Forest Park is still beautiful, 30 years after the St. Louis World’s Fair, especially when covered in snow. The air was fresh with the scent of pines, clear, cold and exhilarating. Red and his twin cousins were as playful as three large puppies, mixing football with a snowball fight. Unexpectedly, a snowball hit Red in his freckled face. He wiped his eyes with his gloved hand and noticed the time.
“Guys I’m out of here for today.”
“We’re in the middle of a game!”
“I have to pick up my girl. I’m late already!” he yelled over his shoulder.
“At least leave us the ball, man. It’s still early.”
“Is she blind?”
Laughing, Red turned and tried a long pass towards Al’s head. “I have gifts to buy, you idiot. It’s Christmas Eve!”
“You’re a goner Red. Aren’t we Jewish?” the twins shouted in unison.
Red headed home for a quick shower and change. His father looked up from his paper.
“It’s terrible weather to go out in.”
“Got a date, Dad, got to go.”
“Is the girl Jewish, son?”
“Dad this is 1938. No one cares about that.”
He headed down the stairs two at a time. Red’s uncle Morris was sitting quietly in the store.
“You need cash son? Take what you need out of the till.”
“Thanks, you’re the best.”
Red sang something about life being a bowl of cherries as he wove through the snow. He parked in front of Saks Fifth Avenue. Rosemary had eyeballed the red coat with a fur collar in the window. Red felt flush with the money his uncle had floated him and the money he had won at cards. The streets of downtown St. Louis were full of window shoppers, but the stores were nearly empty. The gals behind the counter were more than happy to wrap up the coat and some nice scarves for Rosemary’s sister and mother. Rosemary’s little brother needed a decent football and gear to learn the game. That was next.
He’d promised to pick Rosemary up and take her to buy a Christmas tree as a surprise for her kid brother. Times were tough and a Christmas tree was a luxury.
Red pulled up to the small dress shop that employed Rosemary after school. He pulled off his hat, revealing the shock of bright red hair above his big ears. His smiling freckled face caused everyone to brighten.
“Let’s go you big lug, and cover that crazy red head.”
Red reached over to grab Rosemary’s secondhand coat to help her put it on. She winced with pain.
“What’s wrong with your arm?”
“Nothing, let’s go Red.”
“Let me see, you’re hurt.”
“I told you it’s nothing Red. I fell.”
“I just want check you out and see if you need something to fix you up.” Her arm was deeply bruised, with the clear prints of someone’s fingers. “My God, who did this? I’ll kill the guy.”
“I told you I fell, forget about it Red.”
Rosemary’s scarf slipped. Her neck was marked; someone had choked her.
“Who did this, your creepy boss?”
“Stop Red, it wasn’t him. Do you want me to lose my job?” She was crying, too proud to talk.
“Someone grabbed you and choked you. I’m not an idiot.”
“It was my Dad, you big jerk, are you happy now? This is nothing new. Let’s go get a tree.”
Red was a young man, beloved by his family. Rosemary’s father was hurting her and this was inconceivable to him.
“Look, it’s nothing, understand? Don’t make things worse for me.”
“I won’t make things worse. We’ll get the kid his tree.”
Rosemary’s little brother was 8 years old. He was so excited to see Red carry in the tree. He reached over to give Red a jab in his boxing stance.
“Hey kid, come on put up those dukes, fight fair.”
Rosemary’s mother and sister were delighted. In these times no one was generous and Red was big hearted and generous to a fault. Rosemary’s father was rarely around. The man was up to something. A man with a job should not have a family this poor. The flat was sparse and cold. He wondered if the old man was going to show his face. No one spoke of him. The family decorated the tree and Rosemary sang. He had it bad for this girl. He knew she wasn’t really interested in him, but he wasn’t deterred.
Red said good night. He was looking forward to seeing Rosemary in her red coat: maybe get a kiss.
Red waited in the freezing rain.
“Hello Mr. Barnes.”
“What are you doing here? Are you sniffing around my daughter? I see you kike. We don’t want any dirty Jews littering our streets, understand?”
In a flash Mr. Barnes was lying in the street with a bloody lip. “You won’t be seeing the likes of me again Mr. Barnes.”
Red was a star college football player and a golden gloves boxer. He didn’t look the part of a tough guy, until now. “That was for Rosemary. Get your things and don’t wake anyone. Never show your face here again.”
“What are you saying?”
“I might have to break your neck. Your best hope is to wake up in a hospital.”
All he took was his gifts from under the tree.
Red showed up the next day with his carefree grin. Rosemary took him aside smiling.
“He took his gifts, my father is gone.”
“Wow, well maybe he’ll turn up.”
Mrs. Barnes took Red aside. “Young man, you are a diamond in the rough.”
She never mentioned what she saw that Christmas Eve of 1938. Gilbert Barnes was not heard from again for 50 years.
Red got his kiss.
Susan Jacob is a local psychotherapist who finds writing to be the best therapy for her. She is a student in local resident Christine Fugate’s story-telling class.