Excerpt: Jacob T. Marley

One particularly cold and dreary February day, Marley settled in his carriage to travel to Camden Town. His errand was to settle the negligent debt of a young couple in one of the properties he managed. Here, in a small, modest apartment, they had settled just after their marriage two years prior. For twenty-one months, they had been timely in their payments. But at that time, industrialization in the factory had eliminated the man’s position. They had paid in full that month, but their payments had diminished in amount in the subsequent two periods, each time with a promise that they would make up the difference in the following payment with a new job the husband would surely secure. Marley let them stay those two months, but not because he believed a word they said. He had seen this many times before. People would sell all they had to pay their rent. He allowed them enough time not to find a job but rather to liquidate all their assets, realizing all he possibly could from their dwindling resources until they had exhausted their funds. Sensing when that moment occurred had become an art form, and Marley was its grand master. This was that day, and he swooped in for his kill.

As he arrived, he walked stiffly to the door, rapped twice, waited as long as he felt he should—about five seconds—and then rapped again. He knew they knew he was coming.

The door opened slowly and only partway, as if the narrowed entrance might keep out the message from this unwelcome visitor. With a practiced regimen, Marley tipped his hat in deference to protocol rather than to respect and, at the same time, placed his foot next to the doorjamb. After multiple experiences with this marking of territory, he had begun having all his boots made with reinforced sides and soles to brace his foot against the likely response.

This time, the door did not slam. Instead, from around the edge of the border between warmth and cold, home and homelessness, life and death, a somber man appeared, ramrod straight in his posture. He was neither friendly nor resentful. He was weary.

“Mr. Marley,” he said as he lowered his head in the slightest nod.

“Mr. Cummings,” Marley said perfunctorily. “You know why I am here.”

“I do,” the man replied softly. He looked past Marley at the light snow being whipped into small ice-darts by the persistent wind. “Come in.”

Marley did not want to come in. He wanted to tell them to leave, handing them their eviction notice to make it official, and then depart. He had showed up in person, rather than mailing the document, only because he found it hastened any court deliberations should he be challenged. Everything needed to show a return, and that was the yield afforded him by taking half a day in the cold to deliver his ominous order.

“I am quite fine here. I want to inform you that due to your late and insufficient payments—”

“Mr. Marley,” the man said so gently that even though it was an interruption, it sounded as though Marley had given way in his speech for the comment. “I ask you in to try to keep the warmth in the home for my wife’s sake. Please, may we talk inside?”

Ah, Marley thought. His wife’s sake. Should he continue to stand outside, and the man present that his wife was swollen with some dreaded illness, Marley’s coldness both in his spirit and in that which he allowed in the home might be held against his case, tying up the disposition of this home for weeks.

Rather than reply, he stepped in, registering his dissatisfaction with the request by bumping Cummings as he shuffled past him.

When the door shut, Cummings turned, and Marley picked up where he had left off.
“—it is necessary to have you vacate the home, as you have forfeited on your contract.”

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