The Seven Five Nothing

The Seven Five Nothing are a collection of hyper-short stories, each written in a single sitting with no editting.

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3. A Recycled Penguin Joke.

As he walked into the hospital room, nothing had prepared him for this site. His father, hooked up to tubes and monitors, to machines that beeped and wheezed, breathing for him and telling the doctors he was still alive. Of course, to look at him, you'd have never have known.

His skin was waxy, his hands marble still. Jack sat at the side of his bed, moving slowly, careful not to disturb the quiet. He looked at the lines on the monitors, listened to the soft sounds all around him, absorbing the anticipation in the air. The nurses had called, telling him his father wasn't expected to make it through the night.

In the hall outside the room, shoes squeaked as people walked, voices blended together, the sounds of a hospital cloaked this space like a stream passing around a rock.

Jack's heart lay heavy. He touched his father's hand. 'Hey dad...'
Nothing.
'...They called me... Said I should come. I'm here now.'
A twitch of the mouth. Jack watched for another sign.
'You're still here.'
His father stirred, opening his eyes slowly. 'I'm still here.'
'Hey dad.'
'...Jack...' The old man's voice crackled. He looked around the room, observing the machines and the wires running in and out of his body. 'I'm as plumbed up as a toilet.'
Jack laughed, 'Yes...'
'They tell you I'm almost dead?'
'They said you weren't doing so great.'
'Fuckers...'
Jack smiled again. The mood was bittersweet. Even at the edge of his own existence, the old man was still there. 'How you are you feeling?'
'Like I'm dying.' His eyes rested on his son. 'But that's not what you're here for.'
'I came to talk to you.'
'You came to say goodbye.'
'...Yes.'
'Well, see you around. Don't let the door hit your ass on the way out.'
'Dad...'
'What?' The old man was angry. 'You think I'm meant to be okay with this? You're the fifth person I've seen today, in here, crying, getting my hands all wet. Do you even know what it's like to have everybody reminding you that you're about to die?' Through his weak breath, the conviction was true. 'It's fucken depressing.'
'Okay, I get it.'
'Can't somebody say something cheerful to me today?'
'What do you want to talk about then?'
He considered this for a second, the beeps of the machine gently filling the gap. 'Tell me a joke.'
'I don't know any.'
'Come on...'
'Seriously, I can't remember any...'
'Everybody knows at least one good joke.'
'I... I don't know any... I'm sorry.'
'Fuck... I'm dying here and you can't even do that to make me smile? What the fuck kind of son are you?'
Riled, Jack shot back. 'Okay, you tell me a joke.'
'Alright, fuck-nuts...' The old man took a breath. 'This cop's sitting by the side of the road, waiting for speeders to go by.'
Jack settled back in his chair, watching this old man animate himself as best he could.
'...Suddenly, this car flies past doing a ninety, hundred miles an hour... The cop gets after him, getting the siren going and whatnot... As he pulls the driver over, he starts going through the details, saying "You were doing blah blah miles an hour, when he looks over and sees this penguin in the passenger seat.'
'A penguin?,' Jack laughed.
'Yeah - a bona-fide Artic penguin, just sitting there, seat-belt strapped over him,' the old man continued, lifting his weakened hand. 'So the cop is all, "What the fuck?", and the guy starts explaining that he found him by the side of the road. "Well, you've gotta take him to the zoo right away," says the cop. And so, he lets him go.'
'Okay,' Jack says, a smile on his face.
'So the next day, the cop's at the same spot, waiting for speeders, when - zoom - the same car he stopped yesterday goes past, doing a hundred. The cop races after, stopping him along the way, and he's straight over at the side of the car, pissed cos he already stopped him once. He taps on the glass, and the driver looks out. "What are you doing?" yells the cop.' The old man takes a breath. 'He then spots the penguin from yesterday, sat right next to him again. "I thought I told you to take that bird to the zoo?!" "I did," the guy protests. "We had a great time, and now I'm taking him to the park."'
'Shit dad,' Jack laughed. 'I like that... Where’d you get it?’
'I don’t know - I heard it some place... But I'll let you have it...'
The two men marveled for a moment, both forgetting why they were there.
'...Shit...' Jack repeated. 'I'll have to tell the kids that one.'
'Save it. You never know when you might need to lighten the mood.’

They talked a few hours more, and then, Jack said goodbye.
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