Today, December 6, is St Nicholas Day. As a child, this was the morning I would find sweets in my Christmas stocking. In homage to one of the greatest writers who ever lived, allow me to quote Ebenezer’s nephew, Fred, on what I call my Dickensian holiday belief, and to share with you Part 1 of a story I have tinkered with for years, which I might as well employ for purposes of good cheer this year, like a little gift, to thank you and wish you well. Let it also serve as homage to the power of a fun or lovely or inspirational written word, in which I also believe, with all my heart.
“...though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that [Christmas] has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
A Denouement in One Act
If you have wondered,
What ever happened to poor, old Jacob Marley?
Then this story is for you....
The curtain rises…
… to the closing scene of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Surrounded by celebrating Cratchit family members, a jubilant Scrooge takes Tiny Tim up into his arms. Carolers wander about to depict old London city street activities, reciting the closing lines of the Dickens story and play, as taken from the original text:
Cast members, alternating:
Scrooge was better than his word….
He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father….
He became a good friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew….
Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset…
His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him….
… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well….
… and so, as Tiny Tim, observed, God bless us, Every One!
(Lights fade to black. As the curtain lowers, one cast member, elegantly dressed and poised, extracts himself from the chorus and approaches the audience. He is, as yet unknown to the audience, the adult Tim Cratchit)
… better than his word… You know the story.
You, my friends, are here to listen and revisit, as the Spirits did back then and will doubtless do again – when least expected, but most needed – to this great tale.
You are here to honor and invite back into your own hearts a story so known and loved, it has woven itself into the very fabric of our lives. What still manages to illuminate the darkest slice of any given hour brings you here. When night outweighs the day and Time’s passages are steeped in cold, Man yearns for something that invokes warmth and light. And love. What we seek comes in many forms, be it a liberating truth, be it a restful solitude, or some small instance in which the giving supersedes the taking….
Perhaps that search brought you here. Indeed, it places me here, in front of you, to introduce a small aside, a denouement if you will, to shed light on what I warrant not a few of you have at some point asked:
What about poor, old Jacob Marley?
(As Tim recedes and is swallowed in shadow, he concludes)
Let once more the whispering shivers and ghostly specters haunt us onto a better path! As we aspire to what is great and good in us, allow us to employ for a second time the dark to illustrate the light.
(Lights come up upon a room)
There. Look upon Jacob Marley, who yes, indeed, was dead.
Dead as a doornail…
The Setting: A compact room, a bedchamber/office of Dickensian old. Monochromatic, in shades of blue and gray, the space is dimly and mysteriously lit to evoke endless night, a standstill of Time. The only light comes from a desk lamp. There is a fireplace, but no fire. There is a daybed, rendered so as to appear comfortless and unsleepable. Tattered curtains hang at the window. There is an ornate and massive wardrobe with double doors at center stage. The desk has stacks of coins upon it. Rubbish is strewn on the floor. The room’s entry door is at stage right. Behind the left hand wall there is a void, cloaked in darkness.
The door opens, slowly and without any sound, as if afloat. A vastly tall apparition cloaked all in black, with a hood covering head, its face shrouded, slowly, smoothly enters, also as if floating. It carries a scythe. This is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The Ghost reaches the center of the room, and suddenly its regal, stiff and stealthy posture collapses into one of slumped-over weariness. As the hood falls, we see nothing but some rudimentary support system, like the prop of a puppeteer. As the robe is shrugged off, we see an old man, pale with long hair, dressed in yet another costume, a garishly cheerful suit of red and green velvet. A sprig of holly appears to be pinned to the jacket; perhaps, it is not a boutonnière but rather a stake of holly pierced through his chest, with its topmost leaves and berries splayed over the lapel. This is the costume of the Ghost of Christmas Present. This old man is/was dressed up as both ghosts; that he still wears the second suit suggests he did not even have time to change completely out of his red/green Christmas costume for his next role. Heaped upon the floor, is a matching, luxurious robe of green velvet, lying as if tossed aside in a hurry; it is part of the Christmas Present costume.
