Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Joker

by Horatio Leadbelly (writer), Wrong side of the tracks, December 06, 2011

Credit: Robert Lawton
Picture of a wake

A surprise visitor eases tension at a wake.

"And may his soul rest in eternal peace".

The words rolling around in my head were just starting to lose meaning as Aunt Peggy noisily parked the tea caddy alongside the arm of the sofa and tilted the teapot over my cup.

"Shur you'll have a warm drop luv, won't you?"

I forcefully kinked the outer edges of my lips ever so slightly skyward feigning relief and said, "Thanks Peggy." and feeling she had done her bit she continued on to the next guest.

The place was full but I felt so very alone as my sorrow sucked me downward and no matter how hard I tried to cheer myself up the depression just kept tightening its strangling grip. Everything had happened so quickly, Tom had been in good spirits and was pruning the apple trees in preparation for spring while I was making some light lunch in the kitchen. It was just another Sunday afternoon, or so I thought, until I found my dear husband slumped on the garden bench. I thought perhaps he had fallen asleep which he was prone to do on occasion but something didn't feel right. I suppose after twenty years together one develops a kind of sixth sense when it comes to that special person in your life. Anyway, things kind of blurred from that moment, as the speed at which things proceed between the time one has passed away and their burial seems to defy physics, leaving little time for one to mourn.

So here I was contemplating what had happened and looking at all the friends and relatives being solemn as they shared stories in which my husband had played a leading role. Everybody was dressed in the obligatory dark clothing associated with death which made me even more unhappy. But they were only doing what was expected of them and I was sure I would have done the same were I in their shoes. God forgive me, but I couldn't stomach another "My sincerest condolences", "Our thoughts are with you" or "If there's anything I can do" at the moment and was almost wishing the day would end so I could have some time to myself.

What was I going to do now?

We were like Siamese twins, everyone said it, but sometimes people say the strangest of things. It's true, we rarely left each others sides, which was slightly odd now that I think of it, because our interests were so opposed but yet we managed to compromise without difficulty.

What was I going to do without him?

My head felt like a nail had been hammered between my eyes and the tea wasn't helping but I knew that hitting the hard stuff would just magnify my worsening depression. I couldn't take any more and I bowed my head to hide the flood of tears wreaking havoc on my mascara. What a sad piece of work I had become. Then came the darkest of thoughts, which I could never have imagined just one short week ago, but sadness has a funny was of making morbid suggestions.

Maybe I should join him?

"You silly cow", I thought, Tom would be utterly ashamed of you right now. Finally, I had reached the point of no return and with my elbows on my knees I pressed my hands against my face to hide the unbearable pain which I was feeling.

"Bloody buses are always late these days", said the stranger collapsing next to me on the sofa. I suddenly sat erect and tried to place the heart, which was now in my mouth, back into my chest.

"Excuse me", I said as I contemplated changing my underwear, "you scared me half to death!"

But he had already started helping himself to a whisky on the rocks and some chocolate cake which Aunt Peggy was more than willing to provide. I felt ignored by this irreverent young man who dressed so disrespectfully and made himself comfortable in my home. And to add injury to insult he wasn't even wearing black. In fact, he was dressed like a student. What a cheeky little blighter. He was wearing a silly brown duffle coat with blue jeans and running shoes that complemented the wild windblown curly hair on his head. This gave him the appearance of a cross between Paddington Bear and Doctor Who during the Tom Baker era. He even had the silly scarf. How dare he throw himself onto my couch with not an ounce of remorse?

"This is damn good cake", he said, licking the remaining chocolate from his upper lip, "but the whisky leaves a lot to be desired."

I opened my mouth but words failed me.

He sat there looking at me with a stupid grin on his face waiting for a reply. Then he started to bounce up and down ever so lightly on the couch which made him look like a five year old boy. Then it happened, a funny sound like a cross between a cough and a giggle forced its way from between my lips.

"They don't make 'em like they used to," he said, "I got one from Ikea and the flippin' springs popped out after the first month!"

"No wonder", I thought.

As ludicrous as the situation was I couldn't help myself from breaking a smile.

"Boing Boing Boing", he said, while chuckling like an idiot.

Was this really happening or was I starting to lose my mind?

"Have you got a cigarette?" he asked, as if it were a totally appropriate question, "and a light, if you don't mind."

A huge laugh burst out from deep within and I reached for my pack of smokes.

"What a cheeky young man", I said, "Here, take one."

He lit up and blew some smoke rings into the air looking at me as if he were waiting for applause.

It was then that my brother in law Philip touched me on the shoulder to let me know that he was about to go home so I bid him farewell.

I turned around to find that the place next to me was now empty and the young man was nowhere to be seen. I got up and strolled around to see if I could see him but he wasn't in the house. I asked the guests if they knew him but they said they had never seen him before.

As strange as it seemed, I didn't feel the least bothered, in fact, I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Deep in my depression an unknown rude young man had entered my home and made me laugh. I could have reacted differently and thrown him out which would have only ruined the evening making me feel even worse. But whoever he was, I was grateful that he had come in my time of need and although our encounter was brief he had pulled me out of my negative place allowing me to cope with the situation in much better spirits than I had been before our meeting.

About the Writer

Horatio Leadbelly is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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