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Contemporary Sad Funny

It’s 6:13 pm in the cobwebbed auditorium behind the elementary school. You know this is where they teach kids to count on their fat fingers and show slideshows of where babies actually come from. The thought makes you gag. 

You’re hidden behind the frayed red velvet curtains that nobody’s replaced in years, rubbing concealer onto your forehead to cover your hideous acne. It had blossomed under your eyes and down the bridge of your pointy little nose. 

People call you ugly on the street and you couldn’t agree more. Your own mother called you an ogre at age eleven and you cried under your bed that night. 

This is the same mother that sits in the middle of row three, a frown stitched onto her face and her hand halfway down a box of popcorn. The same mother that took custody of your son and quotes wise people in parking lots. 

Next to her is an empty seat. Fuzz has gathered on the edges and taped to the back is a piece of paper that reads Reserved. Your son was supposed to come. He obviously did not. 

There are four other people in the audience. One’s face is lit by the glow of their phone. Cat meows leak from their direction and giggles burst from their lips like speech bubbles in black and white comic books. 

If being in the stand-up comedy business for less than ten minutes has taught you anything, it’s that everyone’s laughter is different. You’re a talker with lipstick smudges that resemble bruises but you’re also a listener. You know that laughter can be rough like boats against the ocean’s current or light like keyless pianos and wishes on dandelions. 

The second thing it’s taught you is to never take gigs from friends who messed up badly in high school. Lawrence offered you this one and he works at the concession stand. He’s had the job for more years than your math abilities allow to count. You remember kissing him in the back of his van and thinking of how he smelt like bubblegum, sweet and sticky and temporary. 

It’s now 6:28. You’ve wasted 15 minutes already. Might as well buy a Rolex and watch the seconds tick into minutes, into hours, into days. Something you’ve always longed to do but never had the time. Or money. 

You should start the show now. It’s getting late and your five audience members could be getting bored. You tighten your fingers around the microphone and hold it up to your lips. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Sally Hickman, your hilarious entertainment for tonight.” 

The curtains whip back and you waltz onto the stage. You smile and wave to no one in particular. It reminds you of when you watched Disney princess movies with your son cuddled in your arms. He’d twist his wrists and mock the way royalty waves. It was silly but you think you’re the only one who remembers that special moment you two shared. 

“Hello everyone. Welcome, welcome.” Your heels click on the rotting wood. You feel like Marilyn Monroe in a 1960’s Hollywood movie for some reason. Maybe it’s the yellow lights tracing circles onto the ground. “Let me just start off with saying that me being up here on this stage, reciting jokes that might make you frown and think of your dead father—my condolences by the way—is nerve-wracking. It’s like accidentally falling off a cliff and watching your close friends look at your bloody body and go ‘We never liked her anyways.’ It’s not like I have any friends, though.” 

You had friends. Lawrence was one of them until he offered you this job. Your friends had blue faces and drove cars with dents in the side. Now, they’re gone. You dropped out of college but you know enough to say that they could’ve been phosphenes. Just stars that connect into triangles and disappear whenever you open your eyes. 

Nobody laughs at your joke. It’s okay, though, you didn’t expect them to. 

The woman with the cat sounds and the frizzy hair stands. Her eyes are glued to her phone and everyone looks at her. She doesn’t seem to notice when she heads towards the bathroom. 

“Miss, wait,” you gulp. “Back where I’m from, everyone has bladders.” The woman glanced up then, disgusted. “Just wait, enjoy the show. Don’t leave.” 

The door shuts. Your mother slaps her knee and popcorn kernels fly into the air. Her dentures show when she laughs. Her laugh is dry and like the beat of a drum. Steady and old and like she’s gasping for air. Some of the food lands in the empty seat next to her. 

You can imagine your son sitting there. Him with his thin lips and boney arms. He is like a reflection of you and whenever you look into his eyes it’s like looking into a mirror. You always hated mirrors, though. That’s why you didn’t have any in your house so you didn’t have to stare at the ugly figure in front of you. 

