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Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Christmas Day dawned crisp and bright. Sunlight slanted through the blinds of the apartment etching shadows across a large room cluttered with discarded clothes, comfortable furniture, a desk with typewriter and a large bed. Paintings and tapestries adorned the walls and an ornate telephone propped up a stack of books.

Kerry stirred. Jack moved closer to her, hugging her. Somewhere an alarm blared. They woke with a start, both scrabbling around for the clock half asleep and giggling.

Jack pulled Kerry close to him. “Happy Christmas,” he murmured.

“Happy Christmas, darling.” She stretched like a cat.

“God it feels good to just lie here without having to go anywhere or do anything.”

“You haven’t forgotten have you? We’ve got to be at the Refuge in a couple of hours. Then we’re having a late Christmas lunch with Bill and Zoe.”

“Excuse me,” said Kerry putting her hand to her mouth. She leaped out of bed and made for the bathroom. Jack had got used to the morning sickness but this morning it put him off the thought of roast turkey and redcurrant jelly.

Marcia threw another plate at Ernie Mason. He ducked and it smashed against the wall. She was having hysterics. She swore at Mason as he dodged the missiles.

“You A-rated asshole,” she screamed at him. “Who’ve you been with? When I find out who you’ve been sticking your shiny black pole inside I’ll tear her tits off.”

“Marcia, honey!” implored Mason, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Mason could see his meal ticket melting like the snow on the sidewalk outside.

“You haven’t changed in three years Ernie. You were born bad and nothin’s changed.” Marcia stopped and put the down the vase she was about to hurl at him. “I don’t need you anymore. It’s just come to me clear as day. There are plenty of studs who can give me what you give me and who won’t fuck me around.”

“Hey, baby, there’s no one like old Ernie, come on, admit it.” He moved up close to her. She watched him with cold disdain.

“Get out! Get out now and don’t come back.”

“But Marcia, honey, it’s Christmas Day.”

He watched her closely. Was she serious? She was serious he decided. Well, he wasn’t a guy to hang around where he wasn’t wanted.

Ernie drew back his fist and belted Marcia clean on the jaw. You could hear her jaw break out in the hall. The force of the blow knocked Marcia unconscious instantly and catapulted her across the room. She crashed against the wall and slumped to the floor, blood dribbling from her loose hanging mouth.

Mason picked up a few things and stuffed them into a holdall. He ripped open Marcia’s purse and took out a fistful of bills. He glanced around for anything else of value, took a few items of jewelry from the bedside table, crossed to where Marcia lay unconscious and moaning and pulled off her earrings and signet rings. Then with a final kick in the ribs, he picked up his holdall and left.

Ernie Mason didn’t like Christmas. Santa Claus was a racist ploy as far as he was concerned. It was snowing outside and the streets were mostly empty. He had nowhere to go so he just wandered, still keeping a sharp eye out for any unwelcome guests. He needed somewhere for the night. Anyplace would do as long as he was inconspicuous. There was a place he remembered. It was somewhere down by the river. They wouldn’t throw him out on Christmas day. He headed for the river.

The sound of teeth munching turkey meat and beer being sucked from cans filled the Refuge. It was simmering with body heat and steam from the kitchen. Bessie the cook stood back and watched her flock slurping gravy, ripping hunks of bread, belching, farting, with the look of satisfaction. She beamed at everyone.

Marcel had squeezed his huge frame into a makeshift Santa Claus outfit and was ho, ho, hoing his way around the tables dishing out presents.

Jack felt proud. These people had nothing. At least today someone cared. Kerry was happy for Jack. She watched him as he talked to the men and the occasional woman. She watched their eyes. Even the most hard-bitten amongst them loved him she thought. How could he ever leave this place? He may have been here only a year but he really was Saint Jack to these people.

Abraham sat in a corner smiling to himself. Clyde heard a knock on the door. When he opened it and saw the snow covered figure outside he didn’t hesitate.

“Come on in, brother,” he smiled at Ernie Mason, “merry Christmas.”

