“The One-Two Punchline” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay | 9 - Mishmashers Mishmashers

“The One-Two Punchline” | Novella | Written by McConnaughay | 9

2.

Jimmy’s manager Joe was not thrilled about the outburst, but it was not entirely clear what repercussions would ensue for it. Joe was called away from the aisle to assist with a matter upfront at the registers, and once Jimmy finished straightening everything up in the cereal section, he hightailed it out from the store.

Jimmy returned home after work and did only what he could think to do. He took his medication and slept away the day’s sorrows and misfortunes. When Jimmy left his bedroom and turned on the bathroom light, his eyes stared at the reflection that looked back at him. His eyes looked tired and his eyelids sagged. His medication made for certain he slept, but his body remained fatigued and his mind felt exhausted.

No matter how badly he may have wanted it, no explanation came for his outbursts or how he felt, the carrot dangling forever out of his reach.

Jimmy shook his head at the mirror in frustration, resisting the urge to club the reflection’s ugly mug with his forearm.

* * *

Jimmy had not shared anything with Elvira about his situation. He had not said anything about Dalton’s betrayal or how he might be unemployed soon. And yet, Elvira had not needed any of that information to know something was bothering him. Some people were simply intuitive like that.

Her living arrangement was better than his, she had a house she owned, not an apartment she ranted, and she had an actual yard and a finished garage. She was an orthopedic doctor, a profession that Jimmy did not necessarily know the ins and outs about. However, because of the inclusion of the word “doctor,” Jimmy knew she could have snagged someone better than a stock person slash wannabe comedian.

Jimmy smiled as she peered at him from her kitchen; upbeat instrumental music played from a small radio on her counter. He leaned back on her couch and innocently surveyed every knickknack and souvenir that decorated her bookshelves.

The television blared on about something or another, a godawful crime-comedy about a halfwit police officer that accidentally stumbles into evidence and clues. Even more than usual, it entertained nothing more than itself.

Maybe all of it was in Jimmy’s head. If he was willing to accept what was now being presented to him as the truth, than why should his own perception not be a subject of debate? Clearly, it did not appear to have the stablest legs for the real world.

The question did not sit well with him. It was easy to judge someone else or make declarative statements about someone’s state of mind, but he was the one on the wrong side of the trigger at the moment, and that was not an easy thing to be.

Again, he smiled at Elvira as her head bobbed out from the kitchen doorway.

It smells great, sweet heart!” Jimmy complimented, and it did smell great. That was not a lie. Elvira had always been a good cook.

She was not exactly making Beef Wellington, but it was the classics – an assortment of pork chops, macaroni, corn, and green beans. It was a meal fit for a modest king and Jimmy could not have been more grateful when she brought him a plate of food.

As they both sat on the couch and enjoyed their meal, Jimmy made the mistake of letting a sign escape him. After having nearly cleaned his plate, it was by no means a criticism of the meal, but a slip up he failed to contain.

Something is bothering you,” She said. It was the second time she had made the observation, but, this time, she was not framing it as a question.

Is it that obvious?” Jimmy asked, but he had little energy behind his words. It was an empty sentence with no soul to it, and no real intent other than to stall until he could think of a way to change the subject.

What’s the matter, big guy,” Elvira asked, grabbing the plate and silverware off from his lap and dropping it down on the coffee table in front of them.

Her voice sounded playful, a childish way of talking that made it feel like she was not taking him seriously.

You couldn’t understand.”

His choice of words had been particular, deciding on “couldn’t” instead of “wouldn’t”. He rolled his eyes after to show how offended he was. This was something he would have to deal with and deal with alone. Unless he wanted to be locked in the loony bin and be forgotten about.

Come on,” Elvira insisted. Her tone now dignified how serious Jimmy felt. “Talk to me.”
Jimmy relented the tension he felt and forced a grin. The stress was starting to build now and the waters were only just stopped by the damns in his mind, but that damn would not hold forever.

Meanwhile, the police officer on the television screen had managed to solve a murder because the dopey serial killer accidentally called him with his real phone and not a disposable one. If only life’s puzzles could be solved so effortlessly.

