“Downtrodden! Humbug!” responded the poor clerk. “If I myself am not among the downtrodden, then I must work harder at it.” The pudgy men looked to one another for answers, confused by the insensitivity of the gentleman before them. Scrooge, rightly reading their expressions, offered more of an explanation: “Sirs, we citizens of English society have been compelled to work for our wages. We slave in factories. We farm our fingers to the bone. We feed our thankless families. We clean. We doctor. And for what? Life? Bah! We call this life.” He snorted at his explanation. “If these downtrodden you speak of are so poor as to be worse off than I, is it not because they do not work? Are there not workhouses still in operation? Have they not family members who might also work for a wage?”
“True, sir, but for meager crumbs,” the gentlemen returned.
“Then on crumbs shall they subsist,” said Scrooge. “I, too, am beaten and battered, but do I ask for your pity or your charity? Bah! You pity and your charity are an affront to the truth.”
“Dear sir, we only see need and try to fill it. When Want becomes necessity, and Necessity becomes tragedy, our hearts break. If, as you imply, workhouses are the only bastion of the shoeless masses, mayhaps we have obligation to assist said masses, albeit in such a small manner. May we count on you for a contribution?”
“In such a small manner, you say? And only at Christmastime, I observe. You only feel your benevolent spirit when you feel the guilt of providing a rich atmosphere for your own family and you see others who cannot provide for theirs. You only feel philanthropic when you want to feel important.”
“Do you imply that our spirits are selfish, stranger?”
“I did, and I do.”
“Then give anonymously, Mister. Then you will not receive credit. Would you like to remain anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone!” said Scrooge. “Good riddance.”
Discovering their time being wasted, the gentlemen continued their quest, finding more generous, and more open-minded, people.
With each step, Ebenezer came closer to his apartment, and yet with every step his stomach tightened with contempt for his neighbors. Candles in frosty windowpanes became heartburn. Garland around doorways became a noose around his throat. All holiday decorations were, after all, the audacity of showing off. The haughty patrons behind said windows and doors were only braggadocios and false-faced. Their exteriors, both their houses and their personal demeanors, were just for show, while on the inside there must be abuses, ugliness, dirty clothing, and nasty attitudes. No one could be so merry in the face of brutal winter. No one could be so sappy when finances were so bleak. The sweet cherubby grins on their fat, dimpled faces are mere habits of the season – not genuine.
Stepping onto the front stoop of his humble apartment, Scrooge’s intestinal fortitude was twisted into knots. Not for the first time, he doubled himself over and retched into the dry shrubbery. Wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his coat, he reached for the doorknob. Here it comes, he thought. The children, the wife. Here comes another day of coming home to my deficiencies. Tiny Tim! Bah! He couldn’t stop the thoughts. When Tim was born, Scrooge had already passed the prime years of fatherhood. Tim was born twisted like Scrooge’s own stomach was twisted now. He would always be a cripple, and he would amount to nothing but another boy to live on the public dole. His life would be nothing but a short one. His parents would outlive him. When Scrooge looked upon his son, he couldn’t help but think that he – Scrooge – was a failure.
Reaching his key toward the door, the doorknob took on an impressionable shine. Scrooge noticed his own dismal reflection in the brass plate. Never had it shone so clearly as it did that night. Truly, it had not been polished by the landlord for many years. Yet here it was – reflecting like a looking glass, reflecting a face that had been much younger a long time ago. Scrooge’s face shone unshaven in the reflection, looking like an apparition from beyond the grave. His gray whiskers sparkled with dew from the foggy air about him. His brow glistened, not with sweat but with the melting frost from the atmosphere.
Then the reflection faded...just for a moment. When the image cleared, it was no longer Scrooge’s reflection in the brass; it was that of his supervisor – not Cratchit, of course – that would be halfway reasonable – but that of his deceased manager, Jacob Marley.
“How is it possible?” he asked aloud, trembling at the sound of his own voice echoing tenuously off of the icy porch railing. “Jacob Marley?” Scrooge looked more closely, and the image was altogether dull. The shine from the doorknob’s plate was years gone. The brass has brown and gray, no longer vibrantly golden. It must have been something I ate, he thought. Bad soup, as thin as it was. Marley had died seven years prior, on this very night. He had been a forceful boss, unlike his partner Bob Cratchit.
Bracing himself for the nightly greeting of his family, Ebenezer turned the knob to open the door.