Lunch Buddies: Happy Hour, pt 2

I’ve long thought that our society has been starved for physical contact. You know? Humans are social animals, regardless of our size disparities, and we all come from a place where we used to huddle together for warmth, used to crowd together out of defensiveness, and I don’t even need to talk about cuddling and fucking. So why did we shame casual physical contact? Now we’ve got bros, for example, making ridiculous social rituals that give them an excuse to tussle and grapple and touch each other, with the thinnest of protections against women who want to attribute this basic need to a form of sexuality they don’t possess, and then fetishize it on top of everything else. How do you think that makes the gays feel, to have their lifestyle co-opted for women’s titillation? Society run outta control, I tell ya.

But I’m getting off track. What I meant to say was that we’re wired for physical contact, and we’ve constructed and supported a society that stigmatizes that. And now, among other things, we’re missing out on a world of information that we used to enjoy. For instance, if you looked at Ms. Tana Hands, long and lanky, face looking like it’s gonna explode from delight at any given moment, you couldn’t guess that her hands are freezing. You couldn’t guess she’s got poor circulation, she doesn’t dress like it. Maybe if you knew she smokes, you might make a reasonable hypothesis, but she doesn’t look like she’s cold all day long, even in summer. You wouldn’t know this until you, say, shook her hand. Then you’d be all, wow, cold and clammy! And the temperature of the room would come to mind, you’d wonder if the AC were cranked too high, or maybe she’s sitting at her desk too long and her blood doesn’t move around well. In fact, she’s quite active, she takes the stairs whenever she can, but she also keeps a hot mug of tea by her keyboard to warm up her palms.

You’d also discover how cold her hands are when she pulls you out of her nice, warm underwear and clutches you entirely in her fist. Yes, as her index finger wraps around your head and her pasty palm slowly leeches your core temperature right through your clothes, then abruptly your mind is fulla “gosh, Ms. Hands, you’re freezing.” Because you are too, now.

Tana waved me in her fist, her long arm sweeping scythe-like through the air, as she hailed a group of our coworkers. “Oh, yoo-hoo! Look who I found!” she cried out, presenting me in the style and manner of a house tabby dumping a felt mouse toy at her owner’s feet. In this case, dumping me into the center of a heavily shellacked, dark wood table in the tastefully underlit dining area of River House Tavern. Dumping me within arm’s reach of data entrants, project managers, systems analysts, and if they’re close enough to reach me, they’re close enough to see how rumpled my work suit is now, after riding around in Tana’s underwear.

I don’t know if they know that part, how I got here. I’m sure they suspect she kept me stashed somewhere on her person, in line with the poorly kept secret of our habits, apparently. I glanced around at the company, waving and putting on a brave face. The women looked like they hoped I‌ was riding along in her coat pocket; the men leered, thinking about me jammed into a bra cup or, yeah, cradled in her panties. Only then, in that moment, does it occur to me to wonder whether Tana actually bothered to pull all her pubic hairs off of me. That would be her style, to leave one on as a daring marker, just to hint in her clumsy, ham-fisted way that something’s naughty’s afoot.

“How’s it going, Arch?” “Hey, Archie, glad you could make it.” “Waitress’ll be back in a minute, Archie. You can have some of my beer if you like.” I was grateful for the kindness of these coworkers, welcoming me and getting the night started on a kindly note. I made a joke about bumming a cigarette, and one of the tech guys pulled one out of his pack and held it up next to me. Obviously it was a little longer than I am tall, so I asked him to tear off the filter and they laughed politely.

“I don’t know where he came from,” blurted Tana. “I guess he was hiding on me somewhere!” She was bouncing by the edge of the table, not getting enough attention.

One of the women said, “Why don’t you have a seat, dear? We’ll make room for you.” A man sprang up to haul a heavy, barrel-shaped chair from another table, and she folded herself gracefully into it.

“I mean, he could’ve been in a glove, or maybe one of my pockets.” She patted herself down and laughed. “Gotta make sure there aren’t any more in there!”

“Yes, that could be a problem,” said the woman, and a man leaned in to ask about a recent sports event, which other people were willing to join in on.

Tana looked around from face to face, her brow furrowed. “Because he’s so small, you know. I really don’t have any pockets on my pants, so there aren’t that many places he could’ve hidden  himself.”

