The Joke

“Ick, was this the best you could do?” Madison glared at Ashley, her country mouse cousin. They were seated at the table in the middle of a beer joint in a small town near the Indian reservation; no one called it the Native American reservation. Along three walls were booths containing a few locals, drinking beer and chewing on the regional fare, which seemed to consist mainly of meat and butter sandwiches on white bread, with a bag of potato chips on the side, and a dill pickle? The locals watched the four cousins curiously, but didn’t speak.

“Stop putting on airs, Madison,” Morgan snapped. “You didn’t want to go up to Ashley’s house with the aunts and uncles. This was the next best thing.”

“I can’t wait to get back to the city,” Madison seethed, “at least we won’t have to bury Grandma twice! I hate funerals.”

A tallish man in blue chambray shirt and faded jeans walked over to the cousins; he was obviously the proprietor and obviously native. “What can I get you?”

“I suppose white wine and brie would be asking too much?”

“Shut up, Madison, he’ll spit in your sandwich.” Morgan smiled up at the man apologetically. “Please don’t do that, she’s always a bitch to serving people. We’ll share a pitcher of the best you’ve got on tap and take it from there.”

The man chuckled, “You’re making my day interesting, that’s for sure, and no, I won’t pee in the pitcher; you can watch me. Are you here for the funeral of Mrs. Johnson, the old lady from that little cabin by the lake?” He directed the question at Jesse, the only male.

But they all nodded pleasantly, except for bitchy Madison. “Grandma was so disgusting in her old age, living in that hovel that’s returning to the ground. I heard she had money, but there was nothing much in her bank account. And those damn tulips she was always crossbreeding; she kept saying, ‘The late ones are the best,’ and winking like it was some sort of joke. I suppose it was her hobby, seeing the surprise colors, and trying to get them to bloom as late as possible, but they were brown, or some weird striped arrangement; they looked muddy! The ones on the southeast corner were the late ones, the ones she created by herself, and they looked awful, disgusting. I was ashamed to visit while they were blooming. Thank God she didn’t have any close neighbors.”

“You must be a joy to live around, Young Lady.” The owner returned to the bar area to get their pitcher and mugs.

When the cousins had paid their bill, with Madison claiming she had nothing but an out-of-date credit card, so everyone else took up her slack, Jesse jumped into his pickup and headed for the lake. He’d already said his goodbyes to the aunts and uncles. He considered taking a room at the little motel in town, but if the old cabin by the lake had been home to Grandma, it was good enough for him until he could get it in shape to sell. He hoped the refrigerator/freezer contained more than spoiled food.

Jesse scooted a lump of frozen hamburger, Cousin Ashley had called it hambuger until she was six, around in the hot pan, thawing and frying at the same time. He thought long and hard on Grandma, there was supposed to have been more money; where did it go? Grandpa had left her a nice life insurance; she hadn’t used much for her living expenses. And the way she used to look at the cousins and say, “The late ones are the best,” then wink, her little joke.

After a supper of hamburger gravy on toast, jazzed up with old Tabasco that Grandpa had used in Sunday afternoon Bloody Marys, but Grandma never touched, Jesse pulled on a pair of Grandpa’s old work gloves. He took a shovel from the shed and walked to the southeast corner of the cabin. The August evening shadows were long, but he still had a good two hours of daylight. He started to dig up the crossbred tulip bed.

“Ohmygod,” sealed Mason jars with little stamped gold bars. Well, of course, Grandma had never trusted banks, feeling bankers controlled the world and could take everyone’s money without penalty on a whim. So, she’d bought identified and marked gold bars; these were real. Where did she get them? She’d lost money on the transactions, probably, but gold had inflated, and there was great value in the tulip bed, whatever her costs must have been. Any potential thief following the gold purchases had been successfully ditched by Grandma; no surprise.

He held the jars to his chest and smiled. Should he tell the cousins? No, he wouldn’t do that. Madison would get a lawyer involved, trying to take it all, and the lawyer would get everything in the end. Ashley and Morgan couldn’t be trusted not to gloat and clue Madison.

He’d keep track of his relatives, making sure they didn’t suffer from want. But Madison could go fuck herself.



This is a Chuck Wendig Friday Flash Fiction. He gave us eight words and told us to write a story around four of them. I chose joke, gloves, funeral and motel. I added both hambuger and hamburger for extra credit (smile).





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2 Responses to The Joke

  1. Glad you liked it! I thought long and hard about the last sentence, but heck, Madison deserved it.

  2. Thanks for reading. You both gave me something to think about.

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