Four audience members left. You chuckle to yourself. “Anyways. I just thought of this funny story. When my son was eight years old,” you slowly walked across the stage, “he carried home a large mirror that he found out in front of some very vain neighbor’s house. I’ll have you know, I don’t like mirrors because they’re creepy.” That isn’t the only reason, you know. “So my son hauled it in and I was forced to stare at myself. I said something about my freckles being ugly and frowned. He said they weren’t a curse, more like a blessing. And proceeded to count every freckle on his body, because he had some too.” 

Somebody laughs. You don’t know who but somebody did. You would cherish the moment if your mother wasn’t looking at you in that particular way. With her pinched cheeks and frozen glare. Sometimes she thinks that she knows your son better than you and she does not. 

She does not know your son’s map of freckles and scars down his back that when connected makes the deformed shape of a moose. She does not know his favorite Disney movie or how he likes his eggs cooked. And she can not recognize love in its rawest form. 

“He counted 2,795 freckles, by the way.” Nobody laughs and you do. To yourself, mostly. And just because of the odd memory. 

You continue to tell jokes and stories about your son and your life and your past. You earn a few more laughs, but none from your mother. She’s still pissed about your son. 45 more minutes pass and finally it’s over. 

Your feet are becoming swollen and purple in your heels and your voice is cracking every few minutes. “And that’s my show. Thanks for coming and don’t forget to tip on the way out!” You wink and feel your eyes burn. 

The curtains are drawn and you exhale. Sweat has carved into your face and sent concealer dripping down your forehead. Your acne shows and you don’t care. 

There’s an envelope sitting by your bag. It’s white and crisp and when you open it you can smell cash. Fresh from the bank with stern male faces etched into the side. You know this color green and it greets you with kisses. The envelope gets tucked into your pocket. 

“Salome.” It’s a familiar voice. 

You turn around, just to be face to face with your mother. There are wrinkles stretching beside her eyes but she isn’t smiling. 

“Mother dearest,” you say, slinging your bag over your shoulder. “Has tonight’s show proved to you that I am not a drug addict?” 

She wears red robes with popcorn stuck to the front and bracelets that chatter whenever she moves her wrists. Her frown makes you want to laugh, she looks almost like a cartoon character. “No. You’re still on something, I can tell. And I need approval from your doctor and another show next Saturday to prove to me that you’re clean.” 

You smile and stride past her. In her book, that’s a yes so she’ll be here, next Saturday, with a box of overly buttered popcorn, waiting. You can’t let her down or else you’ll never see him again. 

“He’s doing good, by the way. Got a job and an apartment. Got his little girlfriend back that you scared away.” 

You whirl around. “Who?” 

“Your son, of course.” She smirks and heads towards the curtains, her bracelets screaming and her robes catching threads of air. Popcorn tumbles to the ground in her wake. “See you next Saturday.” You watch your mother’s head tangle in the velvet curtains and disappear from view. 

It’s now 7:18 pm in that gray auditorium behind the elementary school and you’re waltzing out the way you came in. The empty red chairs look at you like tired eyes. They never blink and you’re glad when you finally get outside. You’re thinking of freckles like salt and pepper and wondering how in the world you’ll find the address of your son’s apartment. 

December 17, 2020 17:53

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32 comments

Scout Tahoe
17:56 Dec 17, 2020

This is not funny yet I put it under the funny category. I tried to so hard but humor is not my forte. This one is for Vayd. He was an inspiration to us all and I'm very sad he left. Vayd, I'm sorry this is so bad but I just want you to know that you'll be missed. :)

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Aubrey Maria ✌
02:37 Dec 28, 2020

Woah, you can write.

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Scout Tahoe
04:03 Dec 28, 2020

Thanks

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Julie Ward
16:51 Dec 19, 2020

As always, a beautifully written piece. Your characters are always so complex, and Sally is no exception. I felt so sad for her. I also really felt her desperation to be with her son - and how that manifested itself in this last ditch effort of a job. I love that she is so not a comedian, but that she still gives it her all. 45 minutes on stage is a really really long time!

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Scout Tahoe
22:52 Dec 20, 2020

Thank you. I thought it was kind of like an hour of entertainment each Saturday at the theater. My theater used to have those.

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Julie Ward
19:27 Dec 22, 2020

We never had those! (At least that I knew of...) In your local movie theater, or a playhouse? I think that's pretty cool. Did people perform all kinds of entertainment? I would love to see that!!

