We call Judy “Fun Sized” because of her height. None of us has ever taken a tape measure to her, but Jimbo’s guess is no more than four foot eleven, probably just as wide. None of us would ever fuck her, but we all agree she’s a riot. Like yesterday, she comes into work with these little raised, red scratches all over both her arms.
What happened to your arms, Judy? we ask her during a smoke break, Pall Malls burning down between our fingers.
Judy shakes her head sadly. She winces as if even that hurts. Then she tells us how she got so drunk last night that she decided she’d try to get her dog and cat to make friends. She was lying on her living-room carpet, listening to Jimmy Buffett sing “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” thinking there was just so much hate in the world, not enough understanding. So she picked up her worm-infested Persian and put him next to her senile Airedale. That’s when, she says, the Persian went batshit crazy on her.
Shit, Judy, we say. That must’ve hurt.
Yeah, Judy says. Well, no. Not really. Actually, she says, she doesn’t remember much of it. Must have passed out.
We watch her shake her Margaritaville lighter, then spark it up to no avail.
Judy’s got something of a drinking problem. We all do. You would too if you worked where we work, if you did what we do. We won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, we operate in a windowless room, a dark, low-ceilinged space filled with cubicles and ashen faces lit by screens that make us look like the living dead. No plant lives here. One time, Judy, God bless her, brought in this little cactus that looked like a shrivelled prick. It died almost immediately. We would all go home and kill ourselves now except that we have plans, little ropes of hope we still cling to. Maybe we’ll write an e-book on conspiracy theories or a history of bad opinions. Maybe we’ll build a viral personality or an app that preys on our worst fears. Maybe we’ll wander far enough into the nearby red desert to be abducted by aliens. Judy thinks these are great ideas, thinks we have talent. We have outlines for the e-book. We’ve written excerpts on bar napkins, those nights when the words flow and flow out of us like so much bile. We have given these excerpts to Judy to proofread, and she reads our hearts’ blood with unfailing attention, swaying slightly, holding the bar napkin very close to her face. Holy shit, Judy says, you’re brilliant. You could be big, she says. You could be huge. When Judy says we could be huge, she opens her scratched-up, fun-sized arms wide to indicate how huge she means. And though the space she encircles is actually quite small, we see how big she means to mean. She means bigger than the world, than a child’s idea of outer space. She cranes her neck up to look at us like we are Mount Everest, a rocky snow-capped peak encircled in an awe-inspiring fog.
Judy has to ride TRAX into work now. Has to. No choice. She got hit with a DUI a few weeks ago driving the whole of our IT department home from the Dead Goat. All of us piled on top of one another in the backseat, Jimbo and IKEA Jesus hanging out the back windows screaming like Tasmanian devils, while Judy sat hunched over the wheel up front, trying to teach us her Buffett love by cranking selected tracks from Son of a Son of a Sailor. Which more or less fell on deaf ears. We feel bad about all that, Judy. We really do.
Don’t! Judy says. Please don’t. These things happen, she says fervently. They really do.
We nod. They do, it’s true. Mainly, though, these things seem to happen to Judy. Not that she doesn’t help things along. At the time, from what we recollect of watching the world whoosh darkly by through her cracked back window, Judy was speeding through what appeared to be — and what the cop later informed her was, in fact — a residential area. Going something like forty miles an hour down a twenty-five-mile-an-hour road.
Judy! What were you thinking?
I don’t know, Judy says. She means it. It’s one of the reasons we love her. She never knows what she’s thinking.
Did we mention Judy is utterly unfuckable? There’s her adult-onset acne. There’s how, when she hangs her head, a disconcerting amount of scalp shows. And yet we often find ourselves looking at her over the top of our double screens, at where she sits kitty-corner from us. We look at Judy looking worriedly at her own screen, which is probably blank except for a blinking cursor. The light on her face brings out the smoking creases around her eyes, the blood in the whites, the grated texture of her skin, its sheen of pure panic. She isn’t exactly the best of programmers. She used to come and ask us for help sometimes. She’d wobble over in her too-high heels toward our cluster of workstations lit up by dying lava lamps, to where we sat in our mid-back chairs surrounded by Jesus Christ action figures and flat Big Gulps, our headphones filling our ears with a music composed mainly of loops, pretending like we didn’t see her, we didn’t see her, until she’d ahem. And even then, we kept our eyes on our split screens until she was forced to reach up on her tiptoes and tap one of us on the shoulder.
