a serious joke: chapter 8

– A man and his caterpillar decided to go for a walk one day.

The man put on his shorts and applied some sunscreen, then

went outside on the front porch and stood, waiting for his

caterpillar to join him. The man stood for some time,

then finally got impatient. “Hey! What’s taking you

so damn long?!” he shouted. The caterpillar called

back, “keep your pants on, will ya?

I’m putting on my shoes!”



“I’m Alias”, she said, grinning superciliously.

“Alias. I’m Monique,” she said back, not grinning.

The two women shook hands. Silky, smooth lady hands. The middle-aged woman—quite attractive and well put-together—Alias—kept grinning. A sincere grin. A happy woman of a certain age. She was a firecracker. Spunky. Full of spunk. The other woman—a quite younger woman—the one named Monique—could detect the spunk…like pheromones…and immediately settled on a positive impression of the woman who called herself ‘Alias’.

“What brings you to this neck of the woods?” Alias chirped. A sincere, cheery kind of chirp. Merry, almost. A merry woman of a certain age…but laced all in a veil of sly cynicism. A cloak of acerbic wit draped over her cheery, merry words and delivery of those words. Sincere but acerbic. Caustic, almost. But in an endearing, kind and funny way. Her disposition was at the same time brash and kind. Endearing. Her hair, auburn and shoulder-length. Thick-rimmed glasses framing kind, beautiful grey eyes. Quite lovely, all in all. The young lady named only Monique felt a spasm in her pelvis…a quiver running up her leg and over her vaginal cavity…but no time for that. She quickly straightened her posture and adjusted her stance. Anyway…

“I’m looking for someone,” she said, finally. A man. About 32. Not too tall. Kind of fat. Kinda cute though. Glasses. Dresses sloppy though. And has terrible posture. You seen a man like that round here lately?”

“Kinda fat. Kinda cute. Glasses. Sloppy and terrible posture, you say.” ‘Alias’ massaged her chin…looking up, off into space for a moment. “You know…good posture can make or break the attractiveness of a man…”

“Funny,” the young lady named Monique said absently. “Yeah. Like…I know this dude…good looking dude, you know? But he looks like a question mark when he stands, you know what I mean? Slumped over, sloppy. Stand up straight, dude, I say to this dude…anyway. He don’t listen. Could be a really good looking dude if he just stand up straight you know.”

“It’s the little things,” Alias chirped. “My husband is a stock-broker. Travels all over the world. And dresses really snazzy. Clothes make the man too, you know.”

“Well, this dude I’m looking for…” Monique paused, arranging the puzzle pieces in the jigsaw of her mind… “Well…hey…this dude is, like…weird. But he’s a good guy basically. Just…terrible posture. A question mark.”

“Seen any ‘dudes’ who have the posture of a question mark…” Alias said, quite into the empty space between herself and the young woman named only Monique. A glass display case separating them. “A lot of ‘dudes’ come in here,” Alias said, this time into the general direction of Monique. “What’s he to you?” she asked brightly.

“Hmmm…” Monique thought it over. Tussling her braided hair. Her brown, almond-shaped eyes staring off into the space between them…separated by glass.

“A boyfriend?” Alias interjected, filling the space.

“Huh.” Her face gave way to a puzzled, interrogatory kind of expression. “No. Not that. But…someone did something to this dude.”

“The question mark dude,” Alias added. A caustic, impish smirk.

“Well, yeah. Suppose so. Hey…he’s got real bad posture…but the dude…this dude is pretty chill you know…no, definitely not a boyfriend. Just…like…a ‘dude’…you know?” Clearly, neither woman involved in the exchange ‘knew’. The flower shop was empty. Orchids half-price. Roses wilting on the display rack. The place was not maintained well. Beautiful flowers wilting and withering everywhere…dead, stray petals littering the floor. “Look…someone did something to this dude. Like…” she leaned in close, resting her elbows on the glass counter and whispering through clasped hands… “Someone tried to kill the dude.”

