Fudgepackers (Daniel Young)

Posted on August 5, 2016 by in Out of Limbo

men hugging1(edited by Callie-Doyle Scott)

‘Fudgepackers!’ said John, referring to our American corporate overseers. The spaceship-like Polycom phone had only just made a final crackle before falling silent, so my reaction to his remark was delayed by an anxious feeling that the Americans might have heard him. It was just the two of us in the tiny glass-walled fishbowl meeting room. I gathered my papers and made to leave.
         Although I found the word funny, I shot him what I hoped was a hurt glance and said, ‘That’s such an offensive word. I’d prefer you didn’t use it.’
         John gave a knowing look and nodded.
         ‘Sorry. No offence intended.’
         Does that count as coming out? I walked out of the room and we never spoke of it again.

When the phone call came a few months later, I was sitting at my computer trying to get an email to the US just right. Adding, cutting, rewording sentences. John always laughed at my emails.
         ‘You’re so … verbose,’ he’d say, grinning.
         ‘At least I can spell!’ was my usual reply. His almost incoherent one-liners usually required further conference calls to set things straight. To get us all on the same page, as the Americans liked to say.

Our boss answered the call. Brad, the B.O. king. John once snuck a small bottle of roll-on deodorant into his top drawer, but the hint went unheeded. We always knew when Brad had walked past, even if our heads were down, headphones on, bashing away at our keyboards, arms mashed down to bloody stumps like that deranged animated GIF that John loved so much, the one that so perfectly captured our approach to work—pain and perseverance in equal measure. We avoided booking meetings with Brad in the fishbowl. The conference calls were bad enough when Brad decided to attend, trying to take credit for all our work, but in the small room, the stench was unbearable.

I’d just come back from my lunchtime walk, alone. John and I used to walk together, roaming the city’s sticky humid air, trying to catch some breeze down by the turgid brown waters of the Brisbane River. We walked fast, with purpose, hissing and snarling at slow walkers or those who hogged the footpath without leaving room for us to overtake. Birds of a feather, us against the world. The highlight of my day, a sweet spot nestled between the morning conference calls (when our time zone overlapped with the Americans’) and the afternoon when we actually got shit done. The rest of the office resented us. We worked hard, enjoying and despising it in equal measures, and kept to ourselves. We knew, of course—not only John and I, but the whole office—that our jobs were at the mercy of the little Aussie dollar. The Pacific peso, as John liked to call it. One swing too high against the greenback and the Americans would cut us out altogether, shut down the whole operation. But for now, toiling away in sunny little Brisbane, we were able to provide some measure of corporate value at a cost-effective price. Relations with our colleagues sank to an ultimate low when John won the FIFA World Cup sweepstakes. He drew Brazil, an almost guaranteed win, and ended up walking away with $120. We went out for Monday night cocktails, inviting no one else. It started with Long Island Iced Teas and progressed to shots of Chartreuse. Yes, Chartreuse. Fuck me, the Chartreuse. Never again. Even the bartender chastised us once we started on the Chartreuse.
         ‘Guys. What’s going on?’
         We looked at him blankly and demanded two tequila lime and sodas to chase down our shots.
         ‘It’s a Monday night. Everyone else has had a quiet beer and gone home, but you guys are on the cocktails. What’s the occasion?’
         It felt like a sermon.
         ‘What’s your name?’ asked John.
         ‘Trent,’ replied the bartender.
         ‘Trent the bartender! We’re celebrating the world cup.’
         Trent shook his head and walked away to make our drinks.
         ‘I think he likes you,’ said John, out to cause mischief.
         ‘No way.’
         ‘Trent the bartender is cute, isn’t he?’
         ‘Yeah—and very straight.’
         Trent returned and I paid for our drinks. We were the last people left in the bar, and Trent wanted to shut up shop and go home, so we nipped off to the Irish pub around the corner for what John called ‘a soothing Scotch and dry’ followed by a ‘cleansing beer’. I wanted to stop, but the very idea of a cleansing beer seemed important to him. More than anything, I think he just liked saying it.
         ‘We need a cleansing beer. You’ll feel much better after that. You can’t go home without a cleansing beer.’
         By this stage I wanted to run, but I shrugged and let him buy it.
         ‘What’s that?’ he asked, pointing at a gleaming bottle of liqueur high up on a shelf behind the bar.
         ‘Huh, I don’t even know,’ the bartender replied. A woman this time. Was John flirting? She took the bottle down. ‘It’s called Rubis,’ she said.
         ‘Rubis!’ said John, a little too loud. ‘After this cleansing beer, we’ll have a Rubis or two.’ He took the bottle from the bartender for a look. ‘Strawberry liqueur. Hey, it’s like Midori, but with strawberry. I’m a fucking poet!’
         I took the bottle. ‘And it’s made by Suntory.’
         John struck a serious pose and held up his glass. ‘For relaxing times … ‘
         ‘Yeah yeah,’ said the waitress, taking the bottle back and leaving us to our giggling.
         I slumped across the bar and closed my eyes. John gave my stool a gentle nudge. Eyes open or shut, the room had turned liquid, daring me to drink the whole night in. My stomach had other ideas. I groaned, ran to the bathroom and heaved uncontrollably, painting the floor technicolor before I could make it to a cubicle. I sat down on a toilet seat and tried to breathe. A few minutes and a quick gulp of water from the filthy bathroom sink had me feeling ready to return outside, but wanting get home fast.
         ‘OK, look. Don’t finish the beer, but we are so having a Rubis,’ said John.
         ‘That’s a girl’s drink,’ said the bartender.
         ‘I don’t care. Rubis and lemonade please. Two!’
         Our drinks were served.
         ‘It’s medicinal. That’s what it is. Mystical. I mean, medicinal,’ said John, nodding sagely, savouring the word before losing balance and sliding gracelessly from his barstool.
         A Monday night in Brisbane can only go so late, so we were soon out in the fresh air, dizzy and lost. We ran down Elizabeth Street like loons, shrieking ‘Rubis!’ at the occasional passer-by. Near the Queen Street mall we parted in a brief, rough, embarrassed, masculine hug, as close as we ever got.

