The Joker

by

Everyone laughed when John told jokes. Some people just have the knack, you know? At the company picnic he went on for hours. People were sore from laughing and some finally reluctantly walked away because they hadn’t had a chance to eat any of the grilled burgers and dogs and completely missed out on the raw clams.

Three weeks after the picnic they were still recalling the best lines as they stood at the coffeemaker, grinning at each other as they passed in the halls, emailing friends and family who hadn’t had the opportunity to hear John tell these gems in person. By then John had already been circulating a whole new bunch of jokes and they laughed at these in fresh delight.

And then suddenly one Monday they heard John was dead. A heart attack on Saturday. He was home watching the ball game on TV and zap, just like that, he was gone.

At the wake his coworkers slowly filed by John in his casket. He had a slight smile on his face like he was about to deliver the punchline. The women all cried, the men all shook their heads in shock. If John, robustly healthy and life-loving and only fifty-two could die in the blink of an eye then they felt they were living on overtime. Worse, it would be somberly quiet without John and his arsenal of humor that could chop through the most boring and the most stressful of days. After the service they clustered in small groups, unwilling to leave and let go. They never spoke in such dismally hushed voices before. Overcast grey light sieved through the windows.

From the kitchen came a shriek that rattled the candles in the center of the buffet table. The crowd, momentarily startled into suspension, moved as one in a rush toward the source.

“And the priest said to the rabbi, …” John’s wife paused, holding that perfect three-second timing, then “But there aren’t 70,000 virgins in heaven!”

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