Mary Kate’s Christmas © part 9
By: Wayne Engle
A thousand dollars. The bill was new and crisp, the portrait of President Grover Cleveland staring at her, looking for all the world like her Uncle Seamus back in County Cork.
“A good evenin’ to ya, Mary Kate!” the picture seemed to say. “You didn’t expect to see the likes of ME in Dinty Callahan’s, now did you?”
The room spun, and Mary Kate was afraid for a second she would faint. She grabbed the edge of the table and held on hard. After a moment everything righted itself.
Then a vision flashed before her of her aged parents back in Ireland. Their faces were grim and disapproving, and they shook their heads at her grimly. Reality came flooding back to Mary Kate.
“No, please, it’s lovely of you folks, but this is charity. I can’t –” she said loudly, turning back to the window. But the old couple were gone — vanished like morning dew. Mary Kate blinked, and looked again. All she could see out the window was the snow falling softly, softly, on the pavement outside, reflected in the street lamp.
“They’ve started up the street,” said Mary Kate hopefully as she rushed to the door. Black Mike followed, scarcely believing what his eyes had just shown him. Mary Kate jerked the door open, ran outside, looked up and down. No one. The street was deserted, desolate as a graveyard. All the late shoppers had gone home; the last street car had passed an hour ago.
“They’ve stepped into a storefront,” she said, and she ran up and down the street, glancing in front of and into every shop. But the old folks were nowhere to be seen.
“This is spooky, it is,” she said. “I didn’t see any car, or hear one drive away. Which way did they go, Michael? You were watchin’.”
Black Mike looked at her with wonder showing clearly on his face. “Well, Mary Kate, they didn’t exactly GO either way. It was like, one second they was there, and the next second, they wasn’t.”
Mary Kate stared at Black Mike, disbelieving, shaking her head from side to side. “You — you mean they just –”
“They did. Right into thin air,” he said. There was wonder in his voice as well as on his face. Then Black Mike offered his own assessment of the whole mystical event: “They was after testin’ you, like.”
“Appears that I passed,” Mary Kate said, in a daze, gazing down at the bill in her hand. Finally she raised her head and shouted to whom it may concern: “Whoever you were, thank you! Merry Christmas and God bless you!”
Echoes of her voice bounced around the brick storefronts. Then another sound came back to their ears, faintly but clearly: Sleigh bells.
“Oh — oh, no! It COULDN’T be!” breathed Mary Kate, thunderstruck.
Black Mike, who she’d never known to have a shred of fantasy about him, shrugged his shoulders slowly, then said, “Why not?” He paused, seemed to be thinking beyond the narrow streets of South Boston and his world, as if he were seeing a broader, nobler plane for the first time. Then finally he came out of his reverie, saying: “At any rate, let’s get you back inside, Mary Kate, before you catch your death out here.”
She glanced sharply at Black Mike. And when did he start caring about anyone’s welfare but his own? Black Mike cleared his throat then and tried to sound gruff when he added, “That is, you haven’t finished cleaning the dining room yet, Mrs. Skeffington. So get in there and do it!”
“Yes, sir,” Mary Kate said, laughing. As she walked back through the door, a gleam of realization began to dawn in her eye.
Neither Mary Kate nor Black Mike said anything to the others in the restaurant about the startling events of the evening. The rest of the staff had all been in the kitchen, and had been afraid to venture into the dining room when they heard Mary Kate in such a towering rage. So it all remained a secret of just the two of them. There are things one just doesn’t mention at 11:30 p.m., in the heart of a big city, on a winter night with several blocks to walk home.
“Just a couple of grouchy old deadbeats, but we got their money,” said Black Mike to the others by way of explanation. He winked at Mary Kate behind their backs, and she had to suppress a giggle.
It was near midnight when the place was clean and Mary Kate put on her coat and scarf. “Have you got it, lass?” Black Mike whispered. “I’ve got it,” she answered, patting her purse.
Aloud, he said for the benefit of the other employees, “Well, as it’s on me way and no trouble, I’ll walk with you as far as your place.”
When they were safely away from the restaurant, Mary Kate began to chatter happily about all the things she could do with the money: Buy a nice Christmas for Little Paddy, put a generous offering in the plate and the poor box at St. Bridget’s, get gifts for all at the restaurant and for old Mrs. McGillicuddy, her kindly neighbor across the hall who took care of Little Paddy while she was at work …
Black Mike walked along silently beside her, content to listen to her warm Irish tones. He spoke only once, saying, “Faith, lass, aren’t you buyin’ anything for yourself?”
“Oh, something, perhaps,” she said offhandedly as if it hadn’t occurred to her before he mentioned it.
In due course they reached the front stoop of the shabby apartment house where Mary Kate and Little Paddy lived.
“I thank you, Michael, for walking me home safe,” said Mary Kate, smiling up at Black Mike. He frowned slightly and cleared his throat. There was something he had wanted to say to her for a long time, but couldn’t bring himself to, until now.
“Uh, Mary Kate, me mother was saying the other night, ‘You know, Michael, that nice Mary Kate and her little boy have no family here since the husband left, and –”
“How would your mother know anything about me? She’s never even met me,” Mary Kate interrupted. Black Mike blushed and dropped his gaze for a few seconds. “Drat!” he thought. “Her mind’s as quick as Puss ‘N’s paws, and a mouse running by!” But then he plunged on, awkward but determined.
“Be that as it may, I thought — that is, she was sayin’, that with us having that big turkey all ready for her to cook for Christmas dinner, and just the two of us there, she thought that maybe you and the lad would, er, ah, that is –“