For Ellen Kelly
“Mike, we’re out of milk for the tea. Will you go get some?”
Her voice rang out over the rest of the clamor in the house. It was Friday night and there was a crowd, as usual when Mrs. O’Donnell put on a spread, though she lived in a small apartment which didn’t take much to fill up. The noise level wasn’t too bad here in the spare room where the computer was, but Mike figured it was at least 70 dB out there, mostly from the kids, though the two televisions, one in the front room where his brother Pat and his wife Mary were watching Wayne and O’Hara in “The Quiet Man,” and the small TV that his mother always had on in the kitchen, didn’t help.
“Sure, Ma,” he answered, though he kept typing at the keyboard for a bit to finish up his argument for the latest off-topic political thread in his engineers forum.
There were a lot of kids here tonight, of varying ages from roughly four on up to the early teens, all spread out in between the front room and the kitchen, chattering to each other, playing computer games, or listening to something on their headphones. Besides Pat and Mary’s three kids, his younger sister Bridget had brought her brood, though Bridget’s husband Tom had caught the 3 to 11 shift this week and couldn’t make it. Tom had to take whatever work there was, and there wasn’t much too much of it these days for anybody. Mike and his ex-wife had never had children.
He made it louder. “I’ll be right there, Ma.”
It was hard to get at the computer on Friday nights. They’d all chipped in and bought it for Ma last summer so she could stay in touch when Crystal, his older sister Betty’s daughter, went away to school, but Ma didn’t use it for much more than playing CDs, saying this Internet stuff was too confusing. Today, the kids had tied it up before supper, googling “rainbows” and “leprechauns” after the spring thunderstorm late that afternoon. Ma had gotten them going on the leprechauns, telling some of the old Irish tales of the good people and pots of gold at the rainbow’s end. Then she had served supper – roast beef with all the fixings.
He’d taken over the computer right after dessert to send out a few resumes. You can’t upload files on a library computer. After he had been laid off, his own Internet access and a few other extras had gotten too expensive, what with the mortgage payment coming up, the car needing work, and Sandy being a bitch about the alimony.
No. He’d think about all that again tomorrow. No worries were allowed to intrude on a Friday night at Ma’s.
This would be his only chance to get online tonight. Crystal was back from college for the weekend and had brought her roommate over for dinner. They had both been shanghaied into clean-up duty, but that was all done now and his niece was undoubtedly just waiting for a chance to take over as soon as he left the keyboard.
He hit the send button. There; that would dazzle ’em for a while. He logged off, got up and stepped out into the front room.
“We could use some half-and-half, too,” Pat said, from the couch.
Mike gave him a thumb’s up and said, “Think I’ll walk. It’s not far.”
Mary looked up. “It’s after dark. Is that safe?”
“Not to worry,” said Mike. “It’s still early. I’ll be fine. Could use the exercise, too.”
Pat shook his head. “She always makes too much.”
Mike grinned. “Yeah, and we come by every week and eat it and hang around all night, keeping her company. She knows exactly what she’s doing.”
“We’re spoiled rotten,” Pat replied contentedly. “Hey, will you get me a couple lottery tickets?”
“My usual numbers. You know what they are. It’s up to 48 million tonight.” He rose from the couch and got out his wallet. “You gonna break down and buy one tonight?”
“The only numbers you need to know are the odds against you, Pat, which are roughly 16 million to 1”
“You’re a lean, mean, calculatin’ machine, brother, but I saw you throw salt over your shoulder at the table tonight. C’mon!”
“You’ve got a better chance of being struck by lightning. It’s a waste of money.” Mike laughed. His brother had repeated “it’s a waste of money” along with him even while he handed Mike the money for the tickets.
Pat had a pretty good job with the county, and Mary had been a secretary with the same group of lawyers for ages. They could afford it. Mike patted his pocket for his own wallet and then headed out to the kitchen. As he went through the dining room, various young children suddenly became aware of him.
“Are you going to the store, Uncle Mike?”
“Will you get us some ice cream?”
“Mint chocolate chip!”
