26 December 2006

A Gay Christmas Carol (Part 3 - Unpleasant memories from the past)

When Mr Ebenezer Scrooge woke from a deep sleep, it was so dark that looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber. When the chimes of a neighbouring church struck, he lay listening for the hour; to his great astonishment, the heavy bell went on up to twelve.

"But it isn't possible," said Scrooge, endeavouring to pierce darkness with his ferret eyes. "The club was closing when I left… and I can’t have slept through a whole day: I wasn’t that drunk!"

Out of bed he scrambled, groping over to the window where he rubbed off the frost with his sleeve: even then he could see little, other than that it was still foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro. Back to bed he went, his head throbbing, reluctant to enter his own living room to see if that young man remained unconscious in the armchair. Had it all been an alcohol-induced dream? Every time he resolved that Bob Marley's Spirit had been a figment of his imagination, he reminded himself that he had no imagination and his mind flew back to its first position, presenting the same problem- "Was it a dream or not?" The more he thought it over, the more perplexed he was; and the more he endeavoured not to think, the more he thought.

He lay in this state, forgetting that he was to expect a visitation from a Spirit when the bell tolled one. At length, the hour bell broke upon his listening ear, sounding with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy tone.

Upon the instant, a ray of light flashed up in the room, causing Scrooge to start up into a half-recumbent attitude, and he found himself face to face with an unearthly visitor. It was a strange figure: trying to look young, yet more like an old crone of a woman viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave her the appearance of having diminished to a child's proportions. Her hair, which hung about down her back, was coarse as if with age; yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, with a tender bloom upon the skin. Her hands and feet, most delicately formed, were horribly, hideously wrinkled, and she wore a tunic of the purest white with a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. She held a mirror ball in one hand, and some mistletoe in the other: in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, her dress was trimmed with summer flowers.

"Are you a Spirit?" asked Scrooge.

"I am," she said in a soft shrill voice, singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside him, she were keeping herself at a distance. “Don’t you recognise me?”

Scrooge squinted at her.

“Should I?” he demanded. "Who and what are you?"

"I am the Spirit of Christmas Past, but tonight I have taken a human form, one familiar to all gay gentlemen, so that I might not frighten you. Surely you know who I am?"

Scrooge stared at her for a long time, still shaking his head. The Spirit sighed in exasperation, set down her mirror ball and spun around… transforming into a pink leotard, whereupon she put on a red wig and stretched out on the floor, heels kicking in the air.

“Oh – my – God!” said Scrooge. “Madonna! You look… terrible!”

“Shut to fuck up!” said the Spirit, snatching back her mirror ball. “I haven’t come here to listen to your shit!”

Scrooge inquired what business brought her.

“I am going to bring you into the past,” said the Spirit.

"Long past?" inquired Scrooge.

"No, your past," said the Spirit.

No sooner had she spoken than a ticking sound began to fill the room, gradually becoming louder and louder.

“Time goes by,” said the Spirit. “So slowly… Time goes by… so slowly… Time goes by… so slowly… Time goes by…”

“Do I have to listen to this all night?” said Scrooge impatiently. “Isn’t it enough that I must listen to it every fucking time I go out to pick up?”

“Just listen, asshole, and remember this isn’t about you!” said the Spirit. “I’m doing this for the welfare and well-being of the gay community in general.”

“Yeah, right,” said Scrooge.

“In particular, those who come into contact with you in future," said the Spirit.

Scrooge could not help thinking that a night of unbroken rest would have been more conducive to his own welfare, but there was no chance of that.

“Time goes by… so slowly. Time goes by…”

“Give me the Abba version!” Scrooge muttered. “Gimme gimme gimme a man after midnight… that’s more like it… direct and to the point!”

The Spirit ignored him. She continued with her demented chanting, all the while spinning the mirror ball at her feet, until it seemed to Scrooge that the room itself was spinning around. The Spirit had clasped him by the arm.

"Dance," she said.

“I’d really rather not,” he replied.

“Fucking dance to my music, asshole!” said the Spirit. “Just fucking do exactly what I do!”

Scrooge stood, watching impassively as the Spirit performed tricks that any hooker with decades of experience or an aged contortionist would be proud to perform. At length, the Spirit declared herself to be ‘pissed off’ at Scrooge’s lack of participation, informed him that she was leaving. He bade her farewell.

