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Ex-Mas Song

In this 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 failures.  

FIRST VERSE—Giving Up the Ghost

































                 1—The Way Of Lights


Well, 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 pantomimed routine. 

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 gurney.

And that was even before any of them had gotten out of the ambulance.

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 gurney.

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 resuscitation.

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 up.

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 wrists. 

“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 feet.

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 way.

“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 place.”

“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 front door.

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 EMT.

    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 locked doors.

 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 hour.”

    “Ready to roll, Jasper,” Bart said.

    I was going for a ride.

    Over the hills and through the snow.

    Off to the hospital we go!

    Sleigh ride, sleigh ride. Just hear them sirens a whistlin’.

    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 tone.

    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 switch.

    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 Grandpa.

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 tea kettle.

    Then I was again laying on the gurney in the back of the ambulance while the EKG sang out again in monotone.

    This was it.  

    I was really dead.

    Kicked the bucket.

    Bought the farm.


    Checked out.

    Chips cashed in.

They were gonna put me in a pine box for a dirt nap.

    Getting ready to go into the fertilizer business.

    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 now.

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 the bottom.

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 a ring. 

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 well.

The candles inside the church flickered. 

    “No change,” Bart hissed. 

    I was in the ambulance flat on my back.

Still flatlining.

    Giving up the ghost.

    Getting ready to ride off into the sunset.

    Meet my maker.

    Crossing the river Jordan.

Answer the roll up yonder.

    Sprouting wings.

    Ready to pull back the veil and join the choir invisible.

    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 snow.

    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 corners. 

    It was a silent night.  It was a holy night.

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 traffic trees. 

    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 oaken door.

    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 people.

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 book.”

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 fingers. 

 “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 muscle.

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 his breath.

    “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 windshield.

    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 AMBULANCE 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 the road.

    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 job.

    “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,” Jasper said. 

    “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 asked.

    “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, kid?”

    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.