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.
It doesn't take a genius to get that not every joke flies. Or that there are certain audiences with whom perfectly good jokes should not be shared. Making jokes is, after all, an inherently risky behavior.
Leanne enjoyed that moment of uncertainty; her stomach felt light and even buoyant when she entered a repartee. Whatever risk she imperiled herself with felt small when compared to the thrill of saying something witty to people she thought would appreciate it. She counted herself lucky to be someone who could do something other than communicate the broad generalities of life through whitewashed descriptions and dishrag cliches. But, in a private moment, she might also say that after the joke, she could feel a little dirty and even a bit greedy, as if the laughter she engendered revealed her as someone who needed to tell a joke. She hoped she wasn't that kind of person, but she knew enough about psychology to know that every comic's humor had to come from somewhere, and that this "somewhere" was rarely well-lit.
It was a rare week when she hadn't experienced that pungent mixture of pleasure and embarrassment. So, in the New Year, under the lunchtime glare of fluorescent lights at the Afghani restaurant, she poised, ready to reel them in.
Pointing to a massive skewer in the middle of the table, she cast and threw out her line, "Hey, I think I saw that used in an S&M scene once."
Her co-workers roared, putting hands over their mouths and fanning their faces as if to keep their throats from constricting around their food. They were caught. But Leanne shrugged and panned, "I'm just saying."
Then she smiled, letting the edges of her mouth curl up just slightly for a moment, to acknowledge their enjoyment. From left to right, she looked at each of their faces, soaking up the pleasure of having laid the right bait. But then she felt something. Something that made her stomach sour. In a flash, she realized that they might be laughing not at her joke, but at her. She had lost her grip on the line.
She started calculating, evaluating. Had she gone too far? At the climax of their laughter, Leanne looked down at her plate. Damn.
"Or was it a religious festival?" She bit her lip, trying to cover her gaffe.
In truth, Leanne wasn't sure where she had seen the skewer used. She fished around in her memory, trying to identify the shadowy image that had risen up in her mind and led her to the joke — was it a Hindu ritual?
She realized it was too late. The laughter had crested again, and now heads were shaking — people looked at each other and rolled their eyes. As she cautiously scanned the table once more, she hoped her look did not betray her fear that her coworkers would think her inappropriate or even mistake her as someone who actually knew what to do with all that metal.
One thing had become absolutely certain: She was making a name for herself. Her glance around the table proved it. They had stopped looking directly at her now and raised their eyebrows at each other, cocking their heads in a familiar way. And while Leanne was good at making a joke, she was less good at seeing the long-term results of one. So she waited, tears building up behind her eyes. And as she floated free of the hook she herself had prepared, she waited for them to gobble her up.