29 December 2006

A Gay Christmas Carol (Part 5 - Brokeback to the future)

Mr Ebenezer Scrooge had barely reeled back into bed before there came a heavy knocking at his front door. He did not ask who it might be pounding at that time of night, recalling that he was to expect no less than three Spirit callers. Out into the hallway he went, wondering if this noise might awaken his young gentleman

In his haste to answer the door, Scrooge had neglected to put on any apparel, which proved fortuitous. For to his considerable delight, who stood on his doorstep but one of the ruddy-faced gas men he had passed on the street earlier that night, ready to take him up on the offer of a little seasonal… warmth. Within seconds, the door was securely double-bolted and both men were naked in the bedroom, enjoying what can only be described as spirited and uninhibited coition.

In the middle of a prodigiously rough time, Scrooge was in no position to collect his thoughts about all that had already occured that evening. Nevertheless, he did not have to be reminded that the church bells were scheduled to strike again, which meant another Spirit would be dispatched to him through Bob Marley's intervention. Finding himself so well entertained, he certainly did not want this present caller to be made in any way nervous or taken by surprise, as that might affect the quality his highly pleasing performance; yet in the circumstances, it seemed unfair that anyone come without due warning, and so Scrooge determined to keep a sharp look-out and challenge any Spirit on the moment of its unwelcome appearance.

For a brief moment, he considered what form this second Spirit might take... for if Madonna was the Spirit of Christmas Past, who might appear as the Spirit of Christmas Present? Surely not Ms Britney... but Ms Gwen Stefani, perhaps?

It would have taken a great deal to surprise Mr Ebenezer Scrooge altogether, who had seen a lot in his time on earth: nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would have astonished him very much. And given how gay gentlemen are of the free-and-easy sort, who plume themselves on being acquainted with a move or two and being usually equal to the time-of-day, he had seen many a strange thing. Gay gentlemen express the wide range of their capacity for adventure by being prepared to try anything- from pitch-and-toss to manslaughter- between which opposite extremes lie a tolerably wide and comprehensive range of subjects and experiences, not to mention good broad field of strange appearances. (All taken from the original, gentle reader… bear with me!)

Being prepared for almost anything, Scrooge was not by any means prepared for nothing. Consequently when the church bells struck- at which time the gas man still performing admirably- and no Spirit appeared, a little murmur of disappointment escaped… whereupon the gas man redoubled his efforts, and Scrooge surrendered himself completely to a wholesome enjoyment of this unexpectedly talented visitor. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet neither of them came; and then, with a violent fit of trembling…

At this moment, draped back across his own bed, Scrooge noticed for the first time that there was a warm light streaming upon him, almost like the core and centre of a blazing spotlight. Had it not started at the moment when the clock proclaimed the hour? He was powerless to make out what it meant, or what might be its cause, until a little ‘cleaning up’ had been done.

Finished at last, Scrooge observed that the source and secret of this spiritly light was in fact his own wardrobe, although the gas man- who was busy getting dressed- hadn’t remarked upon it. Perhaps it was his own imagination? Scrooge considered this possibility, deciding that it would seem odd if he started groping around in his own closet, although he did enquire if the gas man had noticed any light… only to be assured that there was a lot of coming from the repair team stationed across the street.

After the gas man had departed, Scrooge securely double-locked the door to his flat once more. Pausing to check that the young man remained on the armchair underneath the Christmas tree, still passed out, he then hurried back to his own bedroom. What streamed from his wardrobe was more alarming than a dozen spirits… Had Madonna left her mirror ball? Surely not even she could produce a comeback album that quickly?

He shuffled in his slippers to the wardrobe door: the moment his hand touched the handle, a strange deep voice called him by his name and bade him enter.

“Aslan?” Scrooge replied.

“No,” said the voice. “But come in!”

Scrooge obeyed, passing through his wardrobe only to find himself… back in his own bedroom, although it had undergone a surprising transformation.

In his momentary absence, the walls and ceiling were so hung with living green that it looked a perfect grove, from every part of which bright gleaming berries glistened. Crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if many little mirrors had been scattered there. One might say it was an almost idyllic mountain wilderness, except that it was set in the middle of his own inner city apartment. Heaped up on the floor were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great thick joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long thick wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. All were stacked together- along with several tins of baked beans- forming a kind of throne, and in easy state upon this lay…

Scrooge was at a loss for words to describe the jolly giant of a man, glorious to behold; he was living image of none other than a certain Mr Jake Gyllenhaal, that is to say in every way but one… and in that one, this vision was an exaggerated improvement.

"Come!" exclaimed the Spirit.

“I just have… again!” said Scrooge.

For this vision, who bore a glowing torch in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, held up high to shed light on Scrooge as he came peeping round the door, gestured to approach.

"Look upon me, for I am the Spirit of Christmas Present," said the Spirit.

Scrooge reverently did so.