“Yeah, women’s clothes don’t have useful pockets,” one woman said, and another pounced on that: “I know! It’s infuriating! I got this cute summer dress and it’s got the seams for pockets, but they’re just decorative!” “Seriously, the only reason I’m dating someone now,”‌ said a third, “is so I can have someone to carry my shit with me when we go to shows.” They all laughed at that. I wished to Goddess I could remember who this funny lady was. I couldn’t even place her face, but obviously we’ve worked together, haven’t we? I’m really out of touch with my own department, and I feel bad about that.

Tana’s jaw worked a couple times before she finally cried, “He was hiding in my—”

“Looks like we got some new people,” said a waiter, with her special talent for stomping all over any conversation. “Can I get some drinks started for you?”

And with that, we were off to the races. The women did a round of Mojitos, while the guys showed each other what IPAs they were drinking. Tana kept trying to feed me droplets of her drink through a swizzle straw, but I knew what her game was: I grabbed hold of the end of the straw and approached it from the side, rather than drinking it straight on. Sure enough, as soon as I started lapping at the droplet at the end of the straw, she laughed and lifted her finger from the other end, releasing the fluid to come pouring out on the table. She’d been hoping to get it all over my suit, see, because that’s the limit to her sense of humor, but if she doesn’t remember what happened last time we tried this, I still do. At least I got a drink out of it this time.

Someone started a conversation about movies and everyone seemed to get into that, until the women wanted to talk about their favorite actors, which made the guys start speaking louder and announcing their opinions. The group split once again, with the women talking about TV series they were into.

Tana followed along with the TV conversation, though she prefers reality TV. She told me about this season of The Bachelorette, where the woman was lying beside the pool and a dozen Anthropoles in swim trunks crowded around her, massaging different parts of her body, and she had to decide who was doing the best job. “Doesn’t that sound like fu-u-u-un?” she brayed at me, her eyebrows bouncing around like bucking broncos. I‌ imagined the camera guys had a field day with that one, zooming in on this guy or that one, doing extreme close-ups on her body, and I wondered what The Bachelorette was doing to heighten Normie fetishization of my kinda people. This society, I tell you.

Somehow the men started talking about their kids. Probably linked by movies they were no longer allowed to see? But they were into their kids, and they started one-upping each other about how great their boys were. Boys, I gotta say, because I‌ know this manager who’s got a daughter and he can’t compete with them. They’re all getting their boys into sports, and he just enjoys reading to his little girl. She’s reading to him, now, as I understand it, but they’re not impressed with that. After about a half hour of this he called it a night and threw down some money for appetizers.

I waved at his back and wished him a good night, but Tana took another swing at me. She’d furnished me with a cocktail sword, so I had to defend myself from her assault with a bendy straw. “Swoosh! Swoosh!” she said, every time she swiped at me. Took all my strength to parry her straw and haul it over my head, out of harm’s way. Her long teeth glinted in the candlelight of the tavern’s atmospheric table lighting, but she never let up. I wanted to talk with the women about Quirky Kind, as I was a big fan of this Korean show, but any time I stepped around a wine glass or highball to break into the conversation, Goddess-damned Tana would knock out my knees and leave me sprawling on a cocktail napkin.

“You let your guard down, little man! You’re not very good at this! He’s not very good at this,” she’d confide in anyone nearby. They’d nod and raise an eyebrow at me and I’d wave off their concern, grudgingly returning to battle. “You’re getting a little sluggish there, Archie. You need another drink?” She was transparent in her motives, but I still took another drink. It made me worse at fighting, but I was getting so thirsty. It got to the point where the sword was too heavy, my arms were burning, and I‌ just tossed the stupid thing aside. Tana cackled and stabbed me full in the chest with her straw, knocking me on my ass.

“Tana!” The women looked up at her sharply. “Why don’t you quit picking on poor Archie?”

I tried to roll over and thank my savior, but Tana was quicker. Her long arm snaked through the glasses and cans, and she plucked me up by the collar of my blazer. “Aw, he’s all right. Anyway, he started it so I had to finish it. Isn’t that right, ladies?” She grinned at them like a sick dog as she crossed her legs and placed me on her thigh, face down, not far from her kneecap.

