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"A Christmas Carol" 1951 film poster. Photo: United Artists/Renown Pictures.

Creative Sunday: A Christmas Carl by Bruce Burwell

By Bruce Burwell on December 20, 2020

Welcome to the first edition of Creative Sundays on Apt613: A monthly themed showcase for short fiction and creative nonfiction by local writers. This month’s theme is, of course, the holidays. We hope you enjoy these stories, real and imagined.

This is a story of something that happened to me a very long time ago on Christmas Eve. And while it’s absolutely true, a name has been changed to protect the identity of an ex-girlfriend.

Charles Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol tells the heart-warming story of Ebeneezer Scrooge’s redemption after a lifetime of greed and selfishness. Scrooge is visited by a series of various ghosts on Christmas Eve and by Christmas morning he is a changed man.

Scrooge, a man in need of some ghostly visitation—unlike our narrator. Photo: United Artists/Renown Pictures.

When this story happened, I was only 24 years old and had not lived long enough to have compiled a history of selfishness and despicable acts. And while I knew the Dickens story, I didn’t think I had enough in common with Scrooge to warrant a meeting with the Ghost of Christmas Past on Christmas Eve. But that’s what happened. Well, maybe.

As I said, it was Christmas Eve. My girlfriend Sue and I had gone out for turkey dinner at my aunt and uncle’s place in the ‘burbs. We had a nice holiday dinner, drank a lot of wine and then thought about getting home. We had taken a bus out there, but a major winter storm was brewing and my uncle kindly offered to drive us back downtown. It was Christmas Eve, after all.

Sue had recently graduated in nursing and was now working at the hospital. A lot of her fellow nurses on the ward were young mothers, so she had offered to work that night so that they could spend Christmas morning with their kids. It was Christmas, after all.

My uncle dropped Sue off at the hospital for her midnight shift and we continued on to my apartment downtown. The snow was now accumulating on the ground and the wind was picking it up and whipping it around.

My uncle dropped me at the door of our low-rise building and I wished him Merry Christmas and waved as he disappeared into the snow. I hurried into the warm lobby and reached for my keys. First pocket – no keys. Second pocket – no keys. And then I remembered. Sue and I had combined our stuff in her backpack and it was now at the hospital. My keys were now safely in her locker. Crap.

I hurried into the warm lobby and reached for my keys. First pocket – no keys. Second pocket – no keys. And then I remembered.

OK, no problem. I knew the superintendent in our small building and knew he could let me into my place. I rang his buzzer.

And then I rang it again. And then I rang it a few more times. And then I rang it in the pattern of Jingle Bells just to maintain a merry Christmas mood. No response. But hey, it was Christmas. He was likely away. Since I didn’t know my other neighbours, I was going to need to get my keys from Sue.

In the days before cell phones, there were other things that could enable your ability to communicate. I dug into my pockets again and hoped that my luck would change. Yes! A quarter! I did my coat up and stepped back into the storm and headed for the phone booth around the corner.

After a few internal call transfers, I was talking to the nurse at the desk in Sue’s ward. I explained the situation and tried not to sound too pathetic. I asked if Sue could send the keys over to me in a taxi. The nurse said she would find Sue and pass the message along. I had my doubts.

Back I went through the storm to the apartment lobby. I was very glad it was heated, since the temperature had dropped and the wind would occasionally blow the door partly open and snow would whip into the lobby.

Time went by. I pulled my coat around me and scrunched down on the hot air vent and huddled into the corner. Not surprisingly, no one came through the lobby or even seemed to go past the building on the street. It was well past midnight on Christmas Eve, after all.

A half-hour had gone by. Then an hour. I really regretted that last glass of wine and started to think about what the alley behind our building looked like. I had another quarter, but what if I was in the phone booth and the taxi came? Would he stay? I decided to keep waiting.

And then a very strange thing happened. Despite my stress, full bladder, and uncomfortable sitting position, I fell asleep. I woke up without knowing whether I’d been dozing for five minutes or five hours. Something seemed to be outside the building in the street. I looked out into the swirling mess and tried to figure out what it was. It was clearly not a taxi. All I could see was a very bright light. It seemed to be hovering in the snowy air, perhaps eight feet off the ground. And below the light was just a big dark shadow. The light seemed to turn towards me and lit up the lobby and temporarily blinded me. I scrambled to my feet. At this point I had no idea what was going on.

All I could see was a very bright light. It seemed to be hovering in the snowy air, perhaps eight feet off the ground.

As I peered out into the snow and did my coat up, a deep voice boomed out.

“Bruce! Is that you, Bruce?”

I started to think about the Dickens story and tried to remember whether the Ghost of Christmas Past appeared to Scrooge as a giant hovering ball of light. I seemed to recall that it was something like that.

What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen a—oh, never mind. Photo: United Artists/Renown Pictures.

But the next thing that the light said to me gave me new insight into what might be going on.

“Bruce – I have your keys. Come get your keys!”

I was pretty sure that the Ghost of Christmas Past would not be out delivering keys, so I stepped outside. As I got closer to the light, it became clearer what I was looking at. A very large ambulance van appeared out of the murk. It had a big rack of lights on the roof and a speaker up there too. I guess that’s where the voice came from. I went to the driver’s side and a friendly looking guy rolled down the window and passed me my missing keys. I was pretty much in shock at this point and really don’t remember what I said to him or whether I thanked him properly.

Bed was my main priority and I slept soundly till Sue got back later that morning.

Sue explained what had happened the previous night. She had got my message and had gone to the desk in the Emergency department and tried to get a taxi. Across the city that night, Christmas Eve dinners and parties were closing down during a major snowstorm and taxis were in very short supply. It was Christmas, after all.

A taxi was called and Sue waited in Emerg for quite a while for it to appear. Nothing came and she had to get back to the ward. The Emerg was quiet and a nurse at the desk offered to take the keys and pass them to the taxi driver whenever he appeared. Sue was agonizing about whether to accept this offer, and an ambulance driver overheard them talking. He said that he was doing nothing at the moment and could run the keys over to me unless he got an emergency call on the way over.

Sue thanked him, gave him the keys, and he went out into the gloom to make his special Christmas delivery. When he got to our apartment, he didn’t want to step out of his warm cab and used his lights and sound system to raise me from my nap. And of course, in my nap-addled state I had difficulty telling the difference between the Ghost of Christmas Past and an ambulance van driver with some bright lights and speakers.

And of course his name was Carl. And so ever since that special Christmas Eve, I’ve thought of him as MY Christmas Carl.

It was Christmas, after all.