The old man lifts the black cloak, now puddled around him, and wearily walks to the wardrobe, dragging the cloak behind him. As he nears the closet, the doors slowly swing open in unison on their own, further suggesting he has otherworldly powers. Artful illumination brings to light the interior of the wardrobe. Another costume hangs within the wardrobe. It is a white gown, luminous, as if lit from within. A pair of wings hangs next to it. An unlit torch is propped up to one side. This is the costume of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
The old man hang ups the Christmas Yet To Come robe and stashes additional accouterment – a pair of boots, a black silken scarf that hid his face, and a scythe. He next removes the Christmas Present costume, which reveals yet one more ensemble: a decrepit, faded, molded and worn suit that is instantly recognizable as that worn by Jacob Marley when he paid his lamentation visit to Ebenezer Scrooge. The old man takes a tattered and dirty, white folded kerchief from a hook in the closet and, looping it under his chin, secures it at the top of his head, resituating a horrifically slackened, rather stiff jaw. He takes a pair black shackles and fastens one around each ankle. Adjusting his coat and headscarf, he proceeds to a large travel trunk, the ankle bracelets clacking eerily. From this, he removes the end of a seemingly endless length of chain links with padlocks attached (the last link of chain is never pulled out from the trunk, suggesting infinite length stored within). The old man threads and hooks the chain to his shackles, grimacing and holding his back as he straightens up. A section of chain he loops up and clips to his belt; he is tethered at numerous points. Henceforward, the old man makes a great show of struggling with these chains with every move.
This man is Jacob Marley. It was he who, in otherworldly, magically rendered costume, was every ghostly apparition who visited Ebenezer Scrooge on that fateful Christmas Eve. It was Jacob’s task to visit earth for one night to try and save his friend, to spare Scrooge from his fate. Having completed his three visitations, Jacob has now returned to the dismal room that is his solitary purgatory, there to resume his penance, which is to endlessly count his one stack of coins.
Jacob inhales deeply, overcome and exhausted, and begins to cry – wailingly, broken heartedly – and to speak as he commences with his activities)
‘How now?’ How now, indeed!
My task is done!
Or is it?
A lifetime in one night – a lifetime in three hours! What light and life I gazed back upon in the smallest of slivers granted me, how dark the black now beckons in sour contrast! Oh, the agony! Oh the void!
The dreariness and silence that are my only companions now beat upon my brow and what was once was in life my heart. Now, ’tis nothing more than a wrenching cadence to mark infinity, this hell I have crafted by will and deed.
This room is my prison, my torture chamber, a place I built in life with a vengeance, reserved for only the most selfish of architects.
Oh, I demanded loud and clear, and the Fates, those wretched sisters, they listened and granted forever more this place, an isolation that mocks all solitude and solace!
They gave me what I wanted, what my life’s path charted. But, to have it forever and ever... cursed ever more….
(He trails off, wailing, crying)
Aye three hours, three crumbs stolen from the manna served at Mankind’s banquet!
Three hours in which I was made witness to that from which one day my lone friend would too be deprived, as I have myself have thirsted and hungered…
’twas but a name for like-minded scoundrels in communion with each other!
What lone title bestowed upon linked souls in a co-joined travesty of companionship! What did I know of “friend”?
Could I have imagined, that the only links I would forge would be these damnable iron ties that writhe like vipers around my ankles and at my waist, which tether me to this space, my purgatory, for all eternity?
And now to know the pain…
…for to have eaten of wisdom’s bitterest apple, is to possess sight of all the Might Have Beens and the Should Have Beens. All I passed off as my singular route was pursued….
This wrenching thing that would twist my gut, had I yet a gut to twist, now gnaws ceaselessly in this hollow carcass (He pats his belly).
But the absence of knowledge – what did I accomplish, if anything at all? – is my penance upon penance! Did the grand task of my visitations upon old Eb do their work?
And oh, here the Fates did outdo themselves, for they held wide the drapes and allowed me to pass through gates of retaliatory delight; they let the deprived dreamer turn banker. They sat in silence as a father foolishly thought forced prosperity would alleviate the predilections and inclinations of a son he would never understand, he who taught me to wield wealth like the sharpest of knives…
Not rich was I but merely possessor of vast legal tender….
Funds I helped finagle with a desire to deprive others of their security, not merely to build my accounts and the eventual takeover of non other than my own mentor….
And where has it landed me?
