This story was originally published by Cheap Pop on April 27, 2017.
I stumble outdoors barefoot. I’ve had much too much to drink and reach for the brick wall of the house to ground me as I tiptoe onto the cool grass. My brother-in-law stands under my father’s carport and the smell of grilled lobster floats away into the haze of the July evening.
Ben calls out to me, something low-sounding and comforting. He steps away from the grill and takes a swig of his beer. My sister strolls up and stands beside him.
“I got a joke for you,” he says.
I nod, try to concentrate and focus on keeping the world still.
“This is an old Redd Foxx joke.”
The lake shimmers under the moon, the frogs croak in unison. They announce, “Redd Foxx Live in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, One Night Only!”
Redd emerges from under the carport, illuminated by the floodlight. Moths and mosquitoes dart around him. He’s silver-headed, slick sex: he’s wearing his crushed velvet tux and aviator shades, doesn’t break a sweat in the 90-degree heat at 9 o’clock at night. He raises the mic and tells a joke, just for my sister and me, for our grandmother’s little wake.
Redd soothes us, encourages us to revel. He croons things like, “That’s right, ladies—mourn tomorrow, celebrate tonight.” He tells us the great one about pickpockets, snatches, and watches.
Applause fades away along with Redd and only Ben and my sister remain in a tableaux vivant. Ben’s wearing his suit trousers and dress shoes, a slender tapered cut, his cuffs rolled up. The red paisley silk of Jennifer’s dress swings around her knees in mid-twirl. This is a moment from our grandparents’ pasts, when they were fascinating and vibrant. The cherry from Ben’s cigarette glows and a double helix of smoke remains poised near the cut of his cheekbones and the curve his curls as he watches his wife.
I hear the frogs again, louder, more insistent. They sing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.”
I say, “That is so goddamn funny, Ben.”
He keeps on, one joke after another, babying the grill while Jennifer and I laugh and laugh.