He was suddenly a very popular man. His mother’s voice cut through the eager young chirping like a general ordering the troops.
“There’s plenty of soda right HERE. And ice cream, too.”
“But it’s vanilla,” said Timmy, age five.
Crystal passed Mike in the hall with a smile, on her way back to the computer room.
“Hey, Crystal, how’s it going?” Jeez! he thought. Can’t even wait till I’m out the door. The vulture!
He was greeted with “Get my purse,” upon entering the kitchen. She was sitting in her usual spot at the table, with the plaque they’d gotten for her birthday a few years ago hanging on the wall nearby. The plaque sported an old-fashioned-looking white scroll on green-painted wood that told a very brief history of the O’Donnells, in English on one side and Gaelic, which none of them could read, on the other. It was really Irish, picked out by their cousin Dennis in County Meath and sent over at Bridget’s request. Ma had cried when she opened the package. She had never been to the Old Country and probably would never get there.
Bridget was sitting with her back to him and facing an empty chair, presumably where Crystal had just been sitting. Crystal’s friend was seated on a stool off to the side, between the counter and the wall.
The gentle glow from the small table light smoothed out most of the care lines in his mother’s face and darkened some of the grayness in her hair. He could remember when she had been young, when nobody would have dared to say a word after she’d laid down the law, not even Pa, rest his soul. Her eyes were still young, and lively and happy, though concern filled them as she looked up at him.
Mike ignored her and rustled for his jacket among all the coats and sweaters piled up on the hooks on the door.
“Did you hear me?” she asked.
“I heard you,” he said. He managed to extricate his jacket without dislodging more than a sweater, which he carefully hung back up. He checked the fridge as he was shuffling on his jacket. “Is vanilla really all there is?”
Bridget shifted in her chair and spoke up before their mother could do more than sputter.
“I’ll move the car,” she said. “It’s blocking yours.”
“No, that’s okay. I’m walking.”
That set them both off. He liked being the object of their concerns over the dark and the weather, but the fuss was a little irritating, too. It made him determined to hoof it now even if there was a downpour out there.
“Look,” he finally said, “this is not ‘CSI: Ilion’ and Brown’s is close. There’s street lights and plenty of traffic. I’m going.”
Timmy and two slightly older children came marching down the hall to get some soda. Bridget got up to help them. Mike’s mother called him over to the table.
“Let me give you the money,” she said to him quietly.
“Michael, you’ve been laid off for six weeks.”
“And collecting unemployment all that time. It’s okay. And there’s that teaching gig up at the community college next month. Remember that?”
“You don’t know if you’re going to get that. I wish you’d let me pay you.”
“It’s just milk money, for Pete’s sake. You’re on a fixed income, and you can’t be feeding us high and hearty like this every week. No.”
“What else do I spend it on?”
“Lottery tickets. You want any more?”
“I’ve got enough,” she replied, turning her head away from him. She was ticked off.
“I’ll get some soda, too,” he said with the no-more-arguments tone in his voice; then, more loudly, “and see if they have some mint chocolate chip ice cream.”
Bridget gave him an exasperated glare. With a grin and a wave at the kids, he was off, with his mother’s “Take an umbrella!” following him out the door.
“Thanks, Ma!” he yelled back but didn’t look for the umbrella.
The porch light was out, but it was easy enough to see and get around out there without bumping into things, thanks to the indirect illumination from the street lights. In the sudden quiet after the door closed, he became aware of the sounds of water dripping from the porch eaves and breezes rustling the still-bare twigs of the trees in the yard. The street was empty of everything but a few parked cars, and cars also clogged the driveway just beyond the porch. He stood for a moment and savored the peace and quiet of the great outdoors. He loved his family, and that was precisely why he enjoyed getting away from them sometimes.
Later in the year, a night like this would feel unbearably muggy, but in March the dampness held a promise of oncoming Spring. That was really why he’d wanted to walk; it was a case of spring fever, brought on by warm sunshine and the thunderstorm and then the rainbow that afternoon. The earth was waking up. He could smell it. There was the trickle of water running in the street, as well as a little “tap tap tap” coming from somewhere out front. It was an odd sound that would stop and start again. He figured somebody in the neighborhood was doing repairs somewhere.
