A week after Alex’s funeral, three days before the McKays and he were to travel to Perth, Peter began to have his meals with the McKays. Before then he still had his meals in his room as he had done when Alex had been alive. No longer, Maureen decided.
In some ways his room was as much Alex’s as it was Peter’s. It was still the same small room Peter had stayed in on his first night at Kilmarnock Hill. Now, Alex’s books crammed into their old pine bookcases lined one side of the room. To Alex’s books Father Byrne had added a Catholic bible as well as the crucifix hung above Peter’s bed. Next to the window was a small table flanked by two chairs. In one of the chairs sat Peter. He looked at the chess set in front of him. Every evening alone in his room he would ponder the board. First white. Then he would turn the board and move a black piece. White always won perhaps because white always moved first. He understood now how the game worked. Playing white he built a strong defensive position, as Alex had taught him. Her would always move the king’s pawn to the fourth space, bring out the queen pawn and then the knights. Move up bishops, castle and place the queen between the knights. He would then wait for the attack. When black came he would pick off the pawns. Confident that he had the material advantage he would then push black back. So he had played by himself again and again until he understood the moves. The only problem now was the ending, closing in on the black king. He glanced at the crucifix above his bed. Prayers and bed soon. He would have to be quicker in finishing. Father Byrne had asked if he would play chess with him. Peter had decided not to. He would probably lose and Father Byrne would think him stupid as he had with the letter. Better just to keep it like this.
He thought of Doctor and Mrs. McKay. The doctor had left with Ian Campbell and old Elijah. Maureen had seemed disappointed but perhaps reassured by Ian’s presence had not complained. She and Mary were now busy making ornaments for the tree. He had helped gather pinecones and acorns for them but he saw no reason why he should take a further part of such silliness He had excused himself and retreated upstairs. Peter missed the doctor. The house was too feminine. With the doctor he could consider scientific things, not just housework and other silly things. There was also the tree,
He pushed the king pawn forward. He always made the same opening move, the one Alex had taught him. King pawn forward two squares to E4 Hold the middle Alex had said. Never allow yourself to be boxed in. Turning the board he did the same on the black square.
“Peter?” Maureen tapped Peter’s door.
Peter looked towards the door.
“May I come in?” she asked.
Peter wanted to say no. A woman in her condition should stay in her room. Radek had once said that such women should be hidden away until delivery. People seeing them would be reminded of how dirty they were.
He turned back to the board. “Yes.”
Maureen opened the door. She glanced at the smasll crucifix and missal besides Peter’s bed, gifts from Father Byrne. She could not refuse to let Petyer have them and yet could not feel comfortable in their presence. Then she noticed the board on the table.
“You’re playing chess?”
“Could I play with you?”
“You’re not the only child Alex taught chess to. White or black?”
“I always play white,” said Peter.
“I always played that with Alex.”
“I see I suppose we can do the same here.”
The game ended in a draw. This irritated Peter. He had expected an easy win.
“I’ll go to sleep now” he told her. Maureen nodded and said good night.
Maureen added one more thing. “Tomorrow you will have breakfast with Doctor McvKay and I. You will have all your meals in the dining room with us. Goodnight.”
The next day at breakfast. Peter appeared at the door of the room. He waited there for permission to enter. He stood, looking down at the floor, his hands behind his back. He hoped that the McKays had changed their minds or had simply forgotten about him.
“Come in Peter. Doctor McKay will say grace and then we’ll eat.”
Peter perched himself upon his chair sitting forward his hands on his lap. His eyes still downcast he waited. Doctor McKay passed him a plate of bacon. Peter looked at it for a moment extended a fork and took one slice, the smallest. “thank you,” he whispered. He then busied himself with dividing into I small pieces, a dividing interrupted only by Maureen passing him scrambled eggs and fried potatoes. He allowed himself a small scoop of each and returned to dividing his bacon.
“Toast” asked George.
Peter frowned as he studied the toast. He searched for the smallest one but they were all the same size. He chose the one that looked a little over done. “Thank you.”
“So what book are you reading now?”
“Don Quixote.,” said Peter slicing his toast into halves.
George nodded. “Do you like it?”
“He is mad. They are all mad. It is sad.”
“Then why read it?”
“It was Alex’s.” He put down his knife. “Please, may I go?”
“When you finish” said Maureen.”
Peter replied by shoveling egg into his mouth. George spooned more egg onto his plate.
“Next week, when you are in Perth,” said Maureen, wishing that Peter would look at her, “ you will be measured for a new set of clothes
“But …. I have clothes,” Peter whispered.
“Yes, well they stay the same size. You do not” said Maureen. George nodded in agreement.
