Joe Kelly was not a man given to fits of melancholy. He liked to try to find the bright side of things, no matter
how dark things got. Most days, it wasn’t too hard to find at least a trace of light in his current circumstances, even if it was no more than a half-hearted flicker; finding an empty seat on the train, or a couple of extra bucks tucked into the pocket of a pair of pants he’d not worn for a while. Oh, the light was there, he believed, just waiting to be noticed. The trouble was, that sometimes the only way to see the light was for everything else to go dark.
He walked the block from the train station to his apartment building deep in thought, his hands balled into fists and jammed into the pockets of his jacket. The wind seemed particularly cold for October. More like November he thought. I sure ain’t ready for winter this year. With winter comes heating bills and Christmas. . . he smiled in spite of his gloom. Christmas was coming and no matter how downhearted he felt, Christmas always lifted his spirits. I’ll have to get the kids a nice tree this year . . . probably the last one we’ll spend together if Jimmy gets accepted to Auburn. Geez, how in the world am I gonna get him all the way to Alabama. . .
“I said, hello, Mr. Kelly.”
Joe looked up, startled. He hadn’t even realized he’d arrived at his building. “Oh, hey, Ms. Franzoni. I guess I did it again huh?”
The elderly woman standing on the stoop blew out the smoke from her cigarette and laughed. “All the way up the street. I don’t know who you talk to when you walk, but they sure must be interesting company.”
“I wasn’t talkin’ to no one but myself, and I gotta tell ya, I ain’t all that interesting.” He glanced up to his apartment window on the second floor. The living room light was on. “Looks like the kids beat me home again.”
“Jimmy did, not sure about Lindy” she said, crushing the butt of her cigarette into a sand filled ashtray. “Lord, I swear, these new no-smokin’ laws are gonna kill me. I’ll get me pneumonia standin’ out here.”
“You can smoke in your own apartment, just not in the hall or common room.”
“But then I’d never get out of the building at all, and I’d miss our conversations.”
Joe laughed. “I wouldn’t want that.” He glanced up to the window again. The shadow of a young man marched across the drawn shade, then made an abrupt about face and marched the other way, waving something in his hand.
Mrs. Franzoni followed his gaze, and grinned. “Letter came today. I saw him rip it out of the mailbox like it was the latest Penthouse and the forum had printed his letter.”
Joe looked at her feigning shock. “Oh, I get it, you read it for the articles right?”
“Of course!” she asserted, then added, “and the forum. Go on up. Tell him congratulations for me. Hey, I’ll send a over a nice Jello ring, you can celebrate.”
“Thanks, that’d be great,” Joe said heading through the door. He glanced back over his shoulder to tell Mr. Franzoni goodnight, but something caught his eye on the floor under the mailboxes. He reached down to pick up the remains of a torn and crumpled envelope addressed to Ms. Linden Kelly. The return address was missing, but Joe recognized the emblem of the institution Lindy had applied to for a scholarship.
His heart leapt. Two good letters in one day? He took the stairs two at a time, calling, “Kelly kids, here comes Pop, poppin’ to the top o’ the staaairs!” as he had since they were little enough to find that funny.
He opened the door to the apartment wide and stepped in with his arms out and a grin on his face. “Hello my little scholars!”
“It’s not fair! It’s just not fair!” Lindy stormed by, her face wet and her eyes red and puffy. “I should have just been born taller and stupider then I could have gone to school for free!” The door to her room slammed.
“It’s not my fault! I thought you’d be happy!” Jimmy raced by, oblivious to Joe standing in the doorway. “Lin . . . Come on, open up. I didn’t know ok? I just wanted you to be proud of me.”
The door flew open. “Proud? PROUD? You barely passed basic math! You’re highest grade in four years is a C plus!”
“I got an A in gym!”
“All you have to do is sweat and shower to get an A in gym!”
Joe backed out into the corridor and closed the door, then knocked on it three times. “Hello, Kelly kids, is anybody home?”
“There’s a lot more to it than that! Just because I’m not a brainiac like you, why shouldn’t I get a chance to go to college? What’s so unfair about that?”
“Just because you can throw a stupid orange ball through a net, you get to go to college for free? I make honor grades in science and math and I get nothing!” The bedroom door slammed again.
Joe entered the apartment quietly. Jimmy was standing outside Linden’s door shaking his head.
“Hey, dad. I guess you heard?”
“Yeah, I heard. The whole block heard. Now suppose you tell me what happened?”