It was a restful, slightly foggy night and he decided to take his time getting to the store and back. Some mist drifted through the cone of light thrown by one of the streetlights. The street was short, and there were only two lights on it, the last one shining in front of dim bulks of buildings that rose up beyond the dead end. That all was the college over there, and most of it was dark now.
Out front, he heard a car swish by, heading up the wet street toward campus. There wasn’t ever much traffic at night, except when there was a big do on. Mike listened as the car went up the hill and then disappeared over the top. The night stillness returned, and after an interval so did the gentle “tap-tap-tap” sound. It didn’t seem to break the quiet so much as blend in and complement it.
Brown’s convenience store was two blocks away, on the same street that dead-ended here. He walked down alongside the cars and out to the sidewalk, going over the list in his head: milk, 2%; soda, probably diet cola, maybe orange; ice cream, mint chocolate chip; and Pat’s waste-of-money lottery tickets. Oh, and he’d get himself some donuts for breakfast tomorrow, too. Cinnamon or powdered?
Bright light and the muffled sounds of children’s voices and laughter filtered through the curtained and closed windows on the ground floor as he walked past the house to the front road. He could hear his mother’s voice in there, too, though he couldn’t tell what she was saying. There were also lights on in the two floors above her place. Mike didn’t know who lived in those apartments, but his mother said they were nice folk who never complained about the noise on Friday nights and didn’t make much noise themselves.
Outside here everything was cool and still for the moment. The college owned some of the land on this side of the road, and the rest of the neighborhood proper was on the other side where it stretched back along the hillside in a warren of alleys, streets and houses, most of those being two- and three-story brick and wood homes that had been around for a century or more. It wasn’t really a bad neighborhood, for the properties had never been let go, but it was an old one that tended to withdraw into itself after dark. Quite a few students did live here, though, and Mike figured the streets would liven up soon when they started to move out for some Friday night fun downtown.
Tap tap tap. What the heck was that anyway? It sounded closer now. He looked around. Oh, so that was it. Somebody, perhaps a child, was sitting on a stone that was part of the landscaped corner just up ahead on this side of the intersection with the main road. He’d mistaken the diminutive figure for a yard ornament at first. Whoever it was wore an old-fashioned costume of some sort, complete with frock-coat and cocked hat, and was holding something like a shoe and hammering away at it.
It was really quite a get-up, and Mike couldn’t help staring as he approached. The coat was three-quarters length, quite thick and plush, especially around the collar and sleeves, and it seemed to have way more buttons on the front than were technically necessary. It fit the tiny individual perfectly, and his three-corner hat, while large, didn’t jut out far enough to obscure the light needed for his work. He was using a small, oddly shaped hammer on the bottom of a large shoe that had a thick heel, square toe, and a big buckle on the front. Apparently the sole had come loose.
It wasn’t a kid. It was a little man, and an old one at that. Mike was closer now and could see the face more clearly. Even in profile it looked rather wizened, almost monkey-like, with a ragged, wispy gray sideburn that looked like the real thing, not a wig. You see all sorts of peculiar things near a college, and Mike decided maybe it was a midget, on his way to a costume party somewhere when the shoe problem came up.
He seemed totally absorbed in his work. Mike didn’t want to startle him so he scuffed the sidewalk and said, “Hello,” just before he stepped into the bright glow under the streetlight. The weirdly dressed midget looked up at him without any surprise whatsoever. The eyes were framed by bushy eyebrows and creases of skin and looked very dark and wise, and a little wild. The face, seen full on, appeared even older than Mike had first thought. There were the long sideburns but not a mustache or a beard, and rather long dark hair straggled out from under the hat and down onto the stranger’s shoulders.
“Good evening to you,” he said to Mike in a reedy, somewhat foreign-sounding voice, and then he bent back over the shoe and resumed his work. Tap tap tap.
