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.
That wasn't how the story went. She had, in fact, made a chocolate torte. That much was true, but Mr. Piedmont had never stopped by, and certainly hadn't eaten any of the cake. Nor had anyone written to the local newspaper to share the recipe.
But she held her tongue, silently scrubbing at the rings that she could never quite fully make disappear from the inside of their coffee mugs, while he generated crumbs at the kitchen table.
It hadn't always been like this. Charles was a born storyteller. A virtuoso raconteur. True, he exaggerated, but it was always for the betterment of the tale. The facts were always there, a pallet of colors with which he began, but it was in his brush strokes that his genius took form. He was now working with primary colors and finger paints.
She set the sponge on the edge of the sink and glanced back at him. His eyes were set on the newspaper in front of him, which he had marked with extended and nonsensical footnotes and heavily scrawled punctuations of either enthusiastic agreement or wild dismay. All caps.
"Mmmm," he intoned, rattling the paper closed.
"Has anyone ever told you that you look like George Clooney?"
"What did you say, Fiona? George Clooney? Fi, Fi, Fi," he wagged his finger. "You're just trying to get me into bed with you, aren't you? You just finish the dishes and well see if you play your cards right."
There was a woman once, eons ago, who had stopped Charles in a department store to tell him he looked like George Clooney. Without hesitation, he had responded, "You mean George Clooney looks like me."
It was, of course untrue, which was why it was funny, and why it had become a running inside joke between Fiona and her husband. She would always begin with this question, and he would respond in the same way he had the first time. Next to the perfume counter. To that woman with smudged lipstick and poor vision.
Explaining the importance of the joke would be as pointless as trying to understand what had gone wrong or why. It was silly, but not inconsequential. It had become a sort of talisman to be invoked in times of uncertainty and doubt. An anchor. Something to slice through the knotted tendrils of oblivion that had grown around him, revealing, if only for a second, what had been lost.
But, for the first time, he missed his cue. He dropped his line, and in its place, had substituted this foreign and repulsive rejoinder.
"Fiona." He paused and wiped his mouth. Bits of lemon scone only nested themselves further in his beard.
He couldn't hear her crying over the steady hushing of water from the faucet and the slow percussion of stained dishware.