Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. T. F. Scrooge had signed the partnership-insurance papers, had taken over Marley’s accounts, and the Legal Department of Scrooge, Marley, Babcox, Durstine and Goldie had worked for six weeks plugging the holes in the corporation-tax structure. Marley was dead, this must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story that began Christmas week, 1957.
T.F. sat in his corner office. It was a cold, bleak, biting day. The City Hall clock had only just gone four, but it was quite dark already. The fluorescent lights were glowing in the windows of the neighboring offices.
“A merry Christmas, Uncle.” cried a cheerful voice. It was T.F.’s nephew'.
"What’s merry about it?” T.F. asked. "We're down ten percent on last year.”
"What’s merry about it, Uncle? Ten percent?” said T.F.’s nephew. "You don't mean that, I am sure?”
“I’m too busy to make jokes,” T.F. said. "If you want to get in the picture, ask Miss Howarth for a copy of Canadian Retail Sales Analysis Report. November 15th to December 15th.”
"Don’t be cross. Uncle,” said the nephew. “I like Christmas.”
“Let’s kick it around the next brainstorming session," T.F. said. “You got an idea we’ll run it up the pole and see if anybody salutes it.”
"Don’t be angry. Uncle,” the nephew cried. “Come. Dine with us tonight.”
"Give me a rain check on that, will you, son?” T.F. said. "I'm snowed under. Our biggest client is gunning for more Christmas business. I haven’t bought anything for my wife yet, and I'm already in the doghouse because I’m going to be late for her Punch Bowl party.”
I .F. buttoned up his coat, zipped some papers into his briefcase, walked out of the office, got in a traffic jam that reached from the parking lot to Highway 401, and arrived home with his ulcer jumping just as the last guest was led laughing to the door. Mrs. T.F.’s smile clicked off as the door closed.
"Well, I'm glad you decided to come home,” she said, “even if it was just to say good-by to one of your guests.”
She went to her bedroom. This was the last T.F. heard from her.
He put on his dressing gown and slippers, poured himself a double rye and sat down to read an article in Better Business called “How To Move That Christmas Sales Peak Back Into July.” But soon the magazine rested in his lap, and he sat looking at television.
Now it is a fact that there was nothing on TV but Wyatt Earp. Let it also be borne in mind that T.F. hadn't thought much about Marley in the past few years. And then let any man explain
snarls till Marlev’s ghost warns him from the T\ tube, famiueri and jingling streets — well, anything could happen
if he can how it happened that T.F. saw on the screen, without Wyatt Earp undergoing any intermediate change. Marley's face. Not angry or ferocious, but looking at T.F. as Marley used to look at Plans Sessions, with horn-rimmed glasses in his teeth.
"What is this. Marley?” T.F. said.
"Let me come into the room a minute and Eli fill you in,” Marley said. “The thing is. T.F.. you're going to be haunted by three spirits tonight.”
“Couldn't we tee it up for them all to see me together some day next month?” T.F. said.
But Wyatt Earp was again on the screen. T.F. thought. "Pooh! Pooh! I'll make a date with my psychiatrist first thing tomorrow.” Fie went to his room and flaked out w'ith his clothes on.
He was awakened, he knew' not when, by a bright light in his bedroom. Before him stood a strange figure.
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.” the figure said. “Arise and walk with me.”
The ghost showed T.F. three different Christmases past. In the first. T.F. played on a little hill with a sleigh his father had made him for Christmas out of an orange crate. It made T.F. sob when he thought of how much he’d spent on his own kids this Christmas. In the next scene, all the snow had gone and T.F., now a young man. was studying business administration and sales promotion. Beside him were copies of The Power of Positive Thinking, Sales Through Smiles. It’s Good Business to Be a Christian. God's ('ash Register is Ringing for You. How to Make Friends That Pay Off. and Are You Geared To a Bigger Gross This Christmas?”
T.F. looked thoughtful as he saw' himself turning into a young married man. He was now working in the production department of Scrooge.
Marley, Babcox, Durcontinued on page 38
Continued from page 27
Holy Night, he knew, had more sell per syllable
stine and Goldie. He was walking up and down excitedly. He had just thought up the slogan, “The Three Wise Men Would Have Got There Faster In a Plymouth,” which got him his first big account.
By now he was conscious of being exhausted. “Take me home,” he told the spirit. “Haunt me no longer.” And he found himself back in his bedroom, wondering what had happened to that little sleigh, in fact to the little hill, as the last time he had driven past there all he could find was a shopping centre. He sank into a heavy sleep.
Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, he thought he heard a noise down in his private bar. He went downstairs. Sitting on a bar stool was a jolly giant, who looked about ready to be cut off.
“Come in!” exclaimed the ghost. “Come in! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present.”
The bar vanished, and T.F. and the ghost hovered over Toronto and Montreal and Winnipeg, where the people were slipping in snow and sitting in cars in long traffic jams. They stood in the city streets where (for the weather was severe) stalled cars and skidding tires made an unpleasant kind of music. Motorists called out merrily to one another:
“Why don’t you go back to Montreal, Mac, and get your driver’s license?”
“Where the hell is it going to get you? We’ve all got to wait for the light to change.”
In the stores there were Christmas lines of toiletries, and smoking jackets for Dad, and angels on top of four-ply tubeless tires, Persian Mellon for Her, ties for Him, electric razors for mother. There were manufacturer’s regular thirtyfive-dollar cedar chests for thirteen ninety-five, cheery signs saying that you could save ten bucks on dad’s powersaw set, great round-bellied baskets of candy reduced to clear. Signs that said, “Only Three More Shopping Days.” Christmas trees for five and a half dol-
lars each. Barbecues shaped like waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, with no refund, no exchange, no delivery. Signs that said, “Shop On Our Budget Floor After Singing Christmas Carols.” Hi-fi sets entreating and beseeching to be taken home and paid for in thirty-six monthly installments. In outlying districts, where soft snow fell, signs that said, “Patronize your neighborhood stores this Christmas.” And at the same time there emerged from scores of bystreets, lanes and nameless turnings, innumerable people, carrying parcels, frowning at traffic lights, cursing motorists.
