Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Something in Joe’s pocket

Category: Humor Winners, Issue 7

Something was hiding in Joe’s trouser pocket. He said it sounded ridiculous and no one would believe him, nevertheless he swore it was true.

It was Saturday morning. My wife Sandra had taken the bus into town on a shopping expedition and so I didn’t expect to see her for the rest of the day. Sunlight slid through the curtains, stirring my winter sluggish mind into action. It was sort of spring day that fools you into thinking summer has arrived and that lunch in the park is a good idea. I often took my breaks in the park, away from the centrally heated stuffiness of my office in Gladstone Insurances Ltd and although it wasn’t a working day I decided the fresh air would do me good. I packed a few sandwiches and headed out.

Joe sat on his usual bench. Pigeons pottered around his feet looking for stray crumbs and every now and then he stretched out a foot and shooed them away. I suppose Joe was at least twenty my senior and in his early sixties. His round face was cherubic, pink and unlined. Wispy, silver hair flew upwards and surrounded his head like a spiked halo.

‘Hi, Joe.’ I said settling down beside him. ‘I haven’t seen you for ages. What you been up to?’

He glanced sideways, his blue eyes registered little interest. ‘Hallo, Martin,’ he said, and shifted his hip as if the seat were uncomfortable.

I chatted about weather and football, but I could tell he wasn’t really interested and after a while we fell silent. The soft swish of cloth on cloth the only sound as he crossed and uncrossed his legs like some bizarre, human fly. Finally I could stand it no longer.’ What’s the matter with you, Joe, you got Ants in your pants?’ I said.

He gave me a tentative stare. ‘If I tell you something, promise not to laugh?’

I assured him that under no circumstances would I laugh and drew my eyebrows together in a suitably serious ‘I’m listening’ position.

‘I’ve got something alive in my trousers and I can’t get rid of it.’

I knew he was a bit of a joker. ‘Been on the old Viagra, have you Joe?’ I said, grinning broadly.

‘If you think it’s funny I won’t bother telling you,’ he said sharply and jutted his jaw.

His bony hand, fish belly white against the brown tweed of his jacket cuff, poked thick glasses further up the bridge of his nose. He folded his arms across his chest in a defiant gesture.

I realised with some surprise that he was serious ‘I’m sorry I thought you were joking. Have you turned out your pockets?’

‘Of course I have. Do you think I’m a fool?’ he said.

I unwrapped my sandwiches and offered him the packet. He lifted a dismissive shoulder and shook his head.’ Got some of my own.’ He pulled a foil covered chicken leg out of his jacket, removed the foil and took a large bite. ‘I haven’t much appetite these days,’ he mumbled and licked chicken grease from his chin

I’d known Joes for several years and was aware how he loved his food by the copious amounts I’d seen him eat. His wife Molly was an excellent cook. I’d met her and tasted her offerings at several neighbourhood gatherings. Losing his appetite must mean that there was something badly wrong.

‘Why don’t you tell me from the beginning?’ I laid my sandwiches on the bench and settled back

Joe looked up and down the park path as if to check no one was close by and began this story.

‘I was with Molly - on this bench we’re on now.’ He patted it lightly. ‘She’s sitting beside me throwing bread to the birds and watching them squabble. All at once I felt something move in my pocket – only when I put my hand down, there’s nothing there. Well, I didn’t think much of it then, but a couple of days later I felt it again. Just like something was moving in my trousers. I turned the pockets out, but all I found was a bit of fluff in the seams. It happened more often after that and I was getting worried.’

I nodded. ‘Yes, I can see that,’ I said.

He peered at me, swallowed the last of his chicken leg and continued. ‘