SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 34: In Which I Have a Dickens Of A Time.

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager


“It’s not convenient and it’s not fair!” I growled aloud. “And if I were to stop your wages half-a-crown, you’d think yourself ill used, I’ll be bound!”

Miss Carol T. Cat looked up from the big blue living room chair and regarded me askance. “You pay no wages, being yourself a wageworker,” she observed, with eyes half-closed. “And if you did pay wages, you would find the willingness of the average employee to accept obsolete British currency to be understandably slight.”

“Don’t bug me,” I replied, absorbed in a thick sheaf of paper. “I need to edit this down. I’m going to be doing a dramatic reading of ‘A Christmas Carol’ for the Strand next month, and I need to get the running time down to an hour or so.”

“You presume to edit the words of the great Charles Dickens?” scoffed Miss Carol, hunching up to a sitting position, the better to fix her gaze upon me. “By what right?”

“Public domain, toots,” I snapped, flourishing my pencil. “No valid copyright means I can do whatever I want with it. This is gonna be somethin’!”

“I blanch at the thought,” Miss Carol responded. Miss Carol has firm views on nineteenth century English literature. Over the course of one long wintry night some years back, she ripped an expurgated edition of “Wuthering Heights” to shreds in her abject rage over the butchering of its more passionate passages. You edit Victoriana in her presence at your peril. I shouldn’t even have mentioned my present project, but hopped up on flat Coca-Cola and stale Milk Duds, I’d thrown caution to the winds, and now the time had come for me to reap the whirlwind. Or something. Anyway, I could tell it was going to be one of those arguments, and I laid back on the couch to try to come up with a worthwhile argument.

“Besides,” I finally ventured, “it’s timely!” It wasn’t much, I figured, but it was enough maybe to divert the conversation from a likely discussion of my many shortcomings as a writer, performer, housekeeper, and general human being.

“’A Christmas Carol’ was published in the year 1843,” Miss Carol sniffed. “While in its time a trenchant critique of early-industrial Britain, it has had its allegorical edge worn away by over a century and a half of adaptation and of cheap parody. Your contributions to this unfortunate tradition are most unnecessary. I advise that you allow the ghosts, as it were, to rest.”

“Ah!” I replied, snapping to attention upon recognizing a rare opening in her usually-impregnable arguments. “Ah!” I replied again, just to underline the point.

Miss Carol’s bright green eyes rolled visibly. I hate when she does that. You haven’t been eyerolled until Miss Carol T. Cat eyerolls you. It’s a gift, I guess.

“Look,” I began again, taking as deep a breath as I dared. “What kind of a man is Scrooge, anyway? He’s completely wrapped up in himself, right?”

“An apostle of nineteenth-century laissez-faire individualism, to be sure,” agreed Miss Carol. “Mr. Dickens constructed him as such.”

“I’m not talkin’ economics, though,” I continued. “That’s not really the point. Scrooge is the kind of a person who is so wound up in his own self, his own agenda, his own way of lookin’ at the world that he hasn’t got any room for anybody else at all.  His real problem isn’t just that he’s greedy, it isn’t that he’s a wrechin’, graspin’ covetous old sinner, it’s that he has no empathy at all. THAT is the point of the story.”

“An interesting observation,” ceded Miss Carol, “and one of greater depth than I would ordinarily expect from you. These months of social isolation have no doubt honed your critical skills. But in what way is this interpretation especially timely?”

“Don’cha see?” I argued. “That’s the real problem in this whole situation we’re in right now! Think about how many people right now don’t want to see anything from the other person’s point of view. So many people don’t want to think about how whatever they might do or say affects anybody else – as long as they can do or say whatever they want, who cares about anybody else? Isn’t that what’s going on right now? Isn’t that why we’ve got so much division right now about things that ought to be just a matter of common sense?”

“Hew-mons are not known for their common sense,” declared Miss Carol. “Were they, present matters might have been resolved with satisfaction well before reaching the present crisis.”

“Exactly,” I interjected, slapping my pencil down for emphasis, and jabbing its point into my thigh. After shouting with pain, limping to the kitchen, and stanching the wound with a wad of paper towel, I staggered back to the couch to resume the discussion. But I found Miss Carol had moved to my former position and was poring over my pages. “I have added a few suggestions to the marginalia of your script,” she pronounced. “You will find that the addition of a feline character during the Christmas dinner scene in the Cratchit home will add much to the texture of the story. Note that this Interpolated cat has received with satisfaction a large portion of the Christmas goose, emphasizing without question the need for hew-mons to be aware of the requirements of all at this season of the year, and not merely their own. I trust your audience will profit by this lesson.”

“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”

“God bless us all,” purred Miss Carol, her eyes aimed at the refrigerator, where she knew the remains of last night’s fried chicken dinner reposed. “Every one.”  

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