Mary Kate’s Christmas © part 8
By: Wayne Engle
Mary Kate returned to the dining room, approached the old couple’s table, and said, “Can I be gettin’ anything else for you folks?”
“I’ve asked you twice already for more coffee,” answered the old man, scowling up at her through his spectacles.
He had NOT. But Mary Kate simply said, “Yes, sir; comin’ right up.”
As she turned to go, he muttered, “Shanty Irish!”
Mary Kate’s shoulders stiffened, but she gave no other sign.
When she reached the kitchen though, Old Hilda said, “After you take that coffee to them, dearie, come back here and help me with these dishes and stay out of that dining room for a bit.”
“All right, Hilda,” said Mary Kate.
The coffee poured without incident, she returned to the kitchen and fell to, washing and drying. Old Hilda chatted with her, or tried to, but Mary Kate was uncharacteristically silent.
The grumpy guests’ complaining about the food and service she had taken calmly enough. Their comments about the restaurant’s condition were probably justified, if it came to that, she reflected.
But their chasing of Puss ‘N’ out of the dining room had caused a shiver of anger to run through Mary Kate. Imagine, taking it out on a poor, dumb animal!
And the “Shanty Irish” comment she had taken as a slur upon both her parents and her nationality.
“Why’d Black Mike ever let you serve those two old buzzards, coming in at 10 to closing as they did?” asked Hilda, scrubbing away at a pan.
“Because I talked him into it,” said Mary Kate, with a rueful smile. “Dug meself a pit and fell right in it. Talented, aren’t I?”
Wiping the last glass and putting it away, she sighed, “Well, I’d best go and see what else Table Four has to complain about.”
She walked through the kitchen into the dining room — and stopped short. The place was empty. The old couple was gone.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Mary Kate exclaimed in true alarm. “They’ve gone off and not paid the bill, and it’ll come out of me wages!” She rushed over to the old couple’s table in a panic.
No, they hadn’t left without paying. For the money was there, all right. The breath went out of Mary Kate with a “Whoosh!” of relief. The coins were piled atop the dinner check, which lay face-up on the table. She flicked the money from side to side with a fingertip, counting it. The exact change — to the penny. Which meant: No tip for Mary Kate.
All that abuse, a difficult meal and a lot of extra work for her, and this was the thanks she got. And with business being as slow as it had, that meant: No proper Christmas for Little Paddy. No presents for the others at the restaurant (she had been determined to get something for them.) No decent Christmas offering for the plate or the poor box at St. Bridget’s.
And here’s to YOU, Mrs. Skeffington!
Suddenly it seemed to her as if the world had turned red. Mary Kate could feel her heart pounding in her eardrums. And then the rage that had been building up in her boiled over.
Snarling a curse in Gaelic, she drew back her right leg and fetched a kick that would have made a Cork footballer proud. “Crash! Bang!” went the old lady’s chair, describing a perfect circle in the air before landing upside down on the floor.
Puss ‘N’ streaked for the kitchen in terror, passing Black Mike on the way as that worthy man hotfooted it for the dining room to see what on earth had happened.
Mary Kate grabbed the old man’s empty coffee cup, drew a bead on the front door, and threw a perfect strike that shattered the cup into a dozen pieces when it struck the wood. Facing the door with her feet apart and her fists clenched, she shouted, “Divil take the both of ya, you hard-hearted, tight-fisted old — ”
She stopped abruptly in mid-sentence as her eye chanced to catch something outside the window. It was the old couple, standing out there, staring at her. But how different they looked! For now, instead of scowling, they were beaming at her as if she were their favorite grandchild. They looked the very picture of Christmas cheer.
This enraged Mary Kate even more. “So it’s mockin’ me ye are now, are ye?” she yelled.
But Black Mike, who was watching fascinated, sensed that he was witnessing something special indeed. He said, in a careful tone, “The old man’s tryin’ to tell you something, Mary Kate.”
She paused, panting now, and looked more closely at the two standing outside the window. The old man, still smiling broadly, was pointing toward the table where they had sat. Mary Kate looked at the table, perplexed, then back at the window. “WHAT?!” she cried, still in a temper.
“Lift my plate,” the old man mouthed through the glass. Mary Kate looked back at the table again, took hold of the plate with her fingertips to keep the remains of his dinner off her hand, and lifted it.
Underneath was a long, thin white envelope. On it, in a beautiful hand, was written, “Mary Kate Skeffington.”
“How in the world did they know my name?” Mary Kate thought, her anger rapidly ebbing into bewilderment. “They never met me before in their lives.”
She opened the envelope. Inside was an equally long, thin Christmas card. On the front, in the same hand, were these words:
“My child, you have the true spirit of Christmas, for you return good treatment for ill, and defend the weak as the Prince of Peace taught. May this small token make Christmas a little happier for you and your son.”
Her hands shaking now, and her breath caught in her throat, Mary Kate opened the card.