It was always dark now.
As he ascended the steps of the Melancholy Furrow he was assailed by visions, past and future; there was the grey and black cat standing on hind legs beside his mother’s deathbed, the open window displaying the crimson pavement, and the IV drip he’d stolen from the old hospital.
This was not the Epiphany. This was not what was promised.
It would only come in the howl of terrible suffering.
The day got off to a flying start when Derek arrived at the office, a brown cardboard holder in his hand with four steaming cups of local coffee. He ascended in the elevator to Floor Eleven, looking outside the panoramic window at the tall spectre of the Obama Memorial a few blocks away. The towering obsidian bell-topped spire served as a constant reminder of the times they lived in.
“MacCarver’s on the phone, boss,” Fergus blathered in his exaggerated Brooklyn accent. “Says he wants a proposal on his desk by noon tomorrow.”
“Does he want bended knee or the old ring-in-the-champagne-flute approach?” Derek asked, paying only half a mind to Fergus and sorting through unfiled reports looking for the damages claim.
Fergus laughed throatily, and Derek could almost hear the smoker’s phlegm sliding around his larynx like wet paint. He finally found the report he was after, taking a sip from the coffee container. It tasted like asphalt now.
His mind was in overdrive, helped by the Vicodin he’d taken that morning. Within seconds he’d analysed the damages claim, essentially a summary of “How Not to Advertise Alcohol”, and was already formulating an appropriate response.
Client is suing for almost three million dollars pursuant to their belief our ad campaign harmed their image. Using Bacardi at a kids party not conducive to product integrity.
Damage. Breakage. Cartilage. Homage. Stoppage. Breakage. Homage.
Of course. We turn the ad into a combination of Bacardi advertisement and “Responsible Drinking” slogan. Insinuate former capitalist involvement in underage drinking, reinforce notion that fellow socialists don’t engage in such “evil” activity.
That was where it had all gone wrong.
And to think, it had all been Whitman’s fault.
“And as you can see, we are not intending for your product to be represented merely as an aid to a hard day’s end,” Derek continued. “We can see this as juxtaposition against what was and what is. A grand dichotomy between our former capitalist benchmarks and our modern socialist reforms.”
He clicked the button on the powerpoint remote, displaying the finalist advertisement on the white screen; a typical American family, sitting on their backyard patio at a broad, immaculate green outdoor table. The mother and father were each holding a crystal tumbler with the Bacardi logo etched onto the side, and the latter was in the middle of sipping a combined-with-coke mouthful. The three children sitting at the table – two boys and a girl, all between 8 and 12 years old – watched their parents with Stepford smiles.
The tagline above them bore the words – “BACARDI: For When They Grow”.
It was a roundabout campaign, a desperate attempt to reiterate their advertising value to the company, and in any other world it would make little to no sense and wouldn’t have even made it past the drawing board. Derek was certain, however, that this was going to work. He had a gut feeling, and his gut never let him down.
His vision blurred with anxiety for a moment before the Bacardi president, all tanned Cuban skin and thick moustache, began to speak. “So you present us with this, alongside your revamped television advert, and believe this to be a successful campaign?”
Derek hadn’t lost the high ground yet. “This wouldn’t have worked a decade ago. Remember the Smirnoff gig with the Alaskan teenagers getting hammered? That was fully funded by a government-supported ad agency, backed by capitalist profits and given the green light to promote drinking amongst the underage.” He reached across the table for the scotch decanter, filling his tumbler with ice from the bucket as well. “It was one of the many hundreds of precursors that led to that government’s downfall, all in the name of the opportunistic dollar.”
“And so you think it’s a good idea to involved children here once more?” the president asked, slightly incredulously.
“Absolutely,” Derek answered promptly, garnering a shocked look from the president and his financial advisor sitting next to him. “To extricate children from all forms of alcohol would be naive; most of them are going to drink it anyway, whether it’s through idiot parenting or fake IDs. While we don’t want to target children as the consumer bracket for Bacardi, we still want to involve them.”
He gestured to the digital poster on the projector screen. “Look at the tagline. ‘For When They Grow’. Those kids are watching their parents enviously, wanting a piece of the action. They want to be like grown-ups, and one day they will be. When they are, the parents can share the drink with them.”
Upon use of the word ‘share’, the president and the advisor perked up their ears a bit. Derek had been around long enough to know the right buzz-words. “Remember the bit in the new commercial that shifts from the young kids to the young adults, all drinking from tumblers? That’s the juxtaposition of age; one day they’re kids, longing to be like mom and dad, then suddenly they’re of age and enjoying the fruits of adult life.”
Out of the corner of his eye Derek caught MacCarver nodding slowly, a grin starting to spread across his freckled face. He pressed on, ready to drive in the final point. “Bacardi is to share. Bacardi is something to be experienced by everyone. Bacardi is produced for everyone.”
He could see the neo-socialist wheels turning in the president’s head as he came to the same conclusion Derek had. There would never be a better campaign, even if Derek thought their drink tasted like drinking cyanide.
Finally, the big Cuban grinned broadly. “Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.” He stood from the table before his nebbish advisor could interject. “Start work as soon as possible.”
“To booze for all!” Fergus cried, raising his Victoria Bitter can high into the air.
The other five different cans all crashed together in congratulatory cheers. The office was half-empty, with only the pre-inebriate or over-deadline workers remaining.
“So, Derek lands us more alcohol work, and our public approval goes up by another notch,” Michelle summarised, looking as Derek questioningly.
