… An Insight into the Loneliness of Ebenezer Scrooge
Happy Birthday to me. I hoist my coffee cup and toast my cold and gray day.
The tree line behind the house is obscured and steeped in mist— a moody morning and prelude to the first winter storm.
I stand at the window watching the woods climb the hill, and then fade out of sight into the haze. I know these woods all too well—am acquainted with their dark and lonely depths. So, in my mind I follow them, and they take me as always to the escarpment.
Rattlesnake Point—jump off the edge, the voice had said.
I wanted to follow, but lacked the courage. I grabbed hold of a nearby weathered stone and held on for dear life.
I come back to the present, shake my head, and try to clear the memory. The tremors gradually subside.
One final sip of coffee, and then the long commute to a scurry that no longer means anything to me—well, less than this haunted house, my ghostly dreams, or the vaporous pursuit of wealth.
Outside, the temperature is starting to plunge—an arctic front is coming—
Downtown, in the concrete canyons, a trendy office lies waiting…
And inside, this wunderkind has now turned forty and is lonely.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…Trudy is shaking the tree ornaments and smiling.
I have to smile too. “You like Christmas, don’t you?”
She looks at me with dancing eyes. “What’s not to like? On the weekend, Mike and I took Hope to buy a tree, and they had horse-drawn rides—it was magical.”
Her face is alight with all the joy of a six-year old. I envy her.
I stare morosely at the brightly lit tree in the reception area. Trudy has provisioned a sideboard with festive cookies, candies and urns of steaming coffee and hot chocolate. Everything glittering, like the snow outside, everybody apparently jolly and in the spirit of the season—but nothing working for me.
She reads my mood. “Do you want to go to Shenanigans for lunch?”
“Naw, I’ll stop by the squash club instead—but thanks for the offer.”
One thing I don’t need—a pity invite—a lunch spent staring into the windows of other people’s lives.
Where did it all go wrong?
The club is abuzz with the activity of lunchtime athletes. I sign the sheet and they put me with an attractive redhead named Cyn. Maybe it is my day after all.
“You own Wallace Marketing, don’t you?” she smiles.
“I walk past the bronze plaque outside your building every day,” she giggles, “ and I always picture ‘Garrett Wallace’ as a silver haired man in a dark business suit.”
“Did I burst your bubble?” I tease.
“You did,” she pouts, and then breaks into a sunny smile.
Yes, this might be my day after all.
But just as we finish the set and I’m about to ask her out, a male voice shouts out from across the gym—Hey Cyn! Get a move on! We’re all heading to Kelsey’s for a quick drink.
She smiles apologetically at me, “Oops, got to run—but thanks for the game—I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again.”
She’s off to join her co-workers and by the time I come out of the showers, the gym is dead as a mausoleum—abandoned as Scrooge’s grave, I muse.
I chuckle cynically to myself. The thing about old Ebenezer that bugs me is everyone gets it wrong—sure he was stingy, but his real problem was he was lonely—and maybe the story bugs me too, because he’s a lot like me.
Of course, old Eb ended up lying in a graveyard clinging to a weathered stone that turned out to be his grave marker—but that’s where the similarity ends, because Eb turned out all right in the end, and all it took was a change of heart.
I’m not like Eb—not really. I’ve got a good heart. I had lots of friends when I left university—but the problem is I don’t have one of them now. Where it went wrong, I haven’t a clue.
Back at the firm, everyone’s running around getting ready for tonight’s party at The Royal York downtown—yeah, another one of my perks.
I’ve tried to quash the Secret Santa gift exchange, but everyone would think me a real Scrooge if I did—but it’s embarrassing. I always get Trudy, even though it’s supposed to be random.
I know the game—everyone feels awkward around me—being boss and all—and no one except Trudy would feel comfortable exchanging a gift with me. If I carry the logic further, it’s probably the same reasoning behind never asking me out to their get-togethers or parties.
It’s lonely at the top. Dismal and lonely.
Later that night, I’m home by eleven and sit drinking my Shiraz and staring across white fields at the black woods beyond. My view reminds me of a Brueghel painting, The Hunters Return, but my day has not been filled with many happy returns.
Happy Birthday me, I remind myself one last time as I turn out the light.
The next day, I’m so despondent I don’t even go into the office. I phone Trudy and tell her to cancel my appointments.
I look on my desk calendar and realize ironically, it’s Friday the Thirteenth. I shake my head sadly. Somehow, it always feels the same for me.
I’m planning to shut down the firm next week and give everyone two weeks off to be with their families. They might as well get to enjoy their lives—I sure as hell don’t enjoy mine.
As I pass the hall mirror, I see my reflection—and the bitter countenance shocks even me.
Is this what I’ve become? What the hell has happened to me—the Me I used to know?
I’m shaken. I pour myself a double scotch, even though the clock’s just chimed nine.
This victim mentality disgusts me. There must be something I can do—some way I can escape from being me.
And then it hits me—a sudden impulsive idea that excites me. I actually smile at the thought of it, and for the first time in a long time, I feel happy.
Outside the sun is shining now, and something’s telling me this is what happiness is really all about—a sunny day and somewhere to go.
I get into the car and drive to the local Ford dealership. By the time I’m through, I’ve divested myself of my Porsche and am the proud owner of a beat-up Ford F 150 pick-up.
But this is only my first stop.
I end up at The Gap at Sherway Mall rooting though jeans.
A female sales clerk, a young twenty-something, smirks at my Harry Rosen suit. “Aren’t you in the wrong store, Mister? —You look like you’re used to high end fashion.”
I color. “Actually, I’m going on a sleigh ride, but I need something more casual.”
“You sure you don’t want Neiman Marcus, or something?”
