The Dead Man and the Joke | Tristan Foster

Hands shaky and pride in his gut from the moment he woke up. As if victorious. Sat on the edge of the bed, legs crossed, and searched for a reason behind this feeling but could not grip onto anything meaningful, something which might help explain. He showered, dressed in jeans and his I ❤️ NY t-shirt, ate a small breakfast then rode his motorbike to work. The sun was rising and the Dead Man prayed to the spirits when he was stopped at traffic lights. In a prayerful mood. Not really any particular spirit – relatives, ancestors or whichever one happened to take up his mumbled words.

At work, there was an accident. He did not know what happened – someone on the line, on the other side of the factory floor. There was an alarm that was cut almost as soon as it started then an early lunch was called. Of course, it was the talk of the break, but the Dead Man kept to himself, took lunch outside despite the brightness of the sun, away from the smokers squatting in the shade.

He was more careful in his work that afternoon, slow and thoughtful in his movements, paying close attention. Yes, because of the incident across the floor but, more than that, the feeling from the morning was still with him and he was eager to hold onto it. It made sense to him that hurrying his work could shake it from his limbs, so his movements slowed more and more as the day went by, until finally, by the end of his shift, he was nearly frozen, abstaining, even, from using the bathroom.

Out in the carpark, as he was setting himself for the ride home, a colleague, black bandana around his neck, young, like him, waved him over. There was also a dog in the carpark, brown with a white belly – the Dead Man thought it was his colleague’s and that he wanted to show it to him. He went over and shook his hand – the colleague pulled him close and said a joke. Caught the Dead Man off guard – he laughed. Laughed so hard he almost stumbled. His friend, maybe wanting to just lift the mood, smiled then gave the Dead Man a piece of gum and said goodbye with a pat on the shoulder. The dog stayed where it was, watching the workers leave.

The joke faded from the Dead Man’s mind immediately, folded into the forgotten – the hidden – so only the shape of its absence remained, like a bird darting from view. As he put his helmet on and he started his motorbike, he even wondered if he had misheard it, fumbled it somehow, too eager to be amused.

On the way home, he tried to recall the joke but could only remember laughing, which made him laugh so hard that tears ran from the corners of his eyes, behind the mask of his helmet. Itchy at the ankles because of mosquito bites, wrists sore from work and the scar on his shoulder throbbing under his t-shirt, the scar he got when he was a child and wrestling with a cousin on a long, boring day went too far and they bumped a vase which fell to the carpet and smashed, slicing him open, sky looking like rain.

Tristan Foster is a writer from Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Letter to the Author of the Letter to the Father and 926 Years, co-authored with Kyle Coma-Thompson.


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