Bah, humbug: An Oxmas Carol

Charles Britton pastiches Dickens’ classic with a familiar setting and an all-too familar overworking protagonist

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Michaelmas term fading on the winds of goodwill, tickling the spires in their sleep. Blackwell’s admitting nobody, but quietly shunning a few wayward party-goers. All Oxford seemed arrested in either expectant slumber, or festive fervour.

And yet, tucked away at the top of staircase nine was Edward Stooge, a miser in a youth’s body. While his surroundings throbbed with excitement, he paced his cramped cell, clad in his onesie of loneliness. Procrastination, that cruel spectre, haunted him there. A knock at his door brought him to his senses. How stunned was Edward’s friend Matthew to see such ghastly attire! His grin seemed to blurt out without moving.

“Eddie,” (Edward resented the nickname) “you are going to Lola’s tonight, right?”

Edward tried to excuse his own misanthropy, but Matthew’s dog-like loyalty was insufferable. He would not understand.

The door was thus slammed upon him, not without some force. “Suit yourself,” Matthew was heard to say, totally unaffected. “I’m gonna get sloshed. I’ll be seeing ghosts after tonight.”

With the chuckles retreating down the corridor, Edward retired to his desk, cackling, “Is this the meaning of Oxmas? Bah, humbug!” as he skulked. Yet it did affect him that in this time of repose and warmth he should be snowed under his work: not even the collective cheer of Broad Street could reach his window.

In a stupor of overwork, he fell asleep.

When next his eyes opened, there was a persistent knocking at his door. He was certain a ‘sloshed’ Matthew was playing a trick, so armed himself with a slipper. Then, suddenly, a ghoulish wraith forced his way under the door. He looked remarkably like Matthew, and borrowed his voice.

“Eddie,” his voice boomed with uncharacteristic urgency. “Let me show you your past.” The room was transformed into a nightclub Edward faintly recognised. The two stood, voyeurs to a more liberated player of Edward downing Jägerbombs to the rhythm of cheering crowds.

“Is that…” Edward started.

“Yes. Look upon but a term’s work, what it has reduced you to. Never will you rekindle that Fresher’s spirit.”

Edward tried to disguise his mourning.

The bedroom materialised as he protested, “We all have to grow up at some point,” but his defiance cracked mid-sentence. This ghost of Oxmas past needed only grin as he vanished into the aether.

Edward inspected his tea to see if it had been in any way spiked, before splaying himself out on the bed. “Hemingway and Earl Grey really do not agree with me,” he muttered drowsily.

Edward’s next visitor was too eccentric for the frippery of the door. This next phantom rapped at the window out of courtesy before phasing in. The fiend was unmistakably in the garb of Edward’s lecturer: shabby shirt, bowtie and all. Rearing his head, Edward feared the ghost might do what its visage implied.

“Edward Bartholomew Stooge,” hollered the ethereal academic. “Let me show you how insignificant insecurities be.”

The pair were lifted into a well-known auditorium, suspended above the stage. Though he stood where generations of superior intellects had inspired and blunted the imagination, Edward was bombarded with the thoughts of the audience, his peers. “What does this guy mean?”, cried one poor youth. “How will I read all my books?”, soliloquised another. “Does he really like me?”, “What am I having for dinner tonight?”

Trifles all! They were heavy burdens which satirised Edward’s own.

As the teacher deposited his pupil in his room, he said, “You are not alone, even in your petty concerns.” He determinedly made for the window, but an impulse stopped him. “One more thing: essay for Monday, no run-on sentences.” He took his leave.

Judging by the rule of three, Edward, alert, in the foetal position, was determined to be ready for the appearance of his final guest. This crafty poltergeist caught him off -guard still, by erupting from the floorboards. From his bright green chinos, Edward could not fail to identify the chaplain in this apparition. Edward refused to sit dumb. “What can you show me, then? Success? Love? Family? Disappointment? It’s hardly very Christian of you to appear in such a fashion.”

“I will pretend I did not hear that,” replied the chaplain. “And I can show you all of the above, if you neglect my words.”

To his surprise, Edward found himself not far afield, but in his very room. Something was amiss. Books began raining from the ceiling, clattering around his ears, sealing him in a hardback igloo. Outside his door, he could make out the laughter of his friends, an uproar which drowned out the simultaneous conflagration of his term’s work. The flames licking his skin, Edward begged forgiveness. And his call was answered.

In a cold sweat, Edward listened closely to the chaplain’s closing words. “We have shown you all we can. Think on your welfare—and come to Evensong on Sunday.”

Edward had what he wanted, to be solitary once more, yet it no longer sufficed, but created a hole: one which craved friendship, a desire work could not imitate.

Imbued with new purpose, Edward flew downstairs. His destination was that chaplain’s abode, the chapel. It was as if he knew the tower door would be open to him. Perched high above the dreaming spires, he sought to stir them with the most heartfelt “Merry Oxmas, Everyone,” a man could muster. In the avenue below, a drunken, home-bound Matthew returned his call jocularly, swaying to the symphony of bells.

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