Scrooge' s euphoria did not last. It was a mirage, a bit of presque vu. Lord knows he wanted it to endure; he wanted to be the new Scrooge, the one whose heart was as expansive as the choral founts of night. But—he just couldn' t grasp it—couldn' t hold on to it. The Ur-Scrooge, the one he built through years of pinchpenny ways, of niggardly pursuits, of just plain minginess, was too powerful, too unrelenting.
He was a Lombard, a Shylock by trade. Money spoke to him like the Burning Bush to Moses. Was it Moses? Yes. It was like his friend Henry Jekyll said. One' s demons could be held in check but they lived nonetheless; they were undying. Henry said, “I was in no sense a hypocrite; both sides of me were in dead earnest; I was no more myself when I laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I labored, in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering.” Yes, Scrooge thought, yes.
It really began on Boxing Day. After a whirlwind twenty-four hours of fellow-feeling and generosity Scrooge found himself alone again with his thoughts. And his thoughts reminded him of that bitch, Emily, Cratchit' s wife. Her cool reception toward him on Christmas Day only then began to sink in. Who was she to act so high and mighty? So mistrustful. If she fancied that he was the horrid-hunks yet, then so be it. It was on this day that Ebenezer began to craft his revenge. Years of bitterness fueled the scheme.
And Total Abstinence—pah! By eleven p.m. on Boxing Day Scrooge was seated by his fire with a mug of mulled wine in his fist. In his fevered, besotted mood he set his sights on destroying that smug wife of his clerk. To do it he must continue the charade, the make-believe that he was a new man, a kind man, one capable of love.
So it was, on December 29th, as the old year wound down like a play-pretty, that Scrooge stood up from his desk and addressed his clerk, Bob Cratchit.
“Bob, I must go out. You' ll be alright here for awhile by yourself, I reckon. Put some more coal on that fire—there' s a chill in here.”
“Thank you, sir. Bless me, yes. And, may I add, Mr. Scrooge, that you look natty today. Is that a new coat?”
“Thank you, yes, Bob. And, please, call me Ebenezer.”
“Bless me, sir, yes. Thank you, sir, I mean, Ebenezer.”
Scrooge left, muttering to himself about his own personal yeasayer. What a flibbertigibbet. How, in heaven' s name, did he land such a pulchritudinous wife? Albeit a bit of a shrew, but, still, he imagined, a tigress in the bedroom arts. Witness all their children—he knew he was right.
Scrooge stopped to admire himself in a shop window. The snow behind him seemed to illuminate his figure, an older man to be sure, but one stout and firm of limb. He wore an old-fashioned Frock Suit—out of style, but its cut flattered him. Was he up to seducing a poor, younger woman? Yes, he thought he was. It had been many years since he played Lothario but he remembered it the way one remembers climbing a tree.
Scrooge knocked on the Cratchits' door with a soft gloved hand. He looked back over his shoulder and was pleased to see that no one was about. The snowy streets seemed preternaturally quiet. After a few moments, Emily Cratchit opened the door and the expression on her face was supercilious and guarded. Scrooge roiled inside—he wanted to lash out, to push that arrogant face in.
Instead, he simpered, “Good day, Emily. We were not very busy at the office today and I thought I' d pay you a social call.” He smiled crookedly.
Emily Cratchit surveyed him. Her face softened—slightly. She opened the door wider in invitation.
“Would you like some tea, Mr. Scrooge?” she said, her back to him.
Scrooge tried to imagine what was beneath the reams of material swathing her backside.
“Thank you, Emily. And please call me Ebenezer.”
She turned toward him warily now. She thought he was looking at her backside—was it possible? The wizened old churl.
“Ebenezer,” she said. Her smile was as crooked as his. She felt that she could return sham for sham.
She served the tea and sat in an armchair in close proximity to her husband' s employer. The quarters were cramped, the seats seemingly elbow to elbow.
Scrooge took a dainty sip of the hot tea.
“Where are your delightful children?” he asked.
“School,” she answered. “Of course.”
“Of course,” the old chuff replied.
“My eldest is at work.”
They sat in silence for a while. Scrooge fixed his gaze on her face repeatedly. She was once a lovely woman. Lines of age and poverty crossed her face like craquelure. Emily Cratchit, for her part, despite her circumspect attitude, began to thaw a bit under the appreciative glare of a man, though this man for so long had occupied her nightmares.
“Ebenezer,” she said, a smile cracking her face, unbidden. “Why really this unexpected tarriance?”
Her smile warmed Scrooge to the undertaking.
“Emily,” he said, and, emboldened, laid a gloved hand upon her reddened, bare one, “I felt it was time we got to know each other better.”
Why Do We Exist?
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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories