Little piece I cranked out a week or so ago. I’ve scanned for grammar and spelling, but other than that this is basically un-cut. Feedback would be awesome. Be warned: there is some mildly bad language, if that sort of thing matters to you.
“You know what the last thing James French said before he died was?” Eddie Marrin asked.
“In order to know that, I would probably have to know who the hell James French was, so given that I don’t…” Will Zed was used to his friend’s tangents. They acted like water filling the cracks of any open space in a conversation.
“He got zapped in the 60’s. In the electric chair. He was a murderer.” Eddie had a fascination with the inane, and often the morbid.
“Further adding to my belief that I could happily live, eat, poop, and die without ever knowing what this murderer from France said before this guy’s organs reached well-done and his bowels crapped blood.”
“Wow, that was… That was graphic. How the- what the hell, man?”
“Sorry. Read a book about the electric chair.” More Wikipedia page than book, really. Will wasn’t much of a reader.
“I see.” Eddie paused. “And you really think that anyone with the last name of ‘French’ is from France?”
“Oh. Yeah, don’t know where I was going with that one.”
“Anyway, since you don’t care what this dude said, I’m going to tell you without permission.”
“He said: ‘Hey fellas? How about this for tomorrow’s paper? ‘French Fries’.” Eddie lingered on the last bit, savoring the punch-line. He froze with a gaping, stupid smile on his face in anticipation.
“I want to be like that.”
“Like a murderer?”
“Wait, you didn’t even laugh. Did you get the pun?”
“His last name was French, he was in the process of being fried, the artery-gooper of choice in this country is the french fry. Play on words.” Eddie popped some M&M’s into his mouth and jammed his hand back into the bucket he kept on his desk. First commandment of Eddie’s room: always make sure the bucket of M&M’s remains stocked.
“And I hope when I die I’ll be able to think of something half as clever as that. That man spent a lot of years on this earth, said a lot of words. Out of all those words, the very last ones were hilarious. For all I know, a lot of his other words were funny. Except probably the ones he said while he was in the middle of murdering stuff; those probably sucked. But even if they were it doesn’t matter because the last ones were awesome.”
Eddie appeared to be lost in his own thoughts. Several seconds of silence followed. “There’s a reason people don’t let their loved ones see them while they’re dying sometimes, or after horrific accidents. The last impressions are the memories that last.”
“So you want to make a joke.” Will thought the last thing a person says wouldn’t much matter. In 120 years, the world will be completely populated by people who have yet to be conceived. He had been in a small-pea-big-universe kind of mood lately.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to pull that off.”
“You’re a moron.”
“What if I make a joke like that, and no one gets it? Then people will have no idea that almost all of the other words I said before those last ones were actually quite funny, once I got past the baby-talk, but even some of that was funny in context, and just this last joke didn’t come off like I wanted it to. What then?”
“I better get started now. You can never think about these things too much.”
“I’m thinking you already have.”
Will Ded pried himself out of his friend’s beanbag chair and crammed a pair of Nikes onto his size-14 feet. He clapped a hand to his friend’s shoulder and told him he would send him a text later, but Eddie Marrin continued rambling about the merits of a dead-pan delivery versus animated inflection. Will stumble-jogged down the vanilla carpeted stair and had his hand on the doorbell when Eddie’s mom called out to him.
“Hey, Mrs. Marrin. I’m just headed out. I have a thing later.”
“When are you going back up to school, hun?”
Will turned from the door and faced Mrs. Marrin, who was just Victoria in his dreams. “I have a few more weeks. Eddie starts at LSu before I even need to leave home. They do things differently up north, I guess. Run on different schedules.”
“You better get a good snow shovel, Will,” Victoria said.
He laughed. “Not everything in New York is covered in snow, ma’am.”
She smiled. Damn, she is beautiful. Eddie’s dad had to have been a dumbass to leave this. Victoria Marrin was taller than her son, and nearly as tall as Will. She was taut, fair-skinned, well-moisturized, and she had struck absolute gold in the genetic lottery in certain aspects that young men of Will’s age placed particular value in.
He threw her a compliment on her hair that made her blush and shuffle her feet. Will knew she hadn’t dated since the accident, but she certainly still took care of herself.
“For the last damn time, stop hitting on my damn mother, you damn pervert!”
Victoria loudly scolded her son’s language, unsuccessfully hiding a broad smile. Will excused himself.
“Have fun at the Hornets game, you two.”
Will stood about a soda can above six feet, and puberty had done him great favors. His shoulders limited his clothing options, and he had to special-order jeans to meet his small waist and generous thigh muscles. Will was a basketball player, didn’t know if he could be anything else. But after a year and a half at Tarleton riding the bench on a Division II hoops team, he was putting it behind him. Real world time. Or at least real college.
He went home and allowed his old, filthy couch to swallow him. He ate a little, watched some porn, and eventually flipped to the Hornets game on the television. College kids on break are an unequivocally lazy subset of the population, Will’s mom had said. They think they’ve earned something by getting through exams, parties, all-nighters and other such college things, so when they’re home they simply don’t function. She had rambled a bit more, belittled and bemoaned Will and his colleagues. He thought she couldn’t be more right.
