The crowd responded with laughter and applause. Some rolled off their chairs into the aisles—their sides, along with delicate bladders, on the verge of bursting. A few dashed to the amenities and made it just in time. Others weren’t so lucky.
Ricky Bo Bicky bowed, thanked everyone for coming, and departed—exit stage left. If one studied the art of the gait then one might have come to the conclusion that Ricky was both in a hurry and hesitant to get off stage. There would be no encore tonight.
As Ricky took a step behind the wings, the lights in the packed theatre flickered. The crowd were still laughing so no one noticed.
Gradually, laughs were reduced to chuckles; cackles to guffaws. Eyes were wiped and shirt fronts were straightened as everyone gathered their belongings and headed to the nearest exit in an orderly fashion.
Molly came back from the bathroom after an unfortunately timed call from nature and sat down in the front row next to her friend, Nate.
“You just missed the best bloody joke I have ever heard. Ever.” Nate punched her in the arm as punishment for her tardiness.
“Ow-ee! Apologies for not wanting to piss my pants in front of a live audience.” Molly rubbed her arm then punched him back. Nate started rubbing his arm too. She sure packed a punch for a girl.
“Tell me the joke then.”
Nate opened his mouth to retell the joke but the memory of it was missing. He tried to recount other jokes from the performance but they too were absent from his mind.
“I don’t remember. It’s all gone.” He rubbed his head hoping that somehow the action would magically restore his memories but knowing all along it was futile. He felt ill. Molly noticed.
“My stomach. Can we go?”
It was about time they left.
Lucy was twiddling her thumbs as she appeared on stage after a flash of light and a puff of smoke. She stood there for a moment and marveled at the view. The velveteen wallpaper and the red carpet were in constant competition with each other to see which was the more luscious. The velvet seats were jealous in their muted shade of maroon. A crystal chandelier with a well-deserved superiority complex hung from the ceiling and refused to include itself with such a trite display of pageantry, all the while confidently knowing it would kick their collective arses should the occasion ever arise. Lucy couldn’t resist,
Rock ‘n’ roll.
She spun around on her heel and followed the same route Ricky had taken just a few minutes prior. Backstage was empty. An old record played somewhere down the corridor. She followed the sound and was soon greeted with a familiar scent of cigarette smoke. The smoke clawed its way out from under a door emblazoned with a fading gold star. Lucy pushed the door open and went inside.
“Robert Johnson? Dramatic much?”
“Felt fitting,” Ricky said, hunched in an armchair and sucking on a cigarette for Queen and Country.
“Ah, I get it. Comedic irony, right?” Lucy sat in a chair next to him and took a cigarette for herself. Ricky twisted around and picked up his lighter to offer it to her but by the time he turned back her cigarette was already lit. Stupid me, he thought.
“So… how’s it been?” As she spoke, Lucy made circles of smoke with her mouth. They were so perfect he wanted to freeze each one—something beautiful to look upon during future hard times.
“You know how it’s been.” Ricky took a gulp of his drink. He could feel the heat emanating from her already.
“I do indeed. Sold out night, after night, after night. You must be one of the most successful comedians, well, ever. Am I right?” Lucy blew more smoke rings though no longer circular, they began to take on all kinds of impossible shapes—stars, pyramids, demons. Ricky was mesmerised. She blew a triangle of grey into his face. The aroma snapped him out of his trance. He stubbed out the cigarette and quickly chanced another.
“Uh, yeah. I guess so.”
“’I guess so.’ You are so humble.” She pulled out a small book from her inside coat pocket and flipped straight to a dog-eared leaf. Her finger slowly scanned down the page and stopped as it came to a name and a number. Richard Cox… 10.
“Richard Cox. Dick for short, am I right? No wonder you changed your name.” He didn’t laugh. She continued anyway. “Tough crowd. Only ten years? You didn’t go for the full package?”
“I couldn’t afford it, remember?” Ricky couldn’t slump any lower in the chair if he tried.
