NPR logo Departure

Old worn suitcase with gloves on a foggy country road.

For Round 6 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction where one of the characters tells a joke and one of the characters cries.

Even if he did wake up, you could always tell him that you couldn't sleep, that the next-door cat is in heat again and the wailing on the rooftop was unbearable, that maybe you'd heat up a glass of milk, watch 15 minutes of the Weather Channel until you drift into sleep.

It's a hot night, and the sheets are light enough to peel away without making a fuss. Your movements are slow, as if your body were a machine just starting up, processing its functions, its endless list of obligations. You roll onto your side, extend one leg stiffly out over the edge, allow it to float parallel to the floor.

You glance back at your husband. Tufts of curly hair poke out from the blanket, only the top part of his face visible. Two eyes, closed and fluttering, the bridge of his thin nose. Your heart beats against your chest like a tiny hammer, and you wonder when he's going to pop open his eyes, snatch you by the wrist, say "how can this be so easy for you?"

Slide your other leg over, pause when your husband's foot jerks, then, with gentle force, slip down to the floor, rise, and watch how the lines of white moonlight filter through the crooked blinds, scatter onto the bed like tiny ghosts replacing you.

You leave the door ajar, just a crack, then glide down the staircase, dart into the kitchen around the corner. You lean against the wall near the window, lift the blinds to let the orange streetlight flood in. Two temples of greasy Chinese food sit on the counter. A Snickers wrapper, too. He's been cheating, you think. You shake your head, resist the urge to find another word.

The microwave clock reads 2:08. You rub windowsill dust between your fingers, peer up and down the street, until, finally, at 2:16, a car turns onto your block, flashes the brights once, then parks a few houses down.

Don't just run out the door. Stop when you catch your reflection in the hallway mirror, and take a few seconds to fix your hair, scrape the dry toothpaste from your lip. Something shuffles behind you. You spin around and see your son standing there in a pair of his favorite footie pajamas, dazed, rubbing his eye.

"Why you awake?" he asks. You tap your finger against your mouth to keep him hushed, kneel next to him.

"Why are you awake?" you repeat.

He looks down at his feet, then back up again, asks if you want to hear a joke.

Your throat burns. Yes, but only if he's very quiet and promises to sleep right after. He nods.

"Will you remember me tomorrow?" he asks.

"Yes, of course," you say. He searches for the words in his head, blinks, continues.

"Will you remember me in a week?" You stare back at him. He knows. How does he know?

"Of course I will," you say. "Don't be silly"

"Knock knock," he interrupts.

"Who's there?"

He laughs. "Momma, you forgot me already!"

A few seconds pass and he's still smiling, satisfied with the joke. You want to laugh, tell him that you can't wait to tell Daddy the joke tomorrow over breakfast. He'll love it. Really, it was that good.

But you say nothing. Instead, you pull him by the front of his pajamas, thrust your face into his small chest as if he were a tissue. When he hears you whimper, he thinks you're laughing.

He smiles, tries to see your face.