One, Two, Three Jokes
In the morning, Dana called.
She said, “Dear, my little girl.”
“Hi, Mom,” I said. “Hello.”
“Your father had a stroke,” she said, just like that. “He’s
in the hospital. We’re going to need you to come on down.”
“When?” I said.
“Right away,” she said. “Right away, honey.”
“No, when did he have the stroke?”
“Yesterday,” said Dana. “Last night, is when. He had it last
night. It was so sudden, dear. I just feel so frazzled, absolutely. I already
called Charlie. He’s going to pick you up on his way south.”
“You called Charlie before me?”
“He’s the older one, dear,” said Dana then. “Of course
I did. Of course I called him first.”
“So he’s coming right now?”
“I’ll see you later tonight, my sweet baby girl,” said Dana.
Charlie lives in Cheyenne, about an hour north of me. After hanging up on Dana,
I called him, to see where he was, but he didn’t answer his telephone.
It just rang and rang, again and again. The rest of the morning, I waited. Even
into the afternoon, I waited.
I cleaned up the apartment to pass the time. The dirty clothes on the floor went
in the closet in a pile. The dirty dishes rinsed in hot water. By early afternoon,
I even had the carpet vacuumed, spotless, until it looked bright green again,
like the sea.
It was early afternoon when Charlie finally knocked on my door.
“You could have let me know when you were coming,” I said.
I held the door open only a few inches.
“Yeah, sorry,” he said. “I thought I’d be here sooner.
You know how it is.”
“I guess,” I said, opening the door wider.
“I stopped for waffles in Wilmington,” he said.
“That’s twenty minutes north.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You could have just come here,” I said. “We have waffle houses
here. We have good ones too.”
“It’s goddamn shining in here,” said Charlie, looking around
His car is light blue, and also old. With the rust spots, Charlie’s vehicle
looks like a polluted skyline. Outside, he unlocked my door first, then walked
around the front, stopping halfway, right in front of me, to look at a dent in
“It’s new,” he said, inside.
He started the car.
“The dent,” he said.
He turned the radio down and looked at me.
“You want me to ask about it?” I said.
“I thought you might.”
“What happened with the dent, Charlie?”
“Get this,” said Charlie. “I don’t even know.”
“I just got up in the morning, and found it there,” he said. “Can
you believe that?”
“Did you park on the street?”
“Yeah, of course,” he said.
“Well,” I said.
Dana and George live in Denver, another hour south of where I live. Charlie and
I didn’t talk about either of them until we were fifteen minutes outside
of the city. And only then I brought them up because I wasn’t sure which
exit led to their house.
“She said to meet them at the hospital,” Charlie said.
“That’s where they are,” he said.
“Do you know where that is?”
“Of course,” he said. “Do I know where the hospital is? Jill,
come on. Of course I know.”
We pulled off for gas just before Denver. We could see the downtown buildings
in the distance. I ran in quickly and bought a small soda, then hung around outside,
waiting by the car. Charlie pumped the gas, then went to the bathroom, then paid,
then stopped by the store’s front door for a full two minutes.
Back in the car, he told me there was a bulletin board with flyers.
“Check it out,” he said. “Look at this. Guitar lessons, readings,
concerts, parties. They have all this stuff right here. It’s all happening
“You’d go to a party advertised at a gas station outside of town?”
“Maybe,” he said. “I don’t know.”
He put the flyers in the front pocket of his button-down shirt.
“Maybe not a party,” he added. “But there are other things.”
Clouds came in when we were back on the interstate. Charlie drove for five minutes
before taking an exit that looked too dark for hospitals. From the car, the buildings
all looked abandoned, and also wrong. The brick was too dirty. There were no
houses in sight. And none of the buildings had signs.
“You can’t tell what anything is,” I said. “It all looks
“That’s the charm,” said Charlie.
“You’re sure this is the right way?”
“Jill,” he said. “Jill, now come on.”