Obviously this fellow wanted to finish things and be off, but he was so interesting and unusual that Mike had to stop and study him. It was hard to tell in this artificial light, but the coat, worn over a heavily ruffled shirt, seemed to be made of red velvet, and those looked like real leather breeches, held up with a broad belt that had a big and intricately carved metal clasp. The coat had piping on it and some ribbons. The breeches came down to just below the small knees. Light-colored stockings and two leather shoes, similar in shape and style to the one the little man was working on, completed the outfit. For the first time, Mike noticed that the shoe in need of repair was way too large to fit its maker, though it would have been much too small for Mike.
Tap tap tap. It was all so very strange, though not totally out of place given the neighborhood and it being a Friday night. Mike had seen some pretty weird stuff around there before, although this took the cake. With the dark and the fog drifting around, and the stillness of the night, it felt downright eerie.
When the little man paused his work again and looked up with a polite, expectant expression on his face, Mike wanted to congratulate him on the whole effect and to ask him who he was and where he was going. The dark eyes were so solemn, though, with no hint in them whatsoever of a conspiracy of silliness or a curiosity as to the effect his outlandish appearance was having on a stranger, that Mike realized this midget or whoever he was wanted to stay in character, for whatever reason, and that he should play along.
“Do you need any help with that?” he asked.
This seemed to astonish the creature, who actually set down his hammer. “Why no,” he said. “Not at all, but ’tis a kindness for you to offer.”
Mike recognized the Irish brogue now, ‘so thick you could spread it on bread,’ as his mother would have said, and the lilt to the speech.
“Oh, you’re welcome,” he said. There was a pause. The tiny old gent didn’t seem very chatty, although he was civil enough. “Well. Have a nice night.”
There wasn’t much else Mike could think to say. He smiled and nodded and then turned away to cross the street. Behind him, he heard the reedy voice say, “I had not yet thanked ye but shall do so now: 15, 46, 4, 22, 17, 38. I care not for fools’ gold, but you should have something, who cared not at all for mine.”
It was said slowly and with careful enunciation, particularly the numbers, but it made no sense to Mike, who stopped in the middle of the street and turned around to ask him what he meant. There was no one there. The stone was bare, and Mike could see no sign of movement or a figure anywhere on the sidewalk or near the houses. He was all alone.
That’s weird, thought Mike. He ignored the cold chill that came over him and stifled an upwelling sense of wonder that something miraculous had just occurred. He actually had goosebumps!
Headlight beams appeared in the misty air at the top of the hill, so Mike started moving and got across the street just as the car crested the hill and started coming down. As he stepped up onto the curb, a pickup came around the curve at the bottom of the hill and headed on up. The two motor vehicles passed each other just about in front of him like the two covers of a storybook closing after the tale had been finished.
“And they all lived happily ever after,” Mike muttered under his breath. “Or not,” he added as a siren sounded in the distance.
At any rate, the spell had been broken, though he still felt a little dreamy. There was his mother’s house, and in it, a bunch of kids waiting for ice cream and soda; and his mother needed milk for the tea. Mike turned and started off down the sidewalk again toward Brown’s, not sure what to make of the whole adventure.
He’d gone almost a whole block before he realized that now he was actually storming along. Well, he was right to be pissed off. The little fellow had probably been sitting under a step somewhere, watching him gawk at the disappearance act, and now was at the party or wherever he’d been going, telling them all about the big fool he’d met along the way and the trick he’d played on him.
Mike’s cheeks burned, but he realized his emotions were getting the best of him. He forced himself to slow back down to a stroll and tried to concentrate on what he needed to get when he reached the store. There was the parking lot up ahead; there seemed to be a lot of traffic. Oh yeah, the deadline for tonight’s drawing was coming up soon. Well, he’d better hurry then. Let’s see: milk, 2%; ice cream…. His mind wandered, and then realized he was counting out numbers with each step he took: 15/46, 4/22, 17/38, 15/46, 4/22…. Aw, come on!
