I don’t know why I agreed to let my sister, Sandra, drag me to her ladies’ Bible thingy. Meeting new people isn’t high on my wish list, but here I sit in the circle of sweet faces, all looking at me. The leader, Angie, asks
something else from her memorized let’s-get-to-know-you questionnaire. “What does your husband do? His name is Mark, right?”
“He’s a comedian.”
That strikes a chord, as usual. Everyone laughs.
Angie says, “Ha, so is mine.”
“No, I mean, that’s what he does for a living.” If you can call it that. Our living isn’t so good. I tug on the edges of my frayed miniskirt, and endure the typical response after the awkward pause.
“Oh. Well, that must be fun!”
I just smile and nod. I didn’t come to embarrass Sandra, who sits beside me. I’m counting on tapping her for forty dollars to pay the gas bill from two months ago. Forty dollars I’ll never pay back.
Angie moves on to her next victim and I settle in my seat, preparing to zone out. Especially when the talk turns to ideas on how to rekindle your marriage. My marriage burned out long ago, along with any desire to do anything about it. All Mark does is go to clubs and try to make a dollar with stupid jokes about his little wife and home life. All I do is tune him out, and go through my rotating list of who to siphon money from next. Not much relationship to work with.
Random bits of conversation stick with me. About little acts of attention, like cooking his favorite meal, and how to understand your man’s feelings when he won’t show them. Things like that. Things that make me laugh inside like Mark’s jokes never do.
When we leave, Sandra pokes me in the side. “Have you been to one of Mark’s performances lately? That would be like having lunch with him at work.” She smiles. Sandra means well, and she mostly stays out of my business, so I don’t mind her prodding this once.
I shrug. “I’m too busy keeping the lights on. And the gas.” I pick at my chipped fingernails. “Think you could spot me forty?”
Sandra sighs, but keeps her smile. “Give it a try. He’s yours, for better or worse.”
I can’t think of anything worse than going to one of Mark’s gigs, but I nod and accept the two twenties. “I’ll think about it.”
I didn’t think about it. Not really. But I didn’t want to spend another evening in our shack. So I ask Sandra to drop me at the curb, two blocks from where Mark will do his thing about ten minutes from now. I don’t tell her where I’m going, but Sandra’s smarter than me. She gives me that knowing smile of encouragement before driving away.
I shuffle into the smoky bar. Mark is by the stage, talking with the animated owner. Mark’s face is red with…what? Fear? Embarrassment? The owner isn’t showering him with compliments.
Minutes later, Mark takes the stage. I stay back behind the pool tables, just out of his sight, and listen to each joke fall on deaf ears. No one cares he’s up there, trying to entertain them. No one laughs. No one even knows he exists.
He looks desperate. As desperate as I feel. Our relationship is as flat as Mark’s jokes.
Suddenly, I realize there is one person who cares, who knows Mark exists. One person who suddenly wants to take to heart the things she learned at that Bible thingy.
When booing brings Mark’s show to a pitiful halt, he leaves the stage and heads for the side exit. I follow, catching the door before it swishes closed.
He spins as if shocked someone knows his name. I swallow a strange lump of pride I feel for my man, and hook my arm around his. He says, “I won’t get paid tonight.”
I squeeze his arm tighter and remember something from the Bible thingy. “How would you like homemade meatloaf like your mama used to make?”
Mark stares at me like I’ve lost my marbles. I give him a push toward our old junker in the parking lot. “But you gotta promise you won’t turn it into one of your jokes if it tastes bad.”
There isn’t any laughter on the outside, but we both feel it inside. Mark tucks me closer to him and leads the way.
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