Marley’s Ghost

A Christmas Story by Brad Abraham

Bottle or draft?

Heading home for the holidays huh? Must be one of those last-minute types, you know? Well, after the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve is the busiest travel time of the year, didja know that? Yeah I figured. You work retail, you work counter or minimum wage you’re lucky to get any part of Christmas Eve off. Hard work, retail. What? Nah, never worked retail. Been bartending about as long as I’ve been able to drink.

Legally, I mean.

Me? Nah, I don’t mind working Christmas Eve. I’m a straight shot up the A after work. Bennett Avenue at 187th. You? Ah, the 33 to West Caldwell. Close but not close enough, huh? Heading home or a visit?

Home. Yeah, home’s nice. Mine’s nothing much; a 1-bedroom in a pre-war. But my ma lives in the same building, I lived there myself most of my life. Nothing quite like home. What’s the saying? ‘Home is where they have to take you in’?

You looking forward to Christmas?

Nah, I don’t think it’s that weird a question. Some do, a surpising number don’t. Some just like the time off. Some don’t. For some Christmas is just bad memory after bad memory. That’s what happens when you get older I guess. Old regrets, old hurts; they pile up. Old memories too; there isn’t a Christmas day where I don’t think of my father, how things might have been were he still around you know? I doubt you’ll find a child who doesn’t look forward to Christmas morning, coming downstairs or out of their bedroom to see the tree lit up, see those presents underneath it. But those children, something happens to them along the way to adulthood. Something changes …

What? Oh, it’s nothing. Just gathering wool.

Penny for my thoughts? Aaah, it’s quiet now. Why not? Just remembering a time about ten years or so back. There was a couple a guys occupying that stool and the one next to you. The younger feller looked pretty slick, you know, the business suit, the satchel, the small roller suitcase packed with clothes for a few days away. The older fella, he was a little rough around the edges. Fifty years maybe but he looked older. Know how that is? Some people don’t seem to age, others seem to do nothing but age? He was blue around the collar. You could tell by lookin’ at him. You can tell a lot about people when you’re a bartender.

Oh, it’s five even.

You want to run a tab? No worries.

Right, those two guys. The two of them warming their seats waiting for their respective bus and train to wherever. Both quiet; the old fella was nursing a soda pop. The young fella had a Heineken. That’s another thing about bartenders; we remember the drinks, not the names. So I’ll just call them that; old fella and young fella. It was a lull in traffic, you see, and the place was a little quiet. Too quiet. Like a funeral, not Christmas Eve. So I asked them both the same thing; “you fellas looking forward to Christmas?”

And the young fella, he snorted and said to me …

“Fuck Christmas. No offence but, you know, fuck it.”

I pinched out a smile. You got all types at the Locksmith, just across the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 44th. Bridge and Tunnel, Hell’s Kitchen locals. People coming, people going. People with a few minutes and a few brain cells in surplus they want to kill.

Anyway, “Fuck Christmas” right?

“Kinda harsh,” the old fella said.

“Not if you’ve had the Christmases I’ve had,” young fella replied. “I haven’t celebrated Christmas in … well, it’s been a while, you know? I mean, I’m going to spend the day at my girlfriend’s parents’ place with her, but that’s just couple stuff. I don’t wanna sound like Scrooge, but Christmas is a – what did he call it? – humbug? Yeah. Humbug.”

“How come? If you don’t mind me asking,” the old fella said.

I expected the young fella to say “actually I do mind, gramps” and that woulda been the end of it. The young guy looked to be a Wall Street type even though he probably worked Midtown. Maybe he was working his way down to Wall Street, I dunno. You know the type; the office drone who eats his takeout lunch at his desk and drinks after work.

