Jason’s Christmas – A modern day Scrooge/ Christmas fairy-tale
It was time. He and Sarah had been together for the best part of three years. He didn’t know why he hadn’t done this sooner. Well he did really. He had hoped that Sarah, with her feministic sensitivities would have taken the initiative. After all it had been leap-year this year. But maybe that was too prescriptive for her.
Jason looked down at the pitiful wretch with disdain. The dog he had on his coat with him looked healthy enough. There were too many ‘homeless’ people who did this as a day job now. Hadn’t there been that woman who carried around that tiny child, who raked in hundreds of pounds a day, only to go home to a lavish four-bedroom apartment, where she split the ill-gotten gain with her sister, the mother of the child she was supposed to be babysitting for each day?
Sarah would have called him cynical, and rummaged in her bag for some coins for the man. And he would probably have received a keen dig in the ribs from her elbow. That was the kind of woman she was.
The supermarket was busy. Well it was that time of year. The Christmas music was already wearing on his nerves, and he could barely navigate the aisles as shoppers kept jumping in front of him, desperately scavenging for the last boxes of mince-pies, chocolate coins, tinsel and oranges. He almost snarled at a man who had picked up six boxes of the festive treats.
‘Must be having a party,’ Jason said under his breath.
He picked up Sarah’s favourite tipple, a cheap, but cheerful red-wine, to go with the Chinese-takeaway he had already ordered. Again, all her favourites. Just so happened they were his as well. It would be nice to have a quiet evening in. Who needed a posh restaurant, and ridiculous gestures? Not him and Sarah.
There were queues at all the checkouts. The self-service, and pay-as-you-shop facilities were queued half-way up the pet-food aisle. Jason rushed over to the shortest queue when he noticed a young woman with the same idea, and planted himself with a slightly smug smile. She had more in her basket than he did, and she didn’t look the type to let him go in front. He tried not to notice the bottle of infant paracetamol, or the look of worry on the young woman’s face. It was that time of year, after all. She was probably just stocking up. Just in case.
‘For goodness sake,’ he said to himself. ‘I only have a bottle of wine.’
The elderly couple in front of him were still pulling things out of their trolley and placing them carefully on the conveyor-belt. How much did an elderly couple need? To make things worse the woman in front of them had just dropped all her coins as she was trying to pay for her shopping. Jason rolled his eyes. He wanted to be home before Sarah, so that he could surprise her with a little bit of soft-music, dim-lights, and a nicely-laid table. Little touches he knew she would appreciate.
The woman was counting out the coins again. It seemed that she hadn’t been able to find them all. And she didn’t have any more in her purse. The check-out operator looked sympathetic, but was unable to offer her much help. For pities sake, pay by card, he thought. When it became obvious that she had no other means to pay, the elderly couple in front of him started looking for coins in their own wallet and purse.
‘Why doesn’t she just put something back?’ Jason asked.
‘Bless her,’ the elderly woman said quietly, giving him a disgusted look. ‘Do you have no Christmas spirit? Poor woman looks like she has only the bare essentials as it is. Oh, I see you do have Christmas spirit.’ She nodded at the only thing he had in his basket.
A man at the next checkout who had just finished paying for his own shopping saw what was happening, and gave the woman a twenty-pound note from his wallet.
‘Thank you so much,’ the woman said. ‘Here, wait at least for your change.’
The man was already walking away but turned a warm smile on the flustered woman.
‘Merry Christmas,’ he said.
‘Now that is real Christmas spirit,’ the elderly woman said turning to Jason.
He ignored her. It wasn’t his problem.
Back at the flat Jason had just put all the finishing touches to what should be a perfect evening just as he heard Sarah’s key in the lock.
‘What’s all this?’ she asked.
‘I know you’ve had a really busy week, and I wanted to surprise you.’
‘Oh, you can be so sweet,’ Sarah said, and gave him a hug.
When the embrace was over, she rubbed at her arms. ‘I ache. If you don’t mind, I’ll just go and change into something a bit warmer. Maybe we could turn the heating on now?’
‘It’s not that cold, my love,’ Jason said. ‘We don’t really want to pay to heat everyone else’s flats in the building, do we?’
‘You and your squirreling,’ Sarah said, as she walked towards the bedroom.
When she returned she was wearing jogging trousers and one of his Christmas jumpers that his mother insisted on giving him every year. As if he would ever wear something so gaudy, but it looked quite cute on Sarah. He had half-hoped that she might have worn something a little more…date-like. Maybe a posh restaurant would have been a better idea? But never mind. They didn’t need trimmings.
‘You look really smart, Jase,’ Sarah said. Jason realised she had only just noticed that he was wearing his best chino’s and the nice black-shirt she had bought him for his Birthday. ‘Do you want me to change? Are you taking me out after food?’
‘No, you’re alright as you are. Unless you want to change. With you working back to back shifts this week, I thought you might appreciate a quiet evening and an early night.’
