Christmas Comes To Kevin Leary
Kevin Leary was a bum. He wasn't a homeless person, nor an individual set adrift by physical or mental difficulties, he was just a plain and ordinary bum. He didn't work and he didn't want to. He was a small time pool hustler and an errand boy for a number of local gangsters. He did whatever they needed and he didn't care who got hurt in the process.
Kevin wasn't always that way of course. Once, he had been an altar boy, at St. John The Evangelist Church, and the pride of Mrs. Margaret Mary Leary of Cazenovia St. The family lived in South Buffalo, a working class section of Buffalo, New York. Margaret Mary Leary had hopes that young Kevin would go on to the Seminary and become a grand priest with the Jesuits Fathers. She prayed for the vocation in a thousand Novenas.
But, growing up in a tough section of a big city can do things to people. Kevin ran with a rough crowd that became more brazen as they grew older. Petty theft and small time burglaries graduated into hijacking trailers, mugging tourists and running numbers for the local mob. No one planned it that way, it just that it seemed easier for him to flow with the tide. Books, education and all of that stuff were for suckers.
As the years passed, Kevin grew through his teen years and early twenties into a thief, hustler and small time hoodlum. Margaret Mary Leary seemed to shrink under the burden of Kevin's failed promise,until she became old, beaten down and weary with life. Kevin rarely saw his Mother these days. It was too painful for both of them.
Usually around the Christmas Holidays, Kevin would make some small attempt to stop by the house, but it always ended in her tears and an argument. The dark and inviting embrace, of a nearby tavern, usually summoned Kevin after one of these meetings. The alcohol was a numbing absolution that brought a welcoming oblivion from the annoyances of the day.
And now here Kevin sat, on Christmas Eve, in Riley's Saloon on Seneca Street. He was well into his fourth "shooter & a booter." This is the local name for a shot of rye whiskey and a beer chaser. There were plenty of others, at the bar, sharing Kevin's sodden euphoria. Christmas did that to some people. It flooded them with a tidal wave of emotions that made them uneasy. The only way to stem the tide, was to meet it with another one, this one of alcohol. It usually accomplished the mission, although the next day after-effects would be both considerable and prolonged.
No one, at first, noticed the bearded old man sitting by himself, on a stool at the end of the bar. He didn't say anything to anybody, he just sat there and stared into the mirror behind the bar. The mirror reflected the view of Seneca Street through the tavern window, and thus provided a continuous tableau of the street activity occurring outside.
It was only slowly that Kevin noticed the images changing in the mirror behind the bar. They seemed brighter than the view from the tavern window. The cars looked older and the children, passing by, looked younger and happier. At first, Kevin thought that it was the alcohol that made him reflect boozily, on the images of times past, as they slowly unfolded before him in the mirror. But no, some few of the other revelers were watching the mirror as warily as he.
The images changed slowly, like a calendar going backward. First one day at a time, then a week and then several months flew by in a kaleidoscope of memories that had a dizzying effect on the watchers.
Kevin saw pictures of a family around the Christmas tree, in a small flat, that looked disturbingly familiar. The husband and wife were in their early twenties. Three very small children were happily immersed in unwrapping their new toys. The children didn't see that the man and woman had nothing for themselves. The parents had, as usual, given all to their children. That was their Christmas present. They were happy though. The warmth of their smiles, and their obvious affection for each other and the children, was warmer than the glow that any fire could possibly bring.
The next scene was that of the man and woman sitting up late at night caring for a sick and very cranky child. The look of worry on their faces was heart wrenching. They were afraid for the boy. Next, came an array of scenes that showed the father hard at work at many jobs. He worked long and hard to provide for his family. The woman too labored at many tasks to care for the children as they grew. Both were selfless in their care of the children. They had very little for themselves, except each other.
As the flood of images continued, Kevin became more and more uneasy. The faces of the husband and wife were becoming more recognizable. The faces of the children looked familiar as well.
As hard hearted as Kevin had become, he still softened as he watched the continuing sacrifices of a family that loved and cared for each other. Slowly, ever so slowly, the images sharpened into focus. Kevin saw, with a shock, that it was his own Father, Mother and siblings that were being reflected in the bar room mirror. What witchery was this? Then, the images faded and the dingy present returned.
Just down the line of barstools,the little old man got down from his perch and walked slowly towards the exit. He had an enigmatic smile on his face. As he reached the door, he turned and said something odd. He said "There is still time Kevin," "There is still time." And with that he walked out and into the night.
"What the hell did he mean by that?" Kevin wondered. And, how did he know my name?
Things were becoming very confusing for Kevin. He was not really sure of what he had just seen. Imagination? Too many shooters? What did the old man mean by "there is still time," time for what?
But, as Kevin sat at the bar, he remembered. He remembered all of the Christmases that his parents had made wonderful for him. With a pang of conscience, he realized that like the images in the mirror, he didn't know whether his own parents had ever gotten anything for themselves. Maybe they too had given everything for their children. And what about the time when he was sick with scarlet fever? Hadn't Mom & Dad sat up many a night with him, like the mirror people? He wondered how many things that his parents had gone without so that he and his brothers could have nice things. And they never complained about it, not once, ever. Kevin was beginning to become very uneasy with himself. His Mother had loved and cared for him all of those years, and he had broken her heart.
Kevin wondered if there really was still time? What if he were to go back over to his mother's place and make a very nice Christmas for her.It would make her very happy. The florist, on the corner of Buffum Street, was still open. And, he knew that he could get a present for her somewhere. There really was still time wasn' t there?
And maybe, maybe he could begin to change. Maybe it wasn't too late to make something of himself, something that his mother would be proud of. Maybe the little old man was right. Kevin now wished that he knew who the old man was, so that he could thank him.
Outside, the small, round, bearded old man climbed into his horse driven sled and drove off in the falling snow. The unusual sight of horses in the city, and the merry jingling of their reigns, brought smiles to onlookers. As the sled rounded the corner of Zittel St., it seemed to rise slightly. Or, so it looked from several blocks away in the falling snow. And later, some even claimed that they had heard the words " On Donder " and " On Dancer " echoing through the clear night air.
Inside the tavern, Christmas had come to Kevin Leary.
Joseph Xavier Martin