By John Worsey & Charles Dickens
‘ Unbelievable!’ Morris cried. ‘I’ve come all the way to Knight & Lee and it’s not here anymore! Where am I going to get Lillian’s presents now? Something gold, something chocolate and some luxury socks — it was all under one roof! And now it’s gone! Unbelievable!’
He stalked down Palmerston Road, muttering, ‘Better get back to the car before they give me a ticket, those penny-pinching bureaucrats… Unbelievable!’
He stopped opposite the church, turned his face to the darkening sky and exclaimed, ‘First never-ending Brexit and now this – the country’s going to the dogs!’
Feeling overcome, he made for a nearby bench. It brought him no comfort.
‘Good grief, this bench is freezing! What’s it made of — ice? Some sort of ludicrous art statement, is it? Council funded, no doubt. What a waste of my taxes! Unbelievable!’
‘Darkness is cheap,’ said a voice from the shadows. ‘And you like it.’
Morris sat bolt upright. The chill that ran down his spine had nothing to do with the winter air.
‘Who’s there?’ Morris’ voice sounded small and shrill. He was suddenly, uncomfortably aware that there was not another soul around so late on Christmas Eve.
‘Merry Christmas,’ said the voice.
Out of the shadows stepped a man in a Victorian suit, with an extravagant bowtie, an equally extravagant goatee beard, and a balding head of wavy hair. ‘God bless us, every one.’
‘Erm,’ said Morris. ‘Who are you?’
‘I am the Ghost of Charles Dickens.’
‘Unbelievable,’ said Morris. ‘Now I’m alone with a nutter. I must be the unluckiest man in Portsmouth.’
‘Oh, poor man,’ said the lunatic Dickens. ‘With your beautiful house, your loving and patient wife, your healthy rental income, your golf club membership.’
‘What’s your point?’ Morris sniffed. ‘Wait — how do you know all that?’
‘There is infection in disease and sorrow.’
‘Don’t you start. Lillian’s always telling me to cheer up.’
‘There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.’
‘What about flu? I had terrible flu in January. Unbelievable, it was.’
‘Happy, happy Christmas,’ Dickens beamed, ‘that can win us back to the delusions of our childhood days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth.’
‘Happy?! Lillian’s going to kill me when I come home empty handed. Blasted Christmas, stupid presents, the stress’ll probably kill me before she does!’
‘You carry your own low temperature always about with you,’ Dickens mused. ‘You ice your office in the dog-days, and don’t thaw it one degree at Christmas?’
Morris shuffled uncomfortably. ‘You seen the price of gas? Disgraceful. My bills are unbelievable.’
Spreading his arms wide, Dickens declaimed, ‘I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely -’
‘Wait a minute. Are you a council-funded art project?’
The ghost sighed. It knelt and clasped Morris’ hands together. Morris was too shocked to pull away.
‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,’ said Dickens. ‘But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.’
And with that, the Ghost of Charles Dickens stood and strode into the shadows.
‘Unbelievable,’ Morris muttered. ‘Hang on, what’s this?’ He unclasped his hands and there in his palm, evidently slipped there by the stranger, was a gold necklace – just like the one he’d planned to buy for Lillian.
‘Hey!’ Morris called. ‘Wait!’
‘I can do the Christmas, mate,’ came the voice of Dickens, from halfway down the street, sounding a little less posh, ‘But you’ll have to do the merry for yourself.’
‘Unbelievable,’ Morris almost said – but, to his own surprise, he stopped himself.
That night, when Morris arrived home, Lillian said, ‘You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
He found himself laughing uncontrollably, and when he finally calmed enough to tell her his story, she laughed uncontrollably too. They sank to their knees in front of a roaring fire, clutching each other like young lovers, helpless with giggles.
And Morris found a merriness he’d buried a long time ago; a time before offices and mortgages, bills and parking tickets. He felt something thaw inside him. And he vowed to never let it freeze over again. That was the merriest Christmas for many years, and the first of many to come.