Pieces
Part Eight
by sarAdora

~~~~~~~

"Timmy came home today."

Timmy's home? Oh please. Don't break my heart. Let him be home on his own two feet and not in a pine box.

"Timmy's home?" I repeated Alli's words, one of the perks of our daily phone calls keeping me in touch with friends from our childhood.

"How...how is he?" I asked.

~~~

Alli and I have known each other since our first day in kindergarten, a long time ago. The parochial school run by the Catholic Church didn't have enough funds to keep the school going so they took in public school students in the early grades. In return, the Cook County school system gave the church money for each public school student enrolled. On our first day of school, we were lined up alphabetically. Alli's maiden name and my maiden name are the same but spelled differently. I guess we looked at each other and recognized a kindred spirit. Whatever it was, we have been close friends ever since.

Another public school student was Timothy St. Cloud. I didn't know him and neither did Alli. He was a quiet boy and generally stayed by himself. He'd get to school early, his clothes disheveled as if he had slept in them. Sometimes he had a milk mustache and sometimes he had a visible bruise on his face. He smelled like old clothes that didn't get laundered too often and he was constantly wiping his nose on his shirtsleeves.

Third grade was the last year public school students could attend the Catholic school unless their parents agreed to allow them to learn to be good Catholics. Timmy stayed on and when he did, he became an easy target for the older boys and for the nuns. Alli and I started noticing him on the playground. Almost every day, someone stole his lunch. But when a bully decided pint-sized Timmy would make a good punching bag, we stepped in.

By the time I was eight years old, I was fairly street-wise. I could hit and kick and defend myself with most kids my age. I took my share of lumps and bruises from bigger kids but I was also small enough to hide in unlikely places and I was agile and often able to get away from them. When it was clear that tough Bobby Bacon and Hambone (Bobby Ham) were friends of mine, I didn't get picked on so much.

But Alli...

Alli was a little smaller than me - still is - and she was a ferocious fighter. In her youth, she was described as a short witch with the eyes of a mob hit man and she was a pro at fighting dirty. I like to tease her in front of her very tall husband and four sons, that when she was a tiny thing, innocent boys would stare into her eyes and throw up their hands in surrender, assuming she had a gun. Her husband thinks this description is hilarious but it's apparent he never saw her have to defend her young.

Initially, Timmy was reluctant to let us near him. He had been beaten up by some rough boys; he wasn't looking forward to defending himself against two girls - two small girls. We understood his ambivalence. You get enough abuse in your life, and you begin to think that every offered hand is a blow waiting to strike. Hope is not a viable commodity to an abused child; simply put, hope is not something an abused child has.

It took a while to gain Timmy's trust and the day Alli stepped in front of him when an older and bigger boy came looking for Timmy's lunch... All three of us were expelled from school but the bully was out "sick" for a very long time. During our enforced vacation, Alli took Timmy in hand and taught him the fine art of street fighting.

"No kicking unless it's gonna hurt," she lectured. "Kneecaps, shins, and right between the legs. Anywhere else and it's just a bruise."

"Hit 'em while they're down. Don't let them get up. Jump on the chest. That hurts. Then walk away."

"Punch with both hands. Fist in the nose and when it bleeds, fist in the eye. Then fist behind the ear. They won't get up for a while."

Timmy still got hurt but as he grew older and taller, he won more fights and rarely lost his sack lunch to someone else. A few days before Christmas, in fourth grade, we met his mother for the first time. I have a vivid picture of her in my head. She was stooped, gray-haired, and there were tired lines radiating out from the corners of her eyes, as if tears had cut actual tracks in the surface of her skin. She was frighteningly thin.

I knew they were going to have a hard-candy Christmas.

"What do you want for Christmas?" I asked him out of the blue.

"An orange," he replied without having to think about it. "I want to give my mom an orange."

"That's it?" I asked.

"A hot meal would be nice but she won't go to the shelter for one. She's sick and they'll take me away from her if they see her. An orange will do. When I'm a man, I'll make sure she always has oranges."

