A Pun in the Punchline

We met in the conference room at the back of the building, a small room with a table that reminded us of a surfboard. It was the only room free at that time; inexplicably, every other room on campus was booked from 4 to 6 on Tuesdays. The professor had looked, had gone through each of the college’s ten buildings, across campuses on either side of the river that cleaved our town in twain. He had searched, room by room, and had found nothing. Not even the abandoned dance studio was free, its broken mirrors and out-of-tune piano fodder for this semester’s course in advanced art therapy. There was only the surfboard room at the back of the student center. And so, that is where we met. That is where we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into a past where our school gave two shits about us and our stories.

It had been six weeks since Cain had missed his deadline and we’d had to punish him, but we’d been coming back to the topic of our having gone too far with increasing regularity. Sure, we were honor-bound to defend the syllabus’ rules and regulations — it was a contract, after all — but even the professor seemed to be feeling a bit of remorse. While he waited for us to file in each week, he kept his gaze fixed on the twenty-sided die and weathered D&D manual that had decided Cain’s fate. And when the workshop reached an impasse that seventh week, when silence took the room, the professor, before saying a word to get us back on track, he ran his fingers over the foxed, dog-eared pages of the old tome and let out a sigh.

And so it was that we were each assigned a piece of Cain to bring back for week eight.

Jules collected the right shoulder and arm from beneath the newsstand at Pickett Square. Azar retrieved the left leg from the floorboards of the crumbling Episcopalian church at Philbrick Circle. Me, I dug up the torso and left arm from where we’d stashed it beneath the flower bed outside the provost’s window. Corey found out where the right leg had run off to, but never told us. And the professor, he collected the head from atop the science building’s dome, skedaddling out of there just as the seniors were getting ready to reassemble the car of the dean of institutional advancement as part of their annual prank.

“Where did the dean find the money for a Beemer?” the professor wondered. We would find out at an all-campus meeting the following fall, when that dean rode off into the sunset with his embezzled fortune and we all got shipped off to other schools to finish our degrees. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Heads turned and noses were pinched as we strolled through the student center that eighth week, each of us with our heavy, malodorous burden. We drew the shades, we laid out the pieces of our comrade on the surfboard table, and we looked to the professor for guidance on what to do next.

“Well, it’s such an exquisite corpse,” he told us, looking at me, “that I think you should decide what happens next.”


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