The conference room smelled of pizza. Its previous occupants had held a lunch meeting, or else had been celebrating someone’s birthday or promotion or some such. There were crumbs on the half oval conference table that Wednesday was at this moment cleaning away, scowling, with a damp brown paper towel from the bathroom next door.
Saturday entered, sniffing the room’s air dramatically: “Ahhhhh, pepperoni…sausage…and–what’s this? Pineapple and Canadian bacon? What a party we missed! Hey,” this, to Wednesday, “if you’re getting coffees, I’ll take an Amaretto latte. Thanks.”
Wednesday threw the damp, crumb-encrusted paper towel onto the middle of the table and stormed out of the conference room. At that moment, Monday walked in. Glancing at the table, Monday frowned, picked up the paper towel by a nonwet, nonsoiled edge and carried it to the overflowing trash bin in the corner.
Tuesday rushed in, out of breath. “No need to hurry,” said Monday. “Most everyone will be late as usual.”
Monday went to sit in the third seat to the right from the head seat of the table, but saw that this would not be right, as Saturday had already taken up residence in the seat to the right of the head. Monday frowned in Saturday’s direction, then took the seat to the immediate left of the head. Tuesday rushed over and sat to Monday’s immediate left.
Over the next few moments the others arrived. Thursday came in and sat at the curved end of the table, directly opposite the head. Sunday came next, filling in the next seat to the left. Friday came in after, pausing briefly and looking at those already seated.
“You are at the Front this time. You might as well go ahead and sit there,” said Monday without looking up from a stack of notes.
Friday hesitated a moment more, then turned away from the head and sat in the empty chair to the left of Tuesday.
Wednesday returned carrying a tray of white paper cups, steam forming clouds above them. “I got your usuals, as you were not here to tell me what you wanted.” This, meant for all except for Saturday.
Finally they were all seated, with the large chair at the straight end of the half oval table empty. Monday spoke, “Alright. Any announcements before we begin.”
Wednesday leaned forward. “Yes. I think we ought discuss how I always seem to be taking everyone else’s turn getting coffee. I hardly think this is fair.”
The next few moments were spent with the others stating how they, too, had taken turns not their own. Then followed a chorus of explanations offered as to why their turns had not been able to be taken: that one time Saturday had been hung-over; this time Monday had had an important meeting just prior to this one that could not be got out of; there was the time that Thursday had been held up by inclement weather…
“Alright, alright,” Monday finally interrupted. “Let’s table all that for now. We really must begin. We only, as you all know, have this room reserved for one hour fifteen minutes.”
Sunday spoke up, “But, no one follows this meeting until tomorrow morning. Surely it does not matter if we go over time.”
“We. have. the room. for. one. hour. fifteen. minutes.” Monday took a deep breath. “Now, according to my notes, Friday is at the Front today. Shall we begin?”
No one spoke, so Friday stood, walked to the head of the table, and sat down. “I’d like to open the floor to anyone else before I begin mine,” Friday said, looking around at the others. Saturday’s hands clapped together loudly. “Me, me, me–call on me!”
“Alright. Saturday first. What is it to be: riddle, poem, tale or joke?”
Saturday made quite a show of deliberating. “Hmmm. Hmmm. I think…I think…a joke.”
The others contributed to a group sigh. “Of course,” Monday said in stage whisper.
Saturday paid no mind. “Oooooo-kaaaay. Here goes. Pretty sure I haven’t told this one yet.
“A man is walking down a downtown street one morning, on his way to work, looking glum–”
“Hmm, must be Monday morning,” said Wednesday. Sunday and Thursday laughed quietly, while Monday and Tuesday scowled.
“–looking glum. Some people on the crowded sidewalk are walking his way, others hurrying in the opposite direction coming towards him. At some point, in the distance, he spies a beautiful woman walking toward him, quickly, also likely on her way to her place of employment. As both their steps bring them closer to passing, the man notices that the woman–very well dressed in smart business attire–is nevertheless nearly shirtless. Her blouse is unbuttoned past mid-chest and her bare left breast is clearly exposed.”
Wednesday’s eyes roll in their sockets. A couple of the others smile. There was one suppressed giggle.
“Well,” continued Saturday, clearly relishing these reactions. “The man soon enough gets within speaking distance of the woman. He stops before her, clears his throat, and says to her as discretely as he can, ‘Madam, it appears that your, ahh, your breast is showing.’ The woman looks down at her chest, and verifies for herself the man’s observation. She then looks to the sky and says, ‘Damn! I forgot my baby on the bus!'”
The laughs now were quite audible. Saturday sat back in the chair, nodding around the table. Wednesday, not laughing, had another eye-rolling episode. Monday’s laugh was brief, but honest, as was Tuesday’s. Thursday, Friday, and Sunday sustained their laughs for some moments.
“Alright, thank you, Saturday,” Friday finally said. “Anyone else have one?”
