re-telling of A Christmas Carol as a fictionalized memoir,
Justin R. must make a life-or-death decision: he can give up his
stony heart to learn about forgiveness and work the ways of
recovery to gain a fleshy heart or he can wreck his life against
the obstacles of stress, his ex-wife, and guilt over his past
to start with, I was dead.
Had been for about five minutes.
Blair, my ex #2, found me sprawled out on the couch. A
butcher knife on the floor. Weeping cuts on my wrists. One of
her strongest meds, Darvacet, spilled over the couch.
It wasn’t very dignified.
But dignity had been the farthest thing from my
mind at the time.
She went into true shock. Not her usual
I hadn’t counted on a reaction like that and I hadn’t counted on
still being aware of what was going on around me.
After her initial shock, Blair got angry and
that made her focus. She called for an ambulance and kept
haranguing the dispatcher up to the moment it arrived.
She threw the door open and stood at the threshold with a plug of
snow piled up inside the door frame and began to chastise the EMTs
inside the ambulance.
She told them what to do and how to do it and that they’d better do
it soon or they might was as well bring a body bag instead of a
And that was even before any of them had gotten out of the
It had backed into the driveway. Crunching through snow that
stacked up to the tire wheel wells. The taillights turning it
a cherry red.
Then the back doors opened and two EMTS climbed down with a
The first EMT, a blonde headed man younger than myself, came all
the way into the back of the house where I was and confirmed
everything that Blair had been trying to tell them.
I had no pulse.
And I wasn’t breathing.
So the general consensus was: I was very much in need of
Otherwise, I would stay dead.
The second EMT came in with the gurney. His face was grizzled
and his white hair buzzed so short that it stood straight
Don’t ask me how I could be aware of all this. It wasn’t a
dream. It was really happening. It was no different
than watching some reality tv show or some documentary safe in a
recliner with the remote in hand. Except Blair’s vulgar
adjectives weren’t being bleeped out.
“No vitals, Bart,” said the first EMT as he quickly bound my
“Time to juice up the paddles,” Bart said as he brought the gurney
alongside the couch.
I was in their hands now. Or more specifically, my stopped
heart and my empty lungs were. Stony heart or fleshy heart,
my heart was stilled.
They picked me up and put me onto the gurney. Then Bart
ratcheted it up to chest height as they backed the gurney through
the family room and then the kitchen and then the living room and
then out the front door.
I was dead to the world.
And soon I would be room temperature.
Which would be still warmer than outside.
I had picked the night of a major snowstorm that was busy burying
the entire St. Louis Metropolitan area under a foot and a half of
snow to try and commit suicide.
It was falling from buckets. Choking the air. Coating
everything on the horizontal.
Twelve inches had already fallen.
All was quiet. There wasn’t a sound except for snowflakes
falling atop one another.
The driveway was completely covered. The entire street was
being buried while it slept. And when it woke, it would find
itself under a thick silver blanket.
Bart pulled as the blonde haired EMT pushed the gurney through the
snow to the back of the ambulance, idling its diesel. Because
diesel drives the world.
Blair tried to follow out through their tracks. But she had
no slippers on and only a flimsy old granny nightdress. The
snow caked against her hem and swallowed up her bare
That was enough for her. The cold bit through her panic and
concern. She retreated back to the threshold, the furthermost
edge of electric hearth and cubic warmth.
Blair demanded that she be allowed to ride along
with the EMTs. But they told her no.
“Leave him to us,” Bart said.
“But I can’t drive in this. It’s a freaking blizzard!” Blair
complained. She always tried to haggle to get her
“Why don’t you call for a friend or family to take you,” the blonde
EMT told her.
“Where are you taking my husband?” she wanted to know.
I was her ex-husband. But it wasn’t like I could sit up and
correct her at the moment.
“Our Lady’s,” Bart answered. “It’s the closest
“You’ll never get him there in time without a sleigh,” Blair
sneered and slammed the front door.
An overhang of snow fell off the roof and piled up against the
The younger EMT looked at his older mentor.
But Bart knew better than to comment on such
things. People didn’t always mean what they said. If
they did, hell would have frozen over long ago.