I expected the brush-off, but the young fella had a couple Heinekens in him by this point, so his tongue was sufficiently lubricated and he must have figured what the hell why not because he looked to the old fella and told him and by extension me …

“Christmas was always a chore. A burden. Every year, the source of some drama. First was my mom and dad bitching about presents; dad worked his ass off back then and mom made sure to spend as much of that money as she could as soon as it came in. Birthdays, Easter, visits, you name it. Gift, gift gift. So every year it was “too many presents, too much money.” He didn’t grow up with a lot, I gathered even back then. He was a workoholic, did well for himself, but we grew up like we were still poor. To him Christmas was an extravagence. Too muchof one. Maybe because his Christmases were so miserable, I don’t know, we never talked about it. Then there was the whole back and forth over where Christmas Day was spent. Dad was from Pennsylvania. Philly area. So for him, Christmas Day meant up early, gifts unwrapped, then piling into the car for the ninety-minute drive to his folks’ place out in Buck’s County. A ninety-minute drive that always took twice that.

“My ma, she was from Mystic. Nice place. Christmasy that time of year. So every year it was another fight, this time over where we spent Christmas Day; with her family or his. Just alternate, right? Dad’s family one year, Mom’s the next; alternate them so the next year it’s the reverse order. Easy? Wrong. My grandma – Dad’s ma – was never well. Always some ailment – she was in a car accident in her teens, she broke her back and was bedridden for like a year. Never really recovered from it. Then she got older and got sicker, and we’d be told every Christmas that this one may be her last. I heard that as far back as when I was eight. She passed when I was 21. Thirteen years of fighting, of arguing. And she just kept hanging on. Part of me wonders if it wasn’t some power move my dad used against my mom. Maybe he just, like, made it up, you know?”

“So that’s why?” the old fella asked.

The young fella just laughed. Not the mirthful “you made a funny” laugh; no, this was the “I laugh because I don’t want to cry” type.

“My man, that’s just the prelude,” he said. “Me and Christmas were on shaky ground well before the Christmas day that It happened. Another Heinie for me, and for my friend here …”

“Just a Pepsi,” the old fella said.

I got them their drinks while young fella continued his journey into the past.

“By the time I hit my late twenties, mom had divorced dad, who moved back to the Philly area. King of Prussia. You know, the big mall? Anyway she left Bay Ridge and moved back to Connecticut. So from that point on, the fight became about who spent Christmas Day where and when. “You were at your father’s on Christmas Day last year, it’s my turn,” and all that bullshit. I was and remain car-less so I have a two hour train ride in either direction to look forward to.

The young fella took his fresh Heineken and raised it to the old fella.

“Friend, nothing sours you on Christmas like holiday travel. Seeing that line for the train or bus or wherever. The tired faces, the arm-loads of presents and foil-covered casserole dishes. Getting to the train and finding it standing room only as far as Newark, maybe further. Makes you want to just say eff it, crack open a Swanson’s Turkey TV dinner and watch A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life at home.

“Which one?” The old fella asked.

“What?”

“Which Christmas Carol? Assuming that’s your choice.”

“Wha? Oh, the British one with that guy Alastair Simms.

“Sim.”

“Wha?”

“Alastair Sim. That’s my favorite.”

“Yeah, mine too. The George C. Scott one they did for TV is pretty good too. Actually, one year I watched like five or six versions of that story. Each of them is a little different. Never read the book though. Maybe I should.”

“You know, sorry for interrupting,” the old fella said, “but old movies like A Christmas Cartol, well, they’re ghost stories aren’t they? Meaning all the people on-camera, on-screen, abd behind the scenes, they’re all dead now right? Heck, even something like King Kong or Casablanca or Citizen Kane. Time marches on, Fay Wray, Bogey and Bergman, Orson Welles, all gone in the physical world. But you wanna see their ghosts, watch their movies.”

That’s alright, I was finished my story, the young fella looked like he wanted to say, but he didn’t. Instead he took another sip of beer, cleared his throat, and continued on his journey.

“Every year Christmas was a choice, and a hard one because it just felt like what it always was. That tug-o-war. Not even the decision to alternate helped. Like they were still fighting in divorce court five years on. That’s the one thing  they don’t tell you about your parents divorce; doesn’t matter how old you are when they split – it’s always like when you’re a little kid watching them yell at each other.”