Mason entered cautiously, looking around, sniffing appreciatively.

“Find a seat, brother,” said Clyde.

Betty, one of Jack’s volunteer helpers came over and helped Mason off with his soggy garments. He seemed especially attached to his holdall, which he kept with him. This was nothing unusual. Many of transient folks who came and went at the Refuge had attachments to the strangest belongings.

Mason’s eyes flicked over the scene, taking it in. He fixed a Christmassy grin onto his unshaven jowls and allowed himself to be taken to a space on one of the benches.

Jack noticed the newcomer and smiled. Betty was talking to Kerry.

“So, how are you feeling? The little one will soon be here. That’s going to make a big difference to your life.”

“It sure is,” replied Kerry, “I suppose I don’t know how different yet. It’s like a big new adventure.”

“He’ll have to spend more time with you when the baby’s born,” said Betty nodding at Jack.

“I’ve been used to sharing him with half the world. What am I saying, I’ve never got used to it but he’s doing such good work here.”

“He’s going to have to make a choice. He could get plenty of people to come and help around here.”

Kerry watched Jack moving around. Then a voice began to sing. “On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me...”

Within seconds the whole motley crew was singing in broken voices, fitful coughs and a variety of keys. But it sounded like a choir of angels.

Only one of them wasn’t singing. The newcomer was eating voraciously, too intent on filling his stomach.

Kerry took Abraham a glass of champagne, which Jack had brought for the staff. He sipped it appreciatively.

“Oh, it’s been a long time since I tasted champagne,” he laughed.

“It’s just a little thank you for all your help,” smiled Kerry.

“You’re looking good,” remarked the old man.

“I feel fantastic, Abraham. I’ve never felt so wonderful and I feel like I have the whole world at my feet.”

Abraham watched Kerry then he glanced at Jack who was coming over.

“Hey, where’s mine,” Jack said.

Someone passed Jack a glass. Father MacReady, a long time supporter and trustee of the Refuge, raised his glass to the half a dozen or so volunteers who were grouped together near the kitchen. “I’d like to propose a toast. First to Jack Madigan, whose faith and hard work has kept this place open to do its good work amongst the poor of the neighborhood and to his lovely wife Kerry, soon to be blessed with child and to everyone who has helped keep this place running when it looked as though it would be swept away by corruption and red tape. Merry Christmas everyone and God Bless you all.”

They all cheered. They sipped champagne and at that moment the sun sent shafts of frosty light through rows of dusty windowpanes around the top of the walls. For a moment it was though the whole scene was frozen in a timeless tableau like a renaissance painting. Colors seemed to glow, faces were caught in mid expression. Jack was holding his glass on high. Abraham looked more like an Old Testament prophet than ever.

Marcel, on behalf of all the volunteer workers, came over to Jack and pulled his undersized beard down to reveal a massive shiny grin.

“You didn’t think old Santa would forget the main man now did you?”

“What d’you mean?”

Marcel withdrew a small present from his sack. He handed it to Jack.

“This is from everybody,” he mumbled, “go on open it.”

Jack looked around at the smiling faces, took a deep breath and opened the small packet. It was a book. Jack laughed when he saw the title. ‘Fatherhood made Easy’.

“Thank you, thank you everyone and merry Christmas.”

“Hey, it ain’t over yet,” growled Marcel. “Now we come to the really important person here.” He turned to Kerry and took a little present from his bag for her. She opened it carefully and held up a tiny pair of hand made baby socks. Kerry choked back a sob. “They’re lovely, I didn’t know you could crochet, Marcel?”

If the big man could have blushed he would have done so. But then Betty came over to Kerry and kissed her on the cheek. She took a present from behind her back and gave it to Kerry without a word. Now embarrassed, Kerry opened it and almost cried again at the tiny baby bed jacket. “It’s lovely,” she whispered, clutching Jack’s hand. He kissed her. When she turned back, Abraham was standing in front of her holding something wrapped in some old newspaper.