“That sounds about right,” he affirmed, taking a big gulp of Indian ale.
“Can you imagine a world without Bacardi?” Fergus asked, his Brooklyn starting to slur a little. “They were ready to pack up shop for good if we couldn’t get them better publicity. Might’ve even moved in with the Smirnoff junkies at the den on 40th Street.”
Michelle laughed, spraying Budweiser all over Fergus’s trousers. He didn’t seem to care. “Are they still over there?” she asked, utterly incredulous. “I’m surprised the Marx boys haven’t already cleaned them out yet. What do they call that place? The ‘Melancholy Furrow’ or something?”
“Only a matter of time,” John interrupted, drinking most of his Heineken in one swallow. “Without good advertising, most major produce companies will be going to way of the dinosaur. Those capitalist thieves can’t hold out in that shabby old house forever.”
Derek didn’t care much for the few surviving members of the market-driven companies that now lay lower than the sewers they mostly inhabited. The Smirnoff rebels would be driven out soon, maybe repurposed as cheap labour to build the new Social Hub where Wall Street had once existed.
It had been fifty days since the Bacardi failure, and he was alone.
The morphine drip snaked into his deadened arm like an intrusive tentacle. It was strange; he couldn’t feel it, not even when his late mother’s cat, whom he’d adopted to live with him in the Furrow, had walked past and bumped into him by accident. His entire arm had gone numb.
He moved the still-functioning right arm over to the Vicodin container, tipping it towards his open mouth. One more tab.
It had been fifty days since the Bacardi deal, and MacCarver’s expression was strange; Derek had never seen it before. It wasn’t trepidatious or angry, happy or despairing. It just was.
“There’s been a change of plans, Derek,” his boss began, sounding like he was choosing his words carefully. “This Bacardi deal… Well, it’s really given us a lot of attention. Made the higher-ups reconsider a few things.” He reached under his desk for what Derek assumed was the scotch decanter; when his suspicion was confirmed, Derek noticed uncomfortably that MacCarver’s window was wide open behind him. Unease crept into him slowly.
“Care for some?” he asked.
Derek nodded, accepting the full tumbler graciously and taking a long, uneasy sip. The boss turned to the window, looking outside at the expanse of Manhattan. From where he stood Derek could see the edge of the Obama Memorial.
“So what kinds of changes are they making?” he asked, uncertain if he really wanted to know the answer.
It felt like an age before MacCarver decided to reply. “They’re making you creative director. You’ll be taking over my job, starting next week.”
The unease evaporated, and Derek had to struggle not to spray his scotch the way Michelle had ejected her Budweiser. “Excuse me?”
MacCarver smiled; clearly he knew Derek hadn’t been thinking of a positive outcome, given the foreboding atmosphere he’d walked into. “The whole socialist spin you put on it, salvaging the project from that bumbling idiot Whitman – it really saved our asses. We were an inch away from total shutdown, Smirnoff-style.” The smile grew wider. “You saved us.”
Derek felt pride swell within him, mingling with the scotch. He felt like a great falcon was spreading its wings in his ribcage, proud and fierce.
“Now,” MacCarver continued, moving over to shut the window, “there are a few things we need to sort out before my reassignment.”
No, he died that day. He didn’t close the window, he jumped out of it.
Must be the morphine. Or the Vicodin. Just one more. All it takes.
The Note. The Note. The Epiphany. Yes, that was it.
Can’t understand why I didn’t just cut out the middle man.
A week later, it was all ready.
MacCarver’s former office was now decorated with Derek’s awards, commendations and family mementoes. His favourite picture of him and his mother sat on the desk facing inwards, and as Derek glanced over it he idly told himself to give her a call when he got home.
The others had gathered for a congratulatory party that evening, and Derek had vague memories the next morning of having had sex with Michelle that night. As he took down the last Vicodin pill from his current container, making a mental note to go get some more that day, he walked over to the bedside table next to the elegant four-poster that had Michelle sleeping on it.
He smiled at her, reaching into one of the table’s drawers and retrieving his grandfather’s service revolver that was hidden under piles of business socks.
He put the barrel in his mouth.
I really don’t know what I’m supposed to say in this, but I guess first of all I’m real sorry. I had no idea MacCarver was going to off himself like that, or that he was going to make you watch. Never realised you could fit a whole body through that window. Jeez. Pavement must’ve been real messy afterwards.
Try not to blame yourself for what’s going down. The Bacardi bastards are already shutting down, and I know MacCarver didn’t accuse you of being the sole factor behind us following suit. If anything, you were the best damn thing in that entire agency. Not that any of us would ever admit it.
Your creativity helped put us on the map. Without ads like the new McDonalds campaign we wouldn’t’ve kicked the ass of every other agency out there. You gave us the ability to keep going after the New Marx regime started.
But at the same time, you were the sacrificial lamb. The dirty secret is MacCarver knew there was no way to salvage the Bacardi deal, not after Whitman screwed it all up, and he threw you in front of the train tracks to give them a revamp they wouldn’t accept. I mean, I thought “For When They Grow” sounded great, but MacCarver knew they’d think it was shit. Someone had to take the fall for them leaving, and he figured it might as well be you. He always said in private you’d be the one to replace him one day. I think it must’ve scared him.
I’ve spoken to the others, and they all agree you weren’t to blame. They know MacCarver was a dirty S.O.B., and we were willing to back you all the way. If we’re ever allowed to reform, you’ll be the first person we call.
Take care of yourself, boss. If you ever need to talk, just call.