Psst. Hey. Sorry. But how do you . . . ?
We tried to be nice about it at first, but that just encouraged her, so finally we had to tell her to sort of buzz off, we had work to do. We smiled as we watched her teeter away, sit back at her desk looking even more confused. We could do this job in our sleep, with our hands tied behind our backs, coding only with our noses. Our job does not make use of our talents. Did we mention we could do this in our sleep? We often do, dreaming of lines of code like hands strangling us. Still, we sometimes run into snares, and when we do, it helps to observe Judy, who often looks trapped behind her computer, like a mouse under a large-pawed predator.
Sometimes, at the end of a long day, one of us will hang Judy’s coat high up on the coat rack and kill a quarter of an hour watching her jump and jump to reach for it. This never gets old.
There is no Happy Hour in our state, where the drinking laws are so stringent. Each afternoon, post-shift, we make do with Fireballs at the Dead Goat. Judy, on the other hand, has a non-ironic love for Long Islands. After her first Long Island, Judy tells us all she’s starting a religion.
It’s going to be called Judyism, Judy says.
When we ask her what its tenets are, she says none. Except one: Everyone needs to be nice to cats. But you can eat as much bacon as you want. And Jimmy Buffett will be sainted for his many miracles.
There have been moments, Long Island–lit moments, when we have seen the hope burning in Judy’s bloodshot eyes like twin tea lights: Take me home and fuck me one of you.
One time, one of us does. Not really one of us, but Brian, our sort of supervisor/project manager of sorts and, ironically, far more picky than we are. He claims to masturbate to the underage girl who works at Toasters, who every day makes his muffuletta wrong, never gives him extra olive salad even though he always asks for extra olive salad. This girl could be a model for face creams for young girls. That said, he also periodically crosses the Utah border to bang overweight prostitutes. Even so, we would never have believed, even for a moment, that he would be the sort to take Judy home, even in a crawling-down-the-street-drunk state — which he’s been in, we were with him. Yet this one night, around Christmas, when we are all feeling extra suicidal, we leave work late for the Dead Goat and find Brian and Judy already there, sort of leaning in together, talking. We don’t think much of it, but then the next thing we know, Brian’s tongue’s down Judy’s throat and Judy’s glasses are pushed half off her face and the moans of her pleasure are ringing through our heads. It’s uncomfortable for some of us. We stare into the dregs of our Disgruntled Elves, trying to continue the conversation, to speak to each other about sports and the end of the world — how we’re preparing for it with batteries and ammo and cans of chili and bags of rice. Even though we never cook it, rice. Why are we stocking up on a staple to which we are indifferent? We talk about how you can feel the shit hitting the fan everywhere — at Costco everyone pushing each other over for a sample, a little paper ramekin of lukewarm pig-hoof stew. What’s up with the world? We’re really asking. We do a quick sideways glance that confirms Brian and Judy are still at it. More so than before. Something unseemly, truly dirty, not witnessable, in this moment. We pretend they’re not in eyesight, that we don’t see them staggering out the door of the bar.
Those of us with wives must inevitably go home to them. Those of us without wives go home to something else. Cats. Undusted surfaces. Spaces unbalanced by ch’i, unpunctuated by Buddha statues. Those of us without wives are lucky in some ways. They don’t have to lie in the dark beside a woman, stomach lining on fire from Disgruntled Elf, staring at the blades and bones in her back, which appear to form a glare in the moonlight. They don’t have to hear the hammering of their own hearts in their ears while the digital clock slowly ticks off the hours. They don’t have to look into this glare and think, by contrast, of Judy smiling her slightly lopsided smile, baring her badly-in-need-of-a-dentist teeth. Baring them even when she gets DUIs on our behalf, even when she tells us how once she nearly set fire to her cat. She didn’t mean to set fire to her cat, she said, he just looked cold. She’s sweet like that. If you’re cold, Judy won’t hesitate to take a lighter to you. Would this deeply disappointed woman with her back turned do that?
