We’d seen previews of his dancing at the company holiday party, clucking and sliding on the dance floor with his girlfriend, but now, in his cubicle, he gave us a full dose. Kept shouting, “Yes!” Kept kissing the framed picture of his girlfriend. Heads popped over cube walls to see if he was masturbating. It was Tuesday. Kurt in Customer Service had just won 2.3 million dollars on one of the scratch tickets we’d bought.
“Costa Rica, here I come,” he said.
One of us said his name, but it was too late.
He ran off like a terrier unleashed in a peanut butter factory. We heard him “whooo!”ing his way through the cube farm, high-fives for passersby. When he came back from Accounting he let us know he’d grabbed a boob (concerning because it was just Fred Howton back there processing paychecks). We should’ve said something, but that look on his face: exotic joy—beautiful and endangered, a cheetah lounging in the break room. And his body, loose and unclenched, like we’d rented a power washer and blasted clumps of anxiety off him. How he’d looked on his first day. Someone said his name again. How long had we been saying a person’s name, just hoping that would be enough to clear up confusion? To make them understand? Then Kurt undid his belt.
He dropped his khakis, asked the two interns to help him get a seat on the Xerox machine. Five-zero, fifty copies, but the printer ran out of paper at twenty-nine. Then he trotted a victory lap: gratitude for most, harsh words for a few and a lucky twenty-nine of us received a copy of his butt and junk. The whole thing became a too-common scene, a scene which we’d produced, but instead of intervening when the actors went off script, we merely sat in the audience with indifference that had fangs. Silver lining: we could, and would, retrofit the scene, remove ourselves from the wrong side of history and add some explosions so it could later defeat the terrorist organization of, “How was your day?”
Kurt quit. And then the elevator swallowed him and took him down.
We’d chosen Kurt because he was younger—no risk of a heart attack—and we thought he’d be a good sport. Hard to say which sport we were playing now as someone tacked a photocopy of his penis to the Sales Goal thermometer.
We watched him pull out of the lot, heard celebratory bass quaking from his car. His Customer Service partner-in-paperwork came through, complaining about his new double workload. Some said Kurt should keep working. Others wanted money back from long-ago lunch runs he’d never made good on. Someone had an uncle who won eighty grand in a Mexican lotería and six months later he was living under a bridge’s armpit. He had decisions to make. People were envious.
But this was all assuming the lottery scratch ticket we’d bought for Kurt was real. It wasn’t. Just a gag gift we’d found online. You could buy them in bulk, a hundred for twenty bucks. That was the first one in the stack.
We were bored at work, but that had seeped into our homes. And we all understood, on some level, that we’d be dead in thirty to forty years, but there we were: cussing at vendors, strangers, for shipping us two backdrops for the tradeshow when we were pretty goddamn sure we’d ordered three (we hadn’t); participating in Bake-Offs and taking credit for things our spouses or the grocery store had prepared, all so we could win a t-shirt ruined by the company logo; spending more quality time with someone we called Bossman than someone we called wife or daughter or dementia-webbed father. When Maritsa in Creative Services passed away, we named one of the conference rooms after her. The smaller one. The one where people got fired.
It was awful. And there seemed to be no way out of it. So we tried to distract ourselves.
That night someone finally called to tell him, but he’d already figured it out, tried to redeem it at a gas station and left with Pringles in his hand and cashier laughter in his ears.
A few weeks later we heard he moved to Costa Rica anyway with his girlfriend. He worked at a surf shop right on the beach and she gave walking tours of the rainforest.
Kurt owned a professional camera and the pictures he shot across social media took more breath away than our smoke breaks. Damn, we whispered to shots of frogs and flowers, surfers and cervezas, the beach cradled between mountains like a hammock.
HR was all over it, said Kurt had been a victim. Strange, to feel jealous of a victim. After consulting with Legal, they emailed him and explained he could come back due to the “false circumstances surrounding his departure.” They offered money, real money, to prevent a lawsuit.
They signed off with, “Sincerely, Your Family at Bortz & Associates.”
Every Tuesday, part of the Family scratches off a few more tickets from the stack to see what it felt like. What it feels like.
That’s hard to say.
He hasn’t emailed us back yet.
Patrick Walczy writes, avoids confrontation, and bakes his own croutons in North Carolina. His short stories have been nominated for the Eldge Manberry Award, which he made up after an especially large Choco-Tini. His novels have been hailed as “pretty good, but why so many sex scenes?” by his mom. He tweets over here, y’all: @PatrickWalczy.