Sunday, 4 December 2016

A Carol, by any other name

For years I wanted to believe in angels and Christmas bells and the wonderful life but as they slipped past the bells, they just seemed to be tolling.
I’ve been reading Charles Dickens recently trying to kill off the hours leading up until Christmas. The rest of the year passes by smoothly enough; as the minutes vaporise into days and the months just coalesce into nothingness. Each day is indistinguishable from the rest and that’s how I roll. However as the years twilight nears then the air thickens, tightens and threatens. I have to read more and more just to escape it.
The excitement that once permeated each pore of my childish body gave way to the realisation that it would never be me gaining wings; soaring high on effervescent currents. I live in a much denser world full of bah’s and humbugs, so it seemed very apt for me to be reading “A Christmas Carol” for the first time…
Believe me when I say that I can relate to Scrooge:
But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep it’s distance from what the knowing ones call nuts to Scrooge.”
Snow is trickling through the gray skies, carpeting the world in a hypocritical purity; the whiteness simply reflecting back my emptiness. Cold strikes me through what should have been my heart but now harbours only holes. I sit in my small room; a bed and a lifetime’s accruement of books for company. (I have a phone; an outside line to the rest of the world. It gathers dust.) I continue reading.
“”I wear the chain I forged in life.” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard: I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it…””
Marley’s ghost, the words of a long since dead friend. A friend to Scrooge? But if such a thing was possible for a man like Scrooge then why not me? I have long since lost that which mattered most to me; chased them away by lack of emotion, fear of commitment. Afraid to be broken hearted but broken anyway. So how did Scrooge manage? A story.. nothing more and I curse myself for a fool.
Who could this be at this time of night? I don’t have visitors. I get up wearily from the bed and walk to the door. I’m not used to receiving strangers or even talking to anybody, but the mask slides down rustily and I open the door to greet the person.
Hair like a sunrise in June, from a man who thought all poetry long since dead. A smile, bubbles of carbonated happiness blended with eyes of purest nectar. She speaks not in tongue but in warmth and the room seems much brighter for her presence.
“Sorry to trouble you.. especially at this time of night, but I’ve locked myself out. I feel really stupid about doing this, but I was wondering if I might use your phone?”
Think!! Don’t just blurt something senseless, think first before opening your mouth! “Please do.. you must be freezing? Come in – I’ll turn the fire on for you. I don’t feel the cold any more, but I’ll turn it on for you. Come in, sit down – please…. It would be because I would want you to.”
It would be because I would want you to? Gods teeth, strike me down! It’s been so long that I can’t even construct proper sentences now. She glides into the room.
“Thank you, you’re most kind. I won’t stay long – I just need to ring the locksmith and I’ll be on my way.” She replies.
“No please.. It would be no trouble, no trouble at all. I don’t have many visitors… well, you’re the first one. So stay a while – at least until the locksmith arrives…”
“Thank you.” She sits down on my bed, placing a cautionary hand on it first. Upon sitting she notices the Christmas Carol on the bedside table. “You fear the world too much.” She suddenly thunders. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of it’s sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, gain, engrosses you.” I must have looked bemused because she grinned and blushed at the same time. “I’m sorry – it’s my favourite book.”
“Oh, right… I’ve not read it before.” I reply, smiling sheepishly… I’ve learnt that not reading The Christmas Carol is almost as bad as not having watched The Sound Of Music (which I haven’t watched either).
“It’s one of my favourite books,” she replies, “a true story of redemption; a forgiveness of sins and a repentance of a former skinflint. To see things as they were; as they truly are and how they could be… what a gift that would be! To see how one man could truly make a difference should he be willing to change.” I was spellbound by her, her voice was captivating and she always smiled! I felt compelled to answer.
“I always liked the film It’s a Wonderful Life for the same reasons. The idea of a man not realising how important he is until he sees how his life has impacted on others… It’s just a shame it’s all a fiction.”