He parked in front of a building that looked emptier than the rest, except for
the lights on upstairs, shining right through the white curtains. The only other
distinctive thing about the building was the barber shop pole out front, by the
This pole was not spinning around.
“This isn’t the hospital,” I said. “This doesn’t
even look like a hospital. This looks like a barber shop.”
I looked inside.
I added, “Except there aren’t any barber chairs.”
“Those are expensive,” said Charlie. “I’ve heard that
“Where are we?” I said then. “Charlie, where?”
“Just one minute,” said Charlie. “We’re in and out right
here. We’re in and out, Jill.”
Charlie pulled a flyer from his shirt pocket, unfolded it, and squinted at the
instructions. He knocked three times, evenly, slowly. After another ten seconds,
he knocked three more times, quickly now. A minute later, a man wearing a black
tank-top brought us inside, through the dark storefront and up the stairs in
the back. We stopped in a small apartment brightly lit with candles. Everyone
was dressed up fancy, with big hats and dark clothing. In the corner, a large
woman picked away at a yellow apple. Up at the very front of the room, where
absolutely no one stood, was a podium, with a microphone. A bottle of whiskey
was next to the microphone.
The man in the tank-top brought us to a woman wearing high black boots.
“Welcome,” she said. “Welcome, welcome. We’re just about
to get started.”
“I thought we could make it,” said Charlie. “Great.”
“Hi,” I said.
“I’ve got a great sense of timing,” Charlie added.
“Apparently,” said the woman.
She shook our hands before walking to the podium, where she clapped, coughed
once into the microphone, and waited for everyone to sit down in the chairs spread
out before her. There were about twenty people total in the apartment. And there
were not enough chairs. Charlie got one, but I didn’t, so I stood in back,
behind everyone else. Two other men stood with me.
We were in the apartment’s kitchen. In the small sink were dirty wine glasses,
and tiny plates with cheese and cracker crumbs. Near the kitchen, behind me,
was the bathroom, the door open, and the light off. As the woman with the boots
began talking again, I couldn’t help looking around at all the sad parts
of the little apartment, the small counters, the curtains with missing rings,
the old mattress leaned up against the far wall, behind the podium, and between
the two small windows.
The woman was loud.
She said, “We are here tonight to celebrate local art. Thanks for coming.”
“We have three readers tonight,” the woman continued. “We’ll
get right to it, of course. First, please welcome Jordan, our wonderful poet.”
A fat woman stood up and shuffled to the podium. She hugged the woman in boots
before turning to face the audience. Her papers were folded, near crumpled.
Jordan drank from the bottle of whiskey before beginning her first poem. She
seemed nervous. Up ahead of me, a few rows, Charlie smiled like an idiot, like
he was a child again. He turned around, saw me, and made a face. It was the familiar
cartoon face that he always made as a kid during Halloween parties.
I introduced myself to the man next to me.
“Shh,” he hummed. “Man.”
I held out my hand, but he only pointed to Jordan, whose first poem was about
“All right,” I said.
“You were so generous, always,” read Jordan.
She said, “You were like the stars.”
By the time she finished the poem, I had finished a glass of wine. Near the sink,
I poured myself another.
Jordan was into the second poem when I found the carpenter ants roaming along
the kitchen floor, right in front of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. They
looked like chicken pox. I waited until Jordan finished and then tapped the shoulder
of the other man standing, the one who hadn’t yet talked to me.
“Look,” I said, pointing to the ants.
“What?” he said.
“Look,” I said again.
“There are ants inside,” I said. “Ants, they’re inside.
They’re right here.”
“Shh,” the other standing man hummed.
“Fine,” I said. “OK, fine.”
People sitting ahead of us turned around to see what was happening. Charlie gave
me another look like I should be more respectful. His brow curved down. He opened
his mouth just a little bit, arching the upper lip. I held my hands up.
“Fine,” I said again, louder this time.
Jordan began her third and final poem.
“The stars are coming down in waves,” she said.
I drank the wine and stepped on the ants, a few at a time. Then, as quietly as
I could, I slid my shoe along the tile floor to wipe off their dead bodies. By
the end of the poem, also about Jordan’s father, I had killed almost all
of the ants.
