Ten years have gone by since The Night. That the experience changed me, there can be no doubt. Whether I perceive that this change was for the better or worse depends upon my frame of mind. On pleasant days, I remember the spirits with gratitude, for I now have many friends, a full social calendar, and a buxom fiance (to whom I do not remember formally proposing). On more stressful days, I curse those ghosts. Now I have friends–oh, the responsibility!–a full social calendar–is it wrong for me to yearn, on occasion, for my solitary gruel and an early bed time?–and a fiance who will soon intrude upon…Pardon. Share…my life.
And then there is the Cratchit family, God bless them, who have come to rely upon my continued largess in a fashion that seems most unhealthy. Once I may have grumbled selfishly that Bob’s meager wages were bankrupting me, yet this is now a quite literal truth. Three years ago, despite legitimate misgivings and under much external pressure, I granted Cratchit a full partnership. Since then he has routed thousands of pounds into his own pockets through questionable charities for thin, pale children. The devil of it is that I dare not confront the man. In the aftermath of The Night, my clerk became so beloved by the public that a mere whisper of complaint against Bob Cratchit is perceived as an assault on Christmas, itself. Only Tiny Tim and the Christ Child, too often fused in the collective mind, enjoy more intense sentiment.
Ah, Tim. I tremble at the following words lest I be forced to spend another Christmas Eve with disapproving shadows, but it would perhaps have been a blessing had Tim perished in innocence. Fame rarely improves the character of children and in this Tim has fared worse than most. Such attention was lavished upon him in his angelic youth that he grew incapable of hearing anything that threatened his tender sensibilities. One now dissents at great peril. Meanwhile, time and improved diet rendered Tim portly to a grotesque extreme, while the public’s interest in adult Tim faded with his winsomeness. Unaccustomed to being ignored, Tim became surly in private and learned to wield his crutch–now needed to prop up his bovine girth–in brutality against his mother and sisters. Recently,a spate of gruesome murders has plagued the London’s red-lit alleys. The killer’s identity is as yet unknown and, though I am almost certain that my suspicions are unfounded, it is worrisome that each grim deed occurred on evenings when Tim was abroad doing his “charitable work.”
For all of these burdens I blame that pathetic excuse of a journalist, Charles Dickens. My conversion to a more humanistic outlook was at its heart a private experience. Naturally, I was overjoyed to share my enlightenment with those who had suffered the most grievous consequences of my darker years. However, I did not intend for my story to travel outside my immediate circle. Cratchit was the one who carried my tale to the press. (At times I fear that my original estimation of Bob as a disingenuous parasite was accurate after all.) Without requesting permission (which I would not have granted) to broadcast my life, Cratchit and the newsprint hack conspired to transform my night of personal epiphany into an allegory for the ages.
As soon as the first installment went to press, my very name became synonymous with a heart so cold that it cannot be warmed even during the merriest season. Eventually I adapted to unwanted renown, yet the ironical twist that niggles at me to this day is that I became famous for vicious holiday frigidity at precisely the moment when I wanted nothing more than to thaw myself in the glow of Christmas joy. The result of this crucial misunderstanding has been an annual compulsion to prove with outlandish and costly displays that I am no longer the man I was. In short, Christmas has become more of an inconvenience in the decade following my Yuletide conversion than it was before.
By now I am no longer certain where my own memories end and Dickens’ story begins. When I look back on my life before The Night, I sometimes recall a man who was less cruel than introverted and shy. It is true that I had no friends; then again, I cannot say with confidence that I was lonely. There were books then, as well as long periods of delightful silence, and I found the measured distance of the servants companionable in my way. Furthermore, if I am to be honest, I cannot abide an overheated room or rich foods. I have suffered this last decade from chronic lung ailments brought about by coal dust. Last week I was told that I have gout.
Alas, there is no returning to my previous way of life. Such an act would please the doubters too much. Nor can I call Christmas a humbug, I came truly to enjoy the music; I relish the hot rum punch even more. Having freely admitted to some lingering fondness for Christmas, I nevertheless wonder how I would respond to a trio of revenants should they appear to me now. In retrospect, the choices that I made on The Night were hasty and poorly thought-out, as conclusions reached during unexpected hauntings tend to be. I trusted the ghosts’ message too quickly, I suspect, and wish that I had thought to inquire more deeply into their motivations. They were, after all, sent by Old Marley, who was a right bastard and wily at that. It would be just like him to so confound me with fear that I would trade my treasures for a measure of acceptance. Marley was a spiteful man.