This Spirit was clothed in a skimpy green g-string bordered with soft white fur that hung loosely on the figure, leaving his capacious breast bare, as if disdaining to be concealed by any artifice. His feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on his head he wore no other covering than a cowboy hat, set here and there with shining icicles. His dark brown curls were long and free; free as his sparkling eye, his genial face, his cheery voice, his unconstrained demeanour, his joyful air and not forgetting his open hand.

"You have never seen the like of me before, have you?" exclaimed the Spirit.

"Never," Scrooge gulped.

"Come and know me better, man," said the Spirit.

Scrooge was not a timid man; at such an invitation, he would gladly have entertained or indeed entered into the Spirit, or even just hung his head before the Spirit… but in truth, he was too busy blinking in disbelief at what he saw before him, all the while cursing himself for having expended so much energy and enthusiasm on the gas man. Though the Spirit's eyes were clear and kind, Scrooge could not quite bring himself to meet them, unable to lift his gaze away from that g-string girded round the Spirit’s middle, barely enough to conceal… a sword that no antique scabbard or ancient sheath deserved to cover: it was to be eaten up at once.

"Have you never walked forth with other members of my family, man? Meaning my elder brothers, born in these later years?" pursued the Phantom.

"I’d only heard about your sister; besides, I’m sure that I’d remember," said Scrooge. "Have you many brothers, Spirit?"

"More than two thousand," said the Spirit.

"A tremendous family to provide for," Scrooge muttered.

The Spirit of Christmas Present rose… from his seat.

"Spirit," said Scrooge submissively, "I went forth with the Spirit of Christmas Past on compulsion, but conduct me where you will. If you have aught to teach me, let me assure you that I am willing to learn."

"Touch my robe," said the Spirit, with a smile it was impossible to resist.

Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.

All vanished instantly; they stood in the city streets on Christmas morning, where (for the weather was severe) the sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half-thawed, half-frozen, whose heavier particles descended in shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in the country had caught fire. The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white snow upon the roofs and with the dirtier snow upon the ground, which had been ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and wagons: furrows that crossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branched off, making intricate channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water. There was nothing cheerful in the climate or the town, yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.

Scrooge attributed this feeling of cheerfulness to the fact that he remained in awestruck admiration of the apparition walking at his side: quite frankly, he wouldn’t have noticed the surroundings if he had been passing through a Brazilian favela.

On strutted the handsome Spirit, occasionally pausing to tip his hat at an attractive passer-by with a twinkle in his own eye, or release a loud joyful whoop.

“Yeeeee-haw, indeed!” Scrooge thought, encouraged to find that the second Spirit- unlike the Ghost or the first Spirit- seemed to possess healthy carnal desires.

They went on, and continually the Spirit tried to draw attention to all of the joy and beauty in the world around, and yet all Scrooge could offer in response was a blank nod, barely able to keep his eyes off that g-string… or the contents, to be more precise.

“What do you think?” said the Spirit.

“Speechless!” Scrooge croaked.

The poulterers' shops remained open; the fruiterers' were radiant in their glory, and there were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence. In addition, there were brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Friars, winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls that went by, who glanced demurely at the hung-up mistletoe. There were pears and apples, clustered high in blooming pyramids; there were bunches of grapes, made, in the shopkeepers benevolence, to dangle from conspicuous hooks, so that people's mouths might water as they passed. Not only that, there were raisins plentiful and rare, almonds so extremely white, sticks of cinnamon so long and straight; figs moist and pulpy, and French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly-decorated boxes, everything that was good to eat. There were piles of mossy brown filberts, recalling in their fragrance ancient walks among the woods and pleasant shufflings ankle deep through withered leaves. There were Norfolk Biffins, squab and swarthy, setting off the yellow of the oranges and lemons, and, in the great compactness of their juicy persons, urgently entreating and beseeching to be carried home in paper bags and eaten after dinner.

All around, by scraping the snow from the pavement in front of their dwellings and from the tops of their houses, people made a rough but brisk and not unpleasant kind of music; it was a scene not unlike when Bjork performed Cvalda in Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. Those who were shovelling away on the housetops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball, laughing heartily if it went right and not less heartily if it went wrong. What a mad delight it was to the boys when snowfalls came plumping down into the road below, splitting into artificial little snow-storms!

Church steeples called good people to church and chapel, and away the rest of the people came, flocking through the streets in their best clothes and with their gayest faces. In time, the church bells ceased and the bakers were shut up, yet there was still a genial shadowing forth of the progress of their cooking, in the thawed blotch of wet above each baker's oven, and the pavement smoked as if its stones were cooking too.

“Spirit’s aren’t Ghosts, are they?” Scrooge remarked, when at length he found himself capable of speech. “That’s to say, I wasn’t able to touch Bob Marley… but I touched Madonna, and you. I know that ghosts can’t have sex, but you’ve been looking at some of the people on the street with a smile- both boys and girls if I’m not mistaken- so surely that means…”

“I’m afraid not, Scrooge,” said the Spirit with a raucous laugh. “Or to put it another way, there ain’t gonna be no tent scene!”

