SmokeLong Quarterly

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Three Jokes

Story by M. Thompson (Read author interview) December 23, 2010

art by Juliana Wisdom

A group of middle managers stand in an elevator without speaking to each other. They blink languorous blinks at the dimly lit ceiling—the woman just there with the two men behind her, each nervously focused on the long strip of numbers that run above the door. Well dressed, in a way. Mannequin clothing. Three mannequin poses. White hands to their stomachs and blue veins in their faces involuntarily pulsing to the dull sound of cables contracting through the ceiling, the distant drone of an appliance, an electric knife or a blender left whirring on the counter in the kitchen of an apartment. The numbers glow yellow with each passing floor. Nine and ten, eleven and twelve, on up through the building. They put their fingers to their ears and slowly close their eyes, lay face down on the linoleum and, one by one, try hard to yawn.


A middle-aged couple, overweight with the man in ill-fitting jean shorts and the woman in some kind of bright red capris that strangle her calves. Just after lunch on a Sunday afternoon. Spread out in the living room and both on their backs with ballooned, misshapen lower halves thrust into the air, pale round legs struggling to pedal a pair of imaginary bicycles. In the corner, a television plays an elegant older woman dressed in black spandex. She looks right into the camera, lays her hands across her stomach with her shoulders to the ground and lifts straight into the air. Two indistinguishable figures repeat the movement behind her. Elevator music drifts from the speakers. She says, “And lift yourself like so” and “take a long, deep breath,” her instructional coos intermingling with the grunts of the couple as they squirm across the carpet: “Ffffhhf.” “Ummph. At the smaahll of your back.” “End.” “Ahhf. And your spine.” “Here?” “Ahh.” “I.”


An infant has been placed in the black vinyl cradle of a safety swing harness designed for bigger children. Its stubby round legs dangle out from oversized holes, they twitch and they curl. Two adults stand nearby, but look off to the street, where a van has just backed into a cyclist. Someone is running and waving their arms. Distant sirens are whistling from the buildings downtown. And so the infant alone, eyes mesmerized by the ungrounded state of its own tiny feet, feels the slow, continual push of the swing being swung by the afternoon breeze, the murmur of voices discussing the weather, believing as a dog might believe that everything occurring will continue to occur—this car ride is unending, my owners are gone. I am trapped where I am and will go on forever.

About the Author

M. Thompson was born in northern Michigan. His work has previously appeared in places like Unsaid, Everyday Genius, and Spork, among others. He is concerned primarily with fiction writing and running long distances. www.m-thompson.net

About the Artist

Juliana Wisdom is a multimedia artist living in Seattle. She was born in 1987 and received her BFA in 2010. Her work incorporates video, animation, sound, sculpture and repurposed materials. She is interested in symbols, communication, myth, relics, and material history. Find more at www.julianawisdom.com.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty

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