I tried to roll over and thank my savior, but Tana was quicker. Her long arm snaked through the glasses and cans, and she plucked me up by the collar of my blazer. “Aw, he’s all right. Anyway, he started it so I had to finish it. Isn’t that right, ladies?” She grinned at them like a sick dog as she crossed her legs and placed me on her thigh, face down, not far from her kneecap.

A couple of the women regarded the gesture with surprise, eyelashes fluttering, then looked at each other. Tana’s huge fingertips kneaded into my back and shoulders, shoving me roughly up her leg, and then she’d tug me back down into place. “What?” she asked the women defiantly.

And that’s when the party began to break up. I noticed that the men had devolved into talking about work stuff, and when they realized it too, they broke up and opted to begin their actual weekend. They congratulated each other, men and women, on a job well done, “and now let’s get the hell out of here and sleep for a day or two,” one of them announced to great reception.

Tana’s heavy fingertips rested, filling the space between my ribs and pelvis. It wasn’t comfortable. “Where’s everyone going?” she wanted to know. “Happy hour doesn’t literally mean one hour!” That was pretty good, coming from her. But our coworkers mumbled stuff about taking kids to volleyball or soccer games, having to clean out the garage, relatives visiting, lots of stuff like that. Really blowing their wad for excuses all at once, here.

“You just enjoy your little man, there,” the funny woman said. I‌ cranked my neck around to glare at her. What if I wanted to get along and go home, too? Who was gonna rescue me? Not the comedian, apparently.

Tana twisted herself around in her seat, watching the last of them slip on their coats and drift out of the tavern lobby. “Yeah, well, maybe I will!” she called out after them, when the oak double-doors finally closed on their own. She turned to me and smirked. “What a bunch of prudes, huh?‌ Goddess! I‌ hope we never get that old. Go feed your cats!” she shouted over her shoulder. Some of the other tables glanced up at us, but she didn’t seem to notice. She pinched me around the waist and stood me up on the table once more. “Come on, buddy, it’s you and me now! Drink up!” She dunked the swizzle straw in someone’s margarita and brandished it around my head.

I shoved it aside and said I’d already had too much. “What’s the deal, Arch? It’s not like you gotta drive home or anything. It’s happy hour, isn’t it? Let’s drink up as long as the fat cats are paying for it!” She cackled and poked the straw at me some more.

“They closed out the tab when everyone left, Tana. Bosses aren’t picking up any more drinks.” I tried to make meaningful eye contact with the waiter when she showed up to start collecting the cocktail glasses and appetizer plates, but she wasn’t noticing me for whatever reason.

“Aw, phooey! Hey! Hey, you, get away from those!” Tana swiped at the waiter’s slender arm as she reached for a couple Mojito highballs. “Actually, you can bring them down here. Yeah, bring ’em all down, even the ones at the far end! I’m part Russian! It’s bad luck to leave drinks un-drunk, don’t you know that?”

The waiter raised her eyebrows at Tana but obeyed nonetheless: soon I was standing in a dense forest of glassware (Tana permitted her to clear away the beer bottles and cans). Many of them held cubed icebergs in pools of water, but quite a few still had half a drink in them, cylinders of colored liquid upon which those fat red candles in plastic webbing reflected. Who started that? Why are those a restaurant tradition? What were they supposed to represent, back in the day?

“Ha ha, look at you! Lost in a forest of drinks!” Tana lowered her head to the table, resting her chin on her forearms and grinned at me. “You gotta help me with some of these, Archie. If I drink them all, I won’t be fit to drive.”

“But you didn’t drive. You took the company shuttle here.”

Her eyes grew wide. “Oh, shit,” she said, turning to gawk at the lobby, then resuming her position before me. “Oh well! It really is just you and me now, killing the night. You wanna close the place?”

I stared at her from among the glassware, mixed feelings swirling inside me. On the one hand, this was a big, goofy, dangerous woman in the best of times, but now she was getting drunk. If she didn’t know when to quit with a clear head, what was likely to happen tonight?