“But it took an angel to show him, didn’t it?” She replied, a mischievous glint in her eyes. But who showed the angels, I wondered. “Why are you on your own?” She asks suddenly. “It’s nearly Christmas after all…”
“I don’t know.” I reply truthfully. As usual the words fail me as I try desperately to explain that it was my choice, that I’d never been good at giving myself to other people… “I’ve always been afraid that if people see me for what I truly am then I would lose them.” Where the hell did that come from? I just blurted it out! I hardly knew her and yet I was now telling her things that no one else knew about me!
“Did you ever think that maybe people could help you? That maybe if you talked to people they might actually listen? They might be able to see things differently, and who knows –even enlighten you?” She laughs, and I’m unsure whether she is actually taking me seriously. I couldn’t detect any malice in her comments so I smile back. “What are you scared of?” What a weird thing to ask, especially after what I’d just told her.
“Being alone.” I reply without even having to think about it.
“But you’re alone now...” She laughs. I smile back again, like a confused child. “You can’t possibly be scared of something that you are already! I think you’re scared of something else, something that you’ve kept hidden from yourself.. and it’s that that’s keeping you alone! Think about it… I must be going now, I’ve taken up far too much of your time as it is.. It’s nice meeting you.” She stands up again and holds her hand outstretched so I can shake it. Her warmth is contagious and I feel the glow flow through my whole body.
“Will I see you again?” I find myself asking as she walks towards the door.
“Do you want to?” She parries.
“Yes, very much so.” I reply.
“I’ll be around the same time tomorrow night.”
“What’s your name?” I ask, just as she walks out of the door.
“Carol.” How apt, I thought and as I close the door behind her I realise that she never once used the telephone. I open the door to call after her but am surprised to find that she’s nowhere to be seen, and outside I can hear the ominous sound of metal clanging on metal ringing in a new day.
The next day drags, snails pace and I’m impatient to see her again. Finally the evening crawls along and I sit in my room waiting for Carol again, so I pick up the book and continue reading from where I had left off.
“’…It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked like a perfect grove, from every part of which bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrifaction if a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone…’”
I run to the door, unbolt it and swing it open. The smile that greets me again illuminates the room and I can not help but smile back.
“How are you?” She asks. “Did you think on what I said last night?” She hasn’t even walked through the door.
“I have…” I reply sheepishly.
“Then you can tell me whilst you fix me a cup of coffee.”
“Well… you were right, obviously.” I’m trying to talk and figure out if I’ve got milk and clean mugs… it’s not easy. She walks into the room and lets her eyes wander around before sitting on the bed again. She’s captivating, truly.. the way the light reflects off her hair; her eyes that hold a promise for a thousand lifetimes. “And I realised today how much of a fool I’ve been… and selfish, in a way… does that make sense?”
She nods and smiles, encouraging me to continue.
“I thought that I was saving people from the bad in me, but how could I have known?”
“Known what?”
“I never meant it to be like this. I wanted to stop people… myself from getting hurt… not to chase them away. Please tell me that they are two completely different things.” I turn to look at her, and she just shrugs her shoulders.
“’.. if he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’” Carol replied, recounting another part from the Christmas Carol. “”Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
“Man,” Said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, for bear that wicked cant until you have discovered what the surplus is and where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in sight of heaven you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!””
She once again looked up at me, the truth shining in her eyes like diamonds of flickering hope, refracting my heart. “Don’t you realise that it’s not your place to decide who gets hurt, and who gets to know you? Who are you to judge? You have to let people make their own choices. You are going to get hurt as love can not be without loss. An absence of one is the exclusion of the other. Do you see?”
I hung my head.
“How could I not have realised that?” and then the realisation struck me. “I did know…. I just kept it from myself, tried to hide in excuses: a web of deceit and self-debasement so tangled and intricate that I lost my own sense of identity. I pretended so much that I forgot who I really was… Then I forgot to pretend because there was no more I..”
