Fiction: A Christmas Carol (Part 6)

A Christmas Carol by B.J. Mendelson

Cynthia the Musician  

This observation by the ghost was not addressed to Ronald, or to any one whom he could see, but it produced an immediate effect. For again Ronald saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. They were now looking at a time when Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Michael Bay was still making music videos for MTV. Our Ronald’s face had not the harsh orange tan and hair plugs of later years; but it had begun to wear the signs of narcissism and avarice. His hair beginning to thin. There was also an eager, restless motion in the eye now, which showed the passion he held for money had taken root, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall.

Like many in this time, Chump believed in growth at all cost for his business ventures, and with that growth came consequences. People lost their jobs, others were discriminated against for no reason other than a spreadsheet suggested it would be profitable to do so, and Ronald Chump began to lose his very soul.

The ghost had brought Ronald to a park bench in Queens where Chump was not alone. He sat by the side of a fair Puerto Rican girl in a colorful polka dot dress and white shutter shades that were resting on top of her head. It was the musician from the party at Mr. Bernardin’s, in whose eyes now were tears, which sparkled in the light that shone out of the Ghost of Christmas Past. By contrast, Ronald looked like the spitting image of Gordon Gekko. Their contrast in appearance a preview of what was about to unfold before the ghost and Ronald of the present day.

Ronald and Cynthia had struck up a relationship not long after Mr. Bernardin’s famed Christmas party, and it was Ronald who handled the transaction between Cynthia and Mrs. Bernardin after the party to ensure that Cynthia did not vanish like the other contractors. The two lived quite happily for some time in poverty on St. Nicholas Avenue, until one day Ronald’s father had gifted Ronald with his very own apartment complex to run, and the ability to earn all of the money that comes with owning property in New York City.

Then came another building. And then not much long after that, a sizable inheritance that catapulted Ronald into the city’s wealthy elite with the death of his father. It was there, among the rich that paranoia set in, for the rich do not like to spend their own money and are obsessed with keeping what they have at all costs. Now actively and openly discriminating against those he deemed unworthy to live in his apartments, with black applicants and Puerto Ricans specifically applying and being told no apartments were available while white applicants were told the exact opposite. In other instances, according to at least one federal lawsuit against Ronald, available apartments were said to be worth twice as much as what they actually were when Black and Puerto Rican applicants applied for them, in order to make the building unaffordable for them to move into it.

When Cynthia had learned of this practice, it was then that she knew the Ronald she had fallen in love with ceased to exist. Replaced by a monstrous villain that wore his face.

Cynthia was still who she always was, a brilliant musician and an immigration activist who believed in the economic potential of open borders in the United States. Something the country had practiced until the late 19th Century and had increasingly cracked down upon in order to benefit xenophobic politicians in the 20th.

Now arguing long and hard against such things as “trickle-down economics” and what little those policies would do for the poor and working class, while it allowed for the rich to hoard even more of their own money and use it for gain that would benefit no one but themselves. Cynthia had asked Ronald to use his new-found wealth for good, and to advocate against such disastrous policies, but Ronald refused. It was the basis for many fights. Cynthia pushing for Ronald to do good, and Ronald refusing, instead hoarding his money exactly in the way everyone feared beneficiaries of Reganomics would.

“It matters little,” Cynthia said to Ronald. “To you, very little. Another idol has displaced me; and if it can cheer and comfort you better than I can, then so be it.”

“What Idol has displaced you?” he said.

“A green one” said Cynthia.

“This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said. Cynthia rolled her eyes. She knew inherited wealth is far from the even-handed dealing of the world. It’s just something that allows for the wealthy to get wealthier. The economic equivalent of a claw machine that never picks up anything but appears to be accessible and something playable by all.

Chump continued, “There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!”

She said nothing for the moment. Saying that the game was rigged to his, and others like his benefit would only enrage Ronald, and that would do nothing but prolong this conversation.

Decades later, a thing Cynthia feared would come true. That one of the wealthiest families in the world could make as much in a single moment of time as one of their full-time employees can make in a single year. She had seen this coming, and in Ronald, increasingly she found someone who wanted that very thing she feared to happen.

“You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond any sort of consequence. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one until this master-passion of greed has engrossed you. Have I not?”

“What then?” he retorted. “Even if I have grown so much wiser, what then? I am not changed towards you.”

She shook her head. Even when you have grown apart over the span of a year, maybe two, Cynthia had lost track before the revelation of Chump’s housing policies, it was difficult to say painful truths to your soon to be former partner. You still love them in a way, and you do not wish to hurt them, and yet … That’s exactly what these conversations were bound to do no matter how hard you tried.

“Am I?” said Ronald.

“Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, both of us forsaking money from our families to strike out on our own, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.”

“I was a boy,” Ronald said impatiently.

“Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are now,” she returned. “I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and I can release you.”

“Have I ever sought release?”

She said nothing again. The park they were visiting in Astoria was known for its view of the East River and the Hell Gate Bridge. This particular part of the river was known for dangerous whirlpools that had taken more than a few boats in its day, and more than a few lives. Her life with Ronald now felt as if she had been sucked into these very waters. There was a moment of doubt about the answer to Ronald’s question, but then …

“In words. No. Never.”

“In what, then?” said Ronald.

“In a changed nature; in an altered spirit; in another atmosphere of life; another Hope as its great end. In everything that made my love of any worth or value in your sight. If this had never been between us,” said Cynthia, looking mildly, but with steadiness, upon him; “tell me, would you seek me out and try to win me now? Don’t you see me in the face and eyes of the people you deny apartments to? And what of Henry, your dear friend, to see how quickly you forgot about him in an effort to not lose the respect of your new gilded friends because they said he did not fit in at their gatherings.

