A Crossmas Carol

Christmas comes but once a year. But even that’s too often for Maurice Badweather.

‘Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the new-born–’
–king trespassers! Get off my property? Go on, away, before I set my dogs on you.’
      The night became silent extremely quickly as the startled carol singers were confronted by Maurice Badweather. He stood in the unlit doorway with his hands on his hips. His silver-bristled  jaw was thrust forward and aggression oozed from every pore of his morally-mildewed body.        
      ‘Are you deaf?’ I said away with you.’
      The singers looked at each other in dismay. It was always the same. Year after year. Crabbe Cottage had become a challenge but none yet had succeeded in raising a smile – much less a donation – for Maurice Badweather was widely-known as the meanest and  most obnoxious inhabitant of Derbyshire. A man so sour and tight-fisted that even the most morose Welsh Valleys minister and miserly of Yorkshiremen would look to him in admiration. His foxy eyes swept over the singers as they turned to go and latched upon the youngest member of the party: a little girl with blonde plaits and a reindeer-bedecked anorak. One brightly-mittened hand held a collection box, the other a lantern.
      ‘You there! The fair lass.’ He beckoned her with a claw-like finger.   
       She edged along the snowy path. Badweather forced a smile onto his face. Its muscles, unused to the unusual combination, fought with each other in confusion.     
     ‘Hello, little girl,’ he croaked, ‘and what might your name be?’
      The carol singers looked on in astonishment – perhaps the spirit of Christmas had descended upon Crabbe Cottage at last.
      ‘Kirsty Smith, aged eleven, if you please,’ she whispered.
      ‘Well, Kirsty Smith, aged eleven,’ continued Badweather in a voice as dry as the Dead Sea Scrolls, ‘how much money have you collected tonight?’
     Kirsty peered into the catering-size coffee tin. It was covered in pink crepe paper and dotted with gold and silver stars. The top had a plastic lid with a hole in it.
     ‘I’m not sure,’ she smiled, ‘but I rather think it may be several pounds.’
     ‘Several pounds, eh!’ He put one hand into his pocket and extended the other. It was gnarled and the nails were as yellow as marigolds.
      Kirsty passed the tin for the unexpected gift. So quickly was it done that at least half the singers didn’t see it happen; the tin flew through the air and into the darkness. It made no noise as it landed in the deep snow at the end of the garden.
     ‘Well, you’d better go and collect it again, hadn’t you,’ he crowed, ‘Now get off of my land.’
      With that, the door was slammed shut. Kirsty Smith, aged eleven, if you please, burst into tears. A solitary snowflake fell from the clear sky and landed upon her cheek. Cruel laughter echoed around the desolate walls of Crabbe Cottage.   
Kirsty did not forget Maurice Badweather in her prayers that night, although admittedly he was at the very bottom of the list.
    ‘And please, God, and your baby son, Jesus, look after Mr Badweather all alone in his cold and dark home on Christmas Eve,’ she whispered. Then she turned over and fell asleep.
     Meanwhile, Badweather sat comfortably in his leather armchair. It was the only seat in the cottage and it was black, his favourite colour. One of the arms had a small tear. It was his for twenty pounds in a Casualty Corner furniture sale. And he made them deliver it for free. The carpet upon which the armchair stood was discounted flood-damaged stock. His bed was scuffed due to a loading bay accident and reduced by a quarter and the unused dinner set underneath it was sold for five pounds because of a missing teaspoon. The dreadful purple, blue and yellow curtains were from a car boot sale at fifty pence each and the coffee table came from the Waste Recycling Centre. It proved impossible to negotiate for cheaper electricity; it was therefore dispensed with altogether. No effort was spared in keeping himself unfashionable. The blue double-breasted suit with lemon pinstripes was a demobilisation gift from the Army … in 1945. As were his much-mended shoes, all one pair of them. He did, however, possess a pair of rubber boots, green, size 12. Their previous location was the shed of his late neighbour, Mr Chisell, who forgot to wake up after drinking a bottle of rum. Badweather had size nine feet but that was of no consequence.
      Were Ebenezer Scrooge alive he would no doubt have sent his twenty-first-century protégé glowing letters of praise (second class of course). This would have pleased him greatly. Not that many people sent him letters anyway. But despite his faults, Maurice Badweather did have one redeeming feature. He was fair. Fair inasmuch as he hated everybody equally. Small wonder then, that he was sitting alone in his gloomy run-down cottage on Christmas Eve.
      A log popped loudly in the hearth as the sap boiled. There would be plenty more roadside firewood to be had on the thirteenth day of Christmas, along with tinsel and baubles. He’d be billing the Waste Services Management for his troubles. The clock struck midnight. He yawned loudly, for it cost nothing, and settled into his chair. He was pleasantly ill-disposed to the world. Within five minutes he was fast asleep.
     It would be pleasing to think that he was visited by the ghosts of Past, Present and Future while he slept. That he became a changed man, showering gifts and affection on those less well-off than himself. That he ceased to be a misanthrope. Well, he wasn’t and he didn’t. No Tiny Tim Cratchit tugged the strings of his cobbled heart. No sweet little girl with blonde plaits and tears in her eyes showed him the error of his ways. No emissaries of rectitude manifested themselves in Badweather’s heart or home. No one even bothered to beat upon his door and call him a miserable old sod. He sat in his chair and dreamed his own version of pleasant dreams instead.
     He woke an hour later, stretched extravagantly, lit the stub of another candle and went to his cabbagey kitchen. Then he opened a cupboard and took out the bottle of vintage port that Mrs Willis, the widow from Ilkeston, had accidentally left on the bus last week along with a shopping bag of mince pies, brandy snaps and shortbread.
     He poured some of the port into a glass (10p from Oxfam). He looked at it and added a little more.
      After all, it was Christmas.

© stevef 2023
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Grinches are as much a part of the holidays and are necessary.

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