“No, not really, I have so many customers. I must start keeping photos or something. You all look the same after a while.” She extinguished her cigarette and turned to the first page of her book, “Okey dokey. You ready?” Lucy stood up. She looked much taller than she was when she first came in. Her hair glowed amber, as did her eyes.
Ricky didn’t even try to leave, he knew what would happen. He stubbed out his last cigarette and stood up out of his chair. This was his own fault, damn it. He wanted to be loved and admired by everyone; to be seen as something special and have everything he’d ever wanted instead of being what he really was-boring, ordinary, mundane. Lucy offered him his dream life; unfortunately it had an expiration date.
Lucy began to read like a bored public service worker. “Repeat after me. I, insert your real name here.”
He took off his jacket and did as she said. “I, insert your real name here.” Ba-dum tish.
“Ooh! Ha, ha, ha. You are a funny man. But seriously, again. Please.”
Ricky took a controlled breath, “I, Richard Cox.”
“Being of sound mind and body, hereby surrender that which is no longer rightfully mine, along with all the fruits of thy labour.” Ricky was on autopilot as he recited the words.
He remembered the bathtub in his childhood home. He’d pile all of his water-friendly toys in with him to help fight the perpetual battle of good versus evil. Each week night the closing theme song from Neighbours signalled the end of the war. His mother, Keeper of Treaties and Puller of Plugs, forced a mandatory cease fire. Richard watched the water gurgle down the drain, dragging with it soldiers by the handful. He manoeuvred the plug to cover the drain halfway to help save his brave warriors from an unimaginable fate. The water protested louder and retreated down the drain without its spoils. Ricky felt the bubbles, the water, even the little green army men slowly seep out of his brain. If only he had a plug–
A slap across the cheek brought Ricky back to the present.
“Oi! Pay attention.” His cheek stung. Lucy continued, “By the power invested in me by My Dark Lord and Master, Slayer of Dreams, and Quasher of Hopes, I do declare your mind to be the property of the aforementioned Supreme Being. From here on in your Dreams will be Slayed, your Hopes will be Quashed. No creative spark will ever enter your brain, nor will you ever think any original thought. You are doomed for the rest of your tedious time on this earth to be boring, ordinary, mundane. Ut pro, sic preterea. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Blah, blah, frikkety blah.”
Lucy rolled her eyes as she walked out the door. “Geez, Louise.”
As part of her professional responsibilities, Lucy was required to schedule a follow up appointment with Richard three weeks after their meeting to ensure everything had run smoothly. There had been embarrassments in the past where clients had slipped through the cracks and kept their gifts. But, thanks to a recently imposed checklist and random performance reviews, those minor ‘hiccups,’ as The Company called them, were rare.
Lucy stood right in front of Ricky at the fast-food counter and yet he did not show the slightest hint of recognition. That’s one box ticked. There was a dullness in his eyes—tick. His name badge read ‘Dick’—tick. He opened his mouth, and with a voice that could give Ferris Bueller’s teacher a lesson in Advanced Monotony: Making the Most of the Monotone, Ricky Bo Bicky, former comedian and all-round witty dude asked, “Can I take your order?”
Lucy ticked a few more boxes and ordered a burger, fries, and a coke. She sat in a booth by the window and picked at her food while she finished her administrative duties. He really was a funny guy, Lucy thought. Maybe she could let this one go? After all, no one wants to extinguish a clown, not unless they were evil. Ricky wasn’t evil. If anything, Ricky… Dick, was just plain pitiful now. She found the piece of paper voiding Ricky’s deal, scrunched it up with her serviette, and stealthily dropped it under her seat.
Lucy straightened the remaining paperwork on the table, as would a seasoned news-reader at six twenty-nine in the evening, and folded it into the supplied envelope. She licked the mint-tasting glue strip, and posted it in a bright red mail box that materialised on her table and then promptly disappeared once its use had expired. She glanced at Dick one last time and walked outside smiling. Rock ‘n’ roll.
Precisely twenty-one seconds later, Dick’s co-worker and Champion of the Deep-Fryer, Judy, spat her mouthful of coffee up into the air after hearing the funniest joke she had ever heard.