The time without punchlines

By Ben Halstead

There are no punchlines because there is no end in sight. Every day begins on a shifting bed of sand that creeps into the next. And everything that started before seems unlikely to be finished how we want it to be finished. And from my view atop of this shifting bed of sand, everything that is beginning seems unlikely to end. At least how I need it to end. 

I fell in love with someone through the window today. Their lamp was on and they were writing at their desk. It looked like a letter. Maybe a letter to a distant friend, to their future self looking back and laughing. I hope it gets to that person. 

My distant friend is stuck in Guatemala. She told me two weeks ago that she wanted to keep travelling and didn’t want to come home. She told me yesterday that they will run out of booze and cigarettes very soon. I didn’t bring up the topic of food. 

At the park, some young people were clumped together. They wore ripped jeans and perfume and pissed on trees with abandon in the shadows of the afternoon. They were drinking and smoking at a furious rate. The smell of it reminded me of all the times on a night out where I fell in love with someone but they weren’t behind a window. In any time but this one it would’ve been an unreasonable level of inebriation at that hour of the afternoon. I wanted to shout at them to go home and hug their grandparents, but it was too probably too late for that.

In Guatemala, my distant friend is worried about civil unrest. She predicts that the country will collapse shortly after the healthcare system does. ‘It’s soon’, she says through a pixelated copy of her face. There’s no punchline yet. I don’t want to think of one. I want to pass her a pixelated cigarette that she can inflate her lungs with. These days we measure distance through the amount of pixels on a video call.

Today, I shooed away the cat that visits my house everyday. She wouldn’t understand what’s going on. I guess neither do I. I saw her collar and imagined an unknown family with unknown webs of infection from unknown vectors. Before it all, I imagined the cat’s family as familiar. Home cooked meals and fresh milk.

I hold my breath when I pass people on the street. But sometimes I catch the tail of their perfume and I don’t know whether to feel relief or disgust.