He awoke on the floor to the sound of church bells tolling across London. His head ached. As he blinked and looked around his room, he could see that the bed-curtains were still there. He saw the door through which God had entered the bedroom, and through which he’d passed to greet Jung and Freud.
“Gawd, what a night,” he said to himself, as got to his feet. He went to the window, and opened it. In the alley was a man with his arse sticking out of a dumpster. “You there,” said Hitchens. “You, digging through the trash. What day is it?”
The dumpster-diver extricated himself, and looked up at Hitchens. “Why, Christmas Day,” he said.
“Damn,” muttered Hitchens. “I’d hoped to sleep through it.”
“Say,” said the dumpster diver, sounding offended. “Everyone knows it’s Christmas Day. Are you being smart?”
“No,” replied Hitchens. “Not especially.”
“You mocking me in my poverty?’
“Oh!” said the diver, mimicking Hitchens. “Look at old Sam with his ass sticking out of a dumpster on Christmas Day.”
“Look at old Sam who left college with only a BSc in Astrophysics, and couldn’t get funding for his Master’s degree.”
“Look, I didn’t mean to….”
“I wanted to work for NASA, you know. But now old Sam doesn’t even qualify for a job in a chip shop – not with a measly Bachelor of Science Degree. You need a PhD to bus tables in this town. Did you know that, Mr I Got a London Townhouse and You Don’t?”
“Alright, alright,” Hitchens said. “Stay where you are.” He went to his dresser, and grabbed some five and ten pound notes. At the window, he called down to old Sam, who looked no more than thirty. “Here,” he said, tossing the notes down.
“What’s this, then?” said Sam, holding up the notes.
“It’s a Christmas present,” said Hitchens with uncharacteristic empathy.
“Twenty, twenty-five, thirty-five…. That’s it?” old Sam counted. “Thirty-five pounds? You greedy bloody bastard. On Christmas Day, and all. Oh, that’s just great; that’s rich! Old Sam’s good enough to rummage through your garbage, your egg shells and used prophylactics, your coffee grounds and sticky backdated Hustler magazines – which you’re too embarrassed to put in the recycling bin where they belong. But separate yourself from enough folding dough for a man to get a decent massage and pedicure? No not you, you Godless son of a bitch.”
“But, I just wanted to….”
“Sod off, you one-percenter, you. I’ll keep your little handout, but I’m not pleased about it. Not by a long chalk.” With this, Sam took hold of his stolen shopping cart and walked down the alley, holding up the middle finger of his left hand all of the way to the next dumpster.
“Well,” said Hitchens. “That was pleasant.”
He spent the rest of Christmas Day listening to Amy Winehouse and Adele on his ipod, and polished off a bottle of Chivas Regal while rereading reviews of his numerous books online. And as he did, he had a softening feeling toward the idea of God and Christmas that was quite unexpected. He quashed it immediately, though, knowing that it constituted professional suicide. Still, it was hard to think of poor Bob Cratchit in the way he always had.
He was early at the office next morning. Oh he was early there. If he could only be there first, and catch Bob Cratchit coming late! That was the thing he had set his heart upon.
And he did it; yes, he did. The clock struck nine. No Bob. A quarter past. No Bob. He was full eighteen minutes and a half behind his time. Hitchens sat with his door wide open, that he might see him come into the Tank.
His hat was off before he opened the door; his scarf too. He was on his stool in a jiffy; reshaping used staples to reinsert into his stapler, as if he were trying to overtake nine o’clock.
“Hello,” growled Hitchens, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. “What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?”
“I’m very sorry, sir,” said Bob. “I am behind my time.”
“You are?” repeated Hitchens. “Yes. I think you are. Step this way, if you please.”
“It’s only once a year, sir,” pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. “It shall not be repeated. I spent most of yesterday and yesterday night trying to convince the missus not to send any more money to Pat Robertson. You see, The 700 Club is giving away these ingenious little capsules that, when put in a glass of water, grow ten times their original size into glow in the dark Jesus. It’s a premium, you see, that one receives when one donates one thousand pounds or more to The 700 Club’s Obliterate Obama in 2012 Campaign. I finally had to sedate her with ether, gag her and tie her to a chair. She’s gone quite mad, I’m afraid. She threatened to stab me with a 700 Club 23rd Psalm steak knife.”
“Hmm, yes,” said Hitchens, making a steeple with his fingers beneath his chin, and nodding. “I’ll tell you what, my friend. I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,” he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; “and therefore I’m going to refer you to a good divorce lawyer I know. The best damn divorce lawyer in all London.”
Bob Cratchit look stunned. He hadn’t expected this. His mouth opened and closed as though he were a fish stranded on a wharf.
“A merry Christmas, Bob,” said Hitchens, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year. I’ll get you that divorce lawyer, and set you up with these Malaysian twins I know. Do you enjoy being tied down and spanked? I know I mightily do. Maybe I can even help you with that boy of yours, Tim. I could get him a job in this shop I know of where they employ the disabled assembling waffle irons for Walmart. It’s piecework, and the conditions and pay are rather third world. He’ll likely lose a limb before the year’s out. But what can a disabled person really expect in this world?”
“No need for that, Mr Hitchens,” said Cratchit. “They nicked Tiny Tim the other day on an outstanding warrant. Seems he was a London rioter. They caught his image on CCTV video as he smashed the window of an Apple Store with his crutch. I was wondering where all the Mac equipment came from. But a parent has got to trust a child, no matter how shifty.”
Hitchens was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did three years for his crime, and quickly re-offended after his release, he was a second father, smuggling pornography and marijuana into prison for Tim to sell to other inmates at a substantial profit.
And did all of Hitchens’ newfound kindness have anything to do with his being visited on Christmas Eve by the spirits of Christmas? Not really. You see, dear reader, a man can be good without the benefit, or encumbrance, of religion. He can simply do what’s right for him. And in a world of mind boggling hypocrisy and injustice, which of us is qualified to judge?
As for whether there is a God petty and perverse enough to condemn us strictly on the basis of our human condition? Well if there is such a God, then screw Him for not having a sense of humour.
Let Christmas be celebrated as each of us sees fit. For none of us can claim to be absolutely right about anything.
Consume less and recycle – everyone.
(Cue cheesy eXmas Muzak here….)