By Laura Schiller
Based on: How The Grinch Stole Christmas (200 film, directed by Ron Howard)
Martha May Whovier, aged seven, was rather confused to discover that she actually liked the Grinch.
By all the known standards of Whoville, there was no reason for her to feel this way. He was not at all handsome – green, hairy, and with a face like a monkey's. His family was not rich – in fact, nobody knew where he even came from, having been delivered by mistake in his basket to a pair of perfectly ordinary spinster sisters who were as mystified by his arrival as the rest of the town. He was not what anyone would call warm or friendly; he barely spoke a word to his peers and instead spent every recess by himself, reading, scribbling in notebooks, tinkering with his abacus and eating the cafeteria cutlery when he thought no one was watching. But Martha did watch, and the more she watched, the more she found herself liking him.
One summer day, she was skipping rope with Betty Lou and Sally Ann on the blacktop behind the school building; it was her turn to jump while they twirled the rope, heart pounding, pigtails flying, polished shoes thumping on the dusty ground. Normally she noticed nothing else, but on that day she saw the Grinch sitting on the stairwell, by himself as usual, and it distracted her. A length of silver string was in his hands; she watched his long, green fingers weaving it into a net, its pattern growing ever more intricate. A cat's cradle. His eyes were fixed on that string with a fierce, quiet intensity, noticing nothing else.
That was when she knew. Unlike anything else in this glitter-and-plastic town, he was real: brilliant, intense, stubbornly unique. Thoroughly himself.
Martha, watching him, fell out of step with the rope, squeaked – and tripped.
The Grinch immediately dropped his cat's cradle and jumped to his feet; that was all she saw before landing on the ground, scraping her hands and knees.
"Oh no, are you okay?" Betty and Sally exclaimed, helping her up. "I'm so sorry!"
"I'm fine," she said. "It's not your fault, I was just … "
Her eyes flicked involuntarily toward the Grinch, who was still standing there with the string at his feet, trying and failing to look as unconcerned as before. His eyes met hers across the empty cement, over Sally's shoulder. He looked away first.
Betty and Sally followed her gaze, exchanged shocked looks – and burst into giggles.
"Omigawd, you were staring at him? That freak? Martha and Grinchy sittin' in a tree …"
"Shut up, you guys!" she snapped, too young to be polite just yet. "I was looking at the string, that's all! Not at him, why would I?"
But she kept her voice to a hiss instead of a shout. After all, she didn't want to hurt his feelings.
By the blank expression on his wrinkled face all through the day, it was impossible to tell how much he had heard. She made up with Betty and Sally the next day by letting them play with her Deluxe Who Dollhouse, but she never dared to address the issue with the person who mattered most.
Looking back on that fateful Christmas of 1973, the day the Grinch left, Martha would often ask herself if it was her fault.
To think it had been going so well. She and the Grinch were desk neighbors that year, so she finally had a legitimate reason (in the eyes of their classmates) to speak to him, since they were often paired up for group work. He excelled in science and mathematics, and often wound up explaining something to her better than their teacher could – gesturing emphatically, watching her with his yellow eyes aglow, talking louder and faster by the minute until Miss Clarnella interrupted with a shrill order for silence.
The day before, she took advantage of the Christmas spirit to touch the Grinch for the first time, her hand on his cheek. She told him she liked the color green. The tentative smile on his face made it worth it, in spite of Augustus' sneer and the other girls' giggles.
Martha did not care much for Augustus Maywho, in spite of the fact that their fathers were old friends and they were constantly thrown together. He seemed to admire her, and feel hurt when she didn't accept his extravagant gifts, so she always accepted them with the grace her parents had taught her. The Christmas-obsessed Who society thrived on gifts; ingratitude was just about the worst social sin a Who could commit. All the same, she never could feel properly grateful towards a boy who was so generous to her and so mean to the Grinch at the same time.
The moment he came out from behind the coats to give her his handcrafted gift, the moment Miss Clarnella ordered the paper bag off his head to reveal his shaving scars and everybody except Martha shrieked with laughter, that was the moment which would follow her all her life.
It was the shame that kept her quiet, the sheer heavy weight of peer pressure pinning her down. She was Martha May Whovier after all, the most popular girl in school. She couldn't stand the idea of becoming the next target.
