The Funniest Story
Sandy (mid-teens) and Grace (late 70s) are preparing a holiday meal, the girl stirring a pot, the old woman chopping vegetables and herbs.
Grace: Don’t let it burn, Sandy dear.
Sandy: Don’t worry, Grandma.
Sandy stirs the pot. Connie enters – forty-something, brusque.
Grace: Oh, Connie dear, would you finish the stuffing?
Connie: (cheerful) Certainly, mother. I’m just finishing the cornucopia, on a sheave of wheat.
Grace: Oh, that reminds me of Darnel. (to Connie) You remember, dear. He had hair just the color of wheat, ripe wheat – remember?
Connie: (tense) No, I’m sure I don’t.
Sandy: Who’s Darnel?
Connie: Sandy, don’t bother grandma with questions.
Grace: Why it’s no bother at all, dear. It’s the funniest story. Darnel was a boy who lived with us when your mother was little – the son of the man who saved Grandpa’s life in the Hitler war. Well he died – the father – he got sucked into a threshing machine and was turned into, oh, red apple sauce it looked like.
Connie: Mother, please don’t start.
Sandy: I never heard this.
Connie: Grandma has so many charming stories. Let’s save this one for some other time, okay?
Grace: Darnel had blond hair just the color of wheat, ripe wheat, remember?
Connie: Yes mother, ripe wheat.
Sandy: I thought you said you didn’t remember.
Grace: Well we had some neighbors, Livia and Barney. You remember them, don’t you Connie honey?
Connie: No. Can we change the subject. I — How’s Aunty Belle? Is she settling in?
Grace: Of course you remember. Now Livia had traveled when she was young, used to do a balloon dance on the burlesque circuit, and then she got too fat and she settled down and wrote mail-order correspondence courses on Oriental techniques of love-making and colon-cleansing and the health benefits of leeches and the like.
Connie: (to Sandy) Did you see the Thanksgiving Day sale at Feldmann’s? – 20% off. Let’s—
Grace: (to Sandy) Your mother used to play with their little boy – well, Livia’s little boy, Claudius. Barney married her later. Claudius was really the son of an earlier husband. Augustus, Augustus Figg. He was the bearded lady at the Parkway Amusatorium. We were all watching “The Last Days of Pompeii” at the Bijou when somebody set him on fire. I never did see the end of that movie. He’s the one who was little Claudius’s father. He burned up extra fast because of all the hair and then he just exploded, like pop corn.
Connie: (fast) I – I remember in second grade we’d make turkeys by outlining our hands, and pop corn necklaces— (covering her mouth) OH!
Sandy: Yeah, mom, everyone’s done that. So what else, Grandma?
Connie: (fast, loud) Here, Sandy, pass me the pop corn gaahhngh the parsley. And keep stirring. What’s your favorite holiday dish? I like Tofurkey—
Grace: Now Barney – Livia’s last husband – was a soft-spoken little man from the Philippines. Brown as a beetle he was – a short little brown quiet man with a big fat wife, Livia. She must have weighed, heavens, 400 pounds. When they were courting it was like the circus. Jumbo and [...Cheeta]—
Connie: (angry) Oh please, mother, just don’t go rummaging through your bag of nightmares tonight.
Grace: (laughs) Well Livia came up pregnant, and you never saw a happier man than that little Barney. Who’d imagine they could even have marital relations? She was 500 pounds if she was an ounce – hadn’t stood up since the funeral – not the bearded lady’s funeral, but her other husband’s – not Barney, but, oh, I’m forgetting the name, but he had an eyeball made out of clear glass ... it was hypnotic, especially when he had a cold – the colors! – like a kaleidoscope! Well he fell into the hole when he was ice fishing. Hirum, Hirum Krupple! Oh, no, it wasn’t after the funeral, it was after the wedding that she never stood up again. Barney’s wedding. She ate most of the cake and they hauled her home on top of an irrigation wagon. They had to use an extra horse – imagine! But when they finally found Hirum, come the thaw—
Connie: (babbling) I’m going to the dentist next week. I’m thinking of having all my teeth pulled. I made an appointment for you too, Sandy.
Sandy: You told me, mom. Go on, Grandma.
Grace: Connie dear, please don’t interrupt. So when they found Hirum he was hollow as a gourd and just full of eels. At the wake, well some sort of shining algae had taken root and he glowed inside just like a jack-o-lantern. His glass eyeball acted like a lens and projected a bull’s-eye onto the ceiling. All the boys flicked olives at it – it was so festive.
Connie: (hysterical) Oh! God! Um, have you ever noticed there are no Thanksgiving songs? Let’s make one up right now. (singing) OH TURKEY TURKEY TURKEY MAKES ME PERKY PERKY PERKY, I WILL DO THE HERKY-JERKY— (fades away)
Grace: Well Livia came up pregnant as I said, and Barney was so happy. He had a cheesy deposit on the back of his neck – he’d scoop it out with a garden trowel or a shoe horn and it would be back the next week. But when the baby was born – Livia named it Nero – and when she brought it home, it had hair the color of wheat. Ripe wheat. And when little brown Barney saw that blond baby from his big fat elephant of a wife but most certainly not from himself, well, you can just imagine. He got a big old—
Connie: (shouting) I’m taking salsa lessons at the W. Here, let me show you. (she dances spasmodically)
Grace: That’s nice, dear, you always were so gifted. When Barney saw that pale little blond baby bastard he took a rusty old machete knife and chopped that whole family into pieces – Livia, and Claudius, and Baby Nero too. Cut them up like carrot cubes. The neighborhood was crawling with cats for weeks afterwards.
Connie: (feebly) I feel sick.
Grace: And he came to our house, Barney did, looking for Darnel. I remember thinking how itsy-bitsy his tiny little bloody footprints were when I scrubbed them up. Very inconsiderate – of course, he grew up in a mud hut village, so he didn’t know any better than to track blood all over. But only your grandfather was home, and he was not a man to trifle with. Well he took down that little man with the fungus on his head and trussed him up like a castrated goat. It was 40 years ago this week! – how funny! And when they electrocuted Barney it smelled just like sautéed mushrooms.
They continue cooking in silence.
Sandy: That’s a sad story.
Connie: (bitter) All of them are.
Grace: You think so? I’ve been meaning to send it to Reader’s Digest. Maybe “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”
Sandy: Nobody ever told me it before.
Connie: There’s a reason for that.
Grace: But that Darnel – my, my, he was not a good boy.
Sandy: He didn’t get killed, did he?
Grace: Yes he did – oh no, Barney didn’t kill him – oh, it’s the funniest—
Connie: (angry) Mother! – what is the point of telling all these horrible stories?
Grace: Why, take Darnel and Barney for example. Some babies are better off not born. That’s why I wasn’t against it when you had your abortion.
Sandy: Mom, you had an abortion?
Grace: Oh, it’s the funniest story—
Connie: Mother! Please! I’ll talk to you later about this, Sandy. Just please drop it for now.
Grace: Oh, but let me tell you what happened to Darnel—
Connie: I’m going to finish the centerpiece. You don’t have any jolly anecdotes about cat-tails, do you I hope to God not? And save your cheery little Darnel tale for next Thanksgiving, mother. Honestly! (She exits.)
Grace: I do love Thanksgiving. I don’t prefer Christmas. Do you know what your Grandfather gave me once for Christmas? Gonorrhea. Oh, it’s the funniest story...