Caroling



 Caroling


 

Christmas was approaching. My friend Teddy offered to go caroling with me, carrying the Star of Bethlehem.

     “I’m not a good singer!” I answered, amazed by his proposition.

     “I’m not a good singer either, but the point is not to sing well, it’s about singing loudly. At Christmas, everyone in town will be drunk. Besides, the Star is more important than the singing. It should look beautiful.”

     “Okay, but where we can get the Star?”

     “My father is a locksmith and he will make the Star; though, of course, not for free. We should pay him.”

     But I still was not convinced by the idea of caroling. By nature, contrary to Teddy, I was a shy boy; I had never sung in front of audience, neither alone nor even in a choir.

     “We’ll make a lot of money; people will give us 5, 10, and even 20 zloty for five minutes of singing! Can you refuse that much money?”

     This argument finally won me over. I could not refuse so good an offer. My mother never gave me money, because she didn’t have any. My father left us when I was three years old, and Mother earned but little.

     “Heck, let’s take a chance, I just hope people won’t kill us!”

     By the way, I admired Teddy’s business sense, and his courage and energy. Maybe the caroling wasn’t even his idea, it probably was his father’s, anyway.

     Two days later, the star was made and ready for caroling. It was a solid construction of metal parts, covered with red tissue paper, mounted on a stick. It could spin, or rather, Teddy’s hands rotated it. My role was to hold the flashlight and direct a beam of light onto the star. Initially we’d tried to fix a flashlight inside the star, but the star didn’t look too impressive that way.

     Now came the time to practice the songs. It turned out that Teddy sang very fast and I couldn’t keep up with him.

     “Sing faster! We won’t make enough money if we sing slowly,” Teddy complained.

     “Singing is not like catching fleas! It must sound dignified! We sing to the Lord!”

     “Don’t talk nonsense; we have to cover the whole town within two days!”

     This economic argument found its way to me, so I tried to keep up with Teddy, but it was not an easy task. Teddy was singing too fast, like a galloping horse. Besides, my throat got dry, but I solved this problem by taking along a bottle of water. What worried me was that, during our singing, the cat ran away to another room. It was a bad sign!

     And finally came the day of Christmas, the day of our debut. I don’t remember how that first time went, because I was so nervous. But probably it went well, because people didn’t throw us out and we collected… 2 zloty. I was happy that we survived.

     “Only 2 zloty? What tightwads!” Teddy was not happy.

     Slowly, with time, I got used to the role of the “artist” and I began to like singing for money, even it was small money. Soon I even started to raise my voice to stand out from Teddy.

     “Why are you yelling? For a few zlotys, you could damage your throat!” he said.

     I suspected that was his envy talking.

     During our “artistic performances” we had various adventures. Sometimes people refused entry to us and our pretty star. They were too busy drinking alcohol, eating, talking, and singing themselves. It happened that a drunk chased us and we fled down a steep staircase. We were lucky we didn’t break either our legs or our star. We visited a wide variety of houses and apartments, some very rich and some very poor.

     “Why are there such big differences?” I asked myself.

     Teddy didn’t think about this; he was counting the money while I watched his hands, so he couldn’t hide money somewhere in his clothes. Soon I caught him doing just that and I took away the money from him, despite his protest. I was stronger than him, so he had no choice. Now I kept the money.

     In one of the apartments we found a man who was dead drunk, lying on the couch next to a table laden with food. Probably he had been waiting for guests, but they didn’t come.

     Teddy, braver and smarter than me, right away grabbed this opportunity, and without hesitation sat down at the table and began eating.

     “Try it, it’s delicious!” he said.

     So, I also sat down and began to eat greedily. Soon we were full, and we began reflecting. Fortunately, the drunken man didn’t wake up.

     Now my attention turned to the fair sex. I admired girls and young women. In my mind, I created a competition… Who is the prettiest? This was not surprising, I was already twelve years old and I had begun to think about “these things.” I summoned so much courage that instead of shining the light on our star, I now illuminated the knees of girls and women. Lucky for me they didn’t protest.

     We finished our day of caroling late in the evening. We split up the money and went to our homes to sleep. I woke up late the next day.

     “How much did you earn?” Mother asked.

     “150.”

     “What are you planning to buy?”

     “I don’t know yet, for now I’ll keep the money in my pocket.”

     “Don’t lose it! Maybe it will be better to leave it at home!”

     “Don’t worry, I won’t lose it.”

     I didn’t want to keep the money in the house, because I was afraid that my mother would confiscate it for household needs, as had happened so often before.”

     The second day of caroling was short, but even more successful. I earned 200 zloty.

     “Come to my apartment, we’ll play cards,” Teddy proposed. So, we went to his apartment and were greeted by his father, Frank. It turned out that he wanted to play a game called “Thousand” with us. I did not protest; it didn’t scare me. I was the best player among the boys in my town. In addition, I was the best student of mathematics in my school. I was hoping that I would be the winner. But it turned out that Frank, an ordinary, uneducated worker, was smarter than me. I lost my 350 zloty within two hours! Two days of hard work as an artist went down the drain.

     I left Teddy’s apartment and started to cry. Sad and angry with myself, I went home. Mother was asleep. I undressed, jumped into bed and fell asleep almost immediately.