She fixes me up with a couple of pairs of faded jeans, fashionably torn in all the right places, a couple of sweaters, some flannel shirts and a parka.
Next, I head to the Downtown Mission and transform myself into Garrett Brooks. They tell me spies keep their first names—well, I do anyway. By lunchtime, I’m officially listed as a volunteer.
My day isn’t over yet.
I head back out to the fields around my house and drive my pickup through some muddy, slushy roads until it looks suitably grungy. All that’s missing is a Confederate flag draped in the rear window. I smile.
The next morning is Saturday and my first day on the job.
Belle Somers, the Director of Programs is training me—and she is a beautiful lady.
“Isn’t this a bit hands-on for you?” I ask her.
“Nope,” she smiles, “I’m not a pencil pusher or dot-com girl—I just like to stay involved.”
“So what’s on the agenda for today?”
She eyes my black F150 parked at the curb. “Nice pick-up—are you up to doing a Christmas tree run?”
“Sure,” I tell her, “just lead on.”
We end up driving north to a Christmas tree farm. It seems one of the sponsors donates trees every year and the Mission sells some, donates others, and a few end up decorated and lighting the huge cafeteria where meals are served.
It’s a long drive and there’s not much to do but talk. Belle tells me her life story and I make up mine. I feel guilty deceiving her, but the whole point of being here is protecting my new identity—or maybe it’s just a case of keeping a secret of my old one.
“So, there are times when you just sort of dropped out of things for a while?”
She’s being diplomatic—probably thinks I was in jail. I know my story’s full of holes big enough to drive my truck through, but what else can I do? I’ll tell her anything but the truth.
“Yeah, I know there are gaps in my history,” I say lamely.
“Well, lucky for you we don’t insist on a curriculum vitae.”
“That’s a relief,” I snort.
She’s staring straight ahead like she isn’t buying what I’m selling, and I don’t blame her. Going undercover is a lot more work than I figured it would be.
We load fifty bundled trees into the bed of my truck and tie them down. By the time we start back it’s past one and we’re both starving.
“Pull over here,” she orders, as we spot a restaurant cum service center on the highway.
The restaurant has a big picture window overlooking the route and Belle chooses a table with a view.
We order burgers, fries and shakes and once again, the small talk hovers around those missing gaps—unfortunately, not the ones in my pants—the ones in my history.
I snow her as best I can and I’m doing better than the misty rain outside.
At last, it’s time to go, I instinctively reach in my pocket to get my wallet, but Belle grabs the bill. She counts out eight quarters to leave as a tip. It’s all I can do to restrain myself.
“I keep the receipt and write it off,” she explains.
The next week, I show up every night and work from four until ten helping out in the kitchen, assisting the homeless and even doing handyman repairs.
Bert and Jake, two of the social workers invite me out to The Keg on the Friday night for drinks. Belle shows up later and I have to feign nonchalance, because my heart starts thumping the moment I see her.
I’m happy though, and everything’s coming together. Finally, I have friends, the prospect of romance and best of all, I’m doing something that really matters and makes a difference.
“Corporate sponsorships are up,” Jake yelps lifting a stein of draft beer to clink a toast.
“And don’t forget that huge donation to the building fund,” Bert adds. “Here’s to you—Mr. Anonymous, wherever you are.”
I glance over at Belle, but she doesn’t seem happy—in fact, she looks troubled. Bert and Jake don’t seem to notice though.
By midnight, they’ve left and it’s just me and Belle left to finish off the last drafts. She still looks morose, so I try cheering her up by making lame jokes, but I’ve got this sinking feeling in my gut.
Belle leans back in the booth and stares at me. “So, who is the real Garrett Brooks?”
I dodge her arrow. “I ask myself the same question,” I smile.
“You’re very charming Mr. Brooks—or should I say, Garrett Wallace?”
Busted. Damn the Internet anyway.
“Did you really think your ruse would work? I mean, this is the 21st century and your pic came up the moment I Googled you.”
“I kinda hoped I’d be filling a non-descript job—you did say you didn’t check curricula vitae.”
It’s her turn to snort derisively, “Yes, but you didn’t realize the average person doesn’t have that Latin phrase in their vocabulary. Tut tut, Mr. Woods.”
“I guess that’s not an allusion to archeology, is it?”
“Very clever, Garrett,” her eyes flash, “like your scheme to purchase our land and demolish the Mission.”
My mouth drops open.
“Ah, you see—you’re not as smart as you think.”
“Or as devious as you paint me,” I flare. “I have no plans to expropriate your property—I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I traced those corporate sponsorships and that anonymous donation—and they lead back to to you—that’s a very clever way to avoid our going into receivership and buy you time to take over our land.”
I’m flabbergasted. The color drains from my face. She reads me like a book and knows I’m not faking it.
“You weren’t planning to do that, were you? I…I’m so confused.”
Staring into those huge brown eyes, I feel myself melting. “I would never hurt you…I mean, hurt the Mission like that. I admire the work you’re doing. I have no idea who’s trying to buy up the land—but I promise you, I’ll find out.”
Her eyes are shining—she believes in me—like a six year old believes in Christmas. No way I’m going to destroy that faith.
Well, it turns out the squash club wanted that land, and they were pretty close to wrapping the deal up—until I stepped forward and bought it outright.
It’s crazy, but it was something I had to do. I did it for the homeless people—for my friends, Bert and Jake…and yes, I did it to preserve someone’s innocent faith in me.
I’ve decided, I like Christmas. I like giving with no strings attached.
I also like horse-drawn sleighs and drives in the country to Christmas tree farms.
And I guess I like to see the eyes of someone I love filled with the joy and magic of a six-year old.
© 2015, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.