Fiction

Christmas Bells and Beers

Jung met Verner during a graduate program cross-over event at UofT. He went by Jacob in Canada, but Verner insisted on calling him his Korean name. They had been dating for a year and a half, but this would be their first Christmas together. Last December, Verner had gone back to Sweden to celebrate with his family.

This holiday season, however, they were together. And to Jung’s surprise, Verner had given him an advent calendar.

Jung knew about advent calendars. His family moved to Canada when he was eight. They didn’t start celebrating Christmas the North American way until he was 12. His family didn’t do the calendars; he understood the concept from TV and friends. An ex-girlfriend introduced him to the David’s Tea version, but he had always been a coffee drinker.

Verner’s advent calendar was of beer. It was a big surprise, Jung had never considered the concept before. It was a large cardboard box with the numbers on top in a random order. There were perforated squares where the box could open. Inside were 24 cans of beer to be drunk once a day until Christmas. It was a heavy box and stayed in the same spot on their apartment living room floor.

Jung appreciated the gift a lot. He would’ve liked anything Verner gave him, but he knew the calendar had a lot of thought in it. Jung liked beer; he drank all kinds but preferred pale ales or varieties with coffee after tastes. Beer wasn’t very expensive, but 24 at once wouldn’t be cheap. That meant a lot too, since they didn’t have a lot of money to waste.

He had suggested to Verner that they could reuse the box. The top opened easily, so the beer could be taken out without opening the individual holes. But Verner insisted on opening the little squares individually.

“The surprise is the fun!” He had said, smiling brightly.

Perhaps there wouldn’t have been a difference if he could see all beers at once, but it felt like it. It was December 24th. He had one last beer to drink.

He was absolutely miserable.

Out of the 23 beers he had thus far tasted, he liked five. Most were either too bitter or had a gross aftertaste. Some had been dark beers and on those he nearly choked.

Back on December 13th, important in Sweden’s Christmas culture, Jung had been confident in himself. He, Verner and some of their friends went to a bar for the night. They all drank and were merry. Verner brought special food from a Scandinavian bakery and they all enjoyed it. It was a nice time.

Jung had been confident because he had been naïve. He drank a lot that night, thus his palette had been cleansed from the advent beer he had at lunch. It had been a terrible local microbrew that he swore had pineapple in it, but the can said apple. It was too sweet. That night at the bar, as he drank a good beer, he had thought to himself ‘It’s not so bad. Verner put a lot of thought into it … They haven’t been so bad so far.’

He was naïve in the commitment, the optimism. He completely underestimated the energy it took to drink a can of something terrible. Not to mention, he had never consumed beer so consistently before. Jung wasn’t the type to have a drink to relax. With all the work he had for his graduate studies, he left drinking to dedicated times and outings. He was no lightweight, but a beer everyday somehow took a lot of time out of his evenings.

But now, it was the 24th. His pilgrimage was coming to an end and he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Verner placed the last advent beer, chilled from being in the fridge since yesterday, in front of Jung on the kitchen table. It sat next to a bowl of leftover pasta the two of them were going to have for dinner.

It was a ritual now: Jung would open the advent calendar for the corresponding date, put it in the fridge, and then Verner would give it to him the next day. He would read the can twice; once while opening the calendar and then again just before drinking. He had to admit, some beers had nice designs. He could understand why someone would choose some beers just by looks. Like finding a book at the library.

“Salad?” Verner asked from the fridge.

Jung grunted noncommittally. He was steeling himself for this beer. He didn’t care if it would taste good or bad, he just couldn’t react. He always made a face, somewhat unintentionally, when he drank a beer he didn’t like. He was in too deep, it was the eleventh hour and he didn’t want to shoot himself in the foot. All of his effort would be wasted if Verner found out how much he had hated his early Christmas present.

“Let’s eat!”

Verner sat down directly across from him. Jung would be strong – he loved his boyfriend and any gifts from said boyfriend. He would drink his beer and be happy about it.

He popped the can and took a moderate glup. His nostrils flared, but he kept his stone face.

“How is it?” Verner asked. He examined the can, “‘Red Bear Pale Ale,’ is it good?”

“…It’s okay.”

Verner laughed, sipping his own drink of plain water. “I know that face! It’s no good?”

Jung fumbled, “No, nononono it’s-it’s fine!”

“If you don’t like it, that’s okay. I can finish it.”

“Nononono, it’s good! It’s better in small sips.”

Verner laughed lightly and held Jung’s hand, “It’s okay!” He insisted, “I have a small secret.”

Jung felt his chest constrict, but it was an automatic response. With such a positive attitude, there was nothing bad Verner could reveal. It was the terrible thought that all his hard work would soon be for naught.

“In truth,” Verner said, a silly smile on his face, “I’ve been mean. I like seeing you suffer. Hahaha, you make such a cute face when you drink a bad beer!”

“Vern!” Jung shouted, his voice unintentionally high pitched, “That’s-that’s–!” He sighed and released all the tension in him, slumping onto the table, “I can’t finish it…”

“Let me taste…bleh! It’s awful.” Verner laughed, “But! I have a surprise that may help, yeah?” He got up and slipped into the living room. He came back with a gift-wrapped box and placed it on the table. “Open it. Christmas is tomorrow, but I think this will be best opened now.”

“Are you sure?”

Verner nodded happily.

Jung took the box carefully. It was tall. He couldn’t guess what was in it; he couldn’t guess what item had such dimensions. The wrapping paper had a classical style of red, bells, and reefs.

Starting from the top, Jung pulled swiftly and teared off the paper. A white box revealed himself, a weird machine printed on the side. He couldn’t compare it to anything, but with the beer depicted with it, he assumed some kind of keg?

“It turns canned beer into draft beer!” Verner shouted, clearly excited. “Brianna showed me a video of it, I thought it was perfect! Draft beer is smoother than canned beer!”

“It is. Thank you. Thank you!”

He got up and hugged Verner, a lot of his pent up emotions finally released. Verner laughed and hugged back tightly, apologized for being mean.

They spent the next 20 minutes setting up the machine. There was a funny anticipation in the air – they were both curious how the machine would change the beer. They scrambled to find a tall enough cup.

Jung poured, tilting the glass and watched the foam form; it was nearly identical to that in bars. It looked good.

“Cheers!” Verner said, though only one of them had a drink.

Jung echoed his boyfriend and then chugged for three seconds, draining two thirds of the glass.

“How is it now?”

“…Bitter.”

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