     The next day my mother asked, “How much did you earn?”

     “200.”

     “That’s nice! What are you going to buy?”

     “I won’t buy anything because I lost the money playing cards.”

     “Who did you play with?”

     “With Teddy and his father, Frank.”

     “It’s no wonder that you lost.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “First, they both were playing together against you; second, the cards were marked.”

     “Marked?”

     “Yes, they knew the cards because they marked them. This way they knew what cards you had.”

     “Are you sure about it?”

     “Frank works in my factory, and he often plays cards with new young workers. Every time he is the winner. Old workers know about the marked cards and they do not play with him.”

     I must have made a very sad face, because my mother said: “Don’t worry; we are going to recover your money.”

     “How?”

     “By using force!” she answered with a smile.

     Mother was short, but strong and big boned. She put on a jacket, picked up a heavy wooden rolling pin from the table and hid it under the jacket. Next, she took the poker and gave to me.

     “Hide it under your jacket; just in case. If Teddy is at home and tries to defend his father, you hit him with it.”

     I took the poker, but reluctantly. I often fought with other boys, but I’d never used heavy metal objects.

     So, we marched to Teddy’s building; luckily it was not far away. The few passersby didn’t pay attention to us. Mother knocked on the door of Teddy’s apartment; his mother opened the door; she was a slim, blonde. I saw her from time to time on the street or in the garden.

     “Is your husband Frank at home?”

     “Yes, he is.”

     “We have business with him.” Mother pushed inside, into the kitchen, and I followed her.

     Frank came towards us from the bedroom.
     “We have come for the money,” Mother said sharply.

     “What money?”

     “The money that you won from my son!”

     “No way! I won fairly!” Frank protested.

     But my mother didn’t intend to argue with him. With all her strength, she swung the rolling pin and hit Frank on the head. He fell on the floor as if struck by lightning.

     His wife screamed shrilly: “You killed my husband!”

     “No, I didn’t, he’s alive. But I will kill him if you don’t return my son’s money!”

Frank’s wife was very smart; unlike him, she didn’t try to argue.

     “How much?” she asked respectfully.

     “350!”

     Teddy’s mother took a purse from a dresser drawer, counted out the money and gave it to my mother. Mother counted it and gave it to me; I didn’t count it but quickly put it in my pocket.

     My mother took a glass of water from a bucket and poured it on Frank’s head; he began to move his head.

     “You see, he is alive, he’ll be fine. Tell him not to play cards with kids, because I’ll call the police, and he’ll be jailed.”

     Mother went to the door and I followed her. Teddy wasn’t at home; there was no need to use the poker.

     When we were on our way back home I saw Joe standing on the street. He was my age, dark-haired, freckled. I competed with him for leadership.

     “Joe, come here,” I called out in a pleasant voice.

     “What do you want? I have no time!”

     But he came. I hit him over the head with the poker, but not with my all strength.

     “What was that for?” he asked, surprised, grabbing his head in pain.

     “Search your memory for what!” I said, and ran to my mother.

     I had no reason to hit him; recently we had lived in harmony, but in the future eventually some quarrel or fight was sure to break out between us, so I hit him “for the future.” Besides, I wanted to check how the poker “worked.”

     Now I was walking arm in arm with my mother, we were a team. I was proud of my mother for her strength and courage. In a wave of love, I took her by the hand. That had not happened in a long time.

     “Mom, if you want, I will give you my 350 zloty.”

     Mother was very surprised. She stared at me silently for a moment.

     “Are you sure? After all, you could buy a pair of skates for this money.”

     “Well, it would be nice to have skates. And I need skiing equipment even more.”

     “You see! Maybe I could save 100 zloty and this way you’ll have 450 zloty to buy skiing equipment? You’d better keep your money because some day you might regret this decision.”

     Mother looked at me with love, patting me on the head; it didn’t happen often. I knew that my mother was right, but I wanted to do something nice for her.

     I sighed heavily; I didn’t say anything, which meant I agreed with my mother’s decision.

     Mother opened the door with her keys.

     “There is nothing like home!” I thought.

     We were inside. I lay down on the couch, pleased that we came back safely from this dangerous expedition.

     “Don’t play anymore cards! Remember, anyone who plays cards has a ragged head!” Mother said and began cooking dinner.

     Until today—and it’s been 60 years since this event—I never touch cards.

 

Walerian Domanski

 
Walerian Domanski – native from Poland, is a seventy-four-year- old retired civil engineer. He lives with his wife Krystyna in Rochester Hills Michigan. Since his retirement in 2008, he began writing short stories in Polish and English. In Fall 2010 PEN International in London England published his short story “Smoke factories” (www.pen-international.org) In 2013 he published his first collection of short stories in Polish “Fabryki dymu” (Smoke factories) by publisher LENA in Poland. From 2013 to 2017 he published five books in Polish and two in English (www.DomanskiBooks.com) In 2015 awarded $25000.- Prize from Kresge Foundation (www.kresgeartsindetroit.org) He is the member of PEN America from 2016.

Comments

Walt Page said…
I truly enjoyed this story. It held my interest, which I'd difficult to do.

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