“Dudes get killed all the time,” Alias said, that cloak of cheer slipping off in one deft motion. “What’s he to you, then?” she persisted. Her merry exoskeleton surely cracked and fell, littering the floor with the dead petals. “Look…lots of people come in here. Mostly men. Mostly clueless men. Clueless men looking for a bouquet of something or other…an arrangement of nice pretty flowers for a wife or girlfriend. Most ‘cause they forgot an anniversary or something like that, let me tell you. Poor clueless guys in the doghouse. Rarely do I get a woman come in here. Men with a special occasion, an anniversary, a birthday, something like that to make up for. Men forgetting anniversaries…” Alias smirked an impish smirk… “That old chestnut. So, anyway, I see lots of ‘dudes’…tell you the truth…most of these ‘dudes’ have terrible posture. Most men don’t know how to stand like proper men. You ever notice that? Shoulders slumped over. Stand up straight. Shoulders back. Chin up. Chest out. Confident stance. That kind of thing. And clothes. Clothes make the man. But the men who come in here…I’m sorry…what was your name again…?”


“Monique.” Alias nodded, as if storing the name in a special compartment in her head. “Monique…most of the men who come in here dress like shit…pardon my French. Anyhow, like slobs. And look like question marks, the way they stand. Truth is, I’ve seen your man every day of my life working in this flower shop. Like finding a needle in haystack full of needles. All alike. Sorry, Monica…”


“Sorry, Monique…I couldn’t pick your man out of a line-up if my life depended on it, tell you the honest truth. A certain type of man comes to a place like this. It’s a slob magnet. Nothing but question marks. I could’ve seen him about a hundred times this week alone and I’d never be able to tell him apart from the rest of the question marks…”

“Damn,” Monique grumbled.

”Still…Monica…what’s this guy to you?”


“Monique. What’s this guy to you?”

“He’s someone I owe something to, I guess…” she trailed off, looked absently into the space between them. Eyes focused on nothing. Dead petals at her feet. Her petite frame began to bend. Her posture loostened. Soon she began to resemble a question mark.

“Well, Monica,” Alias chirped at last, her merry cloak once again snugly concealing an acerbic, caustic wit… “I hope you find your man. Sounds like it’s a big deal, huh.”

“He’s not ‘my man’. But thanks. Yeah…guess it is kinda a big deal.” Monique began to turn, trampling the dead petals under her heels, then paused… “Hey…”

“Yeah? What’s up?”

“How much?” Pointing to a small potted cactus, perched on the corner of the glass display case separating them. “I like that.”

“Cactus,” Alias said, mechanically. “$19.99.”

Monique screwed her face into a puzzled grimace. “Seems like a lot for a cactus.”

“$19.99.” Her cloak once again slipped off completely, an acerbic, brash disposition coloring her inflection now. “Take it or leave it, sweetie.”

The young lady named only Monique took some time. Silent. For some time. For some time, silent. Her petite question mark frame straightened up a bit. Then collapsed again. A question mark. A perfect arch. Limp as a noodle.

“Hmm?” Alias uttered, smiling a shallow little smile.

“Guess I’ll take it.”

She paid for the cactus, took her change, exchanged a hollow smile with the woman of a certain age, the florist named only ‘Alias’. “Water it from time to time, now…” she cautioned as Monique headed toward the exit.

“Yeah. It’s a cactus. How hard can it be?”

Sullen, shoulders slumped, not knowing why, the kinda fat but kinda good looking dude she was looking for flashed in her mind. “Not my responsibility…” she uttered to no one.

The cactus held up like a trophy in her right hand…eyeballing it inquisitively. Examining the thin, razor-like needles…

“God dammit. Not my responsibility.”

She wandered into the night. Neon lights with promises of GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS! and powerlines and and sewer grates and utility poles…billboards for liquor and lawyers standing tall at regular intervals along the interstate highway. Lights from far-away office buildings and rent-controlled apartment complexes. Her panties had become wet. Driven by pure instinct, she headed downtown…following the sights and sounds and lights of the night-life ahead. She had an insatiable urge to go back to that florist shop and have her way with that well put-together woman of a certain age, Alias…she had that libidinous drive…a ravenous calling…

…and a cactus.