Marla’s Ghost, from A Carol’s Christmas by Tina Pisco
12 Tales for Christmas – Day 4: a young woman’s reworking of ‘A Christmas Carol’
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by John Mortimer at The Gate Theatre. Photograph: Eric Luke
Carol hated Christmas with all its false frivolity, tacky tinsel, and fake holiday spirit. The kids were home from school, which was always a drag. She maxed out her credit card every year. Her housekeeper got the day off, and she got stuck with Christmas dinner for the whole family, including her parents who came to stay for two whole days. Carol got up and rubbed her eyes. She did a few stretches and then dropped heavily onto the black leather sofa.
“What’s this then? Sleeping on the job? Boy, this place has gone to the dogs since I left,” said a low voice above Carol’s head. Carol jerked awake. She must have drifted off. She wondered how long she’d been asleep.
“Go away,” said Carol closing her eyes tightly. This was one hell of a vivid dream. She could smell the expensive upholstery; feel the cool leather caress her cheek.
“Ask me who I was,” said the voice.
“OK,” said Carol, gritting her teeth. “Who were you?”
“In life I was your boss, Marla Murphy.”
Carol sat up and looked at the woman standing in front of her.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?”
The woman looked remarkably like Marla: same carefully coiffed hair, same power suit in muted tones, same expensive yet understated jewelry. Nice touch- the joker had handcuffed a briefcase to the woman’s wrist and weighed her down with a collection of phones, pads and devices, all trailing cables and wires which wrapped around her arms and legs. Who was the sicko who thought it would be funny to send her a Marla lookalike on the anniversary of her death?
“Bravo!” said Carol, slowly clapping. “I’m sure this is meant to be very amusing. Well done. Now go.”
The Marla stood smiling.
“I’m very busy, so would you kindly get the fuck out of my office?”said Carol, less assuredly than she would have liked. She had just noticed a certain fluidity about this weirdo; a transparency that waxed and waned like a flickering candle.
“Get a grip girlfriend. I’m a ghost.”
“Bullshit! You are some electrical distortion of my brain. I’m obviously hallucinating.”
At that the Marla let out such a chilling wail that Carol looked up to see if anyone in the office had heard, but the place was deserted. The Marla screeched as all the beepers, phones, faxes and tablets started beeping, pinging and ringing. Still screeching, she started answering them one after the other, and tearing at her hair. It came out in brown clumps, until with one great pull it came right off like a wig. The Marla’s teeth turned black and shriveled away. Her makeup melted. Her face sagged. Jowls, bags and wrinkles pulled her features into that of an old hag.
“Now look what you’ve done!” screamed the toothless Marla over the constant ringing, waving her hair at Carol. It looked like a large dead rat. “Oh God no! Not the tits!” she yelped, cradling her two deflated breasts in a parody of a cleavage.
Carol was petrified. Maybe if she humoured this illusion, it would go away.”Why are you here?” she asked. She was surprised at how shaky her voice sounded. The devices fell silent.
“Do you believe in me?” asked the Marla as she picked at the buttons of her suit which were now stretched to bursting point due to the appearance of a ghostly spare tyre.
“I don’t, but I have to. Even though I can’t see why a dead person would want to walk into my office and scare the shit out of me.”
“Well, it seems that each of us has a spirit- you know, like a soul,” said Marla, taking a denture out of her pocket and popping it in her mouth. It did not fit well.
“And this soul is meant to experience life to the full while you’re alive. Yada yada yada. Long story short- if it doesn’t, then you’re condemned to do so after the body has died. It’s a hell of a bummer,” sighed the Marla, trying to pat her hair back into place. “You get to walk around, lost among the living, watching them have a great time, and basically see everything that you missed.”
“I hate to ask, but why are you covered in telecommunications?” asked Carol, relieved that the ringing had stopped.
“It’s like, you know: Live by the sword, die by the sword. Only it’s forever. Some sick cosmic joke. Anyhow, I’m running late and I still have masses of appointments.” Marla took in a big breath, plonked her hair back on her head and pulled a large diary out of her briefcase. “Coming to think about it,” she added brightening up. “I have three for you, and they’re not in pencil. They’re in ink!”
“What appointments?” asked Carol.
“I’ve got to go soon,” said Marla, patting her lopsided hair, “so listen up. I managed to cut a great deal for you. You will be haunted by three ghosts.”
“That’s the great deal you cut for me?”
“Your first ghost is due tomorrow at 1am.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather pass if you don’t mind”
“Without their visits your fate will be worse than mine,” said Marla, prodding the air with a lipstick. “As I said, your first ghost will visit tomorrow. Your second ghost will come the next night. Same time, same place. Ghost number three is scheduled for the following night around midnight.” Marla pocketed her lipstick and snapped the diary shut.
Carol became aware of a growing cacophony. Confused voices overlapped with heart-wrenching sobs. If guilt and remorse had a sound this would be it. Try as she might, Carol could not blot out the pitiful noise.
Marla floated out the window, and without so much as a wave goodbye, started her own wailing lament, her voice joining the chorus outside as she lifted into the air and vanished. Carol looked up above the rooftops of the city and gripped the window sill for fear that she might faint.
The sky was filled with swirling shapes darting this way and that. Many, like Marla, were weighed down with the paraphernalia of their former lives; files strapped to their backs, phone cables snaking around their legs, sports cars chained to their necks. Carol recognised some of them: a politician, a newspaper magnate, a film star. One poor woman was almost hidden under a mountain of elegant shopping bags filled to the brim with designer clothes, her ankle tied to a heavy chain which dragged a sleek black Porche. Carol watched as the woman caught sight of a shivering, young girl sitting under a street lamp far below. The woman howled as she tried to take a shopping bag and throw clothes down to the girl, only to see them tumble gracefully, fold themselves up again and pile back into her arms.
Clouds crossed the sky and the vision of those souls slowly faded and dissolved into darkness…
This is an extract from A Carol’s Christmas, a contemporary Christmas novella by Clonakilty-based writer Tina Pisco, which features in her book of short stories, Sunrise Sunset (Fish Publishing)