Probably a few of us are lying awake, wondering what Judy and Brian are doing right now. Thinking of them drunk in Judy’s apartment. Judy stumbling nearly sideways through her own corridors as though she were on a storm-tossed ship, putting her hands out in front of her like she’s blind, which, judging by her glasses, she very nearly is. Brian stumbling somewhere close behind, smiling at Judy ahead of him in the dark hallway. He’d be the one to turn out the light. We think of them crashing onto Judy’s sheets, which we imagine, for some reason, to be patterned with small pineapples. Surrounded by Jimmy Buffett posters plastered crooked to the wall with little bits of tape. All those Jimmys watching this unwatchable union. Maybe her Persian and Airedale watching it too. We do not try to picture it. Where Judy and Brian lie in our minds, there is only a blank blazing space.
Judy’s in love. Or so she tells us over cigarettes and gut-rot Colombian in the break room the next morning. The sight of Judy in love is disconcerting. The flush to her otherwise greying cheek. Her eyes with this glaze to them, like doughnuts, looking past us at something fuzzy and far away that we can’t see.
Apparently Judy blew him. Or he blew her. She can’t remember exactly who got blown. Might have been both of them. Definitely someone did, because one of them came. She’s pretty sure that was her because, in her words, she woke up sticky. Then one of them cried. A lot. (She’s pretty sure that was him.) And then Brian, she’s certain it was Brian, asked her if she wouldn’t mind holding him for a while.
So what did you do? We ask her.
I held him, of course. He’s really, really lonely. I don’t know if you know the details.
It’s a sad story, actually. But, fuck, she says, what I really wanted was to get laid. What does a girl have to do around here to get laid?
When she says this, she frowns at Brian, who is sitting in the next room at his cubicle, pretending to frown at his screen. He hasn’t joined us for smoke breaks all morning. Kept to his desk and the water cooler.
She shows us the text she’s just sent him: I’d like to get under that desk and make your toes curl.
We explain to Judy that while men do enjoy some of that, they also don’t enjoy too much of it.
Judy looks up at us — her hair’s still dishevelled from the night before. She’s got flecks of black mascara dust under her eyes. Suddenly we feel inexcusably tall. A fog-encircled peak she isn’t so sure she wants to climb anymore. We slouch a little, smile.
She shakes her head, lights a cigarette, accidentally setting fire to a stray grey hair, which sizzles. We breathe in, along with the inherently dirty air and our own smoke, the smell of Judy’s burning hair.
Judy’s getting laid off. Probably Brian’s doing, although to be honest we saw it coming for a while. As we’ve mentioned, she’s less than competent at her job. We’re not even sure she has a computer-science degree. Or that she even finished high school, for that matter. The way she would come to us, asking us basic programming questions in a wide, shifty-eyed panic. It would be on the tips of our tongues to say, Shit, shouldn’t you know this, Judy?
Still, we know the real reason for her getting canned is Brian, who can’t bear the idea that everyone knows he not only fucked Judy but went fetal and cried in her fun-sized arms.
We want to have a goodbye party for Judy on her last day, which happens to fall on her birthday. It doesn’t happen. We even talked about it among ourselves on private smoke breaks. How we ought to have a party. Maybe balloons. A Jimmy Buffett playlist? At the very least, we ought to get her a cake, one that says Bye Judy and Happy Birthday. Or Happy Birthday Judy and Good Luck? Or Goodbye Judy and Good Luck? Anyway, something written on it in pink icing. But we could never get that coordinated. Could never get it straight which one of us — Jimbo or IKEA Jesus — was supposed to call the bakery. If it was Hot Pocket or Cracker who was going to bring balloons.
Feeling bad about how there’s no cake, we get a Whatchamacallit from the vending machine and, during a smoke break on her last day, we offer it to Judy.
Thanks, she says. As she stands there chewing, we tell her how we were going to get her this cake. How if it had been up to us, it would have been a great big cake that said Happy Birthday Judy and Good Luck in pink icing. Or Bye Judy and Good Luck. Anyway, icing. With many tiers. We build the cake in the air with our hands, until it’s there in the air before us. Lit and blazing for Judy and Judy’s staring up at it.
