One Christmas Story ~ Part Two
It was later that evening, just after closing that Thomas Kowalchuk knocked on the door leading to the basement apartment that housed his beloved, unoffiicial son. He had to knock twice before 'the woman', Margaret, greeted him.
"What?" she asked, not immediately recognizing the bent old man at her door. Before he could respond, she continued, "I'm not taking new clients 'til the new year," she cackled into his face. He ignored the smell of whiskey oozing from her pores and refused to look either at her bared chest or the pipe in her hand.
"I'm Kowalchuk," he stated bluntly.
Only a fraction of clarity registered in her eyes before she backed ceremoniously into the smoky apartment, fanning out her arms as though welcoming royalty. "Oh, do please come in!" She beckoned him with exagerated reverence. He didn't move at first. Not until he spied the boy sitting further back into the room on the sofa between a man and a woman did he falter on the step.
"Thanks, I will," he growled, restraining his fists at his sides with great difficulty. Now, lips pursed and and face red, he entered. Margaret slipped behind him and slammed the door closed.
"Everyone, listen up! This is..." she studied him through glassy eyes, trying to remember his name. "...Kowalchuk!" She bellowed.
Upon seeing his friend, the boy sat up straight and brusquely brushed the woman's lingering hand from his chest. To see the child amesh with the whole atmosphere made Thomas sick to his stomach. He had lived a full life. He could put two and two together. He marched up to the threesome, extracted Aiden bodily and with the boy in his arms turned towards Margaret, who was now standing unsteadily and only inches from him.
"Put him down!" She screamed, throwing her glass of wine against the wall. Shards of it flew everywhere. Placing the child down onto his feet on the floor beside him, Thomas took Aiden's hand in both of his. He looked down into the child's eyes and asked him, amidst the silence of the room.
"Aiden, do you want to live here?" To which the eight year old replied, in a whisper, up into Thomas' face, "Not if I don't have to."
At that, Thomas walked him to the door, hand in hand and sent him to the shop saying, "Rosa's waiting. Go right home. Tell her I'll be along shortly."
Aiden searched the man's face only briefly for further explanation before running out, not pausing to look back. Thomas shut the door quietly and turned to face the three sets of eyes gazing back to him with something akin to amusement. He started with the easy ones; the pair on the couch. As he walked past Margaret she began to speak, pulling on his arm, "Where's my boy?" She screeched. "He's mine! You can't--" Her words were cut short by the slap in the mouth Thomas gave her.
"Sit!" he commanded. And she obeyed, collapsing onto the floor like a scolded infant.
The pair on the couch began to shift nervously. They seemed to sober almost instantly upon the man turning in their direction, and leaned against one another, as though awaiting his wrath. But he was a merciful human being and although his strength seemed to double as he placed a hand on each of them, he spoke to both in a low voice, but vehemently.
"You are leaving now," he said into both faces at once. His clasp on them was iron like and defied his sixty years. "This is not your home. Never. Come. Back!" he shouted and released his hold. The two of them skittered away like the cockroaches he saw running along the baseboards. Neither of them had a parting word for their host who was still on the floor and folded into herself, picking up shards of glass and throwing them behind her into the kitchen.
When the nameless partygoers had exited, Thomas turned on her. She saw him walking toward her and scrambled to her feet. "You can't have him!" She yelled as he shoved her against the wall with one arm and cupped her face in his other hand.
"I can," he said calmly, "And I will."
She started to whimper and he stopped the noise with still more pressure against her throat. "You. Listen," he said. "The boy is mine. You keep the money from the agency. You say he's living here with you. But he lives with me now. You see him on the street, and you will, you stay away from him, hear? You don't talk to him, you don't look at him. He's dead to you. For all you know, but for what you tell the agency, he's dead to you. You'll get your money, you'll get my food. And you'll keep your mouth shut, right? If you don't, it'll be the end of you. Understand?"
Margaret scowled at him, still struggling to release herself, but after a moment during which she looked deep into his eyes, she acquiesced. "Understood," she mimicked sarcastically, and he let her go. He was almost to the door when he turned back and spit on the kitchen floor.
"Clean this shit up," he said in disgust, "It's no place for a boy."
Rosa was awake and waiting at the shop door when he arrived. The boy was sleeping in their bed. "Thank God you're home," she said and crossed herself, embracing him tightly. "What happened?" She asked. "Get in there and sit down," she pointed to their private area. "What happened?"
"Let me get in, woman," he replied impatiently as he walked through the store and into their home. He sluggishly pulled off his boots and coat and plopped himself down on the sofa and all of his sixty yeasrs showed on his face as he rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands.
"Have you got the kettle on?" He asked.
"Of course I've got the kettle on," she replied in a boil herself. She huffed and busied herself making the coffee she knew he was thirsty for. Coffee never kept him up. On the contrary, it helped him get a full night's sleep. And he'd need it tonight, she thought, if the look of him was anything to go by. Only after Thomas had a cup of hot coffee in his hand and a plate of biscuits in front of him did she sit and speak again.
"For the love of Mary, man! Tell me what happened!" She implored her husband, snatching a quick glance at the bedroom door for fear she'd wake the boy.
"There's nothing to tell, Rosa. Honestly. I told her we wanted to give the boy a good home and she finally agreed...after some convincing," he smirked at her.
"Oh, Jesus," she said. "What did you do?"
"Nothing!" He retorted. "Told her what you'd tell her yourself if you had the chance. Said the boy was ours, end of story. That's all," he said as though this woman didn't know who he was and what he was capable of had he the mind for it.
~ To be continued...
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