He seemed to yield to the justice of this supposition, in spite of himself. But he said, with a struggle, “You think not.”

“I would gladly think otherwise if I could,” she answered, “Heaven knows! When I have learned a Truth like this, I know how strong and irresistible it must be. But if you were free today, tomorrow, yesterday, can even I believe that you would choose me, a citizen in name only with the way Puerto Rico is treated by this country. Me, a girl of color–you who, in your very confidence with her, weigh everything by wealth and social status: or, choosing her, if for a moment you were false enough to your one guiding principle to do so, do I not know that your repentance and regret would surely follow? I do, and I release you. With a full heart, for the love of him you once were.”

He was about to speak; but with her head turned from him, she resumed.

“You may–the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will—have pain in this. A very, very brief time and you will dismiss the recollection of it, gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!”

Cynthia stood from the bench, and after a moment of silence, she parted. Leaving Ronald alone to think on the course his life had taken now that he had everything he seemed to have ever wanted.

“Spirit!” said Ronald, “show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?”

“One shadow more!” exclaimed the Ghost.

“No more!” cried Ronald. “No more. I don’t wish to see it. Show me no more!”

But the relentless Ghost pinioned him in both his arms, and forced him to observe what happened next.

They were in another scene and place: a home in Washington D.C. One not very large or handsome, but full of comfort. Befitting a sensible congresswoman trying to live modestly in an otherwise expensive city.

Near to the television on the wall, with Paw Patrol playing sat a beautiful young girl, so like the last one that Ronald believed it was the same, until he saw her. Cynthia, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter and reading on an iPad tweets and emails from her constituents about her immigration policy and the brave plan to finally open America’s borders again.

As one New York University researcher, Michael Clemens, concluded, open borders would make the world twice as rich, and with that money, hope and prosperity can spring eternal for all those who have not benefitted thus far from the global economy to the tune of $305 billion according to the World Bank. Cynthia dreamed of what the world could do with that money, from preparing for life after climate change to providing a universal basic income to all. It would be a beautiful world for her children to inherit and one she fought hard for in the House of Representatives. For many years now Cynthia was the duly elected representative of New York’s 14th Congressional district.

The noise in this living room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there than Ronald in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself as if they were forty in number. Terrifying. Unruly. And adorable to all but Mr. Chump. A parade of cars in the driveway bringing more and more of them by the minute.

The consequences of all these children at play were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the kids that had come today for this family gathering, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. Cynthia laughed at the ridiculousness of it all. Her life in Congress. Her many children, cousins, and grandchildren that had gathered today for Christmas. This was a good life. She regretted little.

But now a knocking at the door was heard, and such a rush immediately ensued just in time to greet the father, who, came home attended by his brother, their uncle, with Christmas toys and presents. Then the shouting and the struggling, and the onslaught that was made on the defenseless uncle! The scaling him, with chairs for ladders, to dive into his pockets, despoil him of brown-paper parcels, hold on tight by his cravat, hug him round the neck, pommel his back, and kick his legs in irrepressible affection as if he worked for Amazon itself! By the time the children were finished with the uncle, he looked as ramshackle as a Walmart on Black Friday.

The shouts of wonder and delight with which the development of every package was received! The terrible announcement that the baby had been taken in the act of putting a Shimmer doll, of Shimmer and Shine fame, into his mouth, and was more than suspected of having already swallowed Shine! The immense relief of finding this to be a false alarm when Cynthia found the two dolls in the other room! The joy, and gratitude, and ecstasy! They are all indescribable alike. It is enough that by degrees the children and their emotions got out of the living room and by one stair at a time, up to the top of the home’s bedrooms; where they went to nap, and so subsided.

And now Ronald looked on more attentively than ever, when Cynthia’s husband, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down with her and her mother on the couch in front of the television; and when Ronald thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him father, and been a spring-time in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew very dim indeed.

“Cynthia,” said the husband, turning to his wife with a smile, “I saw an
old friend of yours yesterday. You will never believe who SMG wants to buy a mall from”

“Who was it?”

“Guess!”

“How can I, George?  I don’t know,” she added in the same breath, laughing as he laughed.

“Ronald Chump” said Cynthia.

“Ronald it was! How did you know?”

“I was curious to see who would put a multimillion-dollar mall in the middle of Nebraska where no one lives and no one who does wants to do so I looked it up when you left for your trip.”

“You knew this whole time?”

“I did. It was the first I had thought of him in many years. How was he?”

“Exceedingly polite, in the way all men are when they’re trying to get something they want.”

“Pigs. All of you.” Cynthia laughed.

“Pigs!” shouted Cynthia’s daughter.

Cynthia smiled at her daughter, “That’s right. And remember darling, Men are never to be trusted fully until time proves otherwise.”

“Even the nice ones?” asked the daughter

“Especially the nice ones.”

“Spirit!” said Ronald in a broken voice, “remove me from this place.”

“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!” (The spirit was quite pleased with this line. He had been readying for this night by reading about Stoicism from a bunch of white guys who found money and fame in regurgitating all the good things the ancient Greek philosophers had said while conveniently forgetting all the bad ones.

“Remove me!” Ronald exclaimed. “I cannot bear it!”

He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.

“Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”

In the struggle, if that can be called a struggle in which the Ghost with no visible resistance on its own part was undisturbed by any effort of its adversary, Ronald observed that its light was burning high and bright; and dimly connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the Confederate cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head.

The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered its whole form; but though Ronald pressed it down with all his force, thinking to himself that this was the one time he did not want the old south to rise again, he could not hide the light: which streamed from under it, in an unbroken flood upon the ground.

He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He gave the cap a parting squeeze, in which his hand relaxed; and had barely time to reel to bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.