“The Keeper, the Soldier, and a Tinker-Toy”

The acoustics were perfect. Soft piano blues emanated through the speakers, prepping customers to hear similar tunes on his live piano. Blue stage lights around his pub echoed the easygoing atmosphere that existed before he opened shop for the night. The stools at the bar were all shined, and tables and chairs were placed orderly in their position, only to get thrown about again soon. The staff was ready behind the scenes with all the appetizers and drinks, ready to serve tonight’s crowd: the carnival crowd.

Once a year for the last fifty years, his village threw a carnival just outside of the town square. Children and adults flocked from all over to relive memories and make new ones as they enjoyed food, festivities, and fun. Once, when his child was younger, the old man used to take his son to the carnival, and it would be a day for just the two of them. As his son grew older, his father gave him the freedom to go out with his friends, but he was always kind enough to bring his father along with him. He recalled the first prize his son had ever won from the carnival: a metal tinker-toy soldier. He and his son stayed at the ring toss booth for hours, practically spending all their money, until, finally, the fruits of their labor were realized. His son kept that tinker toy with him until he went off to fight in the war; now, the toy is the last living piece of the old man’s child, gone but never forgotten. 

The keeper of the pub was an expert of his craft (both business and beverages). He knew how to attract people to his place, wow them with a solo on his piano, and calm the nerves of even the grumpiest drunkard. Tonight, however, it would be no drunkard whose nerves he would have to calm. As he stood outside his pub, nicknamed the Bootlegger for its rustic, vintage appearance, he started analyzing tonight’s crowd, scanning for any potential people looking to extend their night of fun with a couple of drinks and some live music. He saw familiar faces; they all waved and smiled with appreciation at the old man, but none of them decided to stop for a drink. It appeared that most of them had children with them, and he knew full well that they take full priority in any situation. The old man was starting to get worried: 9 p.m. was a prime time to go for a drink at the bar and catch up with some old friends after an evening of fun. That was when the alarm went off. 

The keeper heard a scream that pierced the air from the parking lot, and, knowing this was not a scream of joy or laughter, he fled his post. The sight he came upon was nothing short of odd: a group of young adults, probably in their early- to mid-twenties, gathered round a young man huddled up on the floor wincing in pain and clutching his ankle. 

“Can you please help us?” one of them pleaded, “We think he broke something. He’s never been in this much pain before.” 

The old man knew that this was not in his agenda for tonight, but he knew that it was also not part of their agenda either. 

“Follow me,” he gestured, lending a hand to the injured young man as he slowly walked them back towards his pub. 

He swung open the doors and sat the young man down at the closest available table. Nobody else was there, luckily, so it provided a moment of relief for the young group of people. They all sat around the table, without saying much to one another, as the old man started his work.

 “Give me one moment; I know just the trick for this,” he said.

He walked behind the bar, through the kitchen, and into the storage room. Here was anything a bar keeper would ever need to keep things as orderly as possible: first aid kits, defibrillators, and lots of bandages, if things got ugly. Luckily, the last time the man had to run in here was about six months ago. He grabbed a roll of bandages with some gauze, along with crutches and some pain medication in case the young man needed it. 

When he returned, he found the group talking softly to one another, the injured young man still groaning in pain. 

“Let me take a look and see what we have here,” the old man said. He gestured to an empty seat beside him, and he propped the young man’s leg onto it. “Seems to be swollen,” he said as he placed his hand down ever so gently around his ankle, feeling around for anything unusual. When he reached a spot just above the ankle bone, the young man let out a scream. 

“OW! God, that really hurts,” he said through a clenched jaw and scrunched-up face. “What do you think happened to me!?” 

“Nothing more than a sprain, my good man,” he reassured him. “Sometimes when one is having too much fun, they can lose hold of themselves. It happens to me from time to time, but it’s nothing that some bandages and a few day’s rest can fix.” 

“Well, we’re glad nothing’s broken, sir,” one of the others at the table said. “He’s supposed to leave in three days to go for training.” 

The keeper was suddenly intrigued. “Training? For what, if I may ask?” 

“The army,” the young man said. “I want to be a soldier, sir. I want to help our country get out of this war, sir. It’s miserable, seeing innocent people die out there, and if I can do anything to help us win, then that’s the answer.” 

The old man was too stunned to speak. Slowly, he gathered himself, suppressing any sad thoughts, before saying, “Well, that’s wonderful. We should drink to that! A round on me – what do you say?” 

The group exchanged glances, then happily agreed. The man poured them each a glass, and they toasted to their friend’s speedy recovery and luck in his training. As the night wore on, a few passing customers dropped by, but the man paid no attention to them. He was fully invested in this group, this boy, who sought to be a brave man for his country one day. That was when it hit him. As the group was getting up to leave, the young man now all bandaged up and hobbling along on crutches, he stopped them for a moment.

“I almost forgot! One moment, if you please.” 

He dashed back behind the counter, past the kitchen, and again into the storeroom. He rummaged through old boxes of used bandages and such and found what he was looking for. Quickly, he returned to the group and placed the tinker-toy into the young man’s hand. He clasped his hand over it, shaking.

“This was my son’s before he went off to war. It was his favorite thing in the world, and he never wanted to part with it. But, he knew he had to leave it, and me, behind to go off on his own. I’ve had this stored in the back of my place for years, never having the excuse to take it out and display it or anything. Now, though, I have a reason, and it’s you, my boy.” 

The young man was taken off guard. “Wow, this is…this is incredible. Thank you, sir, this means so much to me. I will always remember your kindness. And, are you sure you want to part with this?”
The old man hesitated for a moment, but then said firmly, “Yes, it’s time someone else should make use out of it. I only hope you’ll treat it well, and you look after yourself, your loved ones, and these friends of yours while you’re away.” 

“I will, sir, you bet I will.” 

“Good,” the keeper said. “Well, you all better get some rest, and I’m very glad I could help you tonight.” 

“Yes, thank you!” they all said in unison. They turned and exited the bar, the old man coming back to the spot he was just hours before, looking out at the carnival in the moonlight. He knew the soldier would be in good hands.