“Excuse me”: Wednesday. “Ought we not open the floor to conversation about the, um, joke?”
“Jokes are not meant to be conversation-ed about. They are meant to be laughed at and enjoyed,” said Saturday.
“Come, now, Wednesday. You know Saturday. Let’s just move on,” Monday said, making some marks on a piece of paper.
“The rules are: riddle, poem, tale, or joke–then the floor is open for questions, comments, debates and the like,” said Wednesday. “And, it’s Friday at the Front so Friday should decide whether we quote-unquote move on or not.”
“Oh, come on, now Wed-nezz-day. Lighten up,” said Saturday, smiling broadly.
A loud sigh from Wednesday: “Old English, day of the god, Woden–and you know perfectly well the d is not pronounced.”
“Okay, my dear Mittwoch,” Saturday said. “Please, please do contribute your quote-unquote questions, comments, and debates. And the like.”
“I merely said ‘the floor should be open’–not that I, myself, necessarily had anything to contribute.”
“Yes,” interrupted Friday, to staunch any further verbal bloodshed, “let’s open the floor now to discussion on Saturday’s joke.”
There was silence for a moment. Then, Sunday spoke up. “Might you reconsider, Saturday, the use of profanity in this joke?”
Saturday once again made some show of contemplation. “Mmmm… No. Next?”
More silence. Then, quietly from the curved end of the half oval, “Point of clarification: Why did no other commuters on the sidewalk except the man notice the woman with her chest exposed?”
Tuesday eagerly spoke up. “That is meant to represent the disconnectedness of modern-day, urban life. The hubbub of daily living, and the pointlessness of it all. Everyone is so immune to their own and others’ humanity, that they fail to notice or comment upon a woman so dressed. No one cares for their fellow man or woman enough to intervene in their affairs…”
Out of breath, and somewhat surprised by the outburst, Tuesday sat back in the chair.
“Actually,” said Saturday, “I just neglected to cover that base. I think you’re right, Thursday. I think the joke needs another line or two in there somewhere. How about, after he first notices her breast out… ‘The man was stunned that no one approaching the woman mentioned this to her. They merely glanced, and looked away in shock…‘ That’d solve it, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, even with the added lines, it could still hold the same interpretation as put forth by Tuesday,” Monday said. Tuesday smiled. “Anyway. Would you like for me to write down the suggestion and your potential additions?”
“Oh, not necessary. It’s all up here,” tapping fingers to forehead.
“Fine. Well, Friday, perhaps then you should move us on.”
“Excuuuuuse me,” Wednesday spoke. “I’d like to add something.” Turning slightly left to face Saturday, “These jokes of yours frequently have the same troubling features related to the objectification of women. And–” Wednesday went on quickly, voice louder over several sighs, “I fail to see how the imagery of a small, nursing child left alone on a city bus could possibly be cause for mirth.”
“Hmm. I think you’re right, friend,” said Saturday, looking serious. “Monday, please write that down for me so I can take it under careful consideration.”
There were subdued laughs at this, though it was not possible to tell from where they came.
“Okay, now we really must be moving on,” said Friday. “Another one, please?”
Several moments passed before Sunday’s hand rose slowly in the air. “Well, I think I might have a poem everyone might enjoy.”
“Now wait a minute,” said Thursday, “is this really going to be a poem, or is it another one of your prayers?”
“It is a poem. Prayers begin ‘Our heavenly Father’ and end ‘Amen.‘ This does neither.”
“Sunday, really, the rules are quite clear,” said Monday. “Riddle, poem, tale, or joke. We all appreciate your position, but this we all agreed from the start. Please do not attempt to inject one of your prayers masquerading as a poem or tale or whatever. It is not appropriate.”
Sunday’s arms crossed. “Never mind, then.”
“Well…If Sunday’s a no-go, I suppose I could tell another joke. This one shouldn’t be objectionable to anyone here. Okay: Why was Six afraid of Seven?”
“Because Seven eight Nine,” everyone sing-songed in unison. Only Saturday laughed this time. “Oh-oh-oh, that never gets old!”
“Hrmph,” said Monday. Wednesday began to speak.
“Alright, then,” Friday got there first. “In the interest of time I am going to take my prerogative at the Front by moving on to my own contribution.”
“What’s it to be, then, Friday,” asked Monday, pen raised over paper. “Riddle, poem, tale, or joke?”
“Oh, divine!” Arms now uncrossed, Sunday’s previous upset seemed to have been forgotten. “Friday tells the very best tales!”
“Do you wish to further specify a genre?” asked Monday.
“I think it might best be described…as a ghost story.”
Saturday’s hands came together in a single loud, echoing clap. “My friends, we truly are in for a treat!”
Complete silence, then, as all eyes around the table were aimed at the Front.
***End, Part 1.***
***Part 2 here.***
Inspiration: “October in the Chair” by Neil Gaiman, in Poe’s Children: The New Horror, edited by Peter Straub, 2008, Doubleday.