She was not afraid of him for a moment though, even when he picked up the Christmas tree, shouting – "I hate Christmas!" – and hurled it across the room. She stayed in place while her friends and classmates swarmed out the door like frightened rats. The Grinch stopped in front of her for one moment, all the rage fading from his face, and shrugged sorrowfully before running from the room. I don't blame you, the gesture seemed to say. But I can't stay here. Try to understand.
She hoped, afterwards, that he had read the answer in her face which she had failed to give. I'm so sorry. I never thought you were a monster. I do understand, but please, wherever you go, be safe.
That was the last they heard of him for years. His foster-mothers went into mourning, thinking he must have frozen to death in the mountains, and at first the town agreed. It was not until her teenage years that the rumors started: someone was scaring the daylights out of Who skiers with a painted green monster machine. Someone was prowling the town at night in a brown cloak, playing pranks. Someone was building machines in a cave on top of Mount Crumpit, using the garbage from the town dump. The Whos' minds jumped directly to the Grinch, and Martha agreed that it did sound like him – always the engineer. His foster-mothers reassured themselves by the smoke from the mountaintop, and by the occasional scrawled notes which appeared mysteriously on their doorstep, that their prodigal son was still alive.
Martha knew better than to expect a note.
She grew more beautiful every year, won prizes for her elaborate Christmas decorations, and handled the inescapable Augustus with as much diplomacy as possible. She became the perfect facsimile of a happy woman, convincing enough even for her friends and parents. Still, few nights went by when she didn't wake up sweaty and tangled in her blue silk sheets, dream-calling No! How dare you? Leave him alone!
Knowing she had failed to say it when it mattered.
Martha recognized herself in Cindy Lou Who the moment the child came to interview her about the Grinch's past. The same fascination; the same compassion. Except that Cindy Lou was stronger than Martha had ever been, purer, unspoiled by so many years of living up to expectations.
"I saw him," the little girl confessed. "At the post office … and he's not really what I expected."
"How do you mean?"
"Well … he had a dog with him. A cute brown dog that wasn't scared of him at all."
"Oh, really?" So he was not entirely alone, thank heavens. A pet was better than nothing.
"And then when I fell in the mail chute, he pulled me out. He saved me. And he acted weird … like he wanted to sound evil and scary, but didn't know how. He tied me up in gift wrap and then went away." Cindy shook her beribboned head, looking confused. "Was he always like that, Ms. Whovier?"
"More or less," she said. "He always did have a way of defying expectations."
She tried to convey her memories to Cindy as best she could: about the Grinch's uniqueness, his creative intellect, his shy wish to be accepted and his heartbroken fury when acceptance was denied. She told the whole truth … almost. In this one instance, habit was still all-powerful.
"Did I have a crush on the Grinch? Of course not!"
Cindy Lou, eight years old, tiny as a doll in the armchair opposite, surveyed Martha with a look that was wise beyond her years.
"I didn't ask you that," she replied.
The Whobilation began badly and ended worse. Martha didn't know what she had expected from seeing the Grinch again after so many years, but it was definitely not this – a giant green blur rocketing out of a manhole, knocking her to the ground and landing on top of her. In front of the entire population of Whoville.
"Hello, Martha," he said, muffled by her red corset top.
She could feel his fur on her bare skin. Her mind went blank.
He picked himself up with due speed, leaving her slightly dazed and heartily embarrassed. She'd completely forgotten to say 'hello' back.
Once she was back on her feet, she couldn't keep her eyes off him. Quite frankly, to a proper Who lady accustomeded to proper Who gentlemen, with their styled hair, flamboyant clothes and expensive eau de cologne, the Grinch was an appalling sight. He'd grown a paunch; he smelled like onions and worse; his voice was as sharp and rusty as one of the discarded machines from the Dump It; his face was more monkey-like than ever; and what in the name of Saint Nick had posessed him to wear flowery lederhosen?
However, all that mattered to Martha was that he was back.
Several times, she almost called out to stop the celebration. She couldn't tell if he was having fun or feeling sick, or maybe both. She waited impatiently for all the hoopla to be over, so she could talk to him in private. She had so much to ask him - how were his living conditions in that cave? Was he warm and dry and safe? Was he happy? Did he have any idea of how much the old ladies had missed him … how much she had missed him?
He did begin to enjoy himself. He cheered (and so did she) when he won the sack hop race. Once, obviously tipsy from experimenting with the eggnog, he even laughed in Martha's direction and touched her shoulder as if they were old friends. Then came Mayor Augustus Maywho's inevitable speech … and his Holiday Cheermeister award.
An electric razor.