“But you can’t possibly mean… you can’t have been given THAT for no reason! If there’s a God, she can’t be that cruel!”

“Making assumptions about who sent us, man?” said the Spirit mischievously.

Scrooge was too disappointed to care about who had sent him.

“Man, I’ll let you in on a secret,” said the Spirit, adjusting his g-string playfully. “All this is to make sure that I have your complete attention!”

“You do… at least… oh God! What do you want my complete attention for?”

“You’ll see!”

On they went, invisible as they had been before, into the suburbs of the city. It was a remarkable quality of the Spirit that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place with ease; that he stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall. Perhaps it was the pleasure this good Spirit had in showing off this power, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty nature and his sympathy with all men, that led him to the house of a man that Scrooge knew; for there he went, with Scrooge still clutching at the side of his g-string. On the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, but not until they both stood inside the house did Scrooge recognise the man that he had passed briefly on the street on Christmas Eve, for they stopped at Bob Cratchit's dwelling.

As he rule, Scrooge made a point of avoiding Bob Cratchit, for in his opinion they had nothing whatsoever in common. From his outward appearance, it was obvious to Scrooge that Bob had… well, little interest in appearances. It was bad enough at work he dressed almost exclusively in suits were purchased at Top Shop, but his casual wear had been bought for him from a Littlewood’s catalogue… by his wife. That aside, all Scrooge knew about Bob was that the man was generally liked by all those who knew him in the office, and that he was the type who, when he wasn’t playing football, spent all of his time at home with a beloved family… oh, and that his slag of a wife had tried it on with him at the Christmas party.

The Cratchits were not a handsome family, any more than their surname had a sweet melodic ring to it; they were not well dressed, their shoes were far from being water-proof, and their garments were scanty, most of which might well have known, as far as Scrooge was concerned, the inside of a pawnbroker's. There was Mrs Cratchit herself, dressed in a gown that looked as if it had twice been through a charity shop (but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence) She had laid the table, assisted by her daughter Belinda, second of her over-sized daughters (who was also brave in ribbons) blabbing about how she had seen Victoria Beckham and David Beckham in the News of the World some days before, but hadn’t been able to read the article. Of course, there was nothing of high mark in this; for Scrooge, there was more entertainment to be found in observing one of the brothers Peter (wearing a monstrous shirt, but believing himself gallantly attired and yearning to show his linen in the fashionable parks) who plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes. Two smaller Cratchits, a boy and a girl, came tearing into the room, screeching and screaming at the top of their voices that they wanted to watch Teletubbies… Teletubbies, now… Teletubbies, right now… and no, it couldn’t wait until after dinner!

While these young Cratchits danced about the table, Scrooge considered letting go of the Spirit’s g-string to give them a good slap.

"Where’s your father got to, then?" squawked Mrs Cratchit. "And your brother, Tiny?"

"Here they are, mother," cried the two young Cratchits.

Bob, in threadbare clothes brushed to look seasonable, entered the room with his adolescent son, a cheerful lad who had been nicknamed Tiny at an early age. Unlike other members of the family, the genetic pool had been generous to Tim in some ways, less than generous in others: certainly he was the most handsome member of the Cratchit family, a fact remarked upon by all those acquainted with the group; unfortunately he was physically disabled. His weak limbs were supported by an iron frame, and he walked with a little crutch.

“What the hell is that?” said Scrooge.

“Man, please don’t say anything because he’s disabled…this script is offensive enough, and after my last film, I’m already worried about my career!” said the second Spirit.

Scrooge barely heeded his words.

“That boy doesn’t need a crutch… if he falls, he won’t hit the ground!” he exclaimed. “Is that a… but that can’t be… why, that lad’s a human tripod!”

The Spirit gestured him to settle down.

"How did little Tim perform?" asked Mrs Cratchit.

“Little? Are these people blind as well as badly dressed?”

"Brilliantly, as always," said Bob. “Everyone says he’s one of the finest pianists that Church has ever seen.”

Belinda and Peter exchanged a knowing smile.

With the young Cratchits gathered at the table, Bob helped his wife preparing to serve food, stepping away from their children.

"Tim spends too much time on his own thinking by himself, I reckon,” he said. “He says the strangest things you ever heard. For one thing, he still reckons that it’s best to vote New Labour. For another, coming home, he told me that he didn’t mind how people stared at him in the church, because he was a cripple and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day that there are other people less fortunate than they were. He said about how Christmas was all about love for those around us, and something about that being Jesus’ message, because he made lame beggars walk and blind men see… I didn’t have heart to tell him the reason people keep staring at him is because of his… well, he doesn’t seem to realise!”