“You’re coming with me, asshole,” she replied.

Scrooge pointed out that the weather and the hour were not adapted to pedestrian purposes; that his bed was nice and comfortably warm, and that he was clad but lightly in slippers and a dressing-gown… and that he had a cold coming on. However the withered hand that grasped at him was not to be resisted: Scrooge found that the Spirit dragged him towards the window.

"Excuse me, Spirit; I may look young for my age, but Peter Pan I am not, nor are we in one of your music videos,” Scrooge remonstrated. “I am not stepping outside this window, for I will surely plummet to my death!"

"Bear but a touch of my hand here, and you shall be upheld in more than this," said the Spirit, laying her hand upon his heart.

“What have you done!” Scrooge cried. “Why, it’s Frozen!”

With the Spirit cackling insanely, and Scrooge spluttering something about her music being a load of over-rated shit, they passed through the solid wall. As ever, the Spirit- who was not paying attention to her captive audience, too busy transforming herself into a giant predatory bird of flight- carried him back into the thick and swirling mists of time. Before Scrooge knew where he was, the city had entirely vanished.

Instead, he stood upon an open road in a village with fields on either side. The darkness and the mist lifted, and it was a clear, cold, winter day. Looking about him, it had been so long since Scrooge had last stood in that same place that it took him a while to recognise.

“Figured out where you are?” laughed the Spirit, who had again transformed herself: she looked younger, although her voice certainly hadn’t gotten any better. She wore tight leggings, she was chewing gum and her hair was an absolute mess.

"I was born and bred in this infernal place!” gasped Scrooge. “You’ve brought me back to Ireland! Why, you’re more evil, wicked and twisted than I thought!"

The Spirit gazed upon him mildly.

“Guess you should’ve danced when I told you, asshole,” she smirked.

Although the Spirit’s touch had been light and instantaneous, it appeared to have done something to affect Scrooge’s sense of feeling, heightening his senses as if he’d taken a considerable quantity of ecstasy. He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air; sewage from the local meat-processing factory, a faint whiff of cow manure and silage on the crumbling roads, cheap perfume and even cheaper cologne wafting from the council housing estates in the near distance- each one of those smells connected with a thousand thoughts, each one more unpleasant than the next.

Scrooge stood, muttering curses under his breath, contemplating all of the available options.

"You’re trembling," said the Spirit smugly. “If I do a little number for you, bet you’ll dance now, asshole.”

Scrooge fell on his knees, begging the Spirit to lead him wherever she would.

“Anywhere, but not here!” he cried. “I’ll dance to anything… even American Life, I swear!”

“Plenty of time for that” said the Spirit cruelly. "Now that we’re here, we might as well have a look around, don’t you think? Besides, this is the past: it cannot hurt you. When I look back at all of my mistakes in my own past, I think… oh, that was a mistake! But it doesn’t make any difference; people still buy my records, don’t they?”

“Yes, yes… I agree with anything you say, Madonna. But can’t we please go somewhere else?”

“Don’t you know where you are? Do you not recollect the way back to your school?"

"Remember!" cried Scrooge with fervour. "I could walk it blindfold. You don’t happen to have a blindfold, by any chance?"

"No,” said the Spirit. “Let us go on."

They walked along the road, Scrooge recognising every gate, post, and tree as they approached the little village in the distance, with its churches. Animals trotted towards them, with old and young men running along behind, trying to catch one of the frisky creatures for a quick shag, calling out to other country boys in gigs and carts to come join in the fun. All these people were in great spirits, shouting to each other, until the broad fields were so full of merry shouting that the crisp air rang with it.

“Shut up!” Scrooge roared, before looking across at the Spirit. “I can’t believe you’ve brought me back here!”

"These are shadows of the things that have been," said the Spirit calmly. "Just so you know, they have no consciousness of us: they don’t hear you. You might as well be a member of the audience at one of my stadium concerts, trying to get my attention."

Scrooge knew everyone that they passed on the road- hunchbacks, idiots, imbeciles- knowing only too well that he was probably a blood relation to most of them. How his cold eye glistened, and how his heart sank as they went. He heard the villagers wish each other Merry Christmas as they parted at cross-roads and-bye ways, heading for their several homes.