I looked up to see Charlie, now standing in front of me.
“Can I talk to you?” he said. “Now.”
“Sure,” I said. “Sure, Charlie. Let’s talk.”
We went to the stairwell.
“You’re ruining this for me,” he said.
“Ruining what, exactly?” I said. “Charlie, we’re at a
“She was good.”
“No one cares that this apartment is terrible,” I said then. “No
one cares. They’re all just fine with it. Insects are crawling in from
outside, but people only want the poetry, and nothing else.”
Charlie took my glass of wine and finished it.
“So, what, you want to go?” he said. “You want to go and just
miss the last two readers?”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “Yes, Jesus.”
I waited outside for Charlie. I walked in circles on the sidewalk to pass the
time. He insisted on saying goodbye to the people he met there. And ten full
minutes passed before he came out.
“You made a fool of yourself in there,” he said, finally outside. “You
“You did,” he said again.
It was early evening. The clouds came in stronger now, as Charlie drove back
to the interstate. The sun was still in the sky, though barely visible.
Charlie drove for fifteen minutes, near downtown Denver, and stopped when he
saw a Walgreens.
“Hang on,” he said.
He rummaged around in the glove compartment and took something, I didn’t
“Are we here?” I said. “I don’t see the hospital.”
“I need to stop real quick,” he said. “I’m running in
“In where?” I said. “Stopping where?”
He pointed to the Walgreens.
He left me in the car, without the keys.
After ten minutes, I followed him, only to find that he was standing by the photo
booth, talking to the clerk.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“I had photos,” said Charlie. “They’re quick here.”
“Should just be five or ten more minutes,” said the clerk. “I
don’t think it’ll be any longer than that.”
“Thanks,” I said.
The clerk waited.
“Can you give us a second?” I said.
“Oh, sure,” said the clerk. “Yeah, hey, no problem.”
Charlie and I walked down the candy aisle.
“I have some pictures I want to show Dana,” he said.
“You could have developed them before picking me up.”
“I forgot they were there,” he said. “Honest, I remembered
only after seeing the Walgreens sign. I wish we had a Walgreens in Cheyenne.
They’re really great.”
“I thought you did have one,” I said.
“It’s not on my side of town.”
We looked at the toys section while we waited.
“How’s the office?” Charlie said then.
“Fine, I guess,” I said.
“One of the professors thinks I’m incompetent,” I said. “One
time, he asked me to make copies for him, and I didn’t collate. He was
“Sorry,” said Charlie.
“I like the summers,” I said. “If every month could be like
July, I’d be good. The department isn’t busy then.”
“No, I understand.”
I picked up a stuffed dog. Charlie hovered over the action figures.
He said, “I got promoted last month. I’m assistant manager now.”
“That’s great, Charlie,” I said.
“So is your job going to change all that much?” I said.
“Not really, actually,” he said. “I’ll have to start
hiring and firing people, so that the manager doesn’t have to do it. But
that’s about it. The promotion is mostly about the pay raise.”
“Have you fired anyone yet?”
“No, but I hired someone,” he said. “I got to do the interview
“What questions did you ask?”
“I asked him what he thought his weaknesses were,” he said. “Then
I asked him the same question a second time, right after hearing his answer.”
“The guy looked terrified,” he said.
I laughed a second time.
We were in the herbal remedies aisle not long after.
“Do people actually buy this stuff?” I said.
“Sure,” said Charlie. “I dated a girl one time.”
He said, “I dated a girl one time who bought all this stuff. She took ten
pills every morning.”
“Was she healthier for it?”
“I guess,” he said. “She ran a lot. She was never out of breath.”
“The sex was usually pretty good,” Charlie added.
The remedies aisle was close to the pharmacy, where there were chairs. I sat
down in one. Charlie stood next to me. Together, we watched the people in line,
standing right before us, waiting their turn.
“I heard that working in a pharmacy is a good job,” I said.
