A prankster died. Will he have the last laugh?
|Word count 1179
Batteries not included.
The two men were propping up the bar, raising their voices to be heard over the lunchtime crowd in The Squealing PigTavern.
“How’s your brother travelling these days, Alan? I heard he’s been unwell.”
“Thanks for asking, Jim. Yes, he’s had a couple of stints in the local hospital, but you know our Bob, still cracking jokes. He’s had the nursing staff in stitches,”
“I worked alongside him at the gas board for years. Talk about a sense of humour, that guy never ran out of jokes. A natural comedian, your brother.”
“He used to do a bit of a stand up, when he was younger, at the comedy clubs.” Alan took a long, thoughtful pull from his pint of Guinness. “It’s sad to see him looking so frail, but he’s still got it, always sees the bright side. Not much gets him down.” He paused for a few moments, then nodded to his friend’s empty glass, “Same again, Jim?”
“Now come on Mr Murphy, let’s be having you. Y’know you shouldn’t be out of bed.” The young nurse ushered Bob back towards the bed. “You’ll be going down for an X-ray in a few minutes.”
“Remember nurse, never lie to an X-ray technician. They can see right through you.”
Bob’s attempt at laughter ended up in a coughing fit. He grimaced and let out an involuntary groan as he attempted to get back into the bed closest to the window. He knew in his heart, the view of the carpark would be the last thing he’d see.
The old man lay down with a deep sigh, looking up at the face of the nurse who observed his struggle. Her blue eyes showed sympathy as she smoothed the blankets over his withered form.
“Oh, Bob, you dear man.” Her smile showed she forgave the bad jokes.
Alan received the call he’d been half expecting from the hospital.
“This is Nurse O'Brien from Dingle General Hospital, sir. “It’s about your brother, Bob. The doctor says to inform you, if you wish to see him, don’t leave it too long.”
“Oh, dear. Thank you, nurse. Look, tell Bob I’m on my way. I’ll let his son know, shall I?”
“I understood you are the closest family, the next of kin?”
“Yes, I’m the only family he has here in Ireland.. His wife died last year and his son lives in Australia. I’ll come to the hospital now and call him when I’ve got some news.”
Alan and his wife, Mary, rushed to the ward where Alan had last visited his brother. The bed against the window was empty.
“They took him away an hour ago,” the man from the next bed, whispered.
Alan’s legs gave way, and he lowered himself onto a visitor’s chair. “We’re too late.”
“Not at all. He called out as they wheeled him through the doors. Something about putting in a good word for us with St. Peter.”
“Thank God, he’s still able to joke.” Mary laughed softly. “He must still be alive somewhere. I’ll find out where they've taken him.”
Only Alan was allowed into the critical care ward to see his brother. The doctor had warned him Bob didn’t have long. Maybe another day or so.
“I’ve been looking all over for you, mate. Thought you’d done a runner.” Alan lowered his voice, aware of the other patients.
Bob reached out a bony hand and grasped his brother’s. “It looks like I’m on my way out, Al. I just wanted to make sure you know my wishes regarding the funeral. It’s all there, in my will. Tell our lad not to concern himself coming all that way from Australia. Just get it over as quick as possible.”
Alan gripped the cold hand, “It’s all sorted, Bob. I’ll take care of everything. I don’t want you worrying.”
“I don’t want to die in hospital, Al. Take me home, there’s a good brother. Let me die at home.”
Alan promised that he and Mary would look after him. Arrangements were made to take him home, where he could be in his own bed, the same one in which his wife had died the previous year.
The following day, at the bedside of his brother, Alan sat reminiscing about the times when they were kids. He thought Bob was asleep.
“There’s just one more thing.” Bob suddenly opened his eyes and grasped Alan’s hand with surprising strength. “I want to go out making people laugh,” he croaked. “There’s a tape recorder and a remote in that drawer.” He gestured to the bedside table. “It’s all ready to use. Just slip the remote in your pocket and when they are lowering me into the grave, press the button. It’ll be a laugh.” Bob wheezed out the words before having a coughing fit from which he never recovered.
As was the Irish custom; friends and relatives came to the house to prepare the body and sit with the corpse over the following thirty-six hours. The funeral directors had placed Bob in the coffin, where he lay in the parlour.
The cemetery was a few hundred yards down the road, and Alan and five other burly men carried Bob’s casket to the little churchyard in the village.
At the graveside Father Patrick intoned the burial ceremony.
”Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust…”
The coffin was lowered into the ground and Alan decided that this was the time to let Bob have his last laugh. He pressed the remote in his pocket and from within the casket the distinctive voice of Bob could be heard.
“Let me out! It’s dark in here. Help. Help!” Followed by a banging noise, as if someone was trying to break out.
The gathering gasped. “Oh, Mary, mother of God! He’s still alive!” Someone shouted.
Alan explained, much to everyone’s relief, that Bob had wanted to have the last laugh and he was simply following his instructions.
Back home after the funeral, Alan undid his black tie and top button on the stiff collar.
“Ah, that’s better. I hate wearing a suit and tie.” He emptied his pockets, throwing loose change on the sideboard. The remote, he dropped in a drawer and smiled as he remembered the reaction Bob’s last joke had created.
“He’d have loved to have been there today, Mary. Heard all those nice things folks said about him. He’d have been thrilled.”
“Aye, he would. I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?”
A week later
“What are you looking for?” Mary saw her husband rummaging through the kitchen drawer.
“I need a triple A battery. Do you know if we’ve got one?”
“Try that little remote Bob gave you.”
“I knew that’d come in handy, one day.” Alan retrieved the remote and slid the back off.
Mary saw her husband’s back stiffen. He stood as if frozen.
“Are you okay?” He didn’t turn around. “Alan? What’s wrong?”
Her husband turned to face her. His eyes were wide open. “The old bastard didn’t put any batteries in.”