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Scout Tahoe
22:00 Dec 22, 2020

Ha, two responses. :) It was in an outdoor amphitheater. Every Friday, I think. Sometimes there were many people and sometimes it was only me. Yes, all kinds. Comedy, plays, improv, really anything.

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Julie Ward
19:27 Dec 22, 2020

We never had those! (At least that I knew of...) In your local movie theater, or a playhouse? I think that's pretty cool. Did people perform all kinds of entertainment? I would love to see that!!

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11:44 Dec 19, 2020

The jokes were not funny but when the woman pressing her phone looked at her with disgust, I had to laugh. Because, yes, she is bad at jokes and yet her attempt at it is hilarious. The descriptions here is wonderful. You've managed to take us through her life and to understand why the job is important to her. Take for example the mother who, she thinks, hates her. Although I do think that hate is a big word, I think she was right. I could taste the pain she was in: the fear of losing her child. The drug abuse. The alone feeling. You wrote ...

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Scout Tahoe
22:51 Dec 20, 2020

Thank you, A. How are you?

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Maya W.
23:49 Dec 17, 2020

Scout, omg, great job! This reminds me of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, one of my favorite shows. The second person was excellent, and the story was clear until the end. Wonderful work! I have nothing but complements. I love stories about comedians. I just posted a new story, would you mind checking it out?

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Scout Tahoe
01:19 Dec 18, 2020

I’ve heard of that show and I should really start watching it. Thank you for the comment. I’ve had so much work and in a few days I’ll be free to read all the stories I’ve missed—so yes. :)

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Maya W.
01:22 Dec 18, 2020

Thanks! I look forward to your feedback! And it's a great show!

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Scout Tahoe
01:47 Dec 18, 2020

You’re welcome! Haha two responses.

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Maya W.
02:28 Dec 18, 2020

Oof, sorry.

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Maya W.
01:22 Dec 18, 2020

Thanks! I look forward to your feedback! And it's a great show!

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N. N.
18:23 Dec 17, 2020

This isn't funny, true. But that's what's highlighting the story — Sally's attempt on humour, it's partial fail, and finally how she still remembered every. Single. Detail. About her son. And the use of second person really brings out the effect on this story — the emotions strikes so much on an individual level! Also, this line: "You know that laughter can be rough like boats against the ocean’s current or light like keyless pianos and wishes on dandelions." Absolutely love it. Another well-written story, Scout !!

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Scout Tahoe
18:27 Dec 17, 2020

Thank you, Neha! Your comment is kind and I’m glad you liked it.

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15:16 Dec 26, 2020

I ran out of praise for this one.

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Scout Tahoe
15:36 Dec 26, 2020

Thanks... :) Wait, you're leaving?

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17:30 Dec 26, 2020

:), yeah.. for a while, I guess

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Scout Tahoe
17:54 Dec 26, 2020

We’ll miss you. Any particular reason?

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19:24 Dec 26, 2020

Aw, thanks. No, I just don't feel good, etc. Thanks for caring though

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Scout Tahoe
19:47 Dec 26, 2020

Okay. You're welcome. :)

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Alex Arias
19:34 Dec 24, 2020

Hi Scout! What a good story! I love the line comparing Lawrence to bubblegum; overall it was cleverly written and engaging throughout.

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Scout Tahoe
22:55 Dec 24, 2020

Thank you.

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Amany Sayed
23:32 Dec 17, 2020

This is one of my new favorites. You effortlessly pulled off the 2nd person, and the imagery, and the EVERYTHING! No more words, Scout. I predict another shortlist maybe? You better keep writing!

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Scout Tahoe
01:17 Dec 18, 2020

Haha, thank you.

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Amany Sayed
01:25 Dec 18, 2020

Any timeeee

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Ooh! Awesome job! You have a really distant tone this one is told in, although I don’t know how to describe it. Kinda dreary? I dunno. But the descriptions and characters and everything that happens contributes to the atmosphere of this one. I enjoyed it!! Amazing imagery!

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Scout Tahoe
19:16 Dec 28, 2020

Thanks!

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