I feel like my whole life, all I have ever wanted to do was perform. All the eggs I have in this world, and I put them into that one basket.” Jimmy stopped for a minute, wondering how honest he could truly be with her. “I built my life around this dream and let it be who I was. And, … I am not.”

This time when Jimmy stopped, it was not for Elvira’s sake, but his own. He had let on too much. He had said something he had not even accepted or known about himself yet.

I have tried so hard, and this is all I have to show for it. A kid can come onto the stage and do in a couple months what I have only dreamed of. It is hard to laugh it off that there is not anything special about me.”

Elvira gave him a look. What kind of look she gave, he could not exactly say for certain. It was not a smile and it was not a frown, the creases between her lips made a line as straight as Jimmy’s flat-lining career.

Everyone wants to be special, but no one is, not really. Do you think I like hearing about the cricks in people’s neck all day? I know it may not feel like it at the moment, but you are not alone in feeling that way.”

You have a nice house out of it, if nothing else,” Jimmy said, trying to add a little brevity to the situation.

Maybe you need a new outlet, maybe this is the first day of the rest of your life and this is your chance to start fresh?” Elvira smiled a large toothy grin as she spoke, but Jimmy did not reciprocate that optimism.

Instead, he felt bewildered.

What the fuck are you talking about, … starting fresh, …,” Jimmy shook his head in disbelief. “I am down about myself, and you are my girlfriend, you are supposed to pick me back up and reassure me. Tell me I will get it next time and all that, instead, you are, like, telling me I suck and I should give up.”

Jimmy climbed up from off the couch, his fingers combing aggressively through his hair. His heart felt like it was beating a mile a second. He could not tell her everything that was bothering him. He could not tell her about the outbursts, or about how he was losing his mind. And yet, he could feel himself getting angrier at her for reasons he knew were not her fault.

I am not trying to hurt your feelings, all I am saying is, maybe if it is not making you happy then,” Elvira had started to explain herself, but Jimmy did not care about what she had to say to him.

But, …, but, nothing, I am sorry I don’t have a fucking house or a fucking doctorate like you. Maybe if I slept my way through college then I would have one as well.” As the words escaped from Jimmy’s lips, a couple of things were obvious to him.

First and foremost was that he should not have said it. He should have bit his tongue or showed restraint, and even though he realized that, he felt like he was in the passenger’s seat of his brain, watching himself make a reckless decision.

The second was that this was on him. This was his outburst and no one else was to blame but him. Maybe it was all him, after all. Maybe the man at Buddy’s Diner, maybe Joe, maybe all of it was him.

Elvira’s face flushed when the words landed, but she was swift when it came time to mask her hurt with anger.

I think you should leave.”

Jimmy feigned shock at her reaction, ready to play the victim as though he had not been the one who was out of line at all. He offered a condescending grin and shook his head, not knowing how he could sort out what had been said. The part of him that was calling the shots did not even care to either.

The anger peeled off of him like a face mask when he heard Elvira’s door slam shut behind him.

He offered a forced chuckle, for some reason, feeling the need to laugh in the face of his own tragedy, and soon, that chuckle evolved into a sigh.

He wanted to scream, but didn’t, which meant he had at least some control of what came out of his mouth.

3.

When Jimmy left Elvira’s house, the day had only brushed shoulders with the afternoon. It was late at night now when Jimmy finally arrived home.

He had spent a lot of time at The Laugh Track over the years, but he had never been much for drinking or the whole bar experience. He did it sometimes to calm his nerves before a show and during social events, but had never been publicly intoxicated. This time, he did it because he wanted to be drunk.

Maybe it was for a poetic reason, one that he knew about only subconsciously. That, if he was no longer in control, now, he would be really not in control.

As he struggled to fit the key into the keyhole, all he really knew for certain was that he wished he would have left his door unlocked.

After he stepped inside, he flipped on his living room light switch and tossed his keys toward the coffee table. They missed, making a clanking sound when they ricocheted off the table and onto his carpet.

With each step he took, the floor shifted and turned lightly, like he was gently rocking a canoe as it floated across a riverbank or like his apartment had become a turntable. This was the best way he could think to cap off the last few days, numbed to it all.

As he entered his bedroom, his eyes went over to the bottle of medication on his dresser drawer, and he considered it. The medication did not react well with alcohol, a night without it would not kill him.

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