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Punch Line

Chantal Corcoran

It really didn’t matter if they were laughing with him or at him. Terry only needed them to laugh. He took a swig from the glass perched on the bar stool in the center of the stage. Piss warm straight from the tap and finally the foam had subsided so he could actually drink it.

Foam mustache, he made a mental note, like a foam finger—there could be a joke in that.

He was halfway through his act and it wasn’t going well. He could wisecrack on the cheap beer, the origami napkins that kept the two-tops from falling over in this shitty Vegas hole in the wall. That would be easy enough. Of course, then he‘d be obliged to comment on the people.

He looked around at the toothless Lucy tweaking in the corner and the bouncer whose fat ass spread across two bar stools…. Ah, leave it alone, Terry thought.

“My wife started her period today,” he said, instead. It was a standard go-to that he didn’t have to think about.

In fact, he had no idea if Trina was on the rag or not. She left two months ago.

“Man up,” she’d said, holding that damn book in the air like it was the fucking bible.

“What a bitch,” Terry said, to the audience, now. It was as much enthusiasm as he’d mustered all night.

They laughed. They always laughed at that.

He snickered, too, to draw it out. A woman in the front row cackled showing him her fillings.

“Seriously, I’m talking some exorcist shit.” He took another sip, twirled his left hand in the air—he still wore his wedding ring—and rolled his eyes to invoke Linda Blair’s spinning head. It took.

“Where’s a priest when you need one,” he said, fueling the laughter.

When the next line wouldn’t come to him, he went ahead and laughed along with them. It was something about there always being a priest for weddings, but never when…. He couldn’t remember.

And the last bit was already wearing itself out. The woman in the front cleared her throat.

“I can’t remember the punch line,” Terry chuckled some more, when the room had grown still. The bouncer readjusted himself on his stools.

“My wife started her period today,” he finally said, again.

Nobody laughed this time.

“Aw, fuck it. You want to hear something funny?”

“Please,” from the back.

“How many of you women have read that book, Fifty Shades of Grey?” It was breath to the embers; the room perked up. That fucking book.

“C’mon ladies, raise your hands. Don’t be shy.” Half a dozen hands. Giggles.

Terry looked at the husband of the woman with the fillings. “What’d that do for your sex life?” Sparse laughter. “Right?”

“My wife read it,” Terry said, nodding, feigning bravado. “Oh, yeah,” he gyrated for them, licked his lips. They laughed.

“Thing is,” he said, “Wasn’t me she got all fifty shades of kinky with.”

The laughter dwindled while they waited for the punch line.

Terry looked at his watch—time—raised his beer to the audience. “Thanks,” he said. “You’ve been great.”

 
 
 


Chantal Corcoran was born way north of the border in the single stoplight town of Chapleau, Ontario, but every ten years or so she moves a little further south. Currently, she’s living in the uniquely foreign locale of Las Vegas, Nevada. Like Eudora Welty, she believes place means everything to fiction. Chantal holds an MFA from Bennington College and her fiction can be read at Lost Magazine and Litro online. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as several Vegas publications. She’s never been a stand-up comic.

Follow Chantal Corcoran on Twitter.