John-Paul was famous for his jokes. One-liners, witty ripostes, impersonations, slapstick, anecdotes, observations—John-Paul had mastered them all. His problem was that his ability to behave appropriately in any given social context was hit and miss, so while he caused a merry riot at his best friend’s wedding, his actions at his great-uncle’s wake resulted in several family members refusing to answer his texts for a month.
His mother warned him that he would never find a nice girl if he carried on like that. True enough, girlfriends came and went. Usually, they went in a hurry after a joke had gone too far. Carla was different. She married him anyway. She knew he would make a fantastic father.
John-Paul never did tone it down, though, and he finally came unstuck one day in B&Q Warehouse.
He visited the plumbing aisle first and picked up the plunger he needed. Carla had been on his case about the problem with the bath for weeks now, since before the baby arrived. Every alternate conversation in their house seemed to circle around the word "blockage," usually as a sentence ending for the words, "When are you going to sort out that bloody—"
Well, she could stop being grumpy now.
In fact, John-Paul thought, it’s time she stopped being grumpy right now. A wicked little smile played about his lips; one unruly, greying eyebrow twitched as it had a habit of doing when he was plotting. He smiled at the wooden handled, hi-vis orange plunger in his hands.
Sauntering along to the coloured emulsion aisle where Carla was agonising over the relative merits of English Fire and Poppy Glow, he checked the coast was clear of other shoppers, then raised the plunger over his head and pushed it down firmly onto his freshly shaven scalp.
Carla heard her name being called. She responded, “I can’t quite decide betwee—” and then gawped as the daft sod she had married bounced towards her on the balls of his feet, making the wooden handle of his new plunger rock back and forth like some alien antenna. She couldn’t help but smile. Only he would do that. Only John-Paul. Bless.
The joke was over and John-Paul was pleased with its success: his place in Carla’s heart as adorable comic genius was secure. Satisfied, he grabbed the handle to remove the plunger. It wasn’t going anywhere. He pushed and pulled it in all directions, then attempted to work at the rubber seal in order to release the pressure, but the cardboard customer information was right—it did indeed provide a secure vacuum seal.
Carla’s smile lost its indulgent, almost pitying edge and became a broad grin. Her laugh hissed and snorted. Her facial muscles contorted and her nostrils flared. Her abdominals hadn’t worked this hard since Psycho Cindy had stood in for the regular Zumba instructor. She wished her pelvic floor was stronger; she wished she’d not worn light grey joggers; she wished she'd gone earlier. Clench! she urged herself.
A burly man in paint-spattered jeans and jumper appeared around the end of the aisle. John-Paul quickly bent at the waist, concealing his antenna between paint tins. “Find a Stanley knife, for God’s sake!” he hissed.
Carla contorted her lower half, enduring pain the Spanish Inquisition could only have dreamed of inflicting on some poor heretic. Moving anywhere was out of the question.
From its vantage point twelve feet up, at the end of the paint aisle, security camera number seven winked an amused red eye.
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