Bards & Brews Reader

MATTHEW FOGARTY
Bigfoot’s Overcoat

 

We figured if there’s anyone you could trust with a secret it’d be Bigfoot. He sat in the records room in a corner of the back hall past the copier and we barely ever saw him. He was just one of those guys, five thirty and he’s out the door, nothing left but footprints. Maybe every once in a while, as the elevator doors closed, you’d catch the tail of that ratty old overcoat he wore, but he’d never come to happy hour with the rest of the office and he wasn’t a big talker. I’m not sure we ever heard him say more than the occasional “hello” or “leave it there” or “Mondays, right?” Mostly, he’d just grumble or roar. And that’s why Lisa and I thought we could trust him.

It was just one of those things, her and me. No one else knew about the two of us, and since we got together, we’d worked hard to keep it that way. I joined Nicholson straight out of law school. Lisa started a year later and they put her on the back hall with me and all the other junior associates. We were all working on the same reinsurance settlement, the team billing who knows how many hours, late nights and weekends in the office, while the partners were doing their thing keeping the client satisfied and paying. So she and I would have a drink after work some nights, or sometimes during our short break before heading back to the office.

But until the happy hour two months ago there wasn’t anything more to it. We both stayed later than usual, had a couple more than we meant to, and decided to share a taxi home. We went to her house first, and as she leaned in to hug me goodbye, she turned her head and slid her lips across mine—almost as if by accident—but then a second later her lips came back and we kissed. One of those magic-electric kisses that feels like licking a lightbulb in a hot shower. An all-of-a-sudden thing. We went inside and spent the night like that, the two of us on her couch, kissing. We stopped short of sex. We knew we needed to be careful.

It’s not technically against the rules for two associates to date, but no one who has still works here. Nicholson considers it disruptive and disloyal. And because not many of the associates here love their lives, they tend to get envious if they see others sharing any form of happiness. In a law firm, envy’s a dangerous thing: it turns people into monsters, shifts them from jealous to hostile to political to warlike. Maybe somebody gets upset about something work-related and gets the idea to take one or both of us down. All they’d have to do is mention our relationship to one of the partners, and suddenly we’re getting bad looks, bad assignments, bad bonuses. Soon enough, we’re looking for new jobs.

Plus, there was something so unexpectedly exciting about being together that we wanted to explore it without everybody watching. So, we kept it quiet, and for two months, we’d been going strong.

Except it really weighs on you, keeping a secret like that. You can’t touch. Can’t look each other in the eyes. Can’t buy each other lunch or drinks. You have to see around corners, meet on other sides of the city, kiss in dark alleys. You have to ask the stupid Monday morning questions, like “How was your weekend?”, even when you spent the whole weekend together. You have to have cover stories, cover identities, disguises. The longer we stayed stealth, the more we both needed someone to talk to.

*

Bigfoot started on a Tuesday a month or so ago. Nicholson hired him through a temp agency to fill in for Cheryl, our pregnant records clerk. Her water had burst earlier than planned, and she was gone that Monday, so with no one around to train him, they just sort of locked him up in the records room without any real orientation.

I stopped by on his first day to make him feel welcome. Cheryl collects Pez and he was moving them one by one into a desk drawer. He was about seven feet tall, a hairy stuffed animal, like you’d want to hug him and he’d keep you safe at night. Except his claws were long and he smelled rancid, like a dog that had peed itself and hadn’t ever been dried off. I stood in the doorway and said, “Hi,” and “I’m Pete,” and “Let me know if there’s anything you need.” And he turned and showed me his teeth, said an angry “Hello” and grunted like he was annoyed or bothered, so I kept walking.

We’ve had a lot of temps come through our office. They’re cheaper for Nicholson since the firm doesn’t have to pay benefits and they can fire them anytime they want without anyone really caring. In my experience, temps come in two breeds: crazy and shy. And while they’re all decent at most things, none of them are particularly great at anything.

Bigfoot was one of the shy ones. Most days he’d stay locked up in the records room, wearing his overcoat and that red ‘70s skinny tie he always wore, alone behind the desk with Cheryl’s ergonomic keyboard and a stinky forest of old files. He’d always go in and out the back door, straight to the elevators. He could’ve taken two-hour lunches and none of us would’ve known. You might’ve thought he was in trouble with the law or running from something, that temping was a way of hiding in plain sight, staying out of a trap.

