Waiting for the Punch Line
Randall Brown

This guy walks into a bar, gets his beer, walks past the horse with the long face. A rope twists himself into a knot. A priest and rabbi put their parachutes on a table.

He picks a booth, gazes at the passersby on the street. The mittened hands grasping a mother’s, father’s hand. Puffs of smoke. A girl puts an invisible cigarette to her lips. Look at me, mom, dad, he imagines her saying. I’m smokin’.

He thinks of something Bogart once said, that the problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind. He plays catch-up.

A frog hops by, holding an elephant on a pedestal. A knickknack for Paddywack, his loan officer. A lobster cries out about a harp, left in Sam Clam’s disco. He calls the waitress over, tells her to keep ’em coming.

A nun walks in, gargling a bottle of holy water. A man with no eyes slams his glass on the table, And you know that man at the crossroads, that was my father, and the woman I’ve been screwing—

A monkey dances on the bar table. A talking duck asks a clown what the circus needs with a bricklayer.

Bathroom. He walks around the people lined up, a large punch bowl at the end. A knock on the stall.

Interrupting Cow here.



He sits back down at the booth. Eyes shift toward him, whispers, more looks. Outside, snow has begun to fall, giant flakes, presents in arms, children sliding past on the ice.

Another drink. That’s not my finger, a man shouts. Well, that’s not my belly button.

Finally, a woman makes her way over, the emissary.

We all want to know what you’re doing here. Her husband, she says, just found out about her affair with the Chinese man down the street.

My son died. Fell out of an upstairs window.


Well, what’s worse than a baby falling out of a third floor window?

She shakes her head. Silence in the room. Poised. Waiting.

A football player caught him? a blonde calls out. His eyelid got caught on a rusty nail?

No. He finishes the beer. No one spiked him. No rusty nails.

He feels the anticipation, the orgasmic build-up to this moment, to see if it’s been worth it, the seemingly nonsensical details, all given meaning here. The room tilts as everyone leans forward.

The pane, he says. The pane.

Silence. Nary a chuckle.

Maybe you should go, she says.

Yeah. He puts some money on the table. At the door, the nun touches his arm. Well, I liked it, she says. He thanks her.

This guy walks into a bar, a drunk walks out. Pathetic, the woman says, and he stumbles. Her companion nods, watches him slipping on the ice, reaching for something, finding nothing, falls.

“A guy walks into a bar. He finds all the victims of cosmic jokes. And, lo and behold, he’s one of them. Ha. Ha.”

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