Jimmy handed the letter from Auburn University to Joe. “I got in.”
Joe read the letter, then reread it, and then a third time. “Full scholarship?”
Jimmy couldn’t help but smile. “Basketball. . . and you thought it was just a hobby.”
“Full . . . Oh Jimmy!” Joe flung his arms around his son and spun him around. “That’s great! That’s. . . oh, that’s terrific.”
“Thanks. I’m glad you think so. Lindy isn’t so impressed.”
“What happened? I found this downstairs.” He handed Jimmy the torn envelope. “I thought we’d all have some celebrating to do.”
Jimmy pointed to a similarly crumpled letter on the kitchen table.
Joe picked it up and read slowly. “. . . your fine credentials will no doubt lead to many other opportunities. . . however we regret. . .aw geez.”
“Yeah can you believe it. I thought she was a shoe in.”
“Me too. . . hey listen, let me talk to her. I still want to celebrate for you, but maybe we better keep it low key tonight. Ok?”
“Yeah. It’s cool, Pop.”
Joe knocked on Linden’s door. “Lindy? Honey it’s me, can I come in?”
The door opened.
Joe went in slowly. Lindy flopped down into the chair at her desk and began tearing pages out of her note book. “Stupid essay. I never know how to start. A thousand words on the meaning of ‘failure’ for philosophy. That one should be a cinch don’t you think?”
Joe sat down on the corner of his daughter’s bed, the crumpled letter still in his hand. “Honey, I am so sorry about this. But don’t you worry. I’m gonna find a way to send you to school. I promise.”
“Every college I want to go to tells me I need a good prep. . . what difference does it make. I may as well forget med school and just take the correspondence course on how to be a medical transcriptionist.”
Joe looked down at his hands feeling helpless. That silver lining was hiding itself pretty darn good this time.
“You think mom is disappointed in me?” Joe looked up to see Lindy holding a silver framed picture. Lindy traced her finger gently down the mocha image of her smiling mother. “She always told me I’d take the world by storm because I had your, you know — white is might, she said. I guess she never heard about basketball scholarships that go to the tall black kids, while their white sisters get left behind.”
Joe swallowed hard. It was the first time he ever heard Lindy call herself ‘white’. He never made the distinction with his children. He didn’t want them to grow up with the prejudice and hatred he’d gotten from his own Irish Catholic family when he announced his intention to marry Sandra Jones — a Jamaican woman, who stood head taller than him and was decidedly not the pale Irish girl his mother always hoped he’d marry. Joe never saw Sandra’s skin as anything but beautiful, another part of her incredible being. He only knew he loved her, and she loved him back. Sure they knew it wasn’t going to be a bed of roses with a lot of people, but they didn’t care. They had each other, and that’s all that mattered.
Sandra was the smart one too. She worked as a legal secretary on the hill, and was going to school to be a paralegal when she got pregnant. He never asked her to leave school or give up her dreams to be a mother. That was her own choice, and she never seemed to regret it. She took a lot of funny looks when she brought the kids to the park, one dark as night, the other fair as a lilly. “Baby sitting?” some would ask. “No, they’re mine. Twins.” Then she’d laugh at the reactions, though she’d not linger long.
The kids grew to love themselves for who they were, not what color they were. Joe made sure they knew they were loved. He ran interference when he heard catcalls or snickers, and he made sure Jimmy could take care of himself if he ever found himself in a scuffle. He and Sandra had done a good job together—and for the five years since the cancer took her, he had done a good job alone.
“She’s proud of you, honey. I know she is. And you know what?”
Lindy looked up, wiping her face with her hand. “What?”
“I’m proud of you too, and. . . I think . . . now I can’t promise though I would dearly love to tell you it’s a sure thing. . . but. . .” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small white card and handed it to her.
“A fare I had today. Nice guy. Even said thank you. Anyway he said that Standish sometimes does scholarships. Told me to give him a call.”
“I thought you didn’t like it out on Gibbons.”
“If my little girl likes it, I like it. You like it?”
She smiled a little. “Yeah, I like it. Do you think it’s worth it? I mean, the guy wasn’t like, the janitor or something?”
A sudden gust of wind blew open the window knocking the lamp off Linden’s desk. For a moment the room was completely black until the moon shown through the window, casting the faintest white glow on the business card in Linden’s hand.
Joe smiled. “Yeah, honey. It’s worth it. We’ll call in the morning.”