Really? she says softly.
Her chin quivers as she gazes up at the air cake we made her. Tears well in her eyes. It is so beautiful. Tears begin to well in our eyes too.
At the Dead Goat, we offer to buy Judy a drink. Whatever she wants. Whatever you want, Judy! And does anyone here have any Jimmy Buffett on CD? How about on tape, we ask a passing bar-back. The bar-back doesn’t know. Oh, well. We asked, at least, is the face we make to Judy, who smiles sadly, nods appreciatively. She is too sad to speak. It’s a bit of a downer, really. Cheer up, Judy! We need Judy to cheer up. Tell us a story about her cat. Light a cigarette that lights her hair on fire. Watch her beat uselessly at the sizzle. Tell us how she stalked Jimmy Buffett that one time in Vegas. Tell us all about Judyism. What are its tenets again?
Judy just sits there. She says she doesn’t remember its tenets. She stares down at the bar, into her own empty glass. She says to tell her again about the cake.
We tell her again about the cake.
One corner of her mouth begins to jerk downward in spite of itself. She cries in an ugly way that reddens her nostrils.
Sorry, she sniffs. It’s just losing her job, then her licence, and her boyfriend (she means Brian) all in one week. It’s just all hitting her sort of hard. She looks up at us with her tea-light eyes.
We put a hand on Judy’s boulder-like shoulder.
We open our mouths to say something more. There is nothing to say. We have had five Fireballs and two Long Islands and even with that much alcohol in us, enough to fell an elk, we will never fuck Judy. This knowledge courses through our blood as surely as the cinnamon whisky that’s killing us. We hang on to this fact like it’s a brick in our hands.
Probably Judy is drunk enough to see the brick, because she lowers her eyes, guesses aloud that it’s getting late.
We walk Judy to the TRAX station, that we are happy to do. We offer to drive her home, but in a way that lets Judy know we’re just trying to be nice. First of all, Judy lives out in Roy, which is suburbs away. Second of all, we’re exhausted. Unlike her, we have to go back to work tomorrow. Another day back to the dark and windowless grind where no plants grow.
Judy knows. She understands. Says that, anyway, she wouldn’t want us to wind up like her. Getting pulled over, arrested, then bailed out at three in the morning by her Mormon niece, who spent the whole drive home quietly praying for her soul.
We tell her she could have called us. We would have bailed her out for sure.
Judy hangs her head. When she does this, we can see where the black dye ends and the blond roots streaked with grey begin. There really is too much scalp showing to be normal. Suddenly we need to be away. Bye, Judy, we say, waving. Good Luck.
We stagger back to our cars, fishtail our way down the I-80, the I-15, the I-40, north and east and west toward our apartment in the suburbs, our one-room studio by the tracks, our weathered bungalow in the valley, our twice-mortgaged condo near the mine. The drive is difficult. It is already night and our blood is mostly whisky. We’ll be lucky if we make it home alive, let alone not arrested. We keep our hot, swollen hands on the wheel and our eyes on the swimming dark. Loosen our ties. Sing softly under our breath. Songs we hate. We don’t want to sing, we refuse to sing, we really don’t wish to sing this song so trite and terrible, but it’s what’s playing and the tired words are in our throats, are on our tongues, are blooming forth from our cracked lips in spite of us. Think of the ropes of hope, the ropes of hope. We could be big. We could be huge, remember? Remember somewhere out there in the big black night is Judy. Probably still on TRAX, or maybe she’s walking now from the station to the bus stop that marks her final leg home. Or maybe she’ll walk all the way home. Sometimes she won’t take the bus if she ate Alberto’s for lunch or is just feeling like a fat ass in general. Probably she took the bus tonight, but what we picture is Judy walking. Quick steps, slanted, like the Earth is more tilted than it really is, eyes on the sidewalk full of cracks snaking like rivers in maps, her shoulder bag weighing her little round body down on one side, Jimmy Buffett blaring in her ears. “Margaritaville,” or maybe “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” Singing softly along and off-key. Fun-sized Judy walking in the dark under a high, cold moon toward oblivion. A little out of breath, like we are, just sitting here, just lying here, just drowning here, behind the wheel.
This appeared in the July/August 2016 issue.