Jaskey again swept the beam of the flashlight over the crowd. “Like most of you, I have two parents.” He nodded, to himself, then added, “Both of my parents died many years before I was born.” Some of the crowd chuckled. “My mother hated me. My father, he was far kinder. A warmhearted man, he only despised me. Let me tell you a story of my youth.”
Jaskey lowered the flashlight. His feet were bare. He wiggled his toes, as if waving with them to the audience. “On one bright day in the midst of winter, when the snow glistened on the streets like great piles of diamonds, my parents brought me before this old man. He was old enough to be my grandmother.” Jaskey chuckled because nobody else did. Finally, someone snorted in support. “And he told me the most horrid tale. When he was a boy my age, he lived in a camp. He was rarely fed. His parents were as thin as sticks. Men in uniforms ordered them about and threatened them with work and rifles. This boy had a job. There was a small stage made of scrap wood, and a frame painted like a proscenium. With some scraps of cloth and burlap, he and a few of the other children were allowed to put on a puppet theater. It was a Punch and Judy show, he believed. He remembered only one routine.”
Jaskey again brought the light to the underside of his chin. His eyes were wide. “Punch threw his little baby, played by a dead and quickly rotting mouse, out the window, and the police were brought forth quickly to arrest him. The judge—another puppet of course, perhaps even an entire sock in order to present as regal a manner as possible—explained to Punch that he was to be hanged by the neck!”
Jaskey raised his arms, his fists tight, “Until dead! Dead, dead, dead!” Then he turned the light back onto himself, holding it arm’s length, like a spotlight, like a firearm at his own head.
“‘Am I supposed to die three times,’ Punch asked in this play,” Jaskey said, his voice a high squeak for Punch’s sides. “‘I don’t know how to do that!’ And then this old man laughed and laughed and laughed. He looked down at me, his young grandson, and asked me a question when he saw that I was not smiling and laughing.” Jaskey shifted his weight to one foot and shrugged. An aside: “I didn’t want to interrupt him, you see. He asked me, ‘Do you get it?’”
Again Jaskey pointed his light toward the crowd. “Do you get it?”
Jaskey sighed and let his arms fall limply at his sides again. “I didn’t get it.” Jaskey shrugged, as his grandfather once did. “‘Well,’ the old man said to me, ‘It was the Holocaust. I guess you had to be there.’”
The audience laughed, though an undercurrent of boos reverberated across the scene as well. A rock clunked against the hulk on which Jaskey stood. “Another failure!” he roared, the flashlight suddenly up again. “Who was it!” He pointed the flashlight at a member of the audience, a man with agitated flippers where arms once were. His face was narrow, too small for his flat head except for the nose, which was piggish. His eyes bulged from his head and glowed starry in the beam of Jaskey’s torch. “It had to have been you! Who else wouldn’t be able to throw a rock well enough to hit me?” For a moment he turned the light off. The click was loud. “You can try again if you like.” Another rock did strike against something in the dark. Jaskey yelped a comical “Owie!” and the audience laughed again. He turned the light back on. In his free hand he held a rock and dropped it against his makeshift stage.
“I could not help but notice that the universe is getting stupider,” he said. There were titters, chortles. Nervous laughter. “Have you noticed it too?” he asked. “Raise your hand if you have?” Then toward the fishy-looking fellow. “My apologies.” More laughter. Even he giggled along, his whole body quivering.
“Yes, it isn’t just us, though of course we humans are getting stupider too. There used to be so many of us—we split up our tasks. Some of us were doctors, others farmers. But could a lowly farmer amputate a limb?” He shook his head no, but then said “Yes! Dozens if he wished to!” Downcast again. “…but grain threshers are not covered by most insurance policies.”
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Jaskey said, “today we are at our own wits’ ends. We’re taking a nap at the cosmic rest stop of nitwitdom. Half-wits on our way to total witlessness. Why even I,” he continued, bowing deeply and stretching out one arm, “have forgotten to collect your ticket stubs. Some of you may sneak in tomorrow…if there is a tomorrow.” Still bent over, Jaskey craned his neck toward the sky. “But I am afraid that there may not be, for the universe is getting stupider. The heavens mock us!”