And so Mr. Scrooge kept Christmas in his heart and made his clerk Bob Cratchit a partner and found an orthopedic surgeon who fixed Tiny Tim's gimpy leg. Scrooge was a friend and benefactor to all and he also got his hair and eyebrows trimmed and bought a new suit, a blue pinstripe. People called him Ben. When he died, the entire city mourned. The firm of Scrooge & Cratchit became ScratchitInc, and it got out of the countinghouse business and into condominiums. Old blacking factories and woolen mills and foundries were converted to luxury apartments with wood-burning fireplaces, eat-in kitchens with marble countertops, and hot tubs on the balconies. Vast gritty industrial sections along the river were made over, with ethnic restaurants, and health clubs with acres of treadmills -- and Bob Cratchit, or R.W. Cratchit, was in the forefront of it all.
Tiny Tim was no longer good as gold. He'd become a hulking lummox and shaved his head and gotten a spider web tattoo all around his neck. He was now called Spike. His band, the Demented Beggars, recorded songs like "Go Take a Pill" and "God Help You, Everyone," which you could download from his page at MySpace, though not many did.
The other Cratchit children, Peter and Belinda and Martha, were employed: Peter in product resourcing, Belinda in process imaging, Martha in production processing, but they were -- how should one say it? -- rather stupid. This can happen when you spend eight hours a day staring at a screen. Your brain turns to bran flakes. And for Christmas, they all went to the beach and lay in the sun.
R.W. got awfully depressed on Christmas Eve. He and Mrs. Cratchit had given up goose for Christmas after reading an article that said goose contributes to facial sag. So the Mrs. preferred salmon, and instead of pudding they had fruit salad. They lived in a penthouse atop the old barrel factory and there, late at night, brooding (despite his anti-brooding medication, Welloft), R.W. saw the ghost of Scrooge. He was with his old partner Jacob, helping him carry a load of chains. Scrooge looked terrific. "You'll be visited by three spirits," he said. "You know the drill. Just do what they say and you'll be fine."
And then at midnight, a spirit appeared. Not the jovial spirit with the crown of candles or the fatherly one in the long white cassock, but the spook in the hangman's hood, with the long bony fingers -- everybody pays attention when he comes to talk to you. (The jovial spirit had gone to a party at Fezziwig's and danced a jig and his hair caught on fire. The fatherly spirit had taken a wrong turn and gone to Spike's room, where Spike sprang out of bed and reinjured his leg.) The hangman told Mr. Cratchit that the condominium market was heading south and that ScratchitInc stock was headed for the toilet. "What can I do?" whimpered R.W. "Not much. You're in hock up to your frammis," said the spirit. "Try Chapter 11."
R.W. waited for hours for the other two spirits and then went to sleep. When he awoke, it was Christmas. A fat lumpy stocking was plopped in a chair. A note said, "Bob." It had licorice in it, and a rubber ball, a puzzle, a book and a big Christmas orange.
It was a proper large navel orange with thick skin, fresh, fragrant, and the smell brought back all the jolly Christmases Past when they played whist and laughed and the bubble lights twinkled and the radio played carols. Grief and misery tend to be amorphous and make everything taste bitter, but small things, such as a well-turned sentence, the chorus of a song, a cup of peppermint tea, Jane Austen, an orange, have some power to break the spell.
The injured Spike took the visitation as a sign from the Lord that he should become a Christian pop singer. He took back the name Tiny Tim, acquired a sturdy crutch and a passable Cockney accent, wrote 10 rather similar songs that all said, "God, you made me a shining star and rich and famous, and hey, thanks," and he toured the country doing sold-out shows in hockey arenas to ecstatic teenagers, but that's his problem, not yours or mine. Let me get us an orange and we can split it. If you want to sing "Silent Night," I'll sing with you.
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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
(c) 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.