the apprentice dreams of candy canes and sugar plums. He pauses outside the forge. The new song begins and he plays with gusto, conjuring the spirit of King Wenceslas. The babies gurgle and the apprentice sways to the music. Fingers fumble in moth-eaten pockets for their last few coins. They flash in the air, and a black monkey in a scarlet waistcoat collects them with nimble paws.
Money buys happiness when the music man comes by.
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The image for this piece is Ludwig Knaus' painting, The Hurdy Gurdy Man (1869). You can buy a print here.
I submitted the original version of this story to the 50 Stories for Pakistan project, but it wasn't selected. Carrie Clevenger acted as a valued beta reader as I knocked the story into the shape you see now.