By Andrew Lindberg
“Hi, my name is Ebenezer and I’m an alcoholic.”
Regulars at London’s Wormwood Street Big Book group looked at the newcomer as it came his turn to share. What they saw was an old man, his clothes of a style not seen in a decade and patched in numerous places where the cloth had surrendered to time. He wore a pair of half-spectacles that accentuated his wrinkles and white hair. Wherever he had been last night, whatever he had been doing, the residue could still be seen and smelled.
He started slowly. “My partner Jacob visited me last night. No big deal except he’s been dead seven years. Died a drunkard at Bedlam screaming that I’d stolen his last two bob. Well maybe I did and maybe I didn’t—wouldn’t have done him any good anyhow. Then the old souse told me I was going to have three visitors and he disappeared.
“This upset me a bit so I had another nip of the spirits. I hadn’t had more than two or three yet. Honest. Hardly anything but no sooner do I pour this wee dram down my throat than this ghoul appears and tells me he’s the Drunkalog of Christmases Past. Forsooth and I’m a unicorn. But he does seem to know some things that I thought no one knew—my first drink, swiping a cup of mulled wine from the Christmas bowl while my parents weren’t looking. And then a few years later how I acquired a taste for eggnog. After I left home to seek my fortune, I found that I didn’t need a Christmas party to enjoy my eggnog. As a matter of fact, I didn’t need the egg either. A noggin of port or sherry or even rum worked just fine. More than one worked even better.
“Then, with a flash of black powder, my visitor vanished. He left me even more unnerved than Jacob so I poured myself another potion, perhaps a tad larger than the preceding. And again, no longer had I set down my empty cup when an apparition appeared. He announced himself as the Ghost of Hangovers Present and showed me things that I had been able to ignore: the day I had spent in the stocks after being pulled over by a bobby for BWI (buckboarding while intoxicated); the number of creditors hounding me for payment; and the fact that I hadn’t done my laundry in a fortnight. And, zounds, he was gone, too.
“My third and final visitor announced himself as the Spirit of Rigorous Honesty and said he was there to present my future. He showed me the loss of my business, my home, my self-respect, and finally my unmourned death and burial in a pauper’s grave.
“‘Is this what will be?’ I asked the Spirit. ‘Is there no way I can change this unhappy end?’”
“‘This is where your present path will take you,” replied the Spirit of Rigorous Honesty, “unless you follow a different path with complete abandon.” As the Spirit faded away, I could barely make out his final words, “If this different path interests you, be at 21 Wormwood Street before Big Ben chimes nine times. You’ll be expected.”
“So that’s my story and here I am. I pass.”
The Wormwood regulars looked from one to another and then to the newcomer.
“Welcome,” they said. “You’re in the right place. Please join us for tea and crumpets after the meeting.”