After he got the call, Brad came over and looked me in the eye. ‘We need to talk.’ Despite my best efforts to veer into the boardroom, he gestured the other way and we ended up face-to-face in the fishbowl, breathing each other’s breath, smelling each other’s smell.

When we went walking, John and I changed our shoes in the lockers downstairs in the building’s basement. I’d requested a locker from the building management and he shared it, leaving his comfortable runners there for our walks. We started doing this after the soles of our black leather work shoes began to crack from all that walking. One day, treading the steaming wet footpaths after a quick summer storm had passed over, I realised my socks were getting wet. Water had crept up into the cracked shoe sole and absorbed into my socks, my toes stained black from the wet dye.
         Sometimes we headed down into a food court and got what I called a post-lunch lunch at the dodgy carvery. We’d order John’s favourite: ‘globules of fat’, his name for deep-fried dim sims. Hideous food, but seemingly essential on those days when we needed a little something to get through the afternoon.

After the call, sitting with Brad in that tiny meeting room, staring blankly past his head and into the bland office outside, I said the first thing that came to mind.
         ‘I have his shoes.’
         ‘Sorry?’
         ‘Downstairs, in my locker. His shoes.’
         Brad was visibly upset, but it wasn’t in me to sit there and accept that he had feelings too. I went downstairs, collected the shoes and went home early.
         I resigned soon after, unable to continue. Not that it mattered. John’s funeral was well-attended. Family, friends, a sea of strangers; people I had no words to offer to. A nice enough farewell, but one of those funerals where you get the impression that, despite a great sense of loss, nobody really knew the deceased very well at all. Generic speeches. Yes, tears, of course, and sadness, but without any underlying truth; nothing more than each attendee coming face-to-face with their own mortality. I never found out why he did it, and I still wonder—perhaps morbidly—how he did it. Nobody ever talks about those details, do they? Everything left unsaid, reminding me of the way I came out to him with feigned offence at the word ‘fudgepackers’; how I keep coming out to people in various subtle ways, again and again, until it all just becomes too tiring. Sometimes I wake up from a dream, forgetting everything except the faint warmth he left behind that one time. That brief, rough, embarrassed, masculine embrace, holding me through the night. The bottle of Rubis gleaming at me from my own small liquor cabinet in the other room.

 

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daniel

Daniel Young is a reader, writer, editor, and software developer. He has had short stories and flash fiction published by Hello Mr. Magazine, Mascara Literary Review, Bukker Tillibul, Seizure, Cuttings Journal, Verity La, Bide Magazine, The Suburban Review, and antiTHESIS journal. He is the founder and editor of Tincture Journal. You can find him on Twitter @jazir1979.

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