He slurped on a straw- three straws, actually, shoved together and fed into an 84-ounce tub of soda. His worst habit. On this he, every coach he ever had, and his parents agreed.
The Hornets are terrible, so Will passed out underneath an LSU Snuggie halfway through the third quarter. He was asleep when the phone rang, but he stirred when “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jaepson sounded for the third time. He flipped the phone open and smushed it against his ear, not caring to hide the drowsiness in his voice. Probably it was his mom wondering whether he had eaten dinner, or his older sister and Hornets fanatic looking for consoling talk after the brutal loss. It was neither.
Victoria was calm. Surprisingly calm for a mother whose son had just died at a sporting event because a clinically depressed stadium event worker decided to off herself and poisoned a batch of Reeses Pieces to take some innocents with her on her way out (even though Eddie had asked for M&M’s but they were out so he went with the next best thing which happened to be laced with poison). Surprisingly calm for a beautiful woman in her early 40’s with no family to speak of and a job she hated. Some people reacted this way, Will knew. When tragedies happen they are more collected than ever. Will wasn’t one of those people, not even close. He ripped at his hair. He discharged every last decibel he could find in yelling at the clouds and whoever may or may not live up there. He snotted and sneezed, drooled and growled. Will lost control.
Eddie had died. Three others in his section as well. Not Victoria, though. Today was day three of her sugar-free diet. The funny thing about Victoria was not that she was toned head to toe with nary a shred of fat, but that she started a new diet at least twice a month. She never lasted longer than a week or ten days . If she and Eddie had gone to watch the Hornets play the Hawks next Monday, or the Celtics next Wednesday, she would have died too. She would have eaten a palmful or two of the M&M’s. The cyanide the crazy-ass woman put in the candy would have stopped her breathing, and then she would have died. She didn’t though. Just Eddie, Becky Alasco, John Janson, and Frederic Wilson, all from section 117.
His conversation with Veronica had been brief. He was the first she called, but he wouldn’t be the last. Eddie was flippant, lazy, none too good in school, nor was he athletic. Everybody loved him anyway.
Will never did much for his friend, never did much for anyone. And now, he couldn’t. His last shower was two nights ago, his last teeth-brushing slipped from memory. His shirt was disheveled and his face oily, pocked with acne in a way he had previously prided himself on avoiding. Around him were the spoils of his first ever trips to the public library and the downtown bookstore: joke books, autobiographies of comedians, collections of quotes from notably witty actors and public figures. Anything he could find that might be remotely construed as funny. He needed the perfect joke. He would honor his friend in the only way he could imagine. He needed a James French-caliber pun.
There were a number of problems inherent in his search. For one thing, “Marrin” didn’t particularly associate itself with any humorous food, or rhyme with anything worth rhyming. A bigger problem was the fact that, plainly, simply, Will wasn’t qualified. He wasn’t qualified to make the joke that would last a lifetime and seep its way into a Google search of Eddie’s name; he wasn’t qualified to make this deeply personal decision that his friend so greatly valued. Will wasn’t funny. And even if he was, he didn’t think that now would constitute a prime time to tap into the vein of hilarity he hypothetically stored. Maybe if he had a year, or ten, he could look back on the too-short life of his best friend and light the fuse on a remark that would encapsulate Eddie’s life, accomplishments and humanity, a remark that would seduce laughter from the most grim of souls and force anyone in hearing distance to simultaneously ponder the brevity of life while celebrating the memory of Eddie’s. He didn’t have the luxury of time; the funeral was tomorrow and it had to be at the funeral. What kind of jackass would he look like if he served up a tasteless joke at a tender ceremony?
Sleep didn’t seem like an option. Eddie was doing enough of that for the both of them. He pored over the books, and when those were all but exhausted he turned to something James French lacked: the internet. Will went to Joke of the Day sites, Baby Names websites, online dictionaries and thesauruses, Facebook, Twitter, porn sites, web forums, CNN, Fox News, and everything else he could think of. They weren’t funny, and this needed to be. A notepad lay open in front of him, as trapped as he was in the wasteland of books and beef jerky packages. The page he looked at was blank, as were all of the others. He had nowhere to start. With all his might, he couldn’t think of a single thing that was funny.
Maybe when the time came tomorrow morning for him to speak at Eddie’s funeral, he would tell them just that. Maybe he would tell the story of his and Eddie’s last conversation together, even though it would probably come off as morbid, or none too telling of the mostly-happy kid who died in New Orleans Arena and made national news for one full news cycle. Maybe he would mention his quest for the golden joke, the one Eddie prophetically alluded to. Maybe he would tell everyone the thought he couldn’t shake about Eddie already knowing the golden joke but not telling anyone as some kind of test for his best friend to crack. He wouldn’t have to mention that he had failed because they would already know. Maybe he would curse Eddie for settling for second-rate candy and dying for it, and doubly curse the selfish bitch who took him.
Or maybe he would just stand up there, flip a bird to they sky, and say how there’s not a damn thing funny about a kid’s life being stolen.