“And now it’s my turn, my dear. A little token of my affection for you both.” He unwrapped the object. For a moment it appeared as though something was glowing in his hands, the sun’s winter rays causing a momentary blinding reflection. He handed a small golden goblet to Kerry. On its side were inscriptions.

“Abraham, it’s beautiful,” gasped Kerry.

“Abe, we can’t accept this,” Jack protested.

“It’s a loving cup, a symbol of undying love, a love that transcends all time and space.” He signaled for champagne. Clyde brought the bottle over and poured the bubbling liquid into the goblet.

“Drink,” encouraged Abraham, “then pass it to Jack. It will seal your love forever.”

Kerry sipped the champagne, her eyes glowing. Then she passed the goblet to Jack, who took it almost reverently into both his hands and sipped.

“It’s like a wedding vow,” moaned Betty, bursting into tears.

The habituées of the Refuge that Christmas morning were like witnesses at a wedding feast. Only one of them grimaced as though what he was observing made him want to puke. Ernie Mason was looking around, appreciating the real estate value of the Refuge and thinking about a bed for night and then what?

Maybe he should just get out, make a fresh start in a new city?

That could be it. Maybe he’d stay here the night then make a few calls tomorrow, maybe call in a few markers, then who knows?

Across the room someone was watching him closely. Abraham was serious faced in the crowd around Jack and Kerry. As though he knew someone was scrutinizing him, Mason jerked his head around but Abraham had blended with the group.

Father MacReady was feeling the effects of the champagne already. He had buttonholed Jack. “So, what are your plans, Jack?” he asked. “Stay on here will you?”

“I’m pretty mixed up at the moment, Father,” Jack told him, “I love this place. I know it’s not much but it’s like a second home. I can’t imagine leaving it. But, bringing up a child in New York City in a two roomed apartment..” he trailed off. The question hung in the air. The priest looked at him sympathetically.

“Plenty of people have done it, Jack. But, I know what you mean. I think Kerry maybe wants to move to the green fields of Connecticut or somewhere like that.”

“She doesn’t say anything.”

“She doesn’t have to. She has had to share you with this place for what is it, eighteen months or more. You’ve been working like a human dynamo to keep this place going, raising money no one even thought was there. Maybe she doesn’t want to share you anymore?”

“Maybe you’re right.” Jack looked off to where Kerry was in deep conversation with Abraham. The whole place was a sea of goodwill. The faces of the poor and unloved, the addicts and the bums were temporarily transfused with a kind of joy.

Jack slipped his arm around Kerry’s waist. She looked up at him.

“I think they can cope without me for today,” he whispered, “let’s go home.”

She smiled. Jack and Kerry left the Refuge to a rousing, ragged chorus of “We wish you a Merry Christmas” sounding in their ears. Ernie Mason watched them go dispassionately, with little or no interest.

Later, they spent Christmas evening with Bill and Zoe. They all got more than a little drunk except Kerry, she was watching her alcohol intake. Zoe got sentimental and tearful and went to bed while Jack and Bill chewed the fat till the early hours. Kerry curled up on a sofa with a blanket and was soon asleep.

The Refuge was quiet this Christmas night. It had stopped snowing but there were still plenty of it on rooftops. The neighborhood looked almost serene that night. Inside, two people found it hard to get any sleep. Ernie Mason couldn’t get the Holmes brothers out of his mind. He tossed and turned trying to come to a decision about his next move.

In another bed, Abraham lay still but his eyes were open, glittering in the darkness, his ears attuned to the raucous, inharmonious symphony of snores, grunts, farts, sobs and belches that was the usual accompaniment to a night in the Refuge. Abraham was in communion with another place, a place that only exists in our dreams or our prayers; another dimension.

Abraham had left his body and was travelling in another continuum on a great cosmic wave, pulsating throughout the tangible and intangible world of spirit. His destination was unknown, his purpose could only be guessed. But he could be back in his body at the Refuge in the time it takes a thought to form. Right now, he was part of a current of light and vibration, travelling along a heavenly galactic artery far away from the prison of his physical body.

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