“A good winter coat as well.” She added. All very odd she thought. Yes, the boy e was being polite but underlying the politeness lurked a fear that any mistake on Peter’s part would be severely punished.
Weeks later Maureen would mention that first meal to Katrina .She nodded. “That is Josef.” She poured Maureen another cup of coffee. “That is how we trained him.”
“What do you mean?”
“He must never forget that he is dining with his betters.. To Radek and my brothers, that meant everyone.”
“And to you?”
Katrina paused. “To them he was the pig. To me he was Josef.”
The tiny yellow candle flame led Peter through the black hallway. The cold floor chilled his bare feet. He stopped at the door of the McKays bedroom and listened. He could hear nothing except the distant chiming of the mantel clock from the drawing room. Three o’clock. The McKays would be sound asleep as he should be. He stopped by their bedroom door and strained to hear Hearing nothing he slipped through the dark stopping at the door of Alex’s old bedroom. Hesitating for a moment he opened the door and entered.
No trace of the assault remained in the room. The walls had been repainted, the ceiling re-plastered, floors scrubbed. Peter stood at the doorway candle in hand and wondered why he was there. Maureen had told him that he should not go in there. Too many bad memories remained lurking in the dark. Perhaps so but in a life filled with bad memories would a few more matter? Besides it still remained Alex’s room, the only room in this room that in which he had ever felt safe. All the horrors that had followed, the death of Alex, the memory of Franz pressing a shotgun against his skull, none of them could erase the memory of Alex having been in this room. Yes Alex had died in it but he had also lived in it. Not for the first time that day Peter reminded himself that he should have died when Alex had died. One thing Peter did know. Death and fear had followed Josef here. He must therefore never allow Josef to run free again.
Peter stepped into the room. There remained Alex’s bed. Beside it the same old leather chair that he had sat in and tended Alex during the old man’s illness, the same chair in which he had first seen Alex darning a sock. Peter pulled the quilt off the blanket. Wrapping it around him he settled into the chair and tried to sleep Peter pressed his faith against the back of the chair. What was going to happen to him? Stupid, blundering fool. How could he be any better then what he was now? Best to just leave. Maybe he would leave tomorrow. He would think about it. Shivering he pulled the blanket up over his head cocooning himself and slipped into a troubled asleep.
He dreamt of the Church of the Sacred Heart. During the three months that he had spent with Alex Peter had never stepped inside it. Occasionally as he had passed he would catch himself making a furtive sign of the cross something everyone did in Jablunka. If Alex noticed he never mentioned it. Only after the old man’s death did he enter it, at a memorial mass held by Father Byrne at the request of Rebecca Cleary.
As he had sat in the front between Rebecca and Anna Cleary he had noted how shabby and small the church was compared to the chapel at Marienburg and the churches that he had seen in Austria, Bavaria and in France. Pine and Maple and cheap paint served instead of great stained glass windows marble statues and gold and silver ornaments. Even so, he could feel God’s presence pressing down on him. If it had not been for his being squeezed between the Clearys he would have bolted. God would never forgive him. He had no right to be in a sacred place unless he could prove that he was no longer what he had been.
He looked up at the small crucifix on the wall behind the altar. Looking down at him was Franz. He remembered the man’s hand holding him down pinning his head to the pillow as he thrust into him. Through it all, the pain and the fear, Josef had not uttered a sound. In not screaming, groaning or sobbing he felt that he had stolen away some of Franz’s pleasure. Of what had happened between himself and Franz, Peter had not spoken a word. He never would, keeping it hidden within him until the day he died.
As the night passed he wondered how he could ever find his way back to God.
They were taking him to the judge’s estate near Perth. There he would stay until they returned from New York. Then what? The trial?
The McKays were lying to him. He was not surprised. Radek had once told him; “The only person who never told a lie died in their infancy.”
The question was why. In his short life Peter had discovered three kinds of liars. Those like himself were inherently bad and lied because it was their nature to lie. Those like Radek or Frederick lied t5o get or to keep power. Rarest were those like Alex who lied to protect others. Perhaps that was the reason for the McKays but protect him from what? From Radek? But that was why they were going to New York. To have him arrested. Why lie about it? Something else thern. He considered the question as he washed his face and hands, undressed, out on his nightshirt and knelt by his bed.
“Holy Mary Mother of God…”
Perhaps they just did not want to admit that they did not like him? That would explain it. . Feeling a little better he thought again of what Father Byrne had told him, that God would forgive anyone who prayed for it. There was a price though. Part lay through punishment, part through prayer and the last part through good deeds. Only by all three would God be willing to accept him. Maybe then the dreams would stop.