Hostile Work Environment. Flash Fiction.

Fred watched as Jack shovelled more food into his mouth, the sound of lip smacking and chewing was all he could hear, a sheen of sweat coated Jack’s face, a thin skim of grease was just below his bottom lip. Jack opened his mouth obscenely wide to take another bite of food, the yawning maw drew Fred in, he said something around his mouthful of food, spraying crumbs across the table. It was disgusting watching him eat, his fat fingers grasping at his food, spouting off something ridiculous, it was easy to dismiss most of what Jack said, inane ramblings about religion and stories of sex acts that were too athletic for him to even dream of doing. “Fred?”
“What? Sorry. I was miles away.”
There was a pause in the conversation as everyone looked expectantly at him, “I was just thinking about last night.”
“Oh?” the way Fred’s beady eyes seemed to sparkle made Fred’s stomach clench a little, “And what would that be?”
Fred launched into his story, about him and Vanessa having mind blowing sex the night before, with a promise of more to come in the evening. He rattled off the story with ease, it wasn’t the first time he’d told a story like this and it wouldn’t be the last. It didn’t matter that it was a lie, they wouldn’t know he and Vanessa had spent a quiet evening at home watching TV with both falling asleep shortly after going to bed. He finished his story and the others were off, telling their own stories of sexual depravity. Frank let the stories wash over him, trying to ignore the constant smacking of Jacks lips. Finally lunch was over and Jack heaved himself out of his chair and plodded out of the room, everyone following behind. At their desks Fred split off and went to his own, thankful that he’d survived another lunch with them. He didn’t like any of the guys particularly but they were OK enough, the only one he couldn’t stand was Jack, the pompous, self-righteous asshole. As he started to work, Bob leaned around the short partition between their desks. “Did you hear about Jack?”
“No, what about him?”
“He’s getting taken to court again. Some woman accused him of grabbing her ass or something.” Fred rolled his eyes, “again? I don’t know why those women keep going after him.”
Bob nodded, “They’re probably just trying to get a payday out of him, hoping for some hush money so they’d just go away. They’re just greedy bitches.”
Fred chuckled and nodded. He knew the women were telling the truth, they all did. They’d seen the way Jack leered over the few women who worked in the company, the way he’d paw at their asses and breasts,. Everyone else seemed to treat it as a big joke, mostly because they knew Jack was untouchable, his father ran the company and had more than enough money to keep his son out of trouble. Fred had seen the pictures of the women accusing him, he knew it was more than a grabbing. He’d seen the large purple yellow bruises, the broken noses, the swollen-shut eyes. The only thing he could do was keep his head down. He knew what would happen if he said anything or showed anyone the pictures, they’d all turn on him, make him the bad guy and then before the week was out he’d be fired for contributing to a hostile work environment. For now all he could do was keep his head down, pretend to be one of Jack’s friends and hope for the best. He focused on his computer screen, it was better to just not think about it. If he was fired it would be almost impossible to get another job, not when he would be marked as someone who wasn’t a team player. He pulled open his drawer and pulled out a box an antacids, already he could feel that sour burn at the back of his throat and it was only getting worse. He popped a couple into his mouth and started chewing, hating the chalky feel of it in his mouth. He swallowed, the mixture giving a little relief but not much. He started typing, best thing he could do was just not think about it, keep his head down and do his job. It seemed to be the only way to survive these days.

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