An Unopened Gift (Fourth Stave) by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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It was a happy Christmas. The twins delighted in their presents and the good Widow Wilmer was pleased to receive many kind remembrances. So many, in fact, that she overlooked one small package that lay tucked under a fold of the tree skirt.

And yet, despite all the joy of that season, she could not quite shake the memory of the mysterious visitor she had observed at the cemetery two weeks previous and the odd little note he had placed by her husband’s grave. Since that day, she had hoped to encounter the man again so that she could introduce herself and to that end, whenever she went about in town, she kept one eye open for his tall, thin frame. She even attempted to search him out: she made modest inquiries at the local rooming houses and eating establishments, but no one had encountered a man who fit the mysterious visitor’s description. She even took it upon herself to go down to the wharf where the frigate that had arrived a few weeks earlier with a passenger or two and its load of fine English teas was making preparations to continue its journey down to the warmer islands. The captain of the vessel, busy with lading provisions and cargo, was polite enough but of no further help. Only two passengers had made the crossing on the outbound leg of the journey—both young men looking to advance their prospects in this part of the world. It was as if the mysterious visitor had literally vanished.

Life continued quietly on as it is wont to do in a small town, but Mistress Wilmer had to admit that she was a uneasy about the cryptic message the mysterious man had left behind. “It is better to forgive than to deceive.” What sin was to be forgiven? Who had been deceived? Was her late husband someone other than whom she believed him to be? Was there, in fact, a monster under the beds of her children lying in wait to snatch away their happiness and prosperity? And who was ‘Marley,’ and for that matter, who was ’S?’ Mrs. Wilmer was a sensible woman and unanswered questions did not lie idly with her. The situation festered for another two weeks.

That is until Twelfth Night when Mistress Wilmer and the children undertook to remove the tree and put away the Christmas decorations. That was when little Holiday found the gift that lay unnoticed and unopened behind the tree. It was simply wrapped in brown paper and offered to no one in particular so Mama let Christian open it.

It was a slim volume entitled “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, an English author of considerable note even in this remote corner of America. “Oh, mother,” cried the twins in unison (that was their habit after all), “will you read it to us now? Please, mother!”

Reading seemed a far, far better thing to do than restoring the house to its natural order so Mistress Wilmer added another log to the fire, pulled her comfortable Windsor chair close, and lifted the twins onto her lap. Such a cozy, wholesome scene! Imagine, then, her surprise and consternation when upon opening the volume, she saw an engraving of the very man whom she had observed in the cemetery. The caption informed her that this was none other than Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge himself, the central character in Mr. Dickens’ famous Christmas novella.

“Mama: whatever is the matter?” the twins said in chorus. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

“No, darlings! Everything is fine. It’s just that this man—she pointed to the engraving of Mr. Scrooge—looks so very familiar to me.”

And with that, she began to read…

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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