One night when my wife is pregnant with our second child, she asks me for a glass of water. It’s late, and though it is a minor request, I still grumble as I sleepwalk to the kitchen. Who can say what time it is? Even the clocks are asleep. But the water is there, and the glasses are there, and so I fill a glass to the brim. This is no hyperbole; I literally fill a glass to the brim, measure each droplet until the water forms a perfect plane. This is my idea of a joke.
My wife and I are exhausted—mostly the result of our first kid’s sleeping proclivities (i.e. not sleeping)—and so, we work in laughter wherever we can.
“Here,” I say, straight-faced. “I’ve come bearing water.”
“Why do you insist on doing this?” she asks, eyeing the brim.
(The last time she’d asked for a glass of water I’d brought her a pitcher, instead.)
“You’re welcome,” I say as she lifts herself up and chugs. “The pleasure’s mine.”
And then, I feel another joke brewing—this one even better than the first.
I open my mouth but choke on my own laughter.
“What?” she asks, placing the glass alongside the fetal Doppler on the bedside table. “What’s so funny?”
I shake my head; hold up a finger.
I restart; compose myself by sliding a hand down my face.
“Now that…” I snort, “that there’s…”
“That there’s what? Seriously, why are you laughing?”
“Now that there’s some good…”—I pause, waiting for the punch line “…water.”
Maybe you have to be there to get it. Maybe you have to be us.
And maybe you have to know that the part that isn’t funny (assuming there’s a part here that is) is that I can count on one hand the number of times she’s asked anything of me. My slaphappy spreads, and soon, she too, is laughing.
“Quiet,” she hisses, nodding toward our finally sleeping boy one room over. “You’ll wake him.”
“But that there water…” I say, wiping tears, “…that there was some good water, huh?”
“That’s not funny,” she says, but by then we’re laughing so hard she’s beginning to wonder if maybe it is.
Maybe this is funny, and maybe our kid’s low-grade fever is funny, too. Maybe exhaustion is funny, and hiding heartbeats are funny, and every fear we’ll ever face is just some form of funny.
“Oh, the lunacy of water, am I right?”
“Stop talking!” she repeats. “You’re seriously going to wake him.”
“Or her,” I laugh, pointing to my wife’s belly. “Maybe I’ll wake her, too!”
The joke stops because my loose lips have made her real, turned our prophecy into a promise. We’d found her heartbeat just an hour before, and I’d grown bold, said a thing when I shouldn’t have said a thing.
“Come on,” my wife says. “Just shut up and come to bed.”
I do both of these things.
But within a few hours I wake to the pitter-patter of my wife’s feet en route to the bathroom.
I shoot up, pray for piss, for an assurance that we are all still okay.
Then: the rumble of a toilet paper roll, a flush, and the return of the pitter-patter.
“Drink too much water?” I ask.
“She just loves punching me in the bladder,” my wife says, collapsing onto the bed. “It’s like her favorite thing in the world.”
I press my hand to the belly and close my eyes.
Good one, sweetheart, I think.
B.J. Hollars teaches at UWEC and is a regular contributor to Volume One. His most recent book is From the Mouths of Dogs: What Our Pets Teach Us about Life, Death, and Being Human. "Punchline" was previously published in Brevity, and is republished here with the author's permission.
For more about B.J. here: http://www.bjhollars.com