“Grab the other end here, Mel,” said the older
The two lifted up me into the back of the
ambulance. They shut the back doors and I saw the old emblem
on the panel window. Hermes’caduceus: a rod with two wings at
the top with a snake entwined around the pole. Hermes was the
keeper of secret knowledge. And hidden treasure. And
Although, before it had become a caduceus, it had been a
snake on a pole that had been lifted up in a wilderness long ago so
people might be healed. “Pharma” had meant healing and from
there it had become pharmakon which meant “preparing drugs: remedy
or poison.” Then, afterwards, it became “pharmekia” with additional
meanings of sorcery and a metaphor for the seductions and
deceptions of idolatry.
This was the insignia that the medical
profession had adopted for their own use long ago.
Mel locked down the gurney safe and snug and
Bart closed the doors to keep in the roasty toasty air.
A middle aged African-American male sat in the
driver’s seat. He had on the same navy EMT jacket as the
other two but a Santa hat sat perched at the tiptop of his bald
head. “We ready?” he asked. “Fifteen miles to Our
Lady’s. But in this snow it’s gonna seem like an
“Ready to roll, Jasper,” Bart said.
I was going for a ride.
Over the hills and through the
Off to the hospital we go!
Sleigh ride, sleigh ride. Just hear them sirens
Mel cut through my pullover and attached some sensors to me while
Bart turned on a huge battery and picked up two paddles that were
attached to it by cables.
As the machine registered a charge, Mel looked
at the EKG.
It sang out in a high continuous
That meant that I had flatlined.
I was clinically dead.
The machine registered a full charge and Bart
laid the paddles on my bare chest. “Charge!”
Mel reached over and flipped a
My Frankenstein’s creature convulsed. Then
it collapsed back down onto the gurney.
Suddenly, I was fifteen years old and sitting on
a couch in my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. We were
passing out gifts and just beginning to open them. But not my
He had been in bed all day and had just gotten himself up to sit in
his recliner in his blue terry-clothrobe and deer foam
slippers. He was pale, his cheeks drawn tight, his lips
pursed with every breath.
For him there was no joy tonight. No peace on earth.
His fleshy heart growing weak and weary.
My parents were in the kitchen with my grandmother calling him an
ambulance. Something sang out on the stove. A whistling
Then I was again laying on the gurney in the
back of the ambulance while the EKG sang out again in
This was it.
I was really dead.
Kicked the bucket.
Bought the farm.
Chips cashed in.
They were gonna put me in a pine box for a dirt nap.
Getting ready to go into the fertilizer
Bart recharged his paddles watching the needle
climb back up. “Juice him.”
Mel flipped the switch.
And I was not in the ambulance. I was in
the old family church, once warm and peaceful. But it wasn’t
It was cold and grey. Built of gothic stone. The hard
and straight pews were full of family and friends. While I
waited at the foot of a dias.
There wasn’t a pulpit or an altar. Only a baptismal. A
circle of stones around a dark hole. Water dripped down to
A melancholic march began. Everyone stood up. I was
getting married for the first time. Again.
The bride came down the aisle. It was a
dark robed anamorph, slender and lean. A webbed cowl hid the
face. And long sleeves hide tapered fingers that did not bear
When the robed bride came to my side, the cowl came down. The
cheeks held no warmth. The lips black from frostbite.
The eyes blue and snowblind.
She was stone cold beautiful. More cold stone than
beautiful. With a stony heart.
She was someone who would never speak to me in this world
again. The only sound now was water dripping down into the
The candles inside the church flickered.
“No change,” Bart hissed.
I was in the ambulance flat on my
Giving up the ghost.
Getting ready to ride off into the
Meet my maker.
Crossing the river Jordan.
Answer the roll up yonder.
Ready to pull back the veil and join the choir
I was floating a few inches up above my
body. I watched Mel do CPR. Saw the hairs on the back
of his hands as he pressed down. Saw the flush in his cheeks
from taking deep breaths.
I watched Bart recharged his paddles. Saw every line and crag
in his weathered face.
Behind them, Jasper drove with sureness through the mounting
The strobe lights blinked on and off across the
white road. Over covered lumps that were buried cars.
And over snow slopes that covered front doors and touched the roof
It was a silent night. It was a holy
It was a wonderland.
And at every intersection, the ambulance’s red
and blue and white strobes were joined by the solid green of the
Bart laid the paddles on me again and juiced me
a third time.
I walked down a narrow lane of some cheery old town lined brick
masonry and thick glass shop fronts. It was late afternoon
and the sky was a light grey.
