Days after the winter solstice, the sunset hour had begun its slow retreat further and further into the evening, soon to give way to days longer than nights and morning drives to work accompanied by warm sunlight. For the time being, the air was still crisp outside, frost glistened on the lawns of the detached houses and Ken nursed a hangover on the sofa. More accurately, he nursed a series of hangovers that had been compiled and consolidated into one super hangover which taught him the true cost of ‘Christmas Pints’, the age-old tradition of spending too much money and drinking too much beer, all in the name of Jesus Christ our lord. With seven days in a row of ‘Just one or two drinks’ becoming ‘just five or six drinks’, Ken was wondering if he had really spent his time off work well. He intended to use his vacation for a well needed bit of rest. Rest from the nagging clients, the pushy management and his agonising infatuation with Eileen.

Eileen, the only woman in his department. A beautiful, fair haired woman with boundless enthusiasm and a gifted ability for sending Ken mixed messages. He had wrestled with a terrifying urge to ask her out for the better part of a year, always dissuaded from doing so by some minute signal he was certainly uncertain she meant to send, which either signified she was not interested or was deeply in love with him. It was never quite clear. He needed to get away from it. So, he found himself too hungover and miserable to spend his New Year’s Eve doing anything but watching bad television. That and The Decafeast, of course.

The Decafeast was a shameful, impressive venture, embarked upon by Ken every New Year. It was an almost masochistic ritual in which he attempted to gorge himself on the full content of his fridge’s Christmas leftovers before they went fowl. Every year he would assemble every food item he had onto the living room table and every year he would fail to consume it in its entirety. Usually falling victim to the soured cream of the chocolate profiteroles with crippling stomach pain as his gastric organs refused to commit to this folly. But this year, with a particular self-loathing and determination, Ken powered through the profiteroles, he chomped on dry turkey and ate questionable cheese on stale crackers until finally there was nothing. Not even the olives remained, which he bought every year with absolutely no purpose other than this most undignified annual event.

As crippling, seemingly unending cramps began to set in, Ken allowed himself to slip in and out of sleep. Soundtracked by the warbling of his intestines and the inane drone of daytime television. He dozed, a champion waiting for a new year, refreshed with triumph, able to take anything in his path. It must have been 9pm when a violent buzzing from the coffee table awoke him and suddenly, he found himself on the phone to Pethers, a colleague and bad influence. Semi-conscious, Ken let the words wash over him ineffectually. Sounded like Pethers wanted Ken to go to some club for New Year’s, but there was no chance that was happening. He was an instant away from ending the call when four words sprang him from his dozing and onto his feet.

“Eileen’s asking for you.” Pethers said persuasively and listened to Ken’s fumbling speechlessness down the line.

“But I can’t go, I’m not well.” Ken moaned and whimpered feebly.

“What’s wrong with you?” Pethers asked, amazed by Ken’s lack of enthusiasm for this rare opportunity at time with Eileen outside the confides of the office. Ken trusted Pethers to be the only person alive to know his secret love for Eileen. Last year, when the office became infested with pigeons, Pethers only told Ken that it was due to him accidentally leaving the mail room window open all weekend. It was a relationship built on assured confidence of the most delicate information.

“I’m hungover, mate.” Ken lied. Nobody could know of The Decafeast, not even Pethers. The Decafeast simply wasn’t acceptable behaviour for a grown adult. Especially considering Eileen was likely to be in close proximity, and to hear tell of such disgraceful practices would be far too damaging for Ken’s credibility. Needless to say, Ken’s excuse was insufficient and within the hour, he was being forced out of the house and into a taxi headed straight for a club called Tribal, where Pethers, Eileen and other New Year revellers were to be exposed to an unforgettable start to the year.

In all fairness, after his long nap, Ken had felt revitalised. His hangover had been quashed and the gentle bullying he received on the phone had filled him with a sense of confidence that tonight would be a resounding success. After all, he managed to defeat The Decafeast. He arrived at Tribal and began waiting in the queue, followed by wading through the few hundred people who danced, jerked and stood awkwardly in all available space.  He found his friends twenty minutes later, after fighting for the bartender’s attention in the name of procuring a drink. Accompanied by a handful of familiar faces, Pethers grabbed Ken as he wandered aimlessly through the masses and after a short greeting, Ken was debriefed.