We found if you brought him a cruller and sat with him in his office, and if you could stand the smell, he’d take the bait and listen. And Bigfoot was a great listener. Real compassionate and soft. Tender eyes. All the associates went to him with secrets. Lisa was the first. She walked in there one Thursday morning out of desperation or habit, maybe; she and Cheryl used to talk all the time.

I was in the copy room at the time and I tried to hear her through the wall, but it was too thick and all I could pick up were soft vibrations, incomprehensible mumbles. Bigfoot’s response to everything was somewhere between a grunt and a howl and I couldn’t tell whether that was good or bad. Whatever it was, I saw her go in there the next day, too. And then later that week when I knew Lisa was in the copy room, I stepped into Records just to show her I wasn’t afraid.

It was like a cage in there—rows of filing cabinets, stacks and stacks of unsorted folders. Bigfoot was behind the desk sitting shorter than I expected. He ended up on a stool, probably because they couldn’t find a chair he’d fit in. The lighting in the records room isn’t great and he was hard to see. Without saying anything, I set a donut on the desk between us and he reached his paw across and took it. There was something in his eyes, some sweet depth to them, as he leaned forward in the sweaty stench of his office and started nibbling.

I hesitated a second and he waved me forward with his paw. With that, I just let loose: “She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever slept with. It’s more than that. It’s an adventure. Like we’re spies or something. And sure, there are things I don’t love. But do you have to love everything about someone? Or is ‘almost’ enough?” He shrugged at this, did that moan/growl thing. He mumbled a “Sure, sure,” and it was relieving in a way I can’t describe. Validating. I’d felt all this pressure eating a hole through my stomach and, in truth, I realize now that I wasn’t looking for advice anyway; it was good just to get it out, to talk to someone who seemed to understand.

Lisa mentioned to Robyn that she’d had a good session with Bigfoot and so, the next day, Robyn was in there talking about I don’t know what. Abraham followed. His wife’d had a miscarriage and I’m sure it was probably bothering him, that maybe he felt guilty about something. He never seemed like he was ready to be a dad. And there were others I saw go in to talk things out. It just became the thing to do in the office. We’d all go talk to Bigfoot.

*

I’ve mentioned Bigfoot’s overcoat. It was one of those tan floor-length coats you see in some of the nicer shops, except that on Bigfoot it only came down to his knees, leaving his furry calves exposed. It was a thin material—can’t have been very warm—and it looked like it’d been beaten with rocks and dragged through mud. And the shoulders were a little too small and sometimes when he’d turn the stitches would pop.

Once, when I was in his office, I suggested he ought to replace it. “Maybe you could find something cheap at a Goodwill,” I said.

He howled at this, like he was saying No way. Offended, I thought. Maybe at me assuming a temp couldn’t afford a new coat. Maybe out of pride, like there was no way a used coat would be acceptable. Or maybe like this one had some kind of sentimental value, some heirloom passed down through generations of bigfoots. Whatever it was, he stood, his head almost hitting the low fluorescent light in that dark room, and he puffed out his chest and swiped at me with one of those huge paws. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean anything by it.” This was right around the end of the day and he walked over to the coat rack and shoved his arms into the overcoat over his plaid polyester suit and he turned his head back toward me. He had this look like he’d really shown me something, like he’d proved something. It was the closest to smiling I’d ever seen him come.

*

The reinsurance settlement case finished up a little over a week ago and the whole office, partners included, went down to Harry’s Giant Texas Tap Room for a massive happy hour celebration. I stopped by Bigfoot’s office to see if maybe, this time, he’d come with us. He already had his overcoat on and was headed toward the elevators. “The partners are buying,” I said. “It’ll be fun. It’s a dark bar if that’s what you’re worried about. Just come out for one drink.” He shrugged and did his almost-smile and made what sounded like a happy moan or maybe a resigned moan, saying “Fine” or something, and, for once, he joined us.

True to its name, Harry’s is huge, three or four levels. The bar on the main floor is carved in the shape of Texas and there’s a big dance floor and big bright stars on the ceiling and a mechanical bull on a stage in the corner. The featured drink, sketched on a tall chalkboard, was Harry’s Happy Hour Margarita in sizes large, extra large, and Sasquatch.