I had on knit trousers and a pea coat. A
top hat and a long scarf that hung to my knees. I followed a
couple into a public house that had an old wooden sign above the
The place was called Gingerbread’s. It was
warm inside and full of people. Some of the crowd toasted each
other’s good health with egg nog. While others shouted
“Cheers” and knocked back shots of burning whiskey.
I stood at the back along with the other late
arrivals. Everyone faced a low stage that bore five
One was a man sitting in an overstuffed chair next to a
placard. It read: A CHRISTMAS TALE READ BY BOZ. The man
sitting down in the rich velvet chair to read had chestnut brown
hair that bobbed past his brow and ears. He was tucked inside
a blue waist coat and striped vest. His cheeks ruddy and his
smile impish. His fingers poked out of woven mitts and in his
hand was a tiny tome.
“Faithful friends,” Boz announced, “I will now
endeavor to haunt you pleasantly with the spirit of this little
Next to him stood a red haired man who hid his balding head under
an old mac dressed in a black turtle neck and dirty
leathers. Behind him vamped a jazz trio. A
drummer brushed his skins. A saxophonist breathed into his
reed. And a double bass bowed with no
“Three wise men walk into a manger,” the man rapped.
“One has gold. One has mrryh. And one has
frankincense. ‘A merry prank,’ said the virgin mother.
‘You feel it along your spine,’ said the espoused husband who had a
mind to put her away privately.”
Third time was a charm.
The EKG began to read a blip. Then began
to track a signal up and down in a slow rhthym.
I no longer felt lighter than air. I felt
a tug inside my gut. Something pulling me back to bone and
I could feel Mel’s palms pressing on me. I could feel him
grip my nose and breathe hot CO2 down my air passages.
Something kicked started my heart. And I drew a deep breath
of fresh air into my lungs.
Then I felt pain.
Mel steadied himself against the gurney to catch
“Welcome back, Mr. R.,” Bart said and grabbed a
radio. He began to call in my stats.
Jasper had just pulled onto Highway 15. We
were on the outskirts of Belle-Valley now. Headed for Our
Lady’s Hospital. Which was next to the Shrine.
His visibility was no more than a few feet ahead and a few feet
above the windshield.
The entire horizontal had been leveled out and raised by half a
foot of white sticking snow.
His headlights were weak pinpoints against the spiraling mass and
the wipers could barely keep the flakes from accumulating on the
Moving vehicles carried lumps of snow on their
hoods and trunks. Snow filled tracks led off to ditches where
cars had spun out and been abandoned. Road signs had been
wiped by white frosty hands.
Drivers had no room to move over as their
rearview mirrors were filled with strobe lights and
spelled frontwards. They dared not go into the drifting snow
banks that disguised the road shoulder. All they could do was
slow down and give Jasper enough room to drive down the middle of
Only a fool would be out on a night like this if
they didn’t have to be.
For Jasper, Bart, and Mel, it was their
“Life’s a gift,” Mel said. “Why would
anyone want to waste it?”
“Some people just ain’t happy,” Jaspar
said. “Cuz they don’t get what they really want.”
“We’re the richest country in the history of the
world and you’re telling me that people can’t get what they really
want?” Bart asked rhetorically.
“Maybe they ain’t gettin’ the right thing,”
“Every Chrismtas everyone gets a ton of
gifts. And the next day they can’t wait to return them.
It’s never enough,” Bart said.
“What if everyone just got one gift for
Christmas?” Jasper asked.
“Could we settle for just one gift?” Bart
“If it was the right gift. What we truly
wanted way down deep in our heart,” Jasper said never taking his
eyes from the road.
“If you could just get one gift for Christmas,
what would it be?” asked Mel.
“I’d trade this ambulance for a helicopter,”
Jasper said. “I could go anywhere with a ‘copter.
That’d be the living end.”
Then Mel looked at Bart. The older EMT
just shrugged, “Peace on earth. Just like it says in the
Bible. Just for one night. How about you,
Mel smiled. “I want to sing ‘How Deep is
Your Love’ by the BeeGees with you guys in a karaoke bar while
drinking some eggnog.”
Jaspar let laughter ring from the bell of his
gut. “You alright, kid. You know that?”
Bart just smiled.
I suddenly felt very tired.
And very washed out.
After that everything went black.