I am left poorer than any debtor in prison. With Want for companionship and Ignorance as my advisor…the wicked siblings hang onto my shirttails even now….
(He looks behind and around him, as if the children are lurking close by)
I understand too well and see too well. I know not only what I wrought in life but more so what I left behind. Could I have known this would be my loathsome legacy?
So in this pathetic place must I remain, blinded to the effects of my endeavors of one night, if, as Past and Present and Future, I made any difference at all.
Aye, my old friend cried, and writhed with remorse most divinely demonstrated, but do I not know as an actor the throes of ecstatic over-exuberance?
To have seen passionate demonstration, promises and contrition is to have seen a co-consiprator at his Shakespearean best!
(Bitterly, paraphrasing Shakespeare, from As You Like It)
All the world’s a stage… and this apparition in his time did indeed play many parts. Ha!
The question lies in what follows, when curtains are drawn and no audience is nigh, when no applause exists to foster the doling out of generous good will.
What is said or left unsaid when the onlookers have all gone home?
What is achieved when embraces of gratitude or adulation are not at hand?
What is Man capable of if the reward is not placed on some near shelf, there to shine and gleam…and tempt him?
(lamenting, to the universe)
Man, how great, yet how paltry and selfish a servant you are as well. Gods and kings, scoundrels and rakes, whose commonality as drying human husks reduces one and all until at last equal with each other; back, back into the soil we go!
When moved no more by the invisible puppet strings of Fate, Free Will, and Destiny, when no more tied to the very crossed beams that housed both a Savior and a thief; pray tell, what are we?
(Jacob pauses to consider Man’s smallness, shaking his head in sadness)
Ignorance, you are victor and as such shall remain my master.
Another stretch of chain, one more padlock hooked to my tarred and weary spirit…
… so heavy… there is nowhere to go, nowhere to fly, nowhere to be…
Alone but for the one night granted me, to sail amongst earthly poltergeists and shadow’d waifs, to find my way through the dark alleys of the city I knew once, back into a working man’s catacombs, the wasted chambers of my one and only friend….
(Jacob cries out in agony)
Scrooge! The name, it pains my bones to speak it!
(Jacob shuffles over to his desk. As he proceeds, the wardrobe doors close themselves)
And so I am left, bereft of all life in this nether-worldly space, with only my one assigned task awaiting me at my infernal desk….
My old, cold coins of gold.
Damned bits and pieces, unfeeling tokens….
Indeed, I reaped for which in life I toiled.
And now to pay my eternal price, alone, so alone….
My God, I pray Eb listened.
My Hades, I pray he learned.
Sisters, I pray he tugs at your ropes and hides the shears. Cut him not off too quickly.
Oh Ghosts within, I hope he can un-build what in life I never did, what now chains me to this hell of my own making…
Oh, Jacob Marley, you fool….
Back to work you go…
(Jacob arranges his chains and locks and takes up his one task, which is to count the same stack of coins over and over again.
… one thousand one
One thousand two
Better for me than lonely, low-born you
One thousand three
One thousand four…
If the pithy monk can do this
Every hour in obeisance bent
Then any man can do it
And any man so should
And when he does
And done is did
And as a doornail is fulfilled
He can yet find rank amongst
All scoundrels and all kings
… one thousand five
One thousand six…
When nothing's broken
What's to fix?
… one thousand seven
One thousand eight…
Oh Midas, sir, I replicate
… one thousand nine
One thousand ten…
Oh, you foolish, merry gentlemen!
… one thousand eleven….
Out of sight is out of mind
…one thousand twelve….
The smallest coin the miser tithes
I wear my blinders well
I lock myself within these walls
Avowed to keep prosperity
For only, only, only me!
... seventeen, eighteen….
Now as I play so I pray
My penance at full price
… nineteen and now is twenty….
… one thousand one
One thousand two…
Better for me…
(Jacob stack the coins and/or place them on a scale or some such device by conclusion of the first recitation. But then, he dumps the coins back onto a heap on his desk and begin once more, reciting the poem again, from line one. The light fades as his voice trails off on a next round of the counting and recitation….)
End, Stave I
To be continued....
Text & story by Kimann Schultz, copyright 2017, all rights reserved
Published by Dakeha Taunus LLC 2017