“Lots of education,” said Charlie.
“No,” I said. “I mean, it’s a good job to work as an
assistant in a pharmacy. A pharmacist’s assistant, that’s what it’s
called. You need a certificate, is all.”
“What’s so good about it?”
“You get paid well,” I said. “That’s one thing.”
“Yeah,” said Charlie.
“The certificate is only a year’s worth of classes,” I added.
“Just a year,” I said.
Over the in-store P.A. a voice said that Charlie should come to the photo counter.
The clerk told us, “Great pictures. What a nice family.”
“You looked at them?” I said.
“I have to,” said the clerk.
I looked at Charlie.
“They have to,” said Charlie. “That’s how this works.”
“All right,” I said. “They’re your pictures anyway.”
“Thanks,” Charlie told the clerk.
In the car, Charlie wouldn’t let me look at the photographs. He claimed
that he wanted us all to look at the pictures together.
“It’ll be special this way,” he said.
“Fine,” I said. “OK.”
It was raining. The dirt on the streets slid down into the gutters. On the interstate,
the pavement looked new and clean. My hair was wet, just a little bit. I pulled
down the mirror in front of me and redid my ponytail.
“When’s the last time you got a haircut?” I said.
“I cut my own hair,” said Charlie.
“When’s the last time you did that?”
“Last month,” he said.
“I think I need to cut mine,” I said. “I want a real short
cut this time.”
“Above your shoulders?” he said. “Like, that short?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That short.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter if you just wear it in a ponytail like
“I don’t always,” I said. “This was just today.”
I looked at myself in the mirror again.
“Maybe I should have done it up,” I said.
“I don’t know.”
Charlie pulled the car off another exit, to a busy street, where there were lights
on all the buildings. Behind us were the downtown skyscrapers, looming big. I
could see the Chase Bank sign on one of the highest buildings.
“Are we close?” I said.
“Oh, we’re close, all right,” he said.
“Good,” I said. “How long are we going to stay?”
“I hadn’t thought about it,” he said.
“I don’t really want to stay the night here,” I said. “I
was half-hoping that we could leave with enough time to drive back home tonight.”
“That’s a long drive for me,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I could stay at your place,” he said.
“Well,” I said. “I don’t know.”
“Here we are,” he said then, parking in front of a comedy club.
It was called Mouth Happy. The lights around the sign were bright orange. In
the middle of the sign was a big tongue, lit up red and pink with small bulbs.
Charlie turned the car off and took another flyer from his shirt pocket. He checked
it, then leaned over me to see the comedy club itself.
“This is the one,” he said. “This is it, all right.”
I looked at the building again. It was all brick, like an elementary school.
“You’re joking,” I said. “This isn’t real. You’re
not being real right now.”
“Nope,” I said. “No.”
Charlie closed his mouth, but still beamed at me.
“Look,” I said, “if you don’t want to go to the hospital,
just say so. Drop me off. But don’t drive me—“
I didn’t have time to finish. Charlie was out the door and inside Mouth
I waited for a few minutes before following.
But the place was smaller than I imagined a comedy club would be. I always imagined
them being like the theaters I see on television, with thousands of people sitting
down, in rows that climb upward. In Mouth Happy, people stood, and talked, and
walked around, even while comedians told jokes onstage. All the while, people
Charlie was by the bar. I went for him, but the path closed off before me. I
stopped about five seats down the bar from where he stood.
“Is it true that places like this have drink minimums?” I said to
He wore a suit, a green one.
“What?” he said.
“Is it true you have to drink a certain amount of drinks in clubs like
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know that.”
“OK,” I said.
He got his change from the bartender and took off.
“What about you?” the bartender said then, turning to me.
“Well,” I said.
I caught up with Charlie a couple minutes later, when both of us had gotten drinks.
The bar was in the very back. The stage was up front, with a bunch of round tables
for the audience. Between the tables and the bar was a thin railing, where people
stood to watch the performers. Charlie and I stayed there.
