Another bell tolled and Scrooge found himself in the company of a new spirit. The Spirit of Christmas Present laughed heartily and guided Scrooge out the door and into a warmly-lit apartment. Cheap folding chairs placed around a stark wooden table made up the extent of the kitchen furnishings, but the four eldest Cratchit children sat cheerily around them, laughing and decorating Christmas cookies. Bob Cratchit’s wife had filled the small kitchen with festive dishes, many seasoned with herbs from the window garden that she and the kids had made out of old soda bottles. Just then, Bob Cratchit opened the door, Tiny Tim riding on his shoulders, crutch in hand. Bob was joyously greeted by the rest of the family, the other kids lifting Tim off of his shoulders and carrying him to the table. “And did little Tim behave himself at the Graduate Employees Union meeting?” asked Bob’s wife.
“As good as gold, and better,” replied Bob. “Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him at the meeting, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant for them to remember, on Christmas Day, who all of their hard work goes to help…. But he’s growing stronger every day, I just know it!” Bob’s wife smiled in response, and led him over to the table, where the children were setting up the food. As the family sat down, Bob raised his glass in a toast: “Happy holidays to us all!”
“Happy holidays, everyone!” piped up Tiny Tim.
Watching all of this, Scrooge turned to the Spirit of Christmas Present. “I had no idea Cratchit had a crippled son.” Ignoring the conspicuous lack of surprise on the Spirit’s face, he went on, “Tell me, Spirit, will the boy live?”
“I see a vacant seat at the table and a crutch without owner, if these shadows remain unaltered by the future,” reported the Spirit. In response to the horrified look that presented itself on Scrooge’s face, the Spirit asked, “What’s the matter? I thought you were always telling Bob that he shouldn’t have so many kids anyway. That they were a drain on his time.”
Shaken, Scrooge returned his focus to the family at the table. Bob was giving another toast. “To Dr. Scrooge, the founder of our feast!”
“Hmph,” sniffed Bob’s wife. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind!! Those long hours he makes you work… it’s completely unacceptable. Doesn’t he realize that science is only one of your commitments? Why, you used to love gardening with us, but you haven’t had the chance in years.”
“Please, dear. I know his priorities are out of line, but Dr. Scrooge is putting a roof over our head and publications on my CV. Just a few more years and I’ll be able to start up my own lab. One where everyone is treated fairly.” Bob gave his wife an imploring look.
“Fine. I’ll drink to his health, for your sake and the day’s sake, but not for his.” Bob’s wife raised her glass to her lips, taking a pointedly small sip.