“It’s not easy seeing things as they really are. It takes great strength and courage.” Carol places a hand on mine, the coffee long since forgotten. Electricity passes between us. “I must go now. You have a lot more to think about. I shall return to see you one more time; on Christmas Eve. But before I go I will ask you one final question. One that I think you will appreciate: ‘Are there no prisons?.. Are there no workhouses?’ Who makes up the prisons that bind us in our lives?” And with that she gets up from the bed, walks over and kisses me softly on the cheek. Roses, she smells of roses… and then she is gone.
As the door closes behind her I can hear the bells ringing, but I am too deep in thought. “Who makes the prisons that bind us in our lives?” Who indeed….
It’s Christmas Eve, the room is quiet with nothing stirring. The snow is falling still but now with whispers of promise. Anticipation clutches at my heart as I continue my reading of Dickens.
‘”Am I that man who lay upon the bed?” He cried, upon his knees The finger pointed from the grave to him and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!” The finger was still there. “Spirit”’ He cried, tight clutching at his robe. “Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this now if I am past hope?” For the first time the hand appeared to shake….’
I open the door to Carol and she smiles at me and this time the question is but a single word. “Well?”
I smile and beckon her inside. “We make our own prisons; bind ourselves with the shackles of our own past and expect others to free us from them. Friends and lovers can only do so much. At best they can provide the key, but it is up to each individual to unlock themselves. I chased others away so I wouldn’t get hurt by own lack of feeling, always blaming those people who only ever wanted to help. But I can see now where I went wrong. I can change.. Have changed!”
“Yes.. You have – otherwise you would not have been able to say those things. So what are you going to do about it?” She hadn’t even sat down, she just stood and smiled at me.
“Open up to people, be myself.” I smiled back, the strength of my convictions growing the more I talked about it. “I’m not going to be intimidated by my pre-conceived ideas of other peoples perceptions of me… Does that make sense?” I laughed.
“More than you realise.” She laughed with me.
“I’m going to give myself a chance to be me and have strength enough to say HERE I AM, WORLD!!!”
“BRAVO!” Carol replies, clapping with me. “I knew you had it in you. All you needed was someone who believed in you.”
“Yes, and I think I knew that from the start, but could never admit to it. That would have meant letting someone get close enough to hurt me, and that never would have worked.” I laughed again, feeling feather light. I was mocking myself and, for the first time, I was able to see myself as a whole person, not as a jumble or an emotional mess.
“Don’t you realise that you started on your road of healing when you invited me in? Not only did you allow me to enter your room, but you allowed me to enter your life as well. How easy was that?” She didn’t allow me time to reply. “And you did it without thinking! Now, my time here is almost gone, and I have but one more thing to give you. However, in order for that to happen you must allow me to leave and know that I will never see you again.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! After all she had given me, Carol now wanted to leave. “But we’ve been through so much! I can’t let you just walk out on me!” I pleaded with her, not ready to let another friend go.
“Loss is a part of life; a part of love. I could never be truly yours, for I am here for everybody. Would you deny other people what you have received? Will you decide what men shall live and what men shall die?” I understood what she was saying.
“No… it’s not for me to deprive others.” I shook my head. “I have been blessed with my time and I will always hold that dear. You’ve given me back feelings that I thought were long since extinct and for that I thank you.” I tentatively lean in and kiss her on the cheek. She reciprocates and lets the kiss linger on my cheek before opening the door. She looks back at me and winks, before closing the door behind her.
‘I have one more thing to give you, but in order for that to happen you must allow me to leave.’ What did she mean by that? Just then the windows are blown open –something I thought would be impossible on such a calm night. The naked pages of The Christmas Carol flutter in the wind, the pages bristle and flap like wings before stopping. I kneel down to look at the page that lies open.
He became as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good, old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him…”

The bells chime, but they are interrupted by the sound of my wings.