Alli and I talked about Timmy and his mom. We knew we could get the orange but I wasn't sure about the hot meal.

Alli and I were also thieves and we were good at it.

We were always hungry and often stole food from open markets and street vendors and sometimes we snitched a sweater or socks from the union mission. But a whole meal? This was going to be hard.

"We could always beg money and buy the stuff."

"Beg? Are you nuts?"

"Let's ask Molly if they can eat at her place."

"Molly only feeds the homeless."

"Where does Timmy live?"

"Don't know and Molly won't ask."

"But Molly doesn't have oranges."

"Let's ask Grandpapa Cooperman if we get sweep out his backroom or something to get oranges."

"You want oranges?" the sweet man asked when we told him why. "What about you, kleines mŃdchen, und ihr freund little girl, and your friend?  What do you want?"

"Ohhhhh. I love pears," I told him as if he didn't know. "Pears and chocolate. And Alli loves sweet dates."

"The broom is in the backroom where it always is. One hour from both of you and then we'll see what there is to eat on Christmas morning."

We gave Grandpapa Cooperman that hour and on Christmas Eve, he gave us a basket of oranges and pears and a large bag of dates. On top of the basket was a gaily wrapped foil package - a huge chunk of chocolate sliced into bite sized pieces. And... because we told him Timmy promised to give his mother oranges when he was a man, Grandpapa Cooperman enclosed one of his ties for Timmy to wear until he could afford to buy his own.

Molly agreed to give them Christmas dinner and Alli and I ate it with them. Timmy wore a clean shirt, Grandpapa Cooperman's tie neatly around his neck, the end of it hanging near his knees. The look on his mother's face when Timmy, the eight-year old man of their house, peeled an orange for her... a very sweet memory.

We lost track of Timmy over the years; my life had changed when I went to live with Glory and Vi and Max. In my first year of college, I came home for Christmas and went to Mass with Alli and her fiancÚ, Paul.

"Sar, look! That guy has a tie just like the one Grandpapa Cooperman gave us to give to Timmy."

I looked and then I stared. It was Timmy all grown up. Ohhhh, he was so tall!

We hooked up with him after the service and couldn't stop hugging each other and catching up with our lives. He told us he wore the tie every Christmas and every Christmas, until the day she died, he gave his mother oranges.

All these years later, Timmy is married with children of his own. He works for our government and often travels abroad on special assignments. I don't know exactly what he does, but I feel certain that his work is dangerous. He changed his name - Timmy St. Cloud no longer exists. Once in a great while, we get some small piece of news about him - he's in Belgium or Afghanistan or China or Argentina. Sometimes we hear that his family has moved to Canada or England or Aruba. We're never sure what is fact and what is fiction.

Alli and I remember the little boy he used to be. We remember the friendship of our youth, the hard times we shared. It's difficult sometimes to reconcile that boy with the strong man he grew up to be. And we worry from year to year if he's alive and well and if he's spending the holidays with his family.

Every Christmas, Alli gets a large box of sweet dates and imported chocolates in the mail. I get a basket of pears and the same imported chocolates. The cards are addressed to "La Bella Mafia," and signed with a "T" and a picture of a hand-drawn tie. A special courier delivers the packages and there is never a return address. We like to think Timmy sent them and not some unknown gifting service that has a standing order to deliver them at Christmas.

~~~

"Timmy came home today."

Timmy's home? Oh please. Don't break my heart. Let him be home on his own two feet and not in a pine box.

"Timmy's home?" I repeated Alli's words, one of the perks of our daily phone calls keeping me in touch with friends from our childhood.

"How...how is he?" I asked.

"Oh Sar! He's as handsome as ever and he has a touch of gray at the temples and he's going to call you later and..." Alli chattered on and it was all I could do not to weep as I listened to her. I gave thanks to the Creator and all the other deities in the universe for this wonderful Christmas gift, this gift of friendship rekindled.

~ End Part Eight ~

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