On the other hand, I‌ saw the wrinkles in the corners of her eyes when she smiled. I saw the way her lips twitched slightly when she grinned too hard. I‌ noticed how she never checked the time and talked over anyone checking their watch or phone. I‌ watched her eyebrows lift suggestively, hopefully, a little desperately. Maybe it really was just me and her, at the end of the day. I‌ didn’t know what kind of friends she had in the office, if any. Maybe they just saw her as the weirdo who fucked tiny men, or chased them unsuccessfully.

I‌ waved at her hand, the one that bent the swizzle straw between her middle and ring fingers. Her eyes lit up and she brought it over to me, holding it remarkably still while I‌ clutched it with both hands and drank down every drop. She applauded when I‌ bowed to her. “That’s my man,”‌ she said, licking her teeth. “How’d you like to feed me a little snack?”

I stepped out of the glasses, hoping against hope to flag down a waiter, but Tana had other things in mind. Apparently one of the data entrants only wanted maraschino cherries, because there was a small snifter with a dozen of them piled stickily within. A glance at her told me she expected me to do the heavy lifting. Well, fine: I took a short running leap, hooked the rim of the snifter and toppled it backward, dancing out of its way as it fell with a clunk. “Yay,” she whispered, beaming at me. I took a step inside and grabbed the nearest cherry, hefting it like a basketball, and looked up at her.

Those rows of long, white teeth parted and her jaw grew wider and wider until I‌ was staring down a cavern I could’ve driven a car into. I screwed up my face in concentration, patted the cherry a couple times, then drew back and hurled it in a long arc. It bounced on her wide tongue, which twitched in surprise, and rolled to rest against her canine. She reared and mashed it up messily, smiling her idiot face off. “Yay! You did it! Oh, but I’m still hungry. What else you got?”

I had more cherries, a-doy. I lobbed one and it bounced off her bottom lip; she laughed, licking it off, while I ran for it. I tossed two in her mouth, one after the other, and she clapped at my accomplishment. I‌ threw two more in, and she didn’t bother lifting her head to eat these: her skull bobbed violently as her jaw rested on her arms, chewing the candied fruit into shreds. This was a show for me, and I‌ was an attentive audience. “Goddess,”‌ I muttered, watching those large molars come down and pulverize the bright red flesh. Sticky juices glittered between her teeth, trickling over her gums, overflowing into a garish rivulet down her fat bottom lip and chin. It took no stretch of the imagination to liken this to something close to home for me. To drive the point home, Tana was laughing to herself, gnashing her teeth mere inches away from my fragile hand, my tender arm, my delicate skull. Every time her teeth came down, my muscles screamed with the instinct to leap back, duck through the glasses, and sprint to put as much distance between us as possible.

I didn’t, obviously. I stood there like a deer in the headlights, watching this ridiculous, out-of-control woman laughing and chewing messily right in front of me. If people stared, I didn’t notice. I‌ was enraptured by her flaring nostrils, rising and falling above me, catching glimpses of her fat uvula squirming in the back of her throat, watching the saliva pool around the bed of her tongue and behind her lip. I swayed on my feet, growing dizzy with the strange, inexplicable desire to crawl inside and get the cherry’s treatment. You know, like vertigo, that moment when you stop pushing back from the ledge and you have to white-knuckle the handrail as your body tenses with the urge to throw yourself over. I‌ swayed, and my body lurched, and I‌ nearly stepped forward to catch myself.

“One more!” Tana chirped. “One more!”

Cloudy-headed, I turned obediently to retrieve another cherry. I drew back and threw it as hard and fast as I could, right into the center of her maw. I‌ watched it sail over her tongue and strike her uvula, tumbling straight down into the pit of darkness. “Oh, sorry,” I muttered in the half-second before her throat seized. Tana’s eyes clenched shut, her jaws slammed shut, and one hand flew to her throat. “Shit! Shit!” I looked around me for anything I could grab, either to pry her jaws open or to punch an airhole through her trachea, I‌ guess. I wasn’t thinking clearly. What if I pried her open? Could I really crawl down her throat and get the cherry? Was that possible?

Before I could do anything, her mouth gaped open and she coughed, twice, hard. I literally watched the cherry fly out of her throat on the first cough and disappear behind her uvula, nearly lodging in her sinuses. It fell back down and, at the second cough, launched out of her mouth like a cannonball. I caught it dead in my chest and it knocked me against a rocks glass.

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