“Listen, Spirit; there are plenty of other moments from my past that I’d love to revisit, and it’d be a lot more fun for you as well,” said Scrooge in desperation. “Fabulous parties and wonderful nightclubs, some of the most beautiful cities around the world, some of the finest opera houses and concert halls… and that’s not all that I’ve seen that filled me with amazement and wonder: there was this one guy I shagged in Sydney, and I swear that to this day I’m not sure whether I was so drunk that everything looked out of proportion or if he was hung like a-”

"This used to be your playground, I believe?" said the Spirit, waving to the left.

“Please, no!” Scrooge whimpered.

I remember?” said the Spirit.

“Very well, if you must,” said Scrooge.

"You’ve got the wrong attitude, asshole,” said the Spirit coolly. “You’re supposed to cherish these memories. Let’s go inside, shall we? I think you’ll find that the school is not quite deserted. A solitary child with no taste in music and no friends is left there still."

Scrooge sighed resignedly and said he knew it was so.

They approached a dull grey building, one of broken fortunes, with walls damp and mouldy, its windows cracked and its gate decayed. Entering, the Spirit stood back to watch, and within minutes she had transformed again. Her hair brunette, she snatched excitedly at one of the religious images on the wall, humming the opening bars of Like a Prayer.

“Life is a mystery,” she whispered, haunting Scrooge’s every footstep, just as she had done when he attended this school. “Everyone must stand alone, and I hear you..”

“Shut to fuc… I mean, would you mind not doing that? Reliving this moment from my past is traumatic enough,” said Scrooge.

He glanced through the open doors of many class rooms, and found them poorly furnished and cold as he remembered them. There was an unpleasant smell in the air- a backed-up toilet?- and a chilly bareness in the place which associated itself somehow with memories of misery, bullying… and lack of sex.

Scrooge- followed by the Spirit who continued to hum melodies from her chequered career, even those that divine mercy had impelled her to omit from The Immaculate Collection; dressing in his True Blue school uniform, running half-naked along corridors for Justify My Love, and taking particular delight in taunting Scrooge as she performed Rescue Me- went across to a door that opened before them, disclosing a long, bare, melancholy room made barer still by lines of plain desks. At one of these a lonely boy sat reading. Scrooge sat down beside him, and a tear came to his eye when he saw his poor forgotten self as he used to be.

“Look what they used to make me wear!” he sniffled. “Look at my hair… what was my mother thinking?”

Not an echo, not a squeak or scuffle from the mice behind the panelling, not a drip from the half-thawed water-spout in the yard behind, not a sigh among the leafless boughs outside, not the idle swinging of the empty school-house door, but fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a softening influence. In time, they gave a freer passage to his tears. The Spirit touched his arm and pointed to his younger self, intent upon reading.

“Oh yeah, I’m supposed to tell you something… a little secret,” she said, continuing to chew gum.

“That you’re retiring?”

“No… don’t tell me… oh yeah, something about how this visit to your miserable past is to help you live to tell… or understand something about how and why you’ve turned into the monster that you are, with no consideration for other people’s feelings, blah de blah blah…. You’re supposed to ask yourself what it feels like for agirl, or something like that. I’ve got it all written down somewhere, but I just can’t remember how to express myself… It’s like this whenever I’m acting, as soon as that camera starts to roll, I forget whatever it is I’m supposed to say and have to read off autocue. But I can do another song, if you prefer?”

Scrooge shook his head, assuring her it wouldn’t be necessary, but the Spirit refused to take no for an answer.

Without further ado, she transformed again: she became a black haired harpy that had escaped from a coven of desperate witches dressed in a kimono, ready to perform Nothing really matters

When I was very young

nothing really mattered to me

but making myself happy

I was the only one

Now that I am grown

Nothing has changed

Looking at my life

it’s very clear to me

I live so selfishly

I realise that

nobody wins

one thing is ending

and another thing begins

Nothing takes the past away like the future

Nothing makes the darkness fade like the light

Every one night stand

Is shelter from the storm

Give me comfort in your arms

Nothing really matters

this is all we need

everything I give

all comes back to me

“You know, that’s actually quite good!” said Scrooge. “How come it wasn’t on GHV2, instead of Drowned World?”

The Spirit waved her hand, saying as she did;

"Let us see another Christmas!"

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