“She’s mad for you, mate.” Pethers confessed on Eileen’s behalf, “she’s not stopped talking about you since I said you were coming.” A smile spread widely over Ken’s face as the confirmation he had been searching for finally arrived. The end of the mixed messages. Before he could respond or comprehend, Eileen burst through a crowd, as if from nowhere, wrapping her arms around Ken and squeezing him tight.

“Ken! You’re here!” She said with elation as an instant of joy washed away from Ken with a sudden lurch in his abdomen. She was squeezing too tight, summoning the contents of his innards upwards, like bursting a pimple. Conflicted by a great desire for intimacy and a great disdain for throwing up, he resisted no longer and wrenched her arms from around his waist. Eileen stepped aside, shocked by Ken’s aggressive response. There was a stalemate as she waited for his next move and he tried desperately to quash the heaving that was beginning in his diaphragm.

“Do you want a drink?” He offered, with one eye closed and a grimace painted across his face. She hesitantly accepted and headed straight into the throngs of partiers, waiting on Ken to follow suite. All the while, Pethers watched, fully aware that a beast was lurking in the depths of his friend. He threw Ken a look of grave concern, only to receive an unsteady look in response, as if to unassumingly say ‘Chill, it’s not like I’ve just eaten a fridge full of rancid food!’ Ken made one final attempt to regain composure as he marched behind Eileen, pouring his entire drink down his throat in one fell swig. Dutch courage. Aid for his ego and fuel for The Decafeast which was starting a vengeful march to reclaim its title of champion.

They grabbed more drinks and Eileen suggested they split from the others to dance together. There were no more mixed signals. No more uncertainty. She was making it very clear that she wanted to be here with Ken and nobody else. He was clamming up from nerves and gastric distress, exacerbated by his attempts at boogying. Still, the pair spent the evening catching up and dancing joyfully and soon, the midnight hour was looming as Pethers and the rest of the group joined the star-crossed lovers on the dancefloor. The others coupled up and Eileen looked inquisitively, intimately, irresistibly to Ken who tried with every fibre in his being to decline and go home. He downed yet another beer and the pair embraced as the countdown to another year began. She looked up to him with glowing, loving eyes. Two inches from her face, inside his abdomen, a pint of beer slid into a hectic pit of acid and half-digested festive foodstuff, until the final drop assimilated into the disarray. The camel’s back had been broken.

Squirming, writhing and all the while smiling, Ken waited for the final second of the year as every patron in the club counted down finally to one, when Eileen stood on her tiptoes, tightening a warm embrace around Ken. Ever since Eileen joined his department he had waited for this moment. Sleepless nights of battling with his self-confidence to finally ask her out, countless attempts to get any form of validation from her, all for this first and most reverent of kisses. This beautiful, exciting woman had finally chosen him, and they were sure to share in such passion and love from thereafter. Puckering his lips, surrounded by kissing celebrators alike, Ken produced an uninterrupted stream of bile, beer and undigested olives directly into the face of the woman he loved more than any other.

'Auld Lang Syne' was starting to play through the speaker system and a large circle was beginning to form around the pair. Eileen frozen in fear and disgust, and Ken desperately trying to explain himself to bystanders, throwing up huge chunks of rotten food all the while.

“It was something I ate!” He yelled as visible pieces of mince pie flew from his face. “It was leftovers!” Pethers began ushering the vomiting lunatic out of the building. Eileen burst into tears, soon to be consoled by opportunistic men who would soon themselves be enamoured by the wondrous woman.

Back at work, like an old acquaintance, the incident was forgot and never brought to mind. Though no cups of kindness could fix the rift between Ken and his dearest Eileen. He should have known better.

Nobody beats The Decafeast. 

January 03, 2020 17:27

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