Mike didn’t really come back to earth until he reached Brown’s , where he had to concentrate on avoiding cars that pulled in and out as he weaved his way across the lot toward the front door. Inside, the store was packed, although he didn’t see anyone he knew. Lottery tickets were selling briskly. He glanced at the clock. Fifteen minutes to go. Pat would not be happy with him if he missed the deadline. It didn’t take him long to pick up what he needed, with a couple of changes in his plan, but there was a throng of people, all chattering excitedly, between him and the counter. They had two clerks on tonight, though, and Mike got there with five minutes to spare. He bought Pat’s tickets before paying for his own stuff. Many people were still coming in as he went out the door, but they were going to be too late. Oh well.
A very light mist was starting to fall now, and he wished he’d taken the umbrella. The moist air smelled fine, though. He detoured around the parking lot and started back down the sidewalk, picking up the pace a bit in hopes of getting back to the house before it really began to rain. More lights were on now in buildings that lined the street, and as he passed along, he saw, here and there, young men and women coming out of doors or clustering around a car that was parked along the curb with lights on and motor running.
He recalled another early spring night like this one, long years ago, when he had been a grad student and beautiful Sandy Mitchkin had been an undergrad math major about to get her degree in June. They had walked through a gentle rain back to her place one Friday night, eating orange creamsicles and talking.
Not once did he think of the odd little man again until he was back at that intersection and saw his mother’s place across the street. There was more traffic now, and Mike had to wait to cross. The stone over there was still vacant, and there was still no sign of anybody on the sidewalks or at any of the houses up or down the street. Again he felt a little chill and an echo of the sense of wonder that had come to him during the adventure, but when he got across, he didn’t stop to reinspect the scene. It was starting to rain hard, and water was running down the back of his neck.
“You should have taken an umbrella,” his mother said when he came in. She was still at the table with Bridget, and now Mary was there, too. The kitchen seemed quite bright after a walk in the night, and it was loud, too. The TV was blaring out some crime show, and the kids’ uproar was going on unabated in the next room. Mike set the sack down on the counter and brought out a gallon of milk.
“Here you go,” he said as he put it on the table. Then he took off his jacket. “It didn’t really start raining until just before I got back. Where can I hang this up so it won’t get everything wet?”
His mother got up. “Here, give it to me.”
Somebody in the other room spotted him. “Uncle Mike’s back!”
He said to Bridget as his mother took his jacket, “They didn’t have mint chocolate chip. I got plain instead.” And to his mother, “I met this strange little guy out there.”
“You shouldn’t have gotten any,” Bridget replied. “They’re going to be up all night with a sugar high.”
Children were starting to crowd down the hallway. Mary got up and looked in the sack.
“Hide the donuts,” Mike told her. “They’re mine. The rest is for the kids.”
“Oh, Mike!” This, from Bridget. “You got cookies, too? I’ll never get them to bed tonight”
“I hope you didn’t speak to him,” his mother said as she stepped out of the bathroom. She had lived most of her life in the country and believed every inch of the city turned into a high-crime zone immediately after the sun set. “Your coat is hanging up in the shower when you go looking for it later on.”
“Thanks, Ma. Of course I spoke to him. You should have seen him. He had this little hammer.”
“A hooligan! Did he threaten you and want money?”
“No! He was real small and….”
“Oh, that was nothing then.”
There was a bellow from the front room: “Too late?”
“Got ’em right here, Pat! No, he didn’t ask for money. It was this little old guy in a red velvet coat and he was working on a shoe. You should have seen him.”
Mike stopped. Ma had turned away and was helping Mary dish out the ice cream. Six or seven young children were clustering around the two women. He reached into his shirt pocket to get Pat’s tickets and was heading out front when he felt a tug on his pants. It was Bridget.
“Crystal said to come see her at the computer when you got back.”
“Okay. Hey, I’m sorry about the sugar,” he said. “I didn’t think.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. They’ll sleep in tomorrow, and I will, too.” For the first time, he noticed how tired she looked. He was concerned.
“You feeling okay, sis?”
“Sure, I’m fine. It’s been a long day, that’s all. I haven’t had a break since I got off work” She smiled up at him. “Guess I need some grown-up time.”
He looked at her and decided it probably was stress, and she wasn’t getting sick or something. “Tom’s working days next week, isn’t he? You two come on over some night next week, bring some DVD’s, and I’ll get a pizza or something.”