Talking right then was a man who was very drunk. He stumbled around on the stage,
explaining just how funny small towns are.
“You go,” he kept saying, “and just sit around in nothing.
I went to a grocery store in Baylor once. I could hear people sneezing, from
across the place. That’s how quiet these small towns are.”
“This guy’s terrible,” I said.
“It’s open mic night,” said Charlie. “He’s probably
doing it for the first time.”
“I’m from Dallas, goddamn it,” said the man. “Now there’s
a real town.”
“Huh,” I said.
“He’s kind of funny,” said Charlie. “I mean, as someone
to laugh at, he’s not so bad.”
“Dallas, Texas,” the man said then. “You can’t hear shit
in Dallas, Texas. There’s just too much going on.”
“I guess,” I said.
When part of a table opened up before the stage, Charlie grabbed two seats. I
didn’t even notice that he’d left, not until I looked down to see
him waving at me to follow along. This was in between comedians, so we got to
talking with the other people at the table. There were four others, besides Charlie
and me. One was a veterinarian. She brought a friend of hers along, who didn’t
say what she did. The other two audience members were a cop and his wife.
We all introduced ourselves.
Charlie said we were comedy lovers.
“Gosh, me too,” said the cop. “I really can’t help myself.”
“He can’t,” said his wife. “He really can’t.”
“I come down here all the time,” the cop said. “I just laugh
“Do you ever perform?” said Charlie.
The cop’s wife laughed.
“Oh no,” said the cop. “No, I couldn’t bring myself to
“I bet it’s hard,” I said.
“I just don’t know what I’d talk about,” he said.
“I tried once,” said the vet’s friend. “I got drunk,
and got up there. I talked about my boyfriend. That’s all I could come
“I bet a lot of people do that, though,” said the vet.
“Have you done it too?” said Charlie, looking at the vet.
“No, oh dear, no,” said the vet.
“And you two,” said the cop’s wife. “Have you two ever
“I haven’t,” said Charlie.
He looked at me.
“No, never,” I said. “Of course not.”
“I think the amateurs are funnier than the professionals,” said the
cop. “I’ve always thought that, huh, baby?”
“That’s true,” said his wife. “That’s true. That’s
what you say.”
“I think it’s harder for them,” said the cop. “And what
they say seems like it’s always just improvised. That’s impressive
“I guess I can see that,” said the vet.
“They’re usually drunker,” said the vet’s friend.
“They don’t always talk about marriage, too, or their spouses,” said
He looked at the vet’s friend.
“No offense,” he added.
“No,” laughed the friend. “No, none taken, of course.”
The cop laughed along.
Another audience member went onstage then. She was young, college age. Her dress
sparkled with little beads all around, and only went down to her knees. Under
the dress were long gray boots.
She said, “I’m here to talk.”
“I’ve been drinking,” she said.
“Oh, here we go,” said the cop, smiling.
Charlie tapped me on the shoulder, and pointed to the bathroom, in the back,
just to the left of the bar. He got up and left.
“Is that your boyfriend?” said the vet.
“No,” I said. “No, that’s my brother.”
“Oh,” she said. “OK.”
“Shh,” went the cop, pointing to the stage.
“I have three jokes for you,” said the woman. “That’s
all. I’ll be quick. I just want to tell you all three good jokes.”
She drank brown liquid from a glass, then set it down on the stool by the microphone.
“The first one is about music,” she said.
She took a deep breath.
“Who,” she said, “is Ray Charles?”
The crowd waited.
“I don’t know either,” she said. “Actually, I don’t
even know the answer to that one. My parents keep talking about him, though.”
Everyone in the audience laughed with the young woman, especially the cop, who
“The second joke,” the woman said.
She took another drink.
“Do you know,” she said, “just what brand of shoes Angelina
Jolie wears? Do you know that?”
The crowd, again, waited for the punch line.
“Who cares,” said the woman. “I imagine she’s on her
back more than on her feet.”
The cop snorted again, and looked at me.
“This girl,” he said. “Boy.”
Charlie came back as the girl began her third joke. He had a new drink with him.