And then Augustus staged his proposal. He flashed the diamond. He unveiled the sports car. He gave her twenty seconds to answer, with the entire town watching.
She froze. How could she say no, in front of two hundred registered voters who had been expecting this since the two of them were babies? How could she turn up her little Who nose at the most beautiful car, the same model she'd always wanted, and a diamond big enough to outshine Betty Lou forever? Ungrateful, that's what they'd call her. Arrogant enough to turn down the Mayor himself, as if even he wasn't good enough for her. However, that horrible razor decided her. Marrying Augustus was the last thing in the world she wanted.
"Augustus … your gifts are quite … dazzling - " But I'm afraid I can't accept, she was about to say, when a screeching, grating sound distracted them all.
It was the Grinch, scraping a fingernail along the shiny, cherry-red surface of the new car.
"Of course," he snarled, a slow, quiet fury building up in his voice. "Of course they are. Because that's what it's all about, isn't it? Gifts! Gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts!" He jabbed his finger in people's faces, making them cower back. "But do you know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me! In your garbage – that's right, your garbage! It's all avarice, and the avarice never ends. This entire Christmas tradition is stupid – stupid, stupid, stupid!"
His voice, which had been rising to a shout that rang across the entire square, dropped again as he slowly approached Martha and the Mayor. His golden eyes smoldered; he was looking right at her.
"However … I suppose there's one Christmas tradition I've always found … meaningful."
He reached for her. She held her breath. Was he … ?
The simmering heat in his eyes turned to contempt as he snatched the ring box out of her hands and tossed it to the floor.
"Mistletoe!" he spat, turning around to wiggle his bottom at the Mayor. "So come on and kiss it, Whoville!"
He shaved off a streak of hair from the Mayor's head, planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek, and blew a fireball which reduced the Whoville Christmas Tree to a pile of ashes.
Then he disappeared – and so did her only chance of regaining his respect.
Martha was home, curled up dejectedly on her ivory sofa with its red pillows, watching the lights flash on her Christmas tree and and working on her third glass of rum and eggnog, when the doorbell rang. She opened it with her usual polite smile, expecting Betty Lou to pester her about where she'd found her new Christmas light cannon. Instead she found Augustus, who immediately put his foot in the door.
"You forgot something, sweetheart," he said, holding out the ring box.
Martha May Whovier was at the end of her tether. After three glasses of eggnog, a nightmarish day, and twenty-five years of suppressing the only genuine emotions she'd ever felt, she snapped.
"I forgot nothing," she said, her elegant alto voice taking on a razor-sharp edge just like the Grinch's. "You have some nerve, Augustus Maywho … thinking that after everything you've done, you can still waltz on over expecting me to say yes."
"What I've done?" he asked, looking genuinely shocked. "I'm not the one who just committed arson in the town square! You saw that display of his, it was outrageous!"
"Well, good," said Martha.
Augustus' bulbous eyes nearly popped out of his head.
"It's about time someone got outrageous around here," she continued. "Look at this place. Look at us!" She swept her hand up and down to indicate her own skimpy red outfit and sparkly jewely, and Augustus' sweeping coat and glossy shoes. "We're every bit as stupid as he says. We buy each other's love and friendship just like you bought your voters. And I'm as bad as all the rest – I never liked Betty Lou Who," gesturing at the flamboyantly lit house across the street, "But I still call her my friend. You know why? Because she'll always envy me. I've been shallow, vain and greedy all my life just so I could fit in with everybody else. But the Grinch – he's honest. He tells it like it is. And you just hate that, don't you, Augustus? He showed you up for the most shallow, vain and greedy excuse for a Who there ever was."
By then, Augustus' face was as tomato-red as the pillows on her couch. When he spoke, however, the forced calm in his voice was a frightening contrast.
"Well now, Martha May," he said. "Now that you've got all that out of your system, let me restate the purpose of my visit. I'm about to secure you as my future wife for three reasons. One, you'll look lovely on my arm. Two, the association between our fine old families goes back at least a hundred years. What could be more suitable? And three – " His smirk made him ten times uglier than the Grinch could ever be. "Because that makes me the winner."
"You're still jealous of the Grinch?" she exclaimed. "Just because he used to beat you in exams, or because of me? How pathetic is that?"
"Quiet!" He shouted into her face, making her jump back despite herself. Without her blocking the door, he pushed it open and advanced on her, backing her along her own hallway like a trapped animal.
