Two Men, a Nurse, and a Restaurant


“The nurse left work at five o’clock—”

“What kind?” Charles asks around a mouthful of crawfish.

“Hm?” Dave’s sound of inquiry is accompanied by a raised eyebrow.

“The nurse,” Charles replies, making a ‘one-second’ gesture with the crawfish husk. He presses the dark red cusp of the crawfish’s head to his lips and inhales the meat of the brain. Swallowing, he continues, “What kind of nurse was it?”

“Ugh, you really shouldn’t eat those,” Dave warns. He screws up his face in disgust, but is unable to fully hide his grin. “In any case, what does it matter? It’s irrelevant to the joke.”

Charles shrugs and cracks open the dull red shell of another crawfish. “It might make the joke funnier—”

“How would you know? I haven’t even told it,” Dave says on the tail of an outraged bark of laughter. Charles purses his lips in mock impatience. The two men, now twenty-eight, have been friends for well over ten years, and in that time Dave has grown accustom to Charles’s occasional bouts of what they both refer to as ‘the defeatist attitude.’ Dave’s eye twitches in mild irritation, but giving in—as he always does—he says, “Fine. Fine, fine. Let’s say this was a…ninety-something, senile, arthritis-ridden nurse with severe bouts of dementia and… And her name is Myrtle.” At this, Charles laughs.

“That’s not funny at all,” Charles says.

“But you’re laughing,” Dave replies.

“Out of shock! I’m shocked. You’ve shocked me.” Charles pauses. “Besides, I only meant what is the nurse’s… I don’t know, specialty.”

Dave makes a little ‘o’ with his lips. “Myrtle, the old girl, is a hospice nurse,” he says.

“Is that even a real type?” Charles asks, grabbing a piece of celery.

“Has anyone ever actually succeeded in telling you a joke before?” Dave asks with more than a little irritation.

“Well… On occasion, yeah.”

“At the moment, I find that a little hard to believe,” Dave mumbles. Charles takes notice of Dave’s irritation and raises his hands in surrender.

“Is this upsetting you?” Charles asks. Dave glares at him. “Alright, so she’s a whatever- sort-of-nurse. Go on,” Charles encourages. After a moment’s hesitation Dave begins the joke again.

“The nurse left work at five o’clock—”

“Only, I’m sorry, Dave, really, but why is it the nurse instead of a nurse?” Charles asks with mock curiosity, trying to keep a straight face as he watches Dave and takes a bite of the celery stock he’s holding. He chews it slowly.

“Really?” Dave asks. “I mean are you really serious? It’s just a joke—”

“Exactly. Why are you getting huffy? I was only asking. Go on, tell it. I promise I won’t interrupt. The nurse…blah-blah…” Charles waves his hands at Dave to continue.

“No,” Dave says.

“What do you mean ‘no?’” Charles asks.

“I mean, no. You’ve completely taken the fun out of telling the joke, and so now I don’t think I really want to tell it,” Dave says. Charles leans back and looks at Dave thoughtfully.

“Well…” Charles mumbles.

The sound of a throat clearing brings the attention of both men to the table across from them. The woman who made the noise reaches over and plucks the uneaten portion of Charles’s celery from his hand and takes a bite before standing. Her bright blue scrubs are apparent, even in the matching color scheme of the restaurant.

“It’s really not a very good joke anyway,” she says with a smile before walking away.