Scrooge and his guide went on, invisible, and the spirit stopped to bless the home of Little Bob Cratchit, F.T.’s market-analysis man, where Mrs. Cratchit was trying to keep supper warm.
“What has ever got into your precious father, then? And your brother. Tiny Tim?” shrieked Mrs. Cratchit, who had done all the shopping for the family, addressed all the Christmas cards (that rascal, Bob Cratchit, didn’t even know who he sent cards to any more), decorated the house, taken the children to the Santa Claus parade, and was faced with cooking a Christmas goose for eighteen people. Mrs. Cratchit, in fact, was in as fine a state of nerves as you could meet in a day’s tramp through the woods. She was a sensitive person, susceptible to mob hysteria, and she was now stimulated to such a pitch that she was having alternating spells of elation and startling urges to take a handful of sleeping pills. And it wasn’t being helped by TV, which was playing Holy Night for the 5,197th time since November 15, as it had been shown by Hooker Ratings and TV Facts to have more sell per syllable than any other carol.
Then in came Little Bob. the father, with at least three feet of comforter, exclusive of fringe, hanging down before him and Tiny Tim upon his shoulders.
"Get off! GET OFF!” Little Bob cried. “I told you I’d carry you to the house. Why do you kids overdo everything?"
Bob, who last thing at the office had
looked at his bank balance, had been trying to forget it at the Elbow Room. Now. turning up his cuffs, he began to compound some hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemon, and stirred it round and round, repeating with a blank stare, “Three dollars and seventy-seven cents. Three dollars and seventy-seven cents!”
Little Cratchits are popping up everywhere. Never was there such a shouting! Hallo! Bob has gone back to the mixture in the kitchen. What’s this! Mrs. Cratchit is sobbing in the bedroom. Oho! She throws a slipper across the room and says, “One damned night in the year 1 expect him home on time and he comes in looking as if somebody had hit him on the back of the head with a stone.” Stop! Someone on TV is singing a commercial to the tune of Good King Wenceslas:
Mr. Shopper went to buy An ordinary ra-a-a-zor!
“Will you turn that b----thing off!”
Little Bob cries and one little Cratchit switches to channel six.
“And remember, children,” a confidential voice says, “Tell Dad to change to Fluorobile. You see, it goes right into his stomach and rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. Tell him to ask for the giant, self-squeezing tube with the electronic screw top. And now, from your friendly Fluorobile dealer. God Bless you, every one.”
“Let’s look at Gunsmoke,” cried Tiny Tim.
“Spirit,” said T.F., with an interest he had never felt before. “Tell me. Do Bob Cratchit and his family always act like this?”
“Only at Christmas time,” said the spirit. “The children are so excited by the loot they're going to get that they don’t know what they're doing. As for Bob Cratchit, he’s a good husband and devoted father. He’s broke, that’s all that’s wrong with him. He’s spent two hundred and eighty-five dollars on Christmas. The man’s a nervous wreck.”
The bell struck twelve. T.F. looked about him for the ghost, and saw it not. Instead he beheld a solemn phantom, draped and hooded.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas To Come.”
“Are you going to show me shadows of things that have not happened?” T.F. asked. “Is that so, spirit?”
“Briefly,” the ghost said. "But people haven’t time for all that these days. We’ve had our IBM editing machine prune it for busy readers. We call it the Businessman’s Digest. What happens is that you die and nobody misses you. We’ve got it all in one paragraph. The company gets a younger man for your job. He has ideas with size. He puts over a new slogan: Pray, but Make It Pay.
“Specter,” said T.F. “something informs me that our parting moment is at hand.”
He saw an alteration in the phantom’s hood and dress. It shrunk, collapsed, dwindled down, became a bedpost.
Yes! And the bedpost was T.F.’s own. The bed was his own, the room was his own.
“I will have a Christmas holiday,” he cried as he scrambled out of bed. “I will get out of here. 1 will take my family to someplace where Christmas is observed quietly and with dignity.”
He was so flustered and so glowing with good intentions, and his face was wet with tears.
He phoned his secretary.
"Hallo! Whoop! Hallo there! What’s today?”
“Eh?” returned his secretary, with all her might of wonder.
“What’s today, my fine girl?” “Today!” replied his secretary. "Why, the day before Christmas.”
“Can you get a family reservation on TCA for Bermuda?”
“I should hope I could,” cried his secretary.
“An intelligent secretary,” said T.F. “A remarkable secretary. Then make a reservation for me. Get it in less than two minutes and I’ll give you another Christmas bonus.”
T.F. chuckled while he dialed his wife on the inter-bedroom phone, and chuck-
led as he waited for her to answer, chuckled as he sat down breathless in his chair.
"Mary! Get out your strapless bras. Tell the kids to get their bathing suits packed. We’re going to Bermuda. It’s quieter there.”
He went out and walked about the streets, and watched the people crowding onto subways and buses, fighting for bargains at counters, reporting clerks for insolence, holding out for higher prices on Christmas trees. “I'm going to Bermuda,” he told everyone, eliciting grunts
from a few shoppers who said, "I’d like to be going with you till it’s all over.”
“A merry Christmas,” T.F. cried, until people had a momentary idea of knocking him down and holding him and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait waistcoat.
He had no further intercourse with spirits, but he had no further intercourse with bigger and busier Christmases, either, and it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! ★
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