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The Joker « Fiction365
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Today's Story by Abigail Jardine

“You have to leave. Just come here. Please. He’ll get all of you sent up the river with twenty-five year prison sentences. Get out. Just come stay here.”

The Joker

Miriam and I sat over lunch in the café, and he slid in next to me in the booth. Tall, sleek, blond, his crystalline, blue eyes sparkled. His wide smile displayed his perfect, sparkling teeth.

“Hello. It’s always a pleasure to meet beautiful ladies. I’m Ron,” he said in a manner too glib for my taste.

Again, he flashed his rows of perfect teeth tucked every so slightly behind his expert smile. He was a stranger whose ballsy confidence radiated the belief that his striking presence would earn him easy access.

I stared into his face and said, “Sorry. We don’t know you. I hope you don’t mind if I ask if you would please leave.”

Immediately he turned his attention across the table to Miriam. She’d just returned from a summer of picking oranges on a kibbutz in Israel and was getting her footing back in the U.S., picking up the threads of friendships. The gleam on her face and the way she leaned her body toward him told me that his dazzling smile and unabashed attempt to connect with a woman had struck her like a brick to the head. She and I talked for a moment, and I insisted, no, he’d have to leave.

“Please get up,” I said again. He did so and stood near the edge of the booth.  She and I continued to thrash it out.

“We don’t know him.”

“He’s really cute!”

“He’s slick.”

“I’d like to get to know him.”

“Oh, Christ. You’ve got to be kidding.”

Then, she scribbled our phone number on a napkin, wrote, “Miriam,” and handed it to him.

Miriam and I drove back to our apartment, and I listened to her attempt to explain how strangers sometimes click. I had midterms to study for, and I went to my room. Later that night, she came in to tell me that Ron had called, and she was going out with him. Beginning at about one a.m., I heard intermittent the screaming of orgasms tearing from her room, and it lasted until four or five in the morning. My only conclusion was that he had come back home with her, and I tried to sleep.

In the morning, I left early for campus and was spared the awkwardness of having to bump into either of them. I hated being a student. I hated having to live with another person, even if she was too academically smart but stupid when it came to men.

By the second night, she walked about in a daze. He lollygagged with an open robe in the living room, and I was quietly freaking out. Miriam had been so smitten by his handsome looks that she couldn’t receive the rest of the transmission:  that he was a guy looking for a place to crash.

“I’m thinking he could stay here a while,” she began. He’s between places right now and needs a place. Plus, he’s really fun.”

I said no way. She broke into tears and said she had the right to have a lover in her own home.

“Yeah, but have him LIVE here? What about my half of this place? I don’t want him here. Does he even work? Do you know anything about him?”

“He sells cars. He has a good heart. He’s soo cute, and . . . listen, he has a really big dick,” she pleaded.

“Oh, are you NUTS??” I just could not believe that she’d lost her mind like this. I was furious and left for class. When I returned home that evening, boxes of his clothing and belongings were scattered throughout the living room.

So he had moved in.

One week later I realized that his actual profession was not selling used cars. It was dealing drugs—mostly smack. I’d heard him make a “business transaction,” as he called it, on the phone late at night. Now that he was ensconced in the bosom of a cozy apartment, he became so ripped that his blue eyes after dark became black holes. He slept or stumbled about naked, often standing in front of the fridge with the door open for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. He’d forget what it was he wanted once the fridge door was open. When friends came over for meals, Ron would pull over a chair and join in, but he didn’t have the presence of mind or focus to engage while he was so hammered. He couldn’t finish sentences. He became so increasingly drugged that he’d sloughed off behaviors and rituals that were automatic to normal people. It wasn’t just the toothpaste he’d inadvertently squirt on the floor of the bathroom that I’d slip on. It wasn’t about him forgetting to wash his dishes or to tidy up after himself. It was more basic than mere manners.

One night as we all sat together at the table, Ron was so hammered that he forget to swallow his food.  He took  forkfuls of spaghetti and chewed and chewed, added more, and chewed and chewed, added more, and just continued chewing. Spaghetti sauce was all over his face. His cheeks just puffed up like a gopher preparing for winter. Miriam began to have to say, “Swallow it, Ron. Would you remember to swallow?”

Dazed, he would look around and respond, “What?? Oh.”

About three weeks after Ron crashed into our lives, several friends had stopped by for dinner. Ron sat with us, but he was incapacitated, incapable of conversation. He began to sway in his chair, and suddenly fell forward. His face came to rest in the bowl of split pea soup. Miriam jumped up and lifted his head out. His forehead, nose, and blond forelocks soaked in thick pea puree and carrots. His eyes blinked open, and the blue, red-rimmed eyes tried to focus on us. I threw my napkin down and excused myself from the table. I vowed would not sit at the table with him again.

The danger of having Ron in the apartment became increasingly clear. My boyfriend was agitated and said, “You have to leave. Just come here. Please. He’ll get all of you sent up the river with twenty-five year prison sentences. Get out. Just come stay here.”

The end came not long after, late one day when I returned home from classes. I carried my books up the front steps and then realized that the front door was in shards. It was gone except for the reinforced edges. All inner panels had been rammed out, and the splinters of wood lay inside and outside the apartment. My heart raced and thudded in my chest, and the thought that a SWAT team was inside took form in my mind, yet no one was there. I stepped through the hole where the door had been, and then I heard singing coming from the bathroom down the hallway. I went toward it and there was Ron in the tub. White froth was piled up to his chin. He didn’t see me, and his singing continued:

 You’re the cuuuutest thing I ever did see.

I really looove your peaches, wanna shake your tree. . . .

‘ cause I’m a joker . . . a smoker .  . .

He splashed like a bird in a bath.

“Ron,” I yelled. “The door. The door. Tell me!! What happened to the door!! “ I was white with fear. My heart pounded.

He splashed and sang.

“Ron. The door. Tell me now. Now.” I reached in through the froth of white bubbles and shook him by his naked shoulders. He looked at me, confused.

“Oh. The door. Yeah. Yeah. Well, forgot my key. Yeah, left my key here. But I got in okay!” He laughed.

I stared at him in the tub, the heaps of white suds ebbing and flowing over the tub onto the floor. Water ran in rivulets. He splashed like a big blond bird and laughed with the abandon of a three-year-old child. In my room, I quickly pulled my suitcase out of the closest and threw in as much as I could:  jeans, underwear, shoes, tops, pants, shirts. I grabbed cosmetics, hairbrush, and whatever else I could stuff into the suitcase. I would come back for the rest later. As I made my way down the hall and stepped through the shattered door, I could still hear:

I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker

Get my lovin’ on the run wooooooo whooooooo

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Abigail Jardine has taught and written for many years. Her stories focus on gender, family dynamics, and American culture. She lives in California.

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