The Punchline

by Charles Rammelkamp

Back when death was just another thing to make jokes about – it wasn’t going to happen to Denise any time soon; she was in her thirties, had a kid in middle school and a toddler – on a lark she stipulated in her will that they play the theme song for Family Feud at her funeral. Thumbing her nose at mortality.

Then bam! The car accident a decade later. Who could have foreseen the collision with a drunk driver?

“I don’t think she really meant it,” Melissa said. “Mom was always making jokes. In any case, it isn’t like a legal document, is it?”

“A will? Sure it is.”

“You know what I mean. Nobody’s holding a gun to our heads.”

“Your head. You’re her daughter. You’re the executor.”

“I wish Dad were still around.”

“Maybe you could get Steve Harvey to read a eulogy.”

“I love the way the contestants dance and hug each other. That theme song is so upbeat. So invigorating.”

“Isn’t Steve Harvey in Trump’s cabinet? Secretary of Something or Other?”

“I don’t think we can get him on such short notice.  I don’t even know how we’d get in touch with him. Do you think we have to pay royalties to somebody if we play the music?”   

“I hadn’t thought of that. You might be right. Better ask the guy at the funeral home.”

“Sounds right. Yeah, they’ll know. The funeral home will know.”

“Your mom was always so nice to me. Your dad, though….”

“He never liked any of my boyfriends. Don’t take it personally.

“You know, sometimes I think if we’d only gone on Family Feud as a team, that might have saved their marriage. You could even have been on as the fifth family member, with me, Mom, Dad and Holly.”

“We’d have had to wear color-coordinated costumes.”

“‘We asked a hundred married women, on a scale of one to ten, how romantic is your husband on Valentine’s Day?’”

“‘On which day of the week are you most likely to eat a pepperoni pizza and watch a DVD?’”

“It could have brought us together, the insights into our family dynamics, the dresses for me and Mom and Holly, you and Dad with the same sports jackets. And of course the dancing. And just imagine if we’d won five times in a row and all drove off in a brand new car!”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the one who drove your father out. I could tell he didn’t really like me, thought I was an interloper stealing his daughter.”

“No, he’d been pretty restless for a while. I think it was Mom’s jokes that finally got on his nerves.”         

“I always found myself waiting for the punchline.”

“We’re the punchline.”


A Note About the Author: Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives. His most recent book is American Zeitgeist (Apprentice House), which deals with the populist politician, William Jennings Bryan. A chapbook, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is forthcoming from Main Street Rag Press.