I nodded at his full glass.
“Sorry,” he mouthed.
The girl said, “My third joke is about my boyfriend. Here goes.”
She took a third drink of the brown liquid.
“What do you call my boyfriend?” she said.
She didn’t wait for the crowd to mull it over this time.
“You call him Ethan,” she said then. “But I call him Fuckhead.
I’m dating Fuckhead. That’s all.”
The audience ate it up. They kept laughing even when the girl stumbled off the
stage and sat down with a group of women. A man with a clipboard walked to the
microphone when she was gone, and began talking, and thanking the girl.
“Eileen,” he kept saying. “Let’s thank Eileen.”
I got into it with Charlie.
“I thought we were in and out,” I said. “I thought we were
doing one drink, then gone.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I thought the girl was going to go longer.
I thought I had time.”
“I normally have a good sense of timing,” he said.
I went with the vet to get another drink. We walked side by side.
“How long have you been a veterinarian?” I said.
“Oh, five years,” she said. “About that.”
“You like it, then.”
“I should think so,” said the vet.
We waited for the bartender.
“Your brother’s cute,” she told me.
“Yeah, he is,” she said. “Is he single?”
“I don’t really want to talk about that.”
“Oh, OK,” she said. “Sorry.”
“What’s your favorite animal to work on?” I said.
“Horses,” she said again. “No question about it.”
“Is it hard to examine them, since they’re so big?”
“No,” she said. “What?”
“Oh, OK,” I said. “Forget it.”
“I like them because they’re sweet,” she said. “Horses
are sweet. They’re almost like humans that way. Plus, I like how they sound.”
“Huh,” I said. “Actually, yeah, I always liked that sound, too.”
The man on the stage, with the clipboard, said that there was going to be a short
break, just a few minutes, while he went to the bathroom. The crowd moaned, but
the man assured them he would be right back.
We were all at the table again. The cop talked about the last criminal that he
“The guy was trying to steal from a drive-thru,” the cop said. “One
of the workers called, and then stalled the driver until I got there. He held
up the line, arguing with the woman, right through the closed window.”
The vet laughed along with the friend. The cop’s wife, who seemed to have
heard the story before, didn’t react. She kept looking up at the stage.
I leaned over to Charlie.
“This is the last drink,” I said. “When you’re done,
I looked at my watch.
“It’s late,” I said. “Charlie, you understand?”
“No, no, sure,” he said. “No, you’re right.”
“The guy was so surprised that I found him,” the cop went on. “Anyway,
he’s in jail now.”
The man with the clipboard came back not long after. He apologized again, then
looked at his list of comedians.
“Let’s see,” he said. “We have a newcomer now. Charlie.
Let’s go with Charlie.”
Charlie got up.
I tried to stop him.
I said, “I don’t think you should do this.”
“No, it’ll be fun,” he said.
“Do you even have material?” I said.
“Of course,” he said. “I’m funny, come on.”
“You’re not really,” I said.
“He looks funny,” said the cop’s wife. “He looks like
he might be pretty funny.”
“Yeah,” said the vet’s friend. “He’s got the face
of a comedian.”
“No,” I said. “Charlie, hang on.”
But he was already heading up toward the stage, his drink in hand.
“He shouldn’t be doing this,” I said to the cop, who was the
only one not yet smiling.
“No, I think he’ll probably be fine,” he said. “It’s
not that big of a deal.”
Charlie began talking.
“I guess I have like five minutes,” he said. “That’s
enough time, right? I’ve never done this before.”
The crowd clapped for him when he was silent.
“He needs encouragement,” the cop said to me. “Clap along.
You’re his friend, right? Clap. Go on, now.”
Charlie said, “I saw pumpkin beer the other day. Have you had pumpkin beer?
What is the stuff, exactly? How do you get pumpkin inside a beer? I don’t
get it, you know?”
At this, the crowd laughed.
“I drank it,” he said. “It did taste like a pumpkin. You ask
me, though, pumpkins should be for other things.”
