Christmas came and went. Kitty felt a slight level of melancholy that she attributed to the shorter days and the bustle of the season, everyone seeming intent on finishing some amorphous tasks before the end of the year. In her past life, Christmas and New Years’ had been somber times when her husband turned their dining room table into an accounting office where he had her lay out all the year’s expenses and receipts and he carefully audited every scrap of paper. He had a yearly ledger in which he insisted she fill in every day’s entries, methodically accounting for each expenditure against the allowance he gave her. He allowed his son one present from Kitty, not to exceed twenty-five dollars, and one from himself and that was Christmas.
Christmas with Alva was a different matter. Of course there was a huge amount of food arriving daily, with the kitchen always smelling of some delicious brew or roast or baked item. Alva bought a tree so large its top touched the twelve-foot ceiling in the wide entrance hall next to the stairs. They had to enter the kitchen through the dining room as the hallway was impassable once the tree had been installed by Raoul and Marv, the homeless man who Alva had invited to live in the back bedroom right after Thanksgiving. She had cleaned him up and taken him to the Salvation Army for some new, used clothes and he had begun to do odd jobs for her at the house and around the restaurant. Under her care, his scraggly, gaunt look and sunken eyes gave way to a clean shaven face and a healthy weight gain that softened his eyes. He began smiling more often and even joked with Alva when they were together. He turned out to have a number of useful skills, not least of which was an ability to fix old plumbing. He began at the top apartment, which was currently empty, tearing out the sink and toilet and taking apart the shower stall.
Soon the entire bathroom had been gutted, then Alva sent him to purchase tile, mastic and grout. Marv carried every piece of equipment and material up three flights of stairs. The banging echoed throughout the house. But in two weeks he had completely replaced all the old plumbing and installed new fixtures. By Christmas he was deep into pale blue and white tiles with dark blue grout and he seemed to have a real knack for tile patterns. He managed to exactly match up the bull nose grout lines with the flats and even his cut tiles were perfectly lined up with the ones ascending the walls.
“Ain’t that something?” Alva asked Kitty as they stood admiring Marv’s work.
“You amaze me, Alva,” Kitty said. “I never would have entrusted a job like this to someone who I picked off the street. How did you know he could do it?”
“I relies on faith, most times,” Alva answered. “And Faith, He never let me down so far. Nossir.”