"Now listen," he continued, smooth as cream. "You've always been a sensible girl, Martha. In spite that silly speech just now, I know you'll do what's best for yourself and your family."
"What does my family have to do with anything?"
"Your father works for me, as you recall. The things I know about him would make your hair curl, my dear … not that it needs it … and I have the power to make things rather unpleasant for him and for the rest of your clan, should you refuse my offer."
Martha remembered, with a cold shiver, the nights her father had come home from City Hall looking pale and dull-eyed, the whispered late-night conversations with her mother. As a child, she had never quite understood; something about money, about breaking the law, about having no choice.
Augustus, still smiling, outlined exactly where Mr. Whovier had gone wrong in the course of his political career, and exactly how Augustus could send the old man directly to the Who Penitentiary. He looked like a snake which had just swallowed a mouse.
"You do realize," said Martha as she took the heavy silver box, "That I'm going to hate you for this as long as we live."
"You know what, sweetheart?" He pinched her cheek hard enough to hurt. "I don't care."
Martha's first thought when she woke up on Christmas morning and found the ring box missing from her nightstand was, Thank Santa! … But how?
Coming downstairs in her nightgown and slippers, she found that the box was not the only missing item. Tree, presents, candles, ribbons, potpourri, the entire contents of her fridge, the light string cannon and every lightbulb inside or outside the house – all gone. Judging by the wailing sounds she heard, all of Whoville was in the same predicament. Martha couldn't decide whether to be dismayed or relieved. She had a strange feeling of inevitability, as if all their lives had been leading up to this moment.
He really out-Grinched himself this time, didn't he? she thought. That impossible man. She put on her blue satin coat lined with white fur and headed for the town square to find out more about what was going on.
She recalled uneasily that to steal her engagement ring, the Grinch must have gone into her bedroom and watched her sleep. Why had he done it? To annoy Augustus? To show his contempt for her giving in like that? Could it be that he cared for her after all, and felt jealous? Or was it just another Christmas thing to steal?
He hadn't disturbed a hair on her head. Or even woken her up.
When she reached the square, it was to find the most mournful assembly of Whos she had ever seen shuffling around with their coats over their nightclothes. There had been funerals more cheerful than this. So when Lou Who of all people came forward and gave the unraveling Mayor a piece of his mind, the entire town drew a breath of sheer relief.
"Christmas can't be hurt, Your Honor," said that plain little postal worker, who had never made a public speech in all his life. "Because it's not about the gifts, or the contests, or the fancy lights … I've got everything I need for Christmas right here. My family."
Betty Lou grabbed her husband to show him her enthusiastic agreement. That was the cue for all the Who families to hug and kiss and launch into the traditional Who Christmas Chorus. Martha found her own parents in the crowd and took their hands, with an extra warm smile for her gray-haired father. She forgave him, and she'd keep him out of jail if it was the last thing she did.
Then the flying sleigh came barrelling out of the sky with its enormous red sack of gifts, driven by none other than the Grinch and Cindy Lou. It landed in the middle of the square, narrowly missing Lou and the replacement Christmas tree.
The Whos gasped. They cheered. The little girl ran into the arms of her parents and brothers, the Grinch made his confession and a sincere apology, and Officer Wholihan acquitted him of all charges since, after all, he'd brought the stolen items back again. The Mayor rolled his eyes, but no one paid the least attention.
Martha felt like crying. He must have heard them singing, up in his mountain cave. He must have understood. And if he could show his heart to Whoville like this, how could she do anything less than show hers?
She climbed up onto the gift sack and pulled out the ring box. It was on top of the pile; he'd saved her house for last.
"Augustus Maywho," she shouted down from her high perch, "I have something for you!" Abandoning elegance, she whooped loudly as she tumbled back down into the snow. She marched up to him and proudly held out the box.
"Your ring back."
Just try and blackmail us now. I'll fight you in court if that's what it takes.
"I'm sorry, but my heart belongs … to someone else."
She drew herself up straighter, twenty-five years of shame and denial falling off her satin-clad shoulders, as she met the golden eyes of the man she loved.
The Grinch glanced over his shoulder, turned back, and placed one hand over his heart. Do you really mean me?
Most men would have kissed her then and there. The Grinch, obviously, was not most men. He crowed like a rooster. He danced a little victory dance in his curly-toed Santa shoes. He laughed in the Mayor's face. And then, with wildly off-key sincerity, he joined in the Chorus - holding Martha's hand for the very first time.