The young fella slammed down nearly half of his beer before continuing. Not just whetting his whistle but drowning it in the tub, if you get me.

“This year in particular it was Dad’s turn to have me on Christmas Day. He’d remarried by this point; some divorcee and her two teenagers. Unbelievable! The guy was on the road half the year when me and my brother were still at home, never around, and suddenly he’s all ‘got a new family, new stepmother, new step-siblingss, oh and I’m leaving your ma for her.’ Like we – my brother and me – we were just a dress rehearsal. My brother bounced to California around that time, He hasn’t been back. Not to ma’s, not to dad’s. Like he divorced them. But I digress.

“I’d been working a few years out of college. Making good money, though for New York you have to stretch things, obviously. Anyway this year in particular we’d  had a good year, got a nice bonus and figured, “eff it” I’ll be generous. I’ll be Alastair Sim as Scrooge after being visited by the three ghosts. Step-sibling number one got an iPad. Number two got a laptop for school. Step-mom got this expensive perfume she liked – champagne taste on a beer budget, that one – and dad got a nice Rolling Stones box set of CDs. He was something of an audio – audiofill –

“Audiophile,” the older fella offered.

“Anyway I dropped well over a couple grand on gifts but I figured, hey, why not be Santa Claus for once. I didn’t dress up or anything like that but the sentiment remains.”

The young fella sipped his beer. That was when I knew he was building to the point.

“I trek out there to King of Prussia. Had to take a cab from the train station in Philly. I get out there, into the boonies, the tree’s decorated to the nines, and the underside was loaded with presents. At least they waited for me, right? I settled in, figured it was good to be, well, not home, but somewhere close enough, you know?

“It’s Christmas Day so they waited for me before opening gifts. The ones I brought were unwrapped, like wolves ripping into a kill. Then they work their way through the rest of the pile. One for dad, one for step-mom, one for step-brother, one for step-sister, lather rinse repeat. I’m sitting there drinking Eggnog and waiting for something to be handed to me … but it never happens. So I figure, they musta got me something big and will bring it out after the smaller stuff’s done. But the smaller stuff gets done, all the gifts are unwrapped, and step-mother says “I should get dinner started”.

“I’m sitting there, wondering if this is some joke. Like they’re having me on. So after a few moments I say “aren’t we forgetting something?” And they’re all “what?” And I’m all “do I get a Christmas present?”

“And they all look at each other, like they’re waiting for someone else to tell me.

“Finally my dad does. He says well, it’s been a lean year, not a lot of money to spread around, and we figured you have this big well-paying job in NYC and you really don’t need anything you couldn’t buy yourself so …”

“Step-mom pipes up that they didn’t think I’d be there on Christmas Day, that they thought it was my mom’s turn to have me. Even though this had all been arranged weeks before.

“I just sat there, stunned. Like, I get lean years but nothing? Not even a card and a box of Russel Stover? And before you say “Christmas is all about the spirit of giving not receiving” can you really look me in the eye and say getting nothing from your own family after dropping two large on them is the fucking Christmas Spirit?

The young fella slammed down the rest of his drink. You could see he’d upset himself all over again by this story. And still, he kept going.

“Dinner was dinner, but even before dessert I knew I wasn’t going to stay. I make ready to call a cab to take me back to Philly. I’ll ride the goddamn Chinatown bus if I have to I just want to get outta there. But my dad says “no I can drive you.” Not “please, stay, we’ll make it up to you” just “I’ll get my coat.”

Neither of us says a word the drive into Philly. Just the Rolling Stones on the car CD player. At least he was enjoying his gift, right? It wasn’t until a few blocks from the train station he pulls into a supermarket, tells me he needs to grab something. He goes in, and comes out like five minutes later seemingly empty-handed. But when he gets back into the car he hands me this card sealed in an envelope. He mutters something like “It was just a joke. Didn’t mean any harm. Open it on the bus ride back.”