“Okay.” She seemed pleased by the idea.
“Mommy!” It was Timmy, holding a bowl filled with two cookies and a big dollop of ice cream. She turned to take it from him and get him settled down at the table with it. Mike went on down the hall and out into the front room.
There was a commercial on, and Pat was stretched out on the couch, his shoes off.
“Thanks,” he said as he reached up for the tickets Mike offered him. “Fight scene’s coming up soon.”
It was the brothers’ favorite part of the whole movie.
“Yup, just as soon as I see what Crystal wants. Hey, Pat, you’ll never guess what happened.”
“Hey, Unk?” It was Crystal, from the computer room. Through the doorway, he could see her friend sitting at the keyboard, but Crystal wasn’t in view.
“What?” his brother asked him.
“Oh, never mind. I’ll tell you later,” Mike replied. The movie was coming back on, and anyway, his adventure earlier that night was starting to seem pretty unreal, now that he was back indoors and with his family again. It was kind of like he had been dreaming then and now was wide awake. He went in to see what his niece wanted. If it was anything major, it was going to have to wait until the movie was over.
“What’s up?” he asked. Crystal was hovering over the printer, poking at it.
“It’s jammed,” she replied, yanking on some paper.
“No! Don’t pull it. You’ll break the printer. Here, let me see.”
She moved away. It was a small inkjet printer. He gently pushed and prodded its various parts Things inside seemed to be moving okay, but there was a big chunk of paper jammed in good and tight.
“What kind of cookies did you get, Unk?”
“Chocolate chip.” He shut the printer off and then turned it on. Nothing happened. He’d be able to work better if they weren’t watching his every move, and he wanted to get at the computer to check the print queue, too. “There’s probably some left, if you want any. Better hurry up before the kids get them all. I’ll have this working when you get back.”
Or not, he thought. Anyway, it wasn’t a hard sell. They both left, and he eased into the chair and brought up the print queue, which had about a zillion jobs in it, apparently most of them from this afternoon, when the kids had been looking up “rainbows” and “leprechauns.” Probably somebody had loaded the paper the wrong way.
He canceled all the jobs and then shut the printer off, got his pen out, and started gently working at the mechanism while holding the paper in traction. Nothing budged at first, but then he felt the paper shift and start to move just as Pat called out that the fight was on.
“Okay, I’ve got it!” he called back. “Be right there.”
The paper came out easily now. He set that aside, got some fresh paper, and fanned it just to make sure it would feed easily. Then he loaded the printer and turned it on again. Immediately a sheet of paper fed in and the printer started working. There must have been a job left in the queue’s buffer. Well, the girls were all set now. He watched the TV from the room as he waited for the print job to finish. Pat was sitting up on the couch again, while on the screen, Wayne and McLaglen were tumbling into a haystack, along with what seemed like half the men in town.
Mike impatiently looked down to see how much longer the printer was going to take. From the tray, the image of a wizened little man, dressed in a red velvet three-quarter frock coat and leather breeches with white stockings and wearing a tricorn cocked hat, grinned up at him. The little man was holding a big-buckled shoe in one hand and a small hammer in the other.
“What’s this?” Mike asked no one in particular. His voice sounded a little shaky, he thought, and his legs were a little weak so he sat down and stared stupidly at the printer, as if he expected it to cough up an explanation. However, it was finished, and the image it had printed perfectly now lay on the tray in a very substantial and matter-of-fact way.
He reached over and picked it up. The face was a cartoon of the real thing, and the coat lacked some details, but it was the same little man he’d seen right out there by the house, probably not more than 20 feet from where he now was sitting. The breeches and hat and stockings were the same. It was the same sort of shoe he was holding, and the same sort of little hammer.
“What is this?” he asked again.
“Mike!” Pat wanted him to come out and watch TV. At a time like this.
There was an URL at the bottom of the page below the image. Mike turned to the computer, pulled up the browser on the screen and typed in the URL. The Web page that appeared was about Irish fairy tales, and this was an image from a book they were selling. They said it was from a black and white 17th century engraving of a leprechaun, and they had printed it in color to show that in the old days leprechauns were believed to wear red, not green.
