The Joke

The older women loathe me. I can read disgust from their taught pulled faces, their cat eyes blinking back dried flecks of mascara. Twice my age and smoother skin. At least their breasts are uniformly hideous. They are either saggy and wrinkled or stiff half melons sandwiched between jutting clavicles. Martini glasses are clutched in carefully manicured nails. I sip my scotch and soda through a straw. I want to choke on the lemon.

“So you have to let Julian tell you his joke.” Arthur sits beside me and tries to get his friend to talk. The two of them are entirely greyed over, sipping on single malt and handing the bartender twenties. I wonder if they are actually friends, but I suppose they are the type of old men who exchange pleasantries at the bar for years without ever really being friends.

“Julie! Tell the pretty lady your joke.” Arthur turns back toward me. “Julian tells the best jokes.”

Julian shakes his head and smiles.

“Come on, Julie. Now she’s waiting. ” I notice the women on the other side of the bar glaring at me. I am certainly waiting for something.

Julian is smaller than Arthur. His bright eyes dance around the bar and he places his scotch gently on the coaster. “Okay. Okay. If I don’t tell you this joke, Artie will keep pestering me.” He winks.

I smile.

“Two men are sitting at the bar, having a drink and chatting. They’re having a real good time, and one of them says, Hey, where are you from? The other one shakes his head and says, Oh, I’m from outa state. And the first guy goes, Me too!

Arthur nudges his glass forward and spills scotch on his silverware. “Me too!” he guffaws, and slaps his thigh.

“Wait, wait, Arthur. So he says, Yeah, but I’m from Illinois. Get out of here, says the other one. I’M from Illinois! And the other goes, Well, I’m from Chicago. Pershing Road.

“Pershing Road!” Arthur hollers, and the cougars next to him titter and try to blink. Arthur whoops and orders me another scotch and soda. I feel my feet slowly slide off the barstool.

“Wait!” Julian, murmurs. “Wait, Artie. So the first one goes, Unbelievable! I grew up on ten-nineteen East Pershing! And the other one, he is so shocked, he raises his hands and yells, Buddy, I grew up on ten-nineteen East Pershing.

A woman next to Arthur groans and he clinks her glass while looking at me. “Tell her, Julie, tell her how it ends.”

Julian smiles. “So the bartender sighs and says to the waitress, he says, Shelia, the Murphy twins are drunk again.

I smile, this time all teeth, and watch as the bartender silently adds more ice to the old men’s scotch. He nods at me. I look into the bottom of my glass at the beached lemon, the light casting a dull yellow glow into my palm, and the women trying in vain to furrow their brows at me.

Julian and Arthur are laughing at their joke. I slip away from the stool, away from the bar, and into the slow greying night.

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