Coltrane said, “Listen, Willie, I don’t know if you’d be interested but we’re having a fresh faces night at my club on the last Friday of the month.” Holy shit. “I’m not trying to poach you from Bruce or nothing—even though you’re shaped like an egg, eh?” He elbowed me again and I dreamt about cramming his whole arm into a tin can like the giant tuna he was. Just fucking ask, you blubbery fuck. Through all this, I was chuckling at his dumb joke. No wonder he got out of comedy. Ask, goddamn it. I was done chuckling and chortling. Karen tugged on my sleeve and I felt like a kettle about to boil.
“Anyways, if you’re interested—I hear you’re unrepresented, and there’ll be a couple scouters there, so it could be good for ya—if you’re interested, you wanna headline a show at my joint for a change?”
End of the month. Three weeks. There had to be new material. There had to be.
“I’d be honoured, Bill.”
“Let’s not talk honour. Ain’t no honour among comics.” We shook again, hand to flipper. “Look, I can see your girl wants to get out of this upstanding establishment, so what say my people call your people and we’ll set everything up for the 27th.”
“I’ll give you my peoples’ number.” I jotted my number down on a nearby table napkin and gave it to him. He gave me his card. Shit, why didn’t I make business cards? I must’ve looked like a schmoe.
We exchanged pithy goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous and the second Coltrane left and before anyone else could approach to buy me a drink or let me brag about my deal, Karen said, as forcefully as I’d ever seen her, “I need to talk to you.” I expected her to sound angry, after brushing her off during my whole previous conversation, but she sounded soft despite the force. Placating.
Testing her, I asked, “You don’t want to stay for a drink? To celebrate? Did you even hear what just happened?”
Her hand was on my chest, pushing me without applying pressure. “It’s important.”
“So is this. Do you know who that was? I’ve been working toward something like this for—“
“Just one drink—Karen, I was fucking headliner, I can’t just—“
“It’s about your mother.”
In comedy, we call that space of emphasizing silence a beat. I don’t know what you call it in the real world, but it happened anyway because my stomach and my jaw dropped like Acme anvils and carrion audience members filled the beat with “Willie you were so funny tonight, oh my god,” and, “You saw me spit out my beer, right? All over my fiancée,” and, “Was that Bill Coltrane?” and then I said, “What about my mother?” and the other voices stopped.
“Let’s go outside,” said Karen.
“What about my mother?”
“What about my mother?”
“-you’re hurting me.”
I released her arm, instead clamping my fist into itself. “What happened to Mom?”
The audience had drifted away, but watched and listened as well as they ever did while I was on stage.
Karen’s eyes floated in a pool of tears. She had my shirt and my chest hair clenched in a balled fist.
She said, “An hour ago, she … Willie, she passed away.”
And for the first time that night, Karen laughed.
It was a hopeless, lost, and poisonous sound, like giving noise to a final breath. And when she pressed her face to my chest she laughed out all her tears and snot and mascara, her head pummelling my heart through my shirt and ribcage with every venomous HA, and all I could do was press my fingers into the back of her scalp, my teeth quaking under the pressure of my tight jaw, and my eyes were bone dry because I couldn’t shut them, the lids just weren’t there anymore, and all the while she laughed and laughed and her laughter beat me like a club.
Day 348’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Death,” “Red anger,” and, “Last laugh.”
More Pharmakon. The best medicine, now poisoned.