I open it on the bus ride back and I know full and well what he did. Went straight to the gift card section; every grocery store had one around Christmas. He grabbed a card, then hit up one of those independent ATMs, ate the processing fees … and withdrew two hundred dollars that he stuffed into the card. He didn’t even sign it. Just handed it to me and told me to open it on the bus.

I still had it with me when I got back to the Port Authority. I had it with me when I trudged down to the subway for the ride back out to Bay Ridge. I never left the neighborhood. But at the entrance to the subway I see this homeless guy sitting there by the doors, I can’t tell if he’s white, black, whatever. His head’s down, he’s bundled up because that entranceway is cold. And without thinking anything of it I drop the card and the money into his little begging bowl, hat, cup, cardboard box, whatever it was and wish him Merry Christmas.”     

The young fella considered ordering another drink, but checked the time and opted out.

“That was the last time I visited my dad at Christmastime. He died the following spring. Heart attack while shoveling snow. One of those late snowfalls that’s all wet and heavy? He laid out there in the driveway for a couple of hours before they found him. Step-mom and kids – you know, the hale, hearty teenagers who should have been shoveling the snow and not him – got the house. He left it to me, you know, but she lawyered up, saying they would be out on the street without it, even though that was a lie. Dad was insured, well over a million dollars. She didn’t have to worry about money – not if she pried her ass off the couch and got a damn job. Heck, back then you could buy a house in King of Prussia or Phoenixville for under half that. No, she just wanted it, and was willing to pay a lawyer big bucks to fight me on it. I didn’t give her the satisfaction. She wanted it, she got it. I don’t know what she’s doing now. Don’t know if she’s alive or dead. Don’t much care to be honest.”

The young fella looked to the older one and shrugged

“You wanted to know why? Now you do.”

The old fella had sat silent through the tail end of the story. Just sipping his Pepsi and listening. Like he knew what this young fella really wanted wasn’t a beer, but an ear. Like all that bitterness was a snake-bite you had to lance to drain the poison out of. The older fella was a good listener. He probably caught parts of the story I didn’t as I tended bar. But finally, he set his drink down, pivoted in his seat, and then told us his story;

“I’m not a drinker. Not anymore.” The older fella raised his Pepsi, as if pinning a period to the end of that statement. “I used to be but that was a long time ago. It started with drinks after work, then drinks at home. I’d have a scotch and soda, you know to ‘take the edge off the day’? Then it was just scotch and it wasn’t just after five in the afternoon. I was a handyman. Pickup truck with my company name on the side, nice split-level in Mamaroneck. My wife, my daughter, and me. Just the three of us. Life was good. Everybody needed a handyman back then. Everybody still does. People these days. They don’t know how to build things or fix things. They know how to order things online that arrive already built, or maybe, maybe they’ll hire someone to assemble it. I was good with my hands. Still am. I built additions to homes, I built tree houses for the kids – all up to code too; I didn’t scrimp or cut corners when it came to kids.”

The older fella gazed distant, into the mirror behind the counter.

“I was good with my hands. I know I said that before but it’s important.”

He held out his left hand. Held it flat. It’s steady as a rock.

“See? Thing is, over time, the more and more I drank which was by then an all-day thing, the more unsteady these hands got. I’d show up to work late, I’d take longer to do basic work, I’d make mistakes. I charged by the job, not the hour, so they couldn’t claim I was stretching a task out, but every mistake I’d have to go back on my own time and make the fix for free. Heck, I once put a door to a shower stall in upside-down and backwards. I started getting a reputation, which in a town the size of Mamaroneck is like a Mark of Cain. You don’t want a rep for being a drunk. You’d think I mighta realized this when I’d show up to do an estimate on a job and see these housewives and wrinkling their noses because it was ten in the a.m. and I already stank of beer.”