Jason wasn’t quite sure, but it seemed to him that Sarah was stopping herself from saying something.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked. ‘I know you said you’re aching, but has it been a rough day?’
‘A and E is always a rough day,’ Sarah said. ‘I’m looking forward to moving onto one of the medical wards.’
Jason walked around the table and pulled the chair out for Sarah. Then he started putting noodles and vegetables on their plates from the bowls he’d transferred the take-away food into.
They spent the meal talking about work. Then Jason told her about his hectic evening.
‘There are so many people out there who have such a hard time at this time of year,’ Sarah said. ‘I see all sorts at the hospital. And a lot of it could be avoided if only someone took the time to help them, or make them feel valued.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, let’s take your evening,’ Sarah said. ‘The homeless man could have just needed a few extra coins to get himself a warm drink to ward off the cold.’
‘He was probably just biding his time before going home.’
‘The Christmas music in the shops may be the most festive part of the season for some families. And the shoppers were probably trying to prepare for family coming home, it may be the only time of year some parents get to see their children.’
‘Okay.’ Jason didn’t like where this was going. ‘I get it. I should have been a bit more sympathetic.’
‘You’ll get it one day,’ Sarah said, with a smile. ‘I love you.’
‘I’m glad about that,’ Jason said. Now was the time, then.
He pushed his chair out a bit, and put his hand in the pocket of his shirt. There was the cold metal of the ring. With his other hand he took Sarah’s.
‘We have been together for a long time now. I couldn’t imagine my life without you in it. You are the most beautiful, kind-hearted, clever woman on the planet. Would you make me the happiest man in the world, by agreeing to be my wife?’
He wasn’t entirely sure what he had been expecting, but Sarah’s silence wasn’t it. She was looking down at her hand in his, not even at the ring he was holding in his other hand.
‘I do love you, Jason. And I have thought many times about us getting married.’ She looked up into his face now. ‘This isn’t quite the proposition I had been dreaming of though. And you can be sweet and thoughtful and caring, but I need a bit more. I don’t want to ask you to change. I understand why you’re so frugal. Your mum had to make ends meet when she had next to nothing. But I thought that would make you a bit more empathetic towards people who have nothing now.’
‘So, are you saying no?’ Jason was really confused. What did any of this have to do with them getting married?
‘I need a bit of time,’ Sarah said. ‘But this doesn’t need to change anything between us at the moment.’
How could this not change anything? Jason put the ring back in his pocket.
‘Did you buy dessert?’ Sarah asked.
‘Cheesecake. I don’t think I want any at the moment.’
‘Go put the T.V on, and we’ll snuggle on the sofa for a little while.’
The evening continued as if the proposal had never happened. Jason couldn’t quite get it out of his mind though. When they went to bed, he lay awake for a while thinking about his evening. When he did finally fall asleep he was haunted by dreams. He never remembered his dreams, but tonight they were vivid, and kept waking him up.
Sarah was by his side as he was walking towards the supermarket.
Jason was about to walk on.
‘Look at him, Jase,’ Sarah said.
Jason looked down. The man he had initially thought was old, was actually probably only about his own age, but his skin was cracked from the harsh weather and creased from dehydration. The coat the dog was sitting on was thread-bare and wouldn’t have been any use against the elements. Jason started to put his hand in his pocket but could only feel the cold metal of the ring. He looked down at the man, and tried to apologise, but had no voice. The man lay down and cuddled up to the dog for warmth.
‘He’ll probably die this winter,’ Sarah said.
‘Then why doesn’t he go to a homeless shelter?’ Jason asked.
‘Don’t worry about it. It’s none of your business.’
Jason woke up. He thought about some of the warm clothes he had in the wardrobe that he didn’t wear. He tossed and turned for a little while, but Sarah’s gentle breathing slowly calmed him back down again enough for him to fall asleep.
He was wandering through the supermarket on his own. The Christmas music was playing at a mournful speed. The hustle and bustle was muted, and the faces were sad. Trollies were being filled with all the seasons goodies, but it seemed to be a contrived show to try to keep the children happy.
The man who had been snatching at the last six boxes of mince-pies earlier was adding them to his trolley which was bursting at the seams with good cheer. A young boy came down the aisle towards the man, a toy wizard’s wand in his hand.
‘Daddy,’ he said. ‘I found one.’
‘That’s great,’ the man said. ‘Put it in the trolley. Maybe Grandad can have a little bit of magic.’
‘And be able to come home for Christmas.’
‘That would be nice,’ the man said. ‘But if not we’ll take Christmas to him, and share with the other sick people in the hospice.’
Jason felt a lump in his throat. Sarah was suddenly next to him again.
‘It’s so easy to judge others, isn’t it?’
Jason sat up. Still nodding his head. This was going to be a long night. He went to the bathroom and washed his face.
‘Are you okay, Jase?’ Sarah called.
‘Yes, sorry love. Go back to sleep.’