A leprechaun. He looked at the image again. They have reedy little voices, he thought. Who knew?
Whoever had made that engraving back in the 1600s, that’s who.
How can the world ever be the same again after you’ve stepped into Faerie all unknowing and then come back before you even knew it had happened? There was something of a cruel trick about the whole business, and Mike wanted to rush outside and look for the little man.
There was no point in that, of course.
It was so unfair.
He was wondering if it was same leprechaun back then as ‘his’ leprechaun tonight, or if they all looked alike, or even if there was more than one, when his brother loomed in the doorway.
“What’s up? You missed the whole thing.” Then, “Mike! Are you okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”
“Well, I have, sort of.” Pat was never going to believe this, but Mike handed him the paper anyway. “I saw one of those tonight on the way to the store.”
Out in the front room behind his brother, Mike could see the evening news starting on the TV. A couple of Pat’s older boys were sitting on the couch watching it. Pat peered at the paper he had been given. “What’s this?”
Mike didn’t want to say what it was. Instead, he said, “I went out to go to the store, and there was this tapping out front, and it was coming from this little man who was sitting on a rock by the road out here. “ He pointed to the corner of the room that was in the same general direction as the street corner outside.
Pat looked at the corner and then back as Mike went on. “He had a shoe in his hand, and a coat and all, just like that picture, only I didn’t know about the picture then, and I thought he was some midget guy on his way to a costume party, and talked with him a little bit, and he thanked me and said some numbers, and then when I looked again he’d gone away.”
Mike didn’t want to say ‘he disappeared.’ Pat looked very confused.
“That’s what I was going to tell you before,” Mike said by way of explanation.
His brother tried talking his way through to an understanding of what Mike was getting at.
“So, you went to store, and you met somebody dressed up like this who was going to a party.”
“Well, he didn’t say he was going to a party. I just figured he was and that’s why he was dressed that way. He was Irish. He had a brogue.”
“Of course he had a brogue. He was dressed up like a leprechaun. He had to have a brogue. Why wasn’t he wearing green, though? And what’s with the funny hat?”
“He didn’t say he was a leprechaun. And that’s how leprechauns are supposed to dress, I guess. I just looked it up on the Net. The green thing is all wrong. Actually, he just wanted to be left alone and I left him alone and he thanked me and gave some numbers.”
“Oh, they weren’t your numbers, Pat. They were all different ones.”
“Jeez, Mike. They were lottery numbers? You’re on your way to buy tickets and some guy dressed up like a leprechaun gives you numbers? Sounds like an omen. Was he asking you to get him a ticket?”
“No. He was thanking me for leaving him alone.”
“With lottery numbers. Well, did you play them?”
Mike looked sheepish. “I feel so dumb. Actually…”
Pat shook his head. “Of course not. It’s a waste of money. God himself could appear in the sky and hand you a ticket, and you’d quote the odds back at Him! Look, Mike, I don’t understand what’s the big deal here. You just met some crazy out in the street. Is that it? Did he threaten you or act sick?”
“No! Nothing like that. It’s, well…”
“Well, I think he was the real deal.”
Pat was silent for a moment.
Mike wanted to crawl under the desk. “Well, I don’t know why. It was so…weird. He was just…well…so ordinary and yet so different. It’s hard to explain. You had to be there. I wasn’t even thinking about leprechauns until I saw that come out of the printer just now. One of the kids must have pulled it off the Internet this afternoon. I never saw it before.
He paused and struggled to put this into words. “I don’t know. It just feels real.”
“Wow,” said Pat. He thought it over for a bit. “Okay,” he finally said. “You saw a leprechaun.”
“You should have played the numbers, man.”
“Nana! Uncle Mike says he saw a leprechaun!”
Pat whirled around. “Michael Patrick O’Donnell!” he shouted. “You come here!”
Mike sank his head on his hands. Oh Jesus.
