Cephas, stared at the destruction wrought by the man who had introduced himself as the Comedian. Cephas’s room. Cephas’s fine clay pots and his finer bed linen. Cephas’s whores. All were now stained, broken, abused. Red wine pooled on the floor, being soaked up by discarded loaves of bread and expensive down pillows. Expensive linens spoiled, delicate clothes ripped, fragile glassware shattered, all ruined.
Cephas kicked a discarded sandal out of his way. This would cost him.
This would cost the Comedian.
In one hand, Cephas held the Comedian’s bill. An invoice of unusual magnitude, even for a high-class and discrete establishment like his. The dirty traveller should never have been allowed inside his business, let alone inside his women, but he carried the recommendation of the Temple priests and so an exception was made. Cephas now doubted he would see much of what he was owed from the shabby Comedian, and so in the other hand he held a thorn tree club. If the man could not settle his bill, Cephas would flay him on the spot.
Twelve hours of non-stop eating, drinking, and rutting. The room had an animal sex-stink.
Cephas yawned as the sweating Comedian finished with the latest, indeed the last, girl. He had kept one eye on the Comedian for most of the day, quietly amazed at the huge quantities of bread, cheese and wine going into the room, and the long parade of the exhausted and bruised whores coming out. The Comedian ate, drank, and fornicated like a condemned man. Cephas wondered if the Comedian was dying, or expecting to be killed, and had decided to steal a last screw before the end.
Twelve hours, and Comedian had yet to say a single thing that Cephas found funny.
The Comedian certainly laughed. Laughed at everything said, everything done. Laughing at his own ‘jokes’, if that is what you would call them. Ordering wine by demanding more ‘blood’ was not amusing to Cephas, but the Comedian found it hysterical. Calling the breads and exotic cheeses ‘flesh’ did not make Cephas laugh, and it unnerved the girls, but the Comedian rolled on the floor, gripping his belly. Refusing to kiss the whores, saying he kept his kisses for another, left the Comedian speechless, in fits.
Cephas did not get the jokes.
He did not care. He wanted his money. It was days end, the merchants were returning from the markets and would soon arrive at the whorehouse, and the Comedian had to leave. Time to leave and time to pay.
“Get up, funny man. You must pay now.” Cephas turned to the young girl, who sat on the edge of the bed, crying. “You. Out.”
The Comedian lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Chuckling. “What? Is it that time already?”
“Get up funny man or I shall brain you where you lie. I shall kill you and bury you in my field with the other forgotten men who could not pay.” Cephas’s tone was cold, restrained, angry.
“Buried and forgotten? Ah, an appealing offer! No, no, please you are quite right. I must get up, I have important dinner plans with friends tonight.” This pronouncement set off another bout of laughter.
“I don’t care about your plans, Comedian. If you cannot pay me for the food, the whores and the damage you have caused now, you will not leave this room alive.” Cephas adjusted his grip on the thorn tree club, readying it for a deadly swing.
The Comedian put on a shocked face, but his amusement was clear in his eyes “What? Is there no trust? The good men at the temple assured me that you allowed good customers credit! Are you calling them liars?”
“The priests have credit, yes. The temple money-men pay their way monthly. You do not dress like a priest, funny man.”
“No, sir, you are correct. I am no priest.” the Comedian reached into a nearby satchel, and passed a thin piece of paper to Cephas. “But I trust guarantee from the temple will provide reassurance?”
Cephas quickly skimmed the paper and was calmed. He recognised the temple seal as well as the familiar moneylender signature. The guarantee was real. He would be paid.
“And is there anything else I can do for you Sir?” A changed demeanour. Money had that effect on Cephas.
“No. Thank you, but you and your excellent women have done enough. I must meet my for friends dinner. Tomorrow is a very big day. Very big.”
“Big day Sir? Perhaps you could bring your friends back here after your…thing?” There was a lot more money on that temple guarantee, and Cephas wanted to get everything he could.
“Why after my joke! My first, my last, my only, big joke.”
The Comedian closed his eyes and nodded. Now he was closer, this simple movement showed how exhausted the Comedian was, how much of himself had been spent. He was chalk pale, trembling like a denied alcoholic, and his flesh had the appearance of melted wax. This man suffered from a soul-sickness, a deep all-encompassing grief, a personal experience of horror that made Cephas want to stay away, to avoid touching him, lest he learn what burden the Comedian bore. Lest he learn the burden and be similarly encumbered by the knowledge.
“The biggest joke ever told. A joke about a man, a joke about the whole world, a joke that will echo through history.” The Comedian signed the bottom of the guarantee, transferring its entire value to Cephas, easily three times the worth of what was owed. Cephas made no move to take the paper when it was offered.
The Comedian smiled wanly and left the paper on a clean side table.
“The biggest joke ever told,” continued the Comedian, “and the funniest part is that the punch-line is on me.”
The comedian was gone for some time before Cephas gained the courage to pick up the guarantee. At the bottom it now bore a signature, and read in long, wavering handwriting:
I, J. Iscariot assign this guarantee of thirty silver Tyrian shekels backed by the Temple of Jerusalem to Cephas Potter.
Short paragraph of flash fiction, a ‘bite’ – another response to a #PopQuizHotShot challenge from Jacopo della Quercia. Dated 9 September 2014.
Seriously… this piece didn’t end up where I expected. I don’t know if it goes anywhere.