Bigfoot seemed to find it kind of funny, actually, and he laughed, so I ordered him one and one for myself too. The drink was huge but it seemed tiny in his claws. He drank that first margarita so fast he got a brain freeze and he roared and shook his head and laughed and reached across the bar and rang the big cowbell the bartenders play when they get a good tip.

I left him for a second to go find Lisa and by the time I came back he’d finished another and had a third in his claws. It must’ve hit him pretty hard because he was already a little wobbly. He took off his overcoat and his suit coat also and went out to the dance floor in his white shirt and suspenders and started dancing, one claw on his margarita, one claw pounding beats in the air.

These are the last moments anyone really remembers very clearly. Most of us blacked out at least some of it and what parts of the night anybody remembers are blurry, like bad home video. Though some details have come back to me:

Bigfoot making out with a secretary from another firm. She was blonde and had small hands that disappeared under his fur.

Bigfoot showing teeth to the bartender that tried to cut him off.

And then: Bigfoot up on the mechanical bull wearing somebody’s cowboy hat and wildly swinging side-to-side, sloshing his margarita on the dancing crowd below, the whole time drunkenly roaring out all our secrets to the crowd. No one could stop him. There was stuff about alcoholics in our office, drug addicts, affairs, pornography, fraud, and a whole bunch I don’t remember. “Those two,” he said, pointing at us. “Those two—” and he did kisses into the air and then made with his hips like he was humping. Lisa and I were embarrassed even though we weren’t even close to being the most scandalous. He just kept yelling one secret after another, everything anybody had ever told him, some secrets more comprehensible than others. Somehow he stayed upright on the bull the whole time, set a new Harry’s record.

He could hardly walk once we got him down and the manager came over and asked us to leave and we helped get Bigfoot into a cab. It was only after he was gone that I realized he’d left his overcoat at the bar.

*

We haven’t seen Bigfoot again after that night. His office went empty and the cleaning staff vacuumed up the dirt and sprayed away the smell. Every once in a while, there’s a sighting around town, though these are usually second- or third-hand reports, friends at other firms saying they heard from somebody that heard from someone else that he was temping here or there. It’s just the life of a temp I guess. One day you come in and they’ve just disappeared, recalled by the temp agency, reassigned to another firm, gone off to some other city. Bigfoot wasn’t any different.

Lisa and I had to go meet with Nicholson that morning and he gave us a long speech about office relationships and keeping our careers in mind and being loyal to the firm and so on. No real punishment. But that afternoon we had a big fight that wasn’t even about anything, really, and we broke up the next morning. It really hurt at the time and I went looking for Bigfoot out of muscle memory more than anything else and of course he wasn’t there.

I think there was something Lisa and I had been looking for and never could find, some sort of excitement or satisfaction about what we’d made of our lives that just turned into disappointment when we tried to find it in each other. Like we thought we’d seen footprints of something special, but when we tried to make a cast of them, to preserve them, hold onto them, they filled in again with mud. Turns out the danger, the spycraft, was a big part of our attraction, and without that, neither of us was all that interested in the other; we’re just two regular, boring people who work too much.

Otherwise, life at Nicholson post-Bigfoot has continued pretty much uninterrupted. We got hired onto a new case and the nights and weekends started up again. That’s just the life of a law firm, too, I guess. Maybe there was some remaining whatever among the associates, but nothing we ever talked about. It was tense for a few days—not because of the secrets or Bigfoot’s betrayal of our trust, but because all of a sudden we didn’t know each other as well as we’d been pretending to. None of us were who we thought we were and now there was no denying it. And maybe also there was some subconscious thing we all did, some thing outside the office where we all kind of felt the need to come up with new secrets, new stories about ourselves that no one knew, just so we’d have something to be private about again.

I left Bigfoot’s overcoat on the hook behind the door in the records room, which they closed up and locked after the case was over. I had forgotten all about it until I went in there this morning to file some documents I’d found in my desk, and sure enough, the coat was still there hanging. Something about it made me sad. There was some part of me, I think, that had hoped he’d come back for it, that we’d find him sneaking around the office late at night or at least that we’d find his coat gone and his tracks in the carpet, some muddy evidence he’d been back, or that he’d ever been there in the first place.

Originally published at Cosmonaut’s Avenue

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