About 10 minutes later, he was seated out on the couch between his mother and Bridget, who were both talking at once. Bridget was crying, too. The Action News meteorologist was on the TV, but you couldn’t hear a word she was saying. Pat was in the easy chair, glaring at his two boys, who were over in the corner with Crystal’s friend and looking sullen. Mary was keeping the younger children out of it; most of them were sleepy anyway, and they were all lying down in Ma’s bedroom with the door closed.
“Yes, you did tell me about the red velvet coat,” Mrs. O’Donnell was saying, as she held Mike’s hand and looked at him with great concern. “But you were at the computer before, and you probably saw the picture then.”
“Ma, this isn’t a big deal. Let it go. You’re getting yourself all worked up,” Mike said. “Let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
“I was so selfish,” said Bridget, with a sob. “I couldn’t see your troubles for my own.”
“Jesus H. Christ, sis,” Pat interjected. “There’s nothing wrong with him.”
“Patrick, don’t you take the Lord’s name in vain!”
She ignored him. “Michael, I think you should stay here tonight, and tomorrow we’ll go see Dr. Carruthers.”
While this was going on, Crystal walked into the room. She had been in the bathroom and then had gone into the kitchen to fix herself some tea.
“What’s happened?” she asked.
Her friend came over and whispered to her. Her eyes got wide, and she smiled and then grinned, and when her laughter came, it fell into a quiet moment when Mike’s mother was taking a breath and Bridget was crying into some tissues. Everybody stopped and looked at the young woman.
“He hasn’t flipped his gourd,” she said to her friend, and to the room in general. “Nobody’s more unsuperstitious than Uncle Mike. If he says he saw a leprechaun, then he saw a leprechaun.”
“Thanks, Crystal.” It was the first encouraging word he had heard since he and Pat had talked.
“No problem, Unk. Just don’t let me down.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, this leprechaun man gave you some lottery numbers, right?”
“Yeah, that’s what I think they were.”
“And he probably wasn’t trying to trick you because he wanted to thank you for leaving him alone, right?”
“Well, then they’re tonight’s numbers. There you go.” She pointed at the TV, where a pretty lady in a sequined party dress was standing in front of the lottery numbers machinery, talking into a microphone.
“Yes, Michael,” said his mother, with a grim, but loving look on her face. “What numbers did the leprechaun say they were again?”
Pat had gotten out his tickets and was arranging them on the coffee table.
“Do you remember them, Mike?” Bridget asked. The first tube appeared on the screen, with many numbered white balls bouncing around on air inside it.
“Of course I do,” said Mike. Oh, this was awful. He had just wanted to keep it to himself and then look up the winning numbers in the morning. Well, he was stuck now.
“The first one was 15,” he said.
A little ball popped out of a tube on TV, and the lady turned it so the number faced the camera. It was number 15.
“Just luck,” said one of the boys in the corner.
“Did I tell you to say something, young man?” growled Pat.
Bridget shifted in her seat, but Mrs. O’Donnell didn’t speak a word and just held Mike’s hand and watched the television.
“The next one was 46,” Mike said.
Another tube of bouncing balls appeared and another ball popped out. It was 46.
“4,” said Mike. His voice quavered a little.
The next ball was a 4.
Mike cleared his throat. “22.”
They were all staring at the TV with wide eyes now. Around and around the balls bubbled, and then a 22 popped out.
“17.” He said it in a flat tone, as if he himself didn’t believe what was happening.
The next little white ball was number 17. The room was as quiet as death now, and the music and announcer’s voice jarred their nerves so much that Ma reached over and turned the sound off.
Nobody believed it would be 38.
Pat slowly sank back into the depths of the easy chair and let out a deep breath.
“Forty-eight million dollars,” he said in awe. “Oh man, you should have bet those numbers.”
Mike had been staring at the screen as if hypnotized, but now he roused himself, looked at Pat and then at his mother, and then smiled and squeezed his mother’s hand as he reached into his shirt pocket with his free hand.
“You never let me finish, Pat. Of course I did.” He smiled at his mother. “Mrs. O’Donnell didn’t raise a fool.”
© 2009 B. J. Deming All rights reserved