The boys raced to their room, and Lillian went to the kitchen to make her lunch for the next day. She opened the bread drawer and told herself that she just needed to get through the season. Then she would take stock and – and what? She didn’t know what it was that she was waiting for.
Exhausted and dispirited, she kissed the boys goodnight, took a quick bath, and went to bed. She would read a few more pages of the tale by Dickens, so she would know which parts to skip for Gabriel. It was supposed to cheer them up, after all.
And yet, as she continued to read, she, too, felt disturbed by the simple story.
I read it as a girl, she thought. But I don’t remember being so upset by Marley’s ghost. Or was it the words he spoke to Scrooge? “I wear the chain I forged in life.” And all those whirling, miserable spirits that filled the sky as Marley departed, howling and lamenting the time they wasted on Earth. Spirits of painful regret.
Once again, she realized how relieved she would be when the season was over. She quickly checked her thoughts – she sounded just like Scrooge, all grumpy and ill-tempered. Then appalled by the very thought, she denied it. She was nothing like Ebenezer Scrooge. Nothing at all like him. She was not mean and ungenerous and stingy. And she was happy, compared to him. Wasn’t she? Yes, she wanted Christmas to be over, but that didn’t make her in any way similar to Scrooge.
Scrooge’s past had been sad and lonely. Hers was happy. In fact, hers was so happy that she was always trying to recreate it. Was she living too much in the past – missing her parents, and her girlhood days with Annette, and longing for the days of first love that would never come again?
Rather than dwell on those thoughts, she read on. She flipped ahead and saw the illustration of the Fezziwig’s Christmas party, which she remembered as being a cheerful part of the story.
In a way, she had to admire the youthful Scrooge. In spite of his difficulties, he had mustered up his strength and made his way in the world, albeit with an underlying hardness.
She, on the other hand, had frittered away much of her youth. She had always been guided by her dreams, but they hadn’t led to firm results. Maybe Mr. Scrooge was a better planner than she had been. But what a nasty man. And what a grouchy, miserly boss he was. Like Mr. Hinkley.
She decided to blame her lack of Christmas spirit on her job and Mr. Hinkley. She had argued with him before leaving for her visit upstate. He hadn’t wanted her to take so much time off for Thanksgiving, but she explained that she had already planned her vacation, before he had been made manager. Still, she knew he disapproved of her in general and kept a watchful eye on her, waiting for her to make a mistake. She would need to be more careful.
She would begin anew tomorrow. Prove herself a good employee. She would wear her best suit, work harder, and make more sales for the department. And work late or extra hours if need be.
But the boys already complained that she was gone all the time. She needed this job, and couldn’t risk losing it. She would make it up to the boys somehow, she thought, and once more lifted the book.
She read a few pages – only to realize that she had no idea what she had just read.
She lowered the book again and gazed out at her room. A picture of Tom by her bedside was the only evidence that he had once been there. No shirt or pants draped over the chair, no men’s shoes sat at the closet door, as they used to. She smoothed her hand over the pillow next to her. Then she raised her head to the emptiness of the room, and spoke softly:
“Tom was dead. Of that there was no doubt.”
Several hour-like minutes passed, and she closed the book. Then she turned off the lamp and curled on her side.
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