“Anyway, things went downhill. I had put in a downstairs bathroom, I didn’t connect a pipe correctly, and toilet water drained under the basement floor. Smelled awful by all accounts, not that I did the fix. They hired a different crew, had them come in, rip the floor up, clear out the piss and shit, and reconnect everything proper before redoing the whole job. They handed me the bill. I didn’t have that kinda money, so they took me to court and I was ordered to repay them for my shoddy work. So pretty much I’m working for them now. Meanwhile all my bills are piling up. Second notice. Third notice. Then the bill collectors start calling, threatening. Then I fell behind on my truck payments …”

The old fella sat there, fuming silently for a moment. He gazed at the back of the counter, where we kept all the expensive hooch. Hooch still a word people use? Anyway, those Johnny Walkers and Jim Beams and Jack Daniels all must have looked like old friends. Like he wanted to get reacquainted with them that Christmas Eve near the Port Authority. But he didn’t, bless him. I may sling drinks for a living, but what I don’t want to do is help someone fall off the wagon. But, as the old fella himself would say, I digress.

“You know, I know when people are driving around the burbs or wherever and see those trucks parked at the curb, guys with lawnmowers and leaf-blowers going to work on the yard of some mansion and think they’re just blue-collar grunts. They don’t realize how much money it takes to be a grunt. Finance a truck, finance your equipment, pay your crew, manage your expenses, pay business taxes. You do all of that … until you don’t. I lost the truck, I lost my business, I pissed it all away down the toilet because amidst all of this I kept on drinking. And drinking. And drinking. When my wife, rest her, asked for a divorce, I drank. When our daughter had to abandon hopes and dreams of the Ivy League to go to a community college, I drank. And when my wife put our house up for sale – I’d transferred ownership to her so the banks couldn’t take it – I kept on drinking. She sold the place and moved away, so did my daughter. I was alone, just me and my habit. Oh sure, I got some money from the sale of the house – my wife took pity on me and slipped me a nice under-the-table sum, but that went fast. I rented a room in New Rochelle, near the train station, so I could at least get into the city for the work I knew would be there. A buddy of mine was working construction. He set me up on a non-union crew, and I figured well, it’s money, it’s under-the-table, I can get myself back on track, back in the money-making game.”

The old fella sighed. We all knew what was coming before he said it.

“Well, travelling back and forth was tiring. Up at five, on the train at six, on-site at seven. Ten, twelve hours of hard labor, then the seven o’clock train, home by eight, drinking until ten. Sometimes I’d grab a drink before the train, and I’d fall asleep on the ride home and end up in New Haven and have to backtrack. When I’d punch out at the construction site – I never missed a shift by the way – I’d find some bar near the train station and put a few away more and more. Sometimes more than a few. Sometimes so many I’d miss my train and figure I might as well stay, find some all-night place like a diner to keep warm until I could start work the next day. That’s what I did, day in, day out until I stopped going to work altogether. Stopped paying rent on my tiny room and got evicted. Pretty much just wandered these streets, begging for change, begging for food.

“You ever want to know what it’s like being a ghost minus the inconvenience of dying? Become one of the walking dead. The homeless. The people you see there whop are there and aren’t. The ones that become invisible the more you see ‘em. Like Jacob Marley, you know? A Christmas Carol? Lugging those chains around, desperate to escape purgatory. That’s what homelessness is; purgatory. A place between this world and the next. But I digress …

“Anyway I ended up sheltering myself at the Port Authority. During the winter months especially. The holidays. All the Christmas Decorations up, families trekking  through to see Times Square and the Macy’s Parade. Some would see me, take pity on me, flip me a buck and change now and then. Most would just avoid me. That was my life. I had memories of my old one. Christmases past, when I was a little boy. The love of my parents, the warmth of knowing you had a home, and were safe. All so goddamn far away. You see a homeless person, you don’t see the person they were. Just the one they are. You don’t see the rejection, the loss, the one bad day that became a year of them. You don’t see the hurt.

“So one Christmas I’m there at the Port Authority. I’m wiped out. Really feeling rough. I hadn’t made much money that day. I was so hungry, not to mention thirsty. I woulda killed for a drink. Even a soda pop. And I’m so out of it I don’t even notice someone’s dropped something into my little begging box.

“‘Merry Christmas’ they say. I don’t see their face. All I see is a Christmas Card, and something inside it.