The cop chuckled. His wife clapped.
“Like Halloween,” said Charlie. “Pumpkins should be for Halloween,
and Jack-O-Lanterns. You remember those? How many people still do Jack-O-Lanterns?”
All the people who still did them clapped. It was about half of the audience.
“Good, good,” said Charlie. “Right? My family carved pumpkins
every single year.”
He pointed out at me.
“Yeah, Jill, right?” he said. “That’s my sister, everyone.
She knows. She does. We carved pumpkins every single year.”
The people in the audience turned their heads and stared at me. I drank from
my glass and tried to appear small.
“One year,” said Charlie, “I remember I was young. It was my
second time carving a pumpkin. There was this big knife that my dad gave me.
I cut the mouth first. It was too big, and too far up from the bottom. I did
the nose next, also too big. I ended up having no room for the eyes. Eventually
I just carved them on both sides of the nose. My pumpkin had three eyes, it looked
The audience laughed again.
“Ridiculous,” said the vet. “That’s just adorable.”
“I was eight,” said Charlie. “And I had a pumpkin with three
eyes. How about that? My parents still put it outside anyway, on the porch, with
a candle inside lighting up the face. They didn’t even care that I messed
it up so bad.”
The audience kept laughing, though the laughter was more strained now. Charlie’s
face began to tighten, like a doll’s might over time.
“That’s one good thing I remember,” he said.
I finished my drink and got up to leave.
“Where are you going?” said the cop.
I pointed to the door.
“Oh, all right,” he said.
Outside, I leaned up against the side of the building, and faced the street.
There were no cars, even though it was still early for a weekend night. Down
the street, I heard people leaving and entering bars, drunk, and loud. They laughed
terribly. The stars hung low.
Charlie’s car looked silver in the night. The rust spots were invisible
without the sun. I put my hands in my jean pockets and just stared at the car.
I imagined it moving.
Then the cop came out after me.
“Hey,” he said. “What are you doing? He’s killing in
“I’m supposed to be somewhere else,” I said. “I’m
not supposed to be here.”
“It’s your first time at a comedy club, isn’t it?” he
“You get used to it,” he said. “Really, you do.”
“People sometimes get rowdy,” he said. “They’re not right
now, though. They really like your brother tonight.”
“I just didn’t want to come, I guess,” I said. “There
was something else we had to do.”
“They do like him, really,” the cop said.
“No, it sounds like it,” I said.
He leaned against the building too, right next to me. There were only inches
“That’s my brother’s car,” I said.
“OK,” said the cop.
“Do you drive your cop car around town, even when you’re not on duty?” I
“Yeah, usually,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure.”
“It helps, really,” he said. “There are studies. People see
a cop’s car, even without the lights on, and they drive better on the streets.
It’s been proven.”
“That’s good,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s all right,” he said.
“Do you carry your badge, too?”
He pulled a necklace from under his shirt. Attached, at the bottom, was his badge,
“Cool,” I said.
“I carry my bracelets, too,” he said.
“Handcuffs,” he said.
“Oh, wow,” I said.
“Do you want to see them?”
He lifted up his jacket, just a little bit, and pulled the handcuffs from the
back of his jeans. They dangled from his right hand.
“They look bigger than they actually are,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“When you click them shut, they’re actually smaller,” he added. “But
like this, they’re the biggest they can be. No one has wrists this big,
“Oh,” I said.
I rubbed my eyes.
The cop brought up Charlie’s car again.
“Wyoming plates,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m from Colorado, though.”
“He made it all the way down here in that?” he said. “It looks
a little old.”
“Yeah, right?” I said. “I know.”
I left the brick then, and looked through the car window. The packet of pictures
was in a little hole below the tape deck. I tried the door, but it was locked.
“All right,” said the cop then. “You seem OK. I’m going
to head back in now.”
He patted my shoulder before leaving.
I heard laughter when he opened the door to the club.
“OK, yeah,” I said, still facing the car, looking inside. “Go
on ahead. I’ll be here.”