summary: Is there no place we can meet?
1466 words, rated pg-15, written as a birthday gift for the toma to my pi. :)
Gilbert eats his lunch on the balcony overlooking the rose garden every Saturday, hunched over like a rabbit and stamping his feet on the spot where he can hear the whistles of the highway underpass flip the switch underneath his ears. It's supposed to be one of those shitastic places where he can integrate trigonometric equations in his head whilst contemplating the meaning of life, but mostly it just depresses him and makes the coffee simmer at a slower temperature. Either way there's this totally fantastic Pepsi vending machine next to one of the doors, and he talks to it about his personal life and occasionally (when it feels charitable) the Pepsi machine gifts him with a rusty response; it's a given that both of them are always arbitrarily out-of-order.
He has a ham sandwich. On Saturdays, it's always a generous slice of smoked-applewood from the butcher and a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese, slicked with mayonnaise and snug between two slices of white bread. On Saturdays, it's always a quiet sort of ham sandwich, wrapped in its quiet saran wrap and double-bagged in a quiet ziploc and then packaged tight between a quiet banana and a barely-audible orange.
His handphone rings. The vending machine sighs and tells him that Eminem is kind of old and that Mac Miller is so fucking in, so Gilbert promises that he'll change his ringtone by tomorrow. He knows that he'll probably forget when it's 11:45 pm but he promises anyway, taking a bite out of his sandwich.
"Do you happen to have any extra paperclips?"
"...Y'know you could say hello back. Or something else that resembles amicability."
"Oh I mean, yes, hello mister manager I hope you're enjoying your lunch on the roof gosh don't I wish I could join you," says The Other Side, exasperation barely concealed under the tin roof, "Listen, do you happen to have any extra paperclips?"
(He can hear Roderich rolling his eyes.)
"I'm sorry I really don't, dude."
"But you do," The Other Side insists, "I saw you with a box of them earlier today."
"Those were for Natalia."
"Natalia had them returned to you after the first five minutes. She said it had dirty germs and she even made Arthur wash the lid and he grumbled all the way into the washroom. I heard him. The entire department heard him."
"You know if you really believe that I've got the paperclips, then you could just dig through my drawers yourself. I mean, you seem pretty convinced that they're there."
"Your speech patterns are so confusing. That bit of sentence structure just now-it was pretty redundant."
"And no, digging through your drawers would be kind of rude. I wouldn't mind it, to be very honest, but it is still very much inexcusable."
"So when you're telling me that my sentence structure is redundant, that's totally not rude at all."
(He can feel the frustration seeping through the telephone wires.)
"So yeah, no paperclips. I'm serious, dude."
"You always say that," The Other Side says softly. "You're always like this."
"I'm sorry," he says. And then adds, "I guess."
"When are you going to finish that sandwich, anyway? It's been five years."
"Just look for the box. If you think they're there then they're probably there," Gilbert replies, and before The Other Side can respond in its terrifically tedious routine, he presses END CALL and feels pretty slick, if he does say so himself. The vending machine is too stuck on the literary conceit to make a proper comment, but he forgives it.
The highway underpass is shaking and somebody's little boy is lost in the rose garden. He's smelling the white roses and passing the time skipping around on metaphorical hopscotch and looking very much like a miniature Alice in Wonderland to Gilbert, fifteen floors above and munching on a quiet ham sandwich. Briefly, he kind of recalls that he doesn't have anything to do today. The office where he works is always on top of itself. He is the manager of a small sub-section of telemarketers with terrible British accents and he feels justifiably depraved every time he sets foot into the office, and also maybe just a little bit racist without his fedora.
The vending machine remains vigilant.
His handphone rings again, and this time Rihanna's voice tells him that it's time to change his ringtone.
"I DIDN'T TAKE THE PAPERCLIPS. TELL HIM THAT I DIDN'T TAKE YOUR FUCKING PAPERCLIPS. THEY ARE SO EW GROSS OK," The Other Other Side snarls.
"Whoa there, Miss. No need to raise your voice, really."
"...I wasn't yelling."
"You were too."
"Were too. Are you really going to be petty like this?"
"Was not. Depends on how long you continue to believe that you can tame this shrew, Petruchio."
"Were too. Oh god please let's not Shakespeare anymore seriously are you trying to curse my engagement it's only been seventy-six hours. And sidebar, but I was informed -and by the employee application, no less- that you enjoy leisurely forms of sexual liberation, as well as engaging in polyamorous relationships. So I was thinking, if you're interested..."
"Was not. What wait is this now, WOW ARE YOU EVEN BEING SERIOUS. That is so none of your fucking business, fuck you. Actually no I don't want to fuck you so fuck off. I would rather get hit by a freight train than get fucked by you, sans exaggeration."
"Were too. You are total pain, please remind me why I haven't fired you yet."
"Was not. I have the cleanest record out of this entire dysfunctional department so shut your dirty, germ-infested trap."
"Were too. And what you just said does not even begin to make sense."
"Was not. Should I have been more direct? How about 'go fuck yourself in the ass with a metal pipe'. Do you like that better?"
"Were too. I thought you wanted me to tell Roderich something about the paper clips. And I bet you're the one who wants to get fucked in the ass with a metal pipe..."
"...Was not. You know what I am going to ignore that crude and awful remark about something that is so my personal fucking business and I am going to hang up on you now I pray that you die while suffocated in your own virulent bacteria."
(Sometimes he wonders if you can arbitrarily become out-of-order on life, but then he takes a bite from his sandwich and the noise loses balance underneath his ears and Nostalgia hits him like a freight train with wings and then he's laughing until he's crying and the vending machine is spinning through the air and weaving what appears to be a careful little love song and he's penniless on the streets, with neither a radio to combine the melody nor a metronome to tap out the codes.)
He's nearly finished with his sandwich when it starts to rain. The taps are gentle against the drain pipe and it muffles out the highway underpass. Everything is underwater and his handphone rings one last time.
"Go on, say something," says The Other Other Other Side, and Gilbert sucks in his breath.
"Oh good lord spare me. You were a pretty big douche to Natalia just then, weren't you? She's the only one allowed to use the metal pipe joke. Honestly, Gilbert. You should have known that. If you were here more often. Or at all."
"...Elizaveta, can we meet somewhere?"
"And she's so upset all the time, already. You've really no idea what kind of terrible psychological effect Ivan's got on her. She is honestly a complete emotional wreck right now and you have the balls to call yourself our boss. Do you understand where I'm going with this? What kind of boss only shows up at the office on Saturdays and spends half his time on the roof talking to a vending machine?"
"You're here on Saturdays. I'm waiting. On the roof, come up to the roof."
"Apologize to Natalia."
"Look, you're supposed to side with me! I didn't even do anything that bad. And you're really supposed to side with me. After all, we're-"
"I don't have a plan to marry you today, or any day," The Other Other Other Side says irritably, "I'm completely serious."
"You always say that," he hears himself say, almost desperately. "You're always like this."
"Oh, hush. It's not like you ever gave a real thought toward our relationship."
"We're engaged. That has to count for something."
"And I disagree."
"You disagree? That's it?"
"It's raining in Budapest. Can you hear it?"
thank you for reading! have a ham sandwich, won't you? :)