The old fella turned to the young fella, who looked all different shades of pale.

“There was two hundred dollars in that card. It’s a Christmas Miracle to a guy like me. I take the money and hold it tight and think it’s a figment of my imagination. That it’s just going to evaporate. But it doesn’t. I get to my feet; I got big plans for this money. Get some food, get a drink, maybe find someplace warm to sleep. Have a bath, Heck, a hot shower would do wonders just to claw back a little bit of the person I was in the before times.

“It’s when I’m walking past the ticket windows for the Greyhound that I see the departure board. Hyde Park. That’s where my daughter lived. Still does. After college she decided to go to the Culinary Institute of America. Now she’s head chef at one of the fancier inns up there. The type of place George Washington once stopped at. That kind of fancy. I see the board, I think of her, how I haven’t seen her since her graduation. I was so proud then even though she looked like she wished I was anywhere but there. She was right too; I was an embarrassment, and I knew it.

“But Christmas, it’s a time for miracles, isn’t it?

“I went to the Duane Reade. I got some of that dry shampoo stuff and a cheap electric razor, some deodorant. I couldn’t do anything about my clothes but some cologne masked the worst of it. I went to one of the bathrooms, shaved, and cleaned myself up as best I could, then I went to the Greyhound desk and bought a ticket. One-way to Hyde Park.

“I waited at the bus depot there until Christmas Morning, rehearsing what I was going to say. She was the only one in Hyde Park with my last name; this was back when phone books were a thing. I found her house, all lit up for Christmas. Car’s in the driveway, I’m on the steps. I ring the bell. There’s a thudding of footsteps and the door opens … and a little boy peers out.

“Jesus, he looks so much like his mother, that kid.

“He says hello. I say hello back, and ask if his mother’s home.

“Then I look up and see her. She’s staring at me, like, well, like I’m a ghost. And I guess in a way I was. People don’t have to die to become ghosts, you know. They can just be bad memories, past hurts in the flesh. You don’t have to die to be lost. But I digress …

“We stare at each other. I don’t expect her to invite me in. All I do is tell her I came to wish her a Merry Christmas. I tell her that I’m sorry for everything that happened. Everything I did. Everything we’d lost. The home in Mamaroneck, the business, her mother. All of it.

“She doesn’t say anything, she just stares.”

“I turn to leave. I know it’s gonna be a long wait to get back to the city, it being Christmas Day and all, but I have some money left. Maybe there’s a diner I can grab some hot chow. There’s always some place open Christmas Day, right? So I’m about to start walking but she tells me to stop. I feel her hand on my shoulder. And she tells me –

The old fella pinches his lips together. Something catches in his throat.

“She tells me she forgives me. She tells me not to despair. She tells me to look at his house, to look at my – my grandson. She tells me she has a good life. Not an easy one, but a good one. She says ‘dad, you can mourn the life you lost, or the one you didn’t quite get, but you can still rejoice in the one you have. All those little joys that make it worth living.’  

“Okay maybe she didn’t say it exactly like that. It was a few years back, but age and memory are elastic. They stretch as far as they need to.

“So someone else comes to the door- her husband. A good guy. A financial planner, as it happened, but I found that out later. He pieced it all together just with a look, and said “is your father going to join us for Christmas dinner?” She asks me, and like Scrooge visiting his nephew and apologizing for being so cold, so distant, so many years blaming his nephew for causing the death of his beloved sister Fan …” The old fella smiles.“The Alastair Simm Scrooge, obviously.”

“I stay for dinner. They fix up the guest bedroom and I stay the night. Her husband gives me some old clothes of his and they rightfully toss my grubby stuff in the trash. I get a hot bath, I clean up, I stay the week. Talking to her husband about my troubles he says he can help, and he does. I work out a way to pay back what I owe, I get the rest forgiven. It takes some time but I break out of purgatory into what waits afterward; salvation.

“I think that’s what Christmas is about, actually; forgiveness. Forgiving your mistakes, forgiving those moments where you were weak.