Tim’s active crutch was heard approaching, and so the parents stepped back to join the others before another word was spoken. Bob sat at the head of the table, looking over his beloved family, his voice tremulous when he told them how healthy that they all looked, that even Tim was growing stronger and heartier from day to day.

Scrooge glanced at the Spirit for an explanation.

“Tim has cystic fibrosis,” he said.

“What does that mean?”

“Man, he’s not going to live long as most other people. They have a shorter life expectancy, even if they’re in good health, which he isn’t.”

“Just as long as he lives for long enough to use that-”

“Don’t, man!” said the Spirit. “Let’s just watch them eating dinner… look, no beans!”

Such a bustle ensued at the table that one might have thought a Christmas goose a feathered phenomenon, the rarest of all birds to which a black swan was a matter of course. Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigour, managing to stain most of his shirt, while Miss Belinda sweetened up the sweet apple-sauce, splashing all of her ribbons; meanwhile, Bob brought his beloved son Tim to sit at a corner of the table beside him- much to Scrooge’s delight, because it provided an excellent view. The two young Cratchits, not forgetting themselves, took their places at the table: Mrs Cratchit, whose parenting skills were second to none, crammed heavy spoons into their mouths, lest they should shriek for goose before their turn came to be helped. She had made an instant gravy beforehand, but kept ready for re-heating in a little saucepan, and she served it hissing; the gravy was hot too. At last the dishes were set out.

“Time to say grace,” said Bob Cratchit.

“Grace!” said everyone at the table.

The word was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs Cratchit declared she was going to plunge the carving-knife in the breast. When she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, Scrooge muttered that he’d been hoping she meant her own 38D. One murmur of delight arose all round the table, and even Tim- excited by the two young Cratchits- beat on the wood with the handle of his knife and feebly cried Hurrah!

“He’s beating the wood!” said Scrooge. “I’ll say Hurrah!”

The Spirit managed to keep him from saying anything more offensive while the family ate their meal, but silence was impossible to maintain when it came to desert. There was a smell coming from the kitchen, like an eating-house with a pastry cook's next door, and a laundress's next door to that… a smell like a washing-day. That was the pudding!

“Oh, what a wonderful pudding!” Bob Cratchit said calmly, and with a straight face, as it was set down on the dining table.

Everybody had something to say about the pudding, but nobody except for Scrooge said what they really thought: it would have been heresy, and any Cratchit would have blushed to do so. Mrs Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everyone assured her that it was wonderful.

“It’s a small pudding for a large family, but that’s probably just as well,” said the Spirit; even to him, the pudding looked quite unappetisingly unpleasant. “It looks like… something made with beans.”

Scrooge made a remark about how he fancied a slice of the pudding as much as he fancied being in Cratchit marriage.

At last the dinner was all done, and all of the family drew round the hearth.

"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears," said Bob, proposing a toast. “God bless us."

"God bless us every one!" said Tim, as all the family echoed.

“I wonder who he’ll bless… with that!” said Scrooge.

"I see a crutch without an owner, and a vacant seat in the poor chimney-corner soon,” said the Spirit, shaking his head sadly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Scrooge.

“Man, do I have to spell everything out for you? I mean that if these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, Tim will die."

Scrooge listened with an interest he had never felt before.

"Oh, no, kind Spirit; surely poor little Tiny Tim will be spared?"

“No, I’m afraid that’s inevitable,” said the Spirit, who appeared encouraged by this sudden and genuine interest.

“So how long has he got, exactly?” said Scrooge.

“End of this year, perhaps.”

"It would be so, so wrong for him to die…”

"What difference does it make to you?" returned the Spirit, "If he be like to die, then he had better do it quickly and quietly as possible; there’s a surplus in the population… isn’t that what you said earlier this evening?”

Scrooge was surprised to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit.

“Please don’t misquote me: I said the surplus heterosexual population,” he answered.

“Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”

“Well, it’s like this, Spirit: I reckon if someone brought Tim up a mountain to help look after a few sheep, sooner or later-”

“You wouldn’t!”

“Damn it, Spirit; you can’t let him die a virgin… not with that!" said Scrooge.

"Man, you are sicker than I thought!" said the Spirit, "Forbear that wicked cant!”

“Which one?” Scrooge returned. “The wicked cant about getting rid of the surplus heterosexual population? Or helping Tim out?”

“Both of them, until you have discovered what the surplus is and where it is!” said the Spirit, who sounded a little irate: at that moment, Scrooge noticed that the Spirit had grown a moustache, and wondered if that might have something to do with his changing mood. “Who are you to decide what men shall live and what men shall die? It may be that you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like poor!"

Scrooge bent before the Spirit's rebuke, casting his eyes upon the ground. But he raised them again speedily, hearing his own name: Bob had proposed a toast to all of his work colleagues.

"Everyone except that Ebenezer Scrooge!" cried Mrs Cratchit reddening.

"My dear… the children!" said Bob.