Go back to sleep, he told himself as he looked at the clock. 2.00am.
Sarah was behind him in the queue at the checkout. Her basket was filled with medicines and tissues. His basket was overloaded with the biggest bottle of cheap wine he had ever seen. It was so heavy it felt like it was dragging him to the ground.
‘It’s that time of year, isn’t it?’ Sarah said. She looked at her own basket, and burst into tears. ‘Medicines are so expensive, and the children want all the nice stuff on Christmas morning, but I just want them to be well enough to enjoy it.’
Jason turned to look at the people ahead of him. The elderly couple were struggling to put their shopping on the conveyor. He noticed their hands riddled with arthritis.
‘Is there no-one that can help them with this?’ He asked Sarah. She was still crying into the basket.
‘Children leave home, and have their own Christmases to take care of. They often don’t even realise that their elderly parents struggle to do the normal week-to-week shopping.’
‘But surely there are agencies that can help?’
‘You’d think so, wouldn’t you?’
He turned back, and tried to lift something out of the couple’s trolley, but his huge bottle of wine got in the way.
‘Don’t worry. It’s not your responsibility.’
Meanwhile, the woman who was just about to pay for her shopping dropped her purse again. Coins scattered everywhere. She placed a list on the checkout as she bent down to pick up the spilt money. Necessities only. No luxuries. And everything had a number next to it. The price. Carefully added up. Carefully totalling the amount of money she had to spend.
Everyone was jeering at her misfortune, and when he looked at them, Jason realised they all had his face. The man from the next checkout placed a large note in the woman’s hand and wished her a merry Christmas.
‘Follow him,’ Sarah said.
‘But my shopping.’ Jason looked down at his empty hands, and quickly followed the man and Sarah as they left the shop.
He watched as the man put his shopping in the boot of his car. Then he got into the driver’s seat, and Jason expected him to drive off, probably to a happy home. Instead the man dropped his chin to his chest, and Jason saw the man’s shoulder’s shuddering.
‘Why’s he crying?’ Jason asked.
‘Only he knows that,’ Sarah answered. ‘You’d be surprised how many people struggle with depression at this time of year; how many poor souls we have brought in who have attempted to commit suicide. Yes, Jason, A and E is a hard day.’
Somehow it was morning when Jason woke up this time. There was a light frost on the window. Sarah was still asleep. He realised how worn out she was.
He carefully got up, so as not to disturb her, and went through to the kitchen where he turned the thermostat up. He listened to the unfamiliar sound of the boiler. Then he put the kettle on. Sarah had a day off work today so he quickly answered his own work-related emails. Being self-employed had its bonuses, and he could easily afford to take the day off.
‘It was nice to get up to a warm flat this morning,’ Sarah said as they sipped coffee in the supermarket café. ‘And it’s nice to come shopping together for a change.’
‘It’s not the only thing that’s going to change,’ Jason said.
On the way out Jason put a couple of tins and packets from their trolley into the basket for the food-bank. Then as Sarah was putting the shopping in the back of the car, Jason took one of his nice coats that he didn’t wear to the point where the homeless man had been sitting the evening before. He wasn’t there. Jason looked up and down the path in case the man had moved, then he spotted him huddled in the hedge with his dog. Jason wasn’t sure to start with if the man was awake, so he went closer.
‘Hi,’ the man said to him. His voice cracked almost as much as his lips.
‘Hi,’ Jason said.
He sat down on the path next to him.
‘Here,’ Jason handed the coat to the man. He felt awkward. ‘I noticed that your coat was looking a bit worse for wear.’
‘Thank you,’ the man said. ‘It looks like it’ll fit too. What d’you think, Jasper? You can have my coat all the time now.’
‘When’s the last time you had something warm to eat or drink?’
‘The local church does a soup kitchen a couple of times a week,’ the man said. ‘And normally I manage to get enough to go and get a hot drink from the burger-vendor in town.’
‘Here,’ Jason said, handing the man a ten-pound note. ‘Sorry, I haven’t got any more, I normally only pay by card. Get yourself, and your dog, Jasper, is it?’ The man nodded. ‘Go and get yourself a decent breakfast. What’s your name?’
‘Jason, what’re you doing?’ Sarah asked. ‘You left me to load all the shopping by myself.’
It was nearly Christmas again. And Jason smiled as he wandered around the supermarket on his way home. He looked at the faces of the other shoppers. Most were happy. Some were singing along to the cheesy Christmas songs. Some looked stressed or worried. He helped a lady as she tried to reach a jar of pickles from the top shelf. He smiled at them all. He had so much to be happy for. He had Sarah, and a home. He had work and his health. He was amazed at how positive other people could be who didn’t have these things.
He opened the door to the flat. The lights were dim. There was soft music on. And the table was set for two. Sarah was stood by the table in her jogging trousers and one of his gaudy Christmas jumpers.
‘Ask me again,’ she said.