“Anyway, I got clean, I sobered up. I haven’t touched a drop since then. I live in Poughkeepsie now, just south of Hyde Park. I’m a handyman again. Making decent money. Decent enough that every Christmas Eve I take the train down here, do some shopping for my daughter and son-in-law and grandson, and to pay a little visit to the Port Authority to see where my Christmas Miracle happened. I pop in here, I have a soda. Maybe a couple. Then I walk down to Penn to catch my train home.

“Life is … it’s good. Not great, not perfect, but enough. I used to think there were no fresh starts, no do-overs. But what do I know? I’m just a handyman from Poughkeepsie.”

The old fella pushed back his stool, and dropped a twenty on the counter-top for the eight dollars in soft drinks he’d consumed. He didn’t say anything else to me, to the young fella. He just wished us both a Merry Christmas, gathered up the bag of Christmas gifts he’d been toting, and exited out onto eighth avenue to begin the walk down to 34th street.

The young fella, he didn’t say anything and I didn’t prompt him to. The old fella didn’t come out and say “you were that Christmas Angel”. He didn’t need to. Heck, for all I knew he could have made the whole thing up on the fly just so this young fella might not feel so bad about Christmas and the holidays. So he wouldn’t feel like Christmas was the cause of his every bad memory. So he wouldn’t go through the years being bitter and angry and lonely this time of year.

But I don’t think he made it up. You tend bar long enough, you get a finely tuned sense of who’s a bullshitter and who’s telling god’s own truth.

The young fella settled his tab, left a nice tip. He didn’t say anything. Just nodded his thanks.

“Merry Christmas,” I called after him as he left.

“You too,” he replied.

Then he was gone.

I never saw the young fella again. He was a one-off. Maybe he got that promotion and made his way down to Wall Street proper. Maybe he and his girlfriend tied the knot and he moved outta the city, outta Bay Ridge or wherever he hung his hat and never found much occasion to hit the Midtown West portion of Manhattan.

The old fella? You know, I did see him a couple times after that, always on Christmas Eve. He’d pop in with his bag of presents, he’d order his soda, we’d small-talk but nothing like that night. Then one Christmas Eve about six years back he stopped coming. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he found a new place, maybe he decided the trips to New York on Christmas Eve were too much, given you can pretty much order everything online these days anyway. Maybe he died. I dunno.

I know, I know, you’re looking for a lesson, a punch line, a moral to the story. I don’t have one to be honest. I could suggest some. That one person’s misfortune can be another’s saving grace. That even a small act of kindness can change the fate of the world.

But I like to think about what that old fella had said about forgiveness. That sometimes the person you need to most forgive is yourself.

You know, it kinda makes me think about A Christmas Carol.

Not the Alastair Simm version or the George C. Scott one. I mean the book. The Dickens novel. I read it every year, you know? It’s my little Christmas tradition. When I clock outta here tonight and head home, while the rest of my building is blasting Bachata and Reggaeton, I’ll sit in my chair in my room by my window with a hot chocolate and I’ll read about Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. Old Fezziwig and poor tragic Fan. But I think about Jacob Marley the most. The ghost who comes to Scrooge wrapped in chains, doomed to wander the earth in limbo as penance? His crimes? Just being greedy and selfish and not caring for his fellow man; like a lot of people out there. He comes to Scrooge and pleads to him to find the good in himself, to spare him the same fate.

We all carry chains, friend. You, me. We can’t see them but they’re there. Maybe that’s what Christmas is about. Breaking those chains. Forgiving yourself. See, that’s why I think Marley, he’s the true hero of A Christmas Carol. He’s the one who saves Ebenezer Scrooge and, maybe, frees his own soul from purgatory. One act of selflessness. Of kindness. Kindess can change the world, my friend. It may be the only thing that does.

Yeah, that time. Heading out? Oh, that’s too generous, all you had was a –

You’re the boss, boss. Thanks!

And hey …

Merry Christmas, huh?

©2021 Brad Abraham – All rights reserved.