Not Everything Is Funny
The headliner Lucas Miller told dirty jokes that embarrassed Mary because she was with a man she didn’t know. The waitress explained they sat single people at tables with other single people. Mary wasn’t aware that comedy clubs had this policy because she never went to comedy clubs. The man at her table said he was a reporter and turned on his phone to record the show.
I know Lucas Miller, she wanted to say. I know him better than anybody in this place.
When the jokes were over the reporter left without saying goodbye. The waitress brought her a margarita and nachos and a message that Lucas hoped she’d wait for him while he did meet and greets after the show. Mary watched moisture bead on the glass and wondered what kind of person she would be if she drank and ate chips and cheese. She would be a fat person. She would be a person with no control.
Lucas finally entered the club followed by two women begging for one last selfie. He succumbed to the photo, smiling without showing any teeth, like a comedy mask missing his tragedy twin.
Mary and Lucas shared a past the selfie women wouldn’t believe. Their mothers were best friends so Mary and Lucas were thrown together since babyhood for long dinners where their mothers cackled over their plates while their fathers grinned as if they were in on the jokes.
Their mothers wore sheath dresses and high heels and their voices grew loud during cocktails that began hours before meals of standing rib roast or coq au vin. Mary’s dad stirred the martinis in a pitcher with a long glass wand that she feared would shatter among the ice cubes without anyone noticing.
The last dinner was when they were thirteen and Lucas asked Mary to take a walk after. As they left his mother said, “You could use a walk around the block, Lukie. Burn some of that baby fat off you.”
“Mary too, Lord knows,” her mother said. “Better make it twice around the block.”
Mary shut the door gently as though their mothers were sleeping rather than laughing to bust a gut. Their fathers’ answering chuckles sounded like water rushing in underground sewers. Mary left them behind and walked with her friend, her rage at their mothers a storm she held in her mouth.
“Not everything is funny,” Lucas said after a while. Their suburban California neighborhood was one of hundreds that were identical except for their different skin-colored hues. Sepia. Burnt Umber. Apricot. Beige. Lucas’ baggy jeans hung below his belly, exposing the sideways half-smile of his butt crack beneath his polo shirt.
“I know,” she said. “But they think it is.”
At a stop sign Mary swung around the pole with one sweaty hand while he looked into the distance.
“Do you know what I’m going to say?” he asked.
She stopped swinging. He stuck his hands in his pockets before kissing her on the mouth. His lips were soft and dry and nice. Here I am having my first kiss, she was thinking as she closed her eyes. And it’s with Lucas.
The same Lucas who now stood before her in the comedy club with his hands in his pockets, his head ticked to the side as though he’d found her swinging around a stop sign pole and not sitting with the cocktail and food he bought her untouched on the table.
“Don’t like Tequila?” he asked, sitting in the reporter’s old chair.
“I don’t drink.”
“Well, you look great. What do you do? Weight Watchers?”
“No sugar, no wheat, no dairy.”
“How can you live like that?”
She shrugged. He changed so little in the twenty years since she last saw him. He was still Lucas, just taller. If he pulled up his polo shirt there would still be the soft belly and the pants dipping below the dark quarter slot of the top of his rear end. Her own belly was hard and flat and it stirred as she considered wrapping her arms around him from behind and running her hands along his chest. She wondered if he was hairy. She bet he was warm.
He was peering under the table. “Are you wearing New Balance sneakers?” he asked. “Who wears New Balance to the comedy club?”
“They’re comfortable,” she said.
“And you’re so fuckin’ tan. Who gets tan anymore? Is it real?” She nodded. It was the end of June and with school out she had time to swim laps at the gym in the late mornings to brown her skin.
“You look like a walnut shell,” he said.
“I heard you got married,” Mary said, thinking of the wife on celebrity websites. She was a beautiful reptilian woman with eyeliner and enormous teeth.
“I heard you didn’t get married,” Lucas said.
“I never felt like it.” She pushed the drink away without spilling a drop.
“I wish I’d never felt like it.”
They watched the empty stage in a silence that felt companionable in the old way.
“So you’re a teacher,” he said.
Her ears burned. “Who’d you talk to, my mother?”
“For about fifteen minutes when I called about the comp ticket.” He helped himself to her drink in three gulps.
Mary stood. “Well, it was a great show. Really. I can see why everyone loves you. Congratulations on everything.”
“Wait a minute.” He patted himself down as if searching his pockets.
“I’m glad to see you so happy,” she said. And she meant it, even after his walnut shell comment. Her skin was tan, but not wrinkled. She moisturized.
“Who says I’m happy?”
“Everyone loves you.”
“Do they?” he asked.
“Those women just now seemed to.” There was no one else in the club but the waitstaff eating a late dinner at the bar. “The selfie girls.”
“They want me on their Instagrams because I’m sort of famous.” He rattled the ice in her empty glass. “That’s not the same as love.”
Lucas’ cheeks were round and she saw him again at the stop sign, kissing her, the one person who understood how monstrous their mothers were, how terrible their laughter.
Mary’s jaw ached. “My mother wrote in her Christmas letter last year that neither of her daughters are able to handle money and isn’t that funny. But I own my own condo. I pay my bills on time. Always.”
“My mother? Before she died she made a list of demands for what I should do with her ashes and her stuff. Ten pages long. All up to me.”
Lucas’ mother stank of hair bleach and Chanel. Mary dreaded the woman’s bony chin digging into her shoulder during hugs.
“Was there a funeral?” Mary asked. “I didn’t go.”
“I didn’t go either. I didn’t do any of the things on the list. I never even collected the ashes.” He scratched his belly through his black shirt.
“After my college boyfriend broke up with me, my mother told me that if I ever got into any so-called relationship again before the age of twenty-five I needed to tell her so that she could find a way to end it.”
“I never had another boyfriend since then. That’s what’s crazy.” Usually she pretended that she would rather be alone. The truth was round and slippery on her tongue.
“Ever tried online dating?” He pulled a tortilla chip from the plate.
“Ever tried not marrying a woman who looks like she wants to bite somebody?”
Lucas grinned. “Touché,” he said. “I’ve got one for you. My mother told the girl I had a crush on in high school that I was very fond of her.” He talked through the chip in his mouth. Took another one.
“My mother told me that I was too fat to get a prom date.”
“Oh yeah, the fat thing. Mine too. At least your mom can’t say that to you anymore. If she ever could, really.”
“She finds ways.” Her mother still bought flats of Slim Fast for her on Costco runs while her sister got cinnamon rolls. Her chest fluttered with the sensation of stepping off a high dive into deep water. “When I told my mother that I wanted to be a writer she said it would never happen. She used to read my journals behind my back and drop my own lines into conversation.”
“My mother told me I wasn’t funny,” Lucas said.
“This morning my mother told me that she knows me better than I know myself.” Mary was breathless. “Then she laughed her ass off.”
“Not everything is so fucking funny.” Lucas looked over his shoulder as though he were afraid someone would overhear.
“It was nice to see you.” Mary gathered her purse. Lucas still had every strand of his beautiful black hair. It was funny how the person she liked at thirteen could be the person she liked at thirty-three and it was funny to really like someone. She wasn’t used to the feeling of liking someone and it was nice but heartbreaking that it had to be Lucas of all people when it would be so much more convenient if she liked skinny Jeff Stanley who taught the Economics elective and invited her for coffee when she first started working at the high school. Jeff was a nice man and there was no reason why not except that she didn’t find him attractive. Her mother scolded her for turning Jeff down, saying that beggars can’t be choosers and that attraction isn’t the most important thing in a relationship.
“It was nice to see you too,” Lucas said. He wasn’t looking over his shoulder anymore. He was looking at her.
“I’m going to go.” Mary took a step away for emphasis.
“Come with me on tour.” His black bangs flopped across his forehead the way they always did. “I mean, what the fuck else you going to do this summer? Get out of the sun. It’s no good for you. Come with me.”
“Ha ha,” she said.
“Be with me, Mary.” He put his hands together as if in prayer. “Just as friends, whatever you want. No pressure. Don’t you have vacation right now? Come on. Why not?”
“You’ve been drinking.” Heat crept up her neck.
“Truth, but I’m not drunk. Come with me. Forget about that lonely condo.”
“Who says I’m lonely?”
He grabbed her small hands in his big, warm fingers. “Come with me on tour. You’ll love it. I’ll get you your own room. That’s how rich I am.”
Mary remembered one cocktail hour when Lucas took Mary’s mother’s drink when she wasn’t looking and sucked the olive into his mouth before spitting it back into the glass. Mary’s mother was talking too much to notice and when she drank from the spitty martini, Mary laughed so hard she felt it afterward in her stomach muscles. How dare his mother say he wasn’t funny?
“Do you know what I’m going to say?” she asked. Her aching stomach dropped as if
she were spinning. Her palm recalled the slip of a stop sign pole in a sweaty hand. Her mouth remembered the soft press of his lips and the sweet burst of his kiss. Her heart raced to meet the tender upturning of the corner of his mouth against hers.
Maureen O’Leary lives in California. Her work appears most recently in The Esopus Reader, Passengers Journal, Punk Noir Magazine, Reckon Review, Occulum, Tales to Terrify, Bourbon Penn, Sycamore Review, and Penumbric Speculative Fiction, among others. She is a graduate of Ashland MFA and managing editor of The Black Fork Review.