"I don’t care, dear! Not after what he said about me at the Christmas party! All I did was lean over to get a Bacardi Breezer, and that man convinced himself that I’d made a sexual advance… if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, he insisted on telling everyone in the room, and that’s not all he was telling them! Why, if I had him here, I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it. That old faggot is a-"

“Christmas Day, dear!” Bob interrupted.

“Old? She called me old?”

“Sssh!” said the Spirit

"Not even on Christmas Day should anyone drinks the health of that odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling bastard,” said Mrs Cratchit. “You know he is, Bob: nobody can stand him at your work, and no one knows it better than you do."

"Let’s not talk about anything unpleasant, not today of all days," was Bob's mild answer.

"Well, I'll drink for your sake and the Day's," said Mrs Cratchit, "Here’s wishing everyone a long life… and him a long and miserable one. A merry Christmas and a happy new year! He'll be very merry and very happy, I have no doubt!"

The children drank the toast after her, but it was the first of their proceedings which had no heartiness. The name Ebenezer Scrooge struck unpleasant feelings into all their hearts, and the mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full five minutes, until the Teletubbies were being shown. After it had passed away, they were ten times merrier than before.

Although the family was unable to hear Scrooge, nevertheless the Spirit ushered him outside before he might make any more offensive remarks. By this time it was getting dark and snowing pretty heavily, and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Flickering blazes showed preparations for many a cosy dinner, with children running around many of the houses, shrieking for television; occasionally, they came running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them, demanding more presents. Shadows on a window-blind showed guests assembling.

“Look at those!” Scrooge remarked. “Why couldn’t we do a little sex scene behind one of those blinds? No one would actually see us having sex; it would just be… suggestive!”

“Lay off, man! I already said no!”

As they spoke, Scrooge observed a group of other men that he recognised, on their way to one of the gay bars. He didn’t call them his friends, but they were among those gay men that he hung around with a lot. For a moment, he wished they were all able to see him, imagining how their jaws would drop at the sight of the second Spirit in his g-string: within a moment, he wished he was going with them, for it seemed that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with the second Spirit. When they passed, Scrooge heard his own name mentioned: all were certain that he would be in a particular venue, so they intended to start their night elsewhere.

“He’ll be drunk by the time we catch up!” one remarked. “Do you reckon he’ll ever notice that he’s buying all of the drinks for the last ten years?”

“Unlikely,” said another. “But you’ve got to admire that bastard; some of the best talent ends up back at his place.”

“Rohypnol!” someone remarked, to the great amusement of the group.

Scrooge hesitated, poised to hurl a torrent of abuse in their direction, before recalling that they wouldn’t hear him, and that he’d said worse about them behind their backs… much worse.

“Haven’t you realised what the problem is, Scrooge?” said the Spirit. “Where did you find me this evening? In the closet. You reckon that you came out of that closet years ago, didn’t you? But the fact is that you’re still living in one, except it’s a bigger closet with better clothes. You live in a ghetto where you don’t connect with anyone. You don’t care about anyone and no one cares about you. You’re alone, Scrooge. Is that what you want? Do you want to end up alone in a trailer for the rest of your days?”

“Listen, man: I’m not going to take advice on how to live my life from a Spirit armed with a weapon of mass destruction that he’s not prepared to use,” Scrooge replied.

There was a long silence- but of course the second Spirit was used to those- until a group of handsome girls passed, all hooded and fur-booted, chattering at once… not to each other, of course; they all had mobile telephones. Off they tripped lightly to some near neighbour's house- to pick up some drugs, Scrooge assumed- after which, woe upon a single man who wandered past.

“Little Britneys and Jordan-ettes on a hen night,” Scrooge remarked.

Much to his annoyance, the Spirit made a great show of paying them compliments and attention: artful witches, he knew by the look of them. Scrooge was about to unfasten his fingers from the g-string when, without a word of warning from the Spirit, they scene before them both vanished and they stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about. Nothing grew but moss and furze and coarse rank grass, and down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a sullen eye, frowning lower until lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.

“It’s getting cold,” Scrooge observed. “There’s no one for miles around… are we going to find a little tent somewhere?”


“Come on… There’s no one reading this shit! Have a little fun! Be a merry Spirit!”

It was a great surprise to Scrooge to hear a hearty laugh from behind. And it was a much greater surprise to Scrooge to recognise it as his own nephew's and then, upon turning around, to find that he stood outside a house in the country, staring in the window of a bright, dry, gleaming room. The Spirit drew him inside.

"He said that Christmas was a humbug!" cried Scrooge's nephew with a loud laugh.

"More shame for him, Fred," said an exceedingly pretty woman, with the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature's head.

Heather had a figure one would have called provoking, but satisfactory too… provoking enough to satisfy, it might be said. She had a dimpled, surprised-looking face, and a ripe little mouth that seemed made to be kissed; as no doubt it often was, and not only by her husband, Scrooge remarked with a smirk.

“You didn’t invite him to come this year, did you?” said Heather in a concerned tone.

“Who?” said Fred and Scrooge at once.

“You know perfectly well! Who else? Ebenezer!”

“You know I do that every year, Heather. I feel sorry for him. He doesn’t have anyone. No one cares about him.”

At this, Scrooge grunted with indignation.

“Well, I wish you wouldn’t in future!” said Heather at length.

“That I wouldn’t feel sorry for him?”

“No, I wish that you wouldn’t keep inviting him at Christmas.”

“But it’s only once a year, darling. I know he’s insufferable company, but he’s family… suffering families is what Christmas is all about.”

“You’ve got to think about other people feelings, Fred. It’s the children that I’m worried about… Lionel, in particular.”

“Don’t tell me you think that if Uncle Scrooge is around once a year, he’ll have a bad influence on the children, or that Lionel might turn out to be gay!” Scrooge's nephew laughed. “Ha, ha, ha!"

Heather stopped what she was doing.

“What does Lionel want for Christmas this year? A Kylie Minogue album… Fred, that might have been a normal request from an adolescent in your day, but nowadays it can only mean one thing!”

"Ha, ha, ha! Heather, he also asked for a football kit!"

“A David Beckham football kit!”

Fred’s laughter became a little bit fainter and softer.

“He doesn’t play football at school; he only plays football around the house whenever you’re around, and only because he wasn’t to spend time with you and to please you,” said Heather in a matter of fact tone. “Didn’t you notice what happened to the football kit this morning? He spent a lot of time trying on the little shorts, but not the shirt because he said that the colour didn’t suit him.”

Fred was no longer laughing.

“What do you suggest that we do?”

“Stop inviting Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Day, that would be a good start,” Heather answered.

“But do you think that’ll be enough? I mean, if you really suspect he’s gay, we have to deal with this; we want him to be a nor-”

“Fred, if that sentence ends as I think it might, you’d better get out of this kitchen fast!”

“Let me finish, then! We want him to be a normal adolescent, happy about his sexuality, whether he’s gay, straight or bisexual… it’ll make no difference to how much everyone loves him, you know that! How do we try and make sure he grows up comfortable about every aspect of who he is? Won’t he need to talk with someone?”

“He will, and someone other than us,” said Heather. “There’s only so much relevant life experience that we’ll have to share on the subject. What I’m saying is that we ought to make responsible decisions, doing everything in our power to make this easier for our son: in particular at this stage, when he’s vulnerable and doesn’t want to talk, even with us; he might not even know himself if he is… and we might be wrong. But whatever the circumstances, neither of us want him thinking he’s going to turn into Scrooge because he happens to be gay, or that it’s normal to end up behaving like Scrooge.”

“You’re right,” said Fred. “Look, I know a great fellow on the football team who’s gay; we can invite him and his partner over.”

“Invite them around for New Year, provided you both don’t start pressuring him to take an interest in football for the wrong reasons. Let’s do everything we can to make sure the children have a healthy balanced outlook on homosexuality, avoiding the… you know, the stereotypes. Your footballer friend won’t the only card-carrying homosexual at the party: there’s also my accountant, my fitness instructor, and my hairdresser will all be there.”

“Hairdresser? I thought you said we’d avoid stereotypes?”

“Well, she is a lesbian.”

At length, having decided that the most important thing for all of their children was to know that they were loved, Fred and Heather both returned to join the family gathered in the living room: their children, their own parents, and even Heather’s grandparents.

Scrooge, who had listened indignantly to their conversation, found himself unable to find any way of venting spleen except by commenting on the awfulness of the decoration inside their home. The Spirit humoured him for a while, but before long even Scrooge’s attention was drawn to the cheerful family gathered at the fireside.

If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge's nephew, all one can say is that one should like to know him. It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, to say that however much infection there may be in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good-humour. When Fred laughed- holding his sides, rolling his head, and twisting his face into the most extravagant contortions- everyone in the room laughed as heartily as he, and the assembled family being not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.

"Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha!"

"Do go on, Fred," said Heather, clapping her hands.

"He never finishes what he begins to say! He is such a ridiculous fellow!" said his mother in law delightedly.

"He's a comical fellow, all right," said his father-in-law. "That's the truth: I have not a bad word to say against him."

After dinner, the family sat together listening to music. Heather played well upon the piano, and played among other tunes a simple little air (a mere nothing: you might learn to whistle it in two minutes) Since they were a musical family, and knew what they were about, they sung well, especially a young man that Scrooge hadn’t ever met before by the name of Topper, who could growl away in the bass like a good one and never swell the large veins in his forehead. As far as Scrooge was concerned, Topper had clearly got his eye upon Heather; a remark was made about spending Christmas alone, and he said that a man without family at Christmas time felt like a wretched outcast.

After a while, they all played games together; real games, not PlayStation. It is good for children to play such games, for the stimulate rather than impress the mind, and encourages them to become familiar with social activity; indeed, it is good for adults to behave like children sometimes- just not all of the time- and healthy for all concerned to actually spend time together, rather than simply in the same house together; never better than at Christmas.

First there was a game at blind-man's buff, with Topper off chasing after Heather, knocking down the fire-irons, tumbling over the chairs, bumping against the piano, smothering himself among the curtains; wherever she went, there went he. He always knew where Heather was, and he wouldn't catch anybody else. She often cried out that it wasn't fair; and it really was not, but when at last he caught her, in spite of all her silken rustlings, and her rapid fluttering past him, he got her into a corner whence there was no escape; then his conduct was the most execrable. Scrooge said he was surprised none of the others present told him to keep his hands to himself when they were struggling behind the curtains.

“I no more believe Topper is really blind than I believe he has eyes in his boots,” he said. “He can see right through that blindfold, and the way he’s going after that tart is an outrage on the credulity of human nature, pretending its necessary to touch her head-dress and further to assure himself of her identity by pressing against her like that… I can’t believe my nephew is allowing this!”

“Why wouldn’t he? They’re just horsing around! Topper’s her brother, man!” said the Spirit

“In that case, it’s vile… monstrous.”

"Here's a new game," said Fred, comfortable with a large chair and a footstool, in a snug corner. It was a Game called Yes and No, where you had to think of something, and the others in the group had to find out what, by only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case was.

One of the younger boys, Ben, went first. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed elicited that he was thinking of an animal, but rather a disagreeable one; yes, it was a savage beast that growled and grunted, living in its own dirt. Was it a pig? In a way, but that wouldn’t do for an answer, so he opted for no. It was a surprise to hear that the animal lived in the city and walked about the streets. It was not a dog, or a tiger. Was it led by others? Yes, it was. Was it made a show of? Yes, it was. Did it have horns?

“Yes, in a manner of speaking,” the boy replied with a laugh.

But it was not an ass or a bull, so what was it? It seemed this animal might have skin, feathers and fur!

At every fresh question that was put to him, the boy burst into a fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly tickled that at length he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp. No, this animal was never killed in a market. Did it live in a menagerie? Yes, he supposed it did. Finally, Heather cried out:

"I know what it is!”

She spoke suddenly, and she didn’t sound terribly pleased: the rest of the family waited anxiously for her guess.

"It's Ebenezer Scrooge, isn’t it?"

Which it certainly was.

Ben, Lionel, Jack and the other guests rolled around on the carpet laughing. Admiration was the universal sentiment, though Jack objected that the reply to "Is it a ass?" ought to have been "Yes," because an answer in the negative was sufficient to have diverted his thoughts from Mr Scrooge, supposing they had ever had any tendency that way.

“That’s not very nice, boys,” said Heather disapprovingly.

“But Mum, you don’t like Scrooge any more than we do!” Ben protested.

“There’s a difference between not enjoying someone’s company and making fun of them,” was all Heather could say.

“So we can’t make fun of him just because he’s gay?” Ben blurted.

The room fell silent.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” said Heather cautiously. “But I hope you realise that it’s wrong to make fun of someone only because they’re gay.”

“Well, I don’t like Scrooge, so I’m going to laugh if anyone makes fun of him,” said Jack. “He’s soooo Chris Moynes.”

Heather and Fred exchanged a concerned look: they had no idea what this last remark might meant, but both suspected that it didn’t bode well.

“Boys, you do realise that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, don’t you?” said Fred tentatively.

The silence in the room deepened. Christmas Day with all of the family assembled hardly seemed the time for this. Fred watched glances exchanged by his three sons; it appeared that they all understood what the word meant, and there was no uncomfortable nudging or snickering or…

“Nothing wrong?” said Ben. “Nothing wrong with being gay? Dad, where have you been? It’s the coolest thing in the world to be gay!”

“What?” Heather and Fred exclaimed.

“All of the girls at school keep hoping we’ll be gay,” said Lionel.

“Yeah, they’re always telling us to be gay, or pretend we’re gay, so they can play with us,” said Jack.

“Girls don’t want you as a friend if you’re not a gay, Dad. Girls need someone to give good advice about what to wear and take them out dancing, right? If you’re not gay then it means you’re only after one thing… although I haven’t figured out what that one thing is.”

“Most of the boys in my class pretend to be gay,” said Lionel.

“But the girls always know,” said Ben. “They laugh when you’re pretending; it seems that they just know, although I’m not sure how.”

“It’s because of how boys who aren’t gay dress,” said Lionel authoritatively.

“No, my best friend says it’s because gay men are funnier,” said Jack.

Heather and Fred sat listening, incapable of speech.

At length, Heather’s parents enquired why they’d never met this Scrooge character. Wasn’t he ever invited for Christmas?

“Er…not anymore,” said Fred.

"You should keep in with your brother," his father-in law hinted with a wink. "No one else to inherit, eh?"

Familiar with his sense of humour, no one present took offence. All laughed heartily.

"His wealth is of no use to him,” said Fred, given how the conversation had taken a serious turn. “Scrooge don't do any good with it: he don't have enough sense to look after himself, or make himself comfortable with it. I’m sorry for him, to tell the truth; he’s unpleasant company, but I couldn't be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims? Himself, always. He’s taken it into his head that he has nothing in common with us, and he won't come and dine with us. He’d rather spend Christmas Day alone. What's the consequence? He don't lose much of a dinner, does he?”

Everybody in the room said that he lost a very good dinner, and they must be allowed to have been competent judges, because they had just eaten it.

"Well, I'm very glad to hear you all enjoyed it," said Heather, hoping to change the subject.

“Not only that, Scrooge misses out on good company,” Fred went on. "The consequence of his taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is, as I think, that he loses some pleasant moments which could do him no harm. I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he can find in his own thoughts… or in any of the bars at this time of year. He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he can't help thinking better of it if he finds me visiting him in good temper, year after year, and saying Uncle Scrooge, how are you?”

“He has given us plenty of merriment tonight, and it would be ungrateful not to drink his health!” said Heather’s mother. “Here is a glass of mulled wine ready to our hand at the moment; and I say, ‘To Ebenezer Scrooge!' "

"To Uncle Scrooge!" they cried.

"A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old bugger, whatever he is," said Fred.

“Who’s he calling old?” said Scrooge crossly.

The whole scene passed off in the breath of the last word spoken. Scrooge and the Spirit were once again upon their travels. Much they saw and far they went; the Spirit stood beside sick beds and the sick were cheerful; he walked on foreign lands and all strangers felt close at home; the Spirit passed struggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; he approached poverty, and those who suffered it felt rich. Many homes they visited, and whether in hospital, almshouse, or prison, in misery's every refuge, where man had not made fast the door and barred the Spirit out, he left a blessing.

It was a long night, if it were only a night; Scrooge had his doubts of this… he was bored out of his mind, and felt that all of this was dragging on horribly. If he wasn’t able to have sex with the Spirit then he wanted to return to his apartment, and if there wasn’t going to be any more sex in the story, then he wanted the story to be over. He needed to think about what was happening: he’d already decided that he was never listening to another Madonna record, that he was never buying another drink for anyone he didn’t stand a chance of having sex with, but he needed to consider what to do about his nephew’s family… not to mention Tiny Tim.

It was strange, he observed, that the Spirit at his side appeared to grow older as the night went on; that is to say his sideburns continued to grow longer, and his moustache grew thicker, and his accent sounded a little more Texan. Scrooge never spoke of it this change until they left a children's Christmas party when, glancing at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was turning grey.

"You really ought to consider doing something about that," he said.

“It’s too late,” said the Spirit.

“It’s never too late for a makeover,” Scrooge returned.

"Man, my life upon this globe is brief than this g-string," replied the Spirit, for the chimes were ringing three quarters past eleven at that moment. “It ends to-night."

"To-night?" cried Scrooge.

"To-night at midnight, man! The time is drawing near, and to be honest I can’t say that I’ll be sorry to see the back of you. It’s been one of the longest hardest rides of my life, I can tell you."

“Wish I could say the same, and as for seeing the back of me, I’ve been trying to pay a little attention to my ass all evening,” Scrooge muttered, looking intently at the Spirit's robe. “You’ve still got fifteen minutes, isn’t there enough time for a quick… you know?”

As they spoke, two children approached, a boy and a girl; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at the Spirit’s feet.

"Oh man, look! Look, look, down here!" exclaimed the Spirit.

Scrooge started back, appalled. He tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, pulling them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

“Go away, children! There are only a few minutes left!” Scrooge hissed.

But it became obvious that the children had no intention of leaving, and that the Spirit was more interested in them than he was ever going to be in getting together with him.

"Spirit, have they no homes to go to?" said Scrooge, unable to say more.

"Are there no prisons, do you mean?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no jobs at Tesco?”


“These children are symbols. Do you understand what that means?”

“Yes: I used to play that instrument in the school orchestra,” said Scrooge.

“These children belong to Mankind,” said the Spirit with a sigh. “They cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want.”

“Unfortunate names,” Scrooge remarked.

“Beware them both!” said the Spirit impatiently. “But most of all beware this boy, Scrooge: for on his brow I see that written which is Doom… your doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it! Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! But abide the end."

Scrooge had no idea what the Spirit was talking about: such melodramatic nonsense, he was clearly angling for another Oscar nomination, he though.

Suddenly, a bell struck; one chime sounded after another until there had been a total of twelve, whereupon Scrooge looked around and found himself alone. As the last stroke of the bell ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Bob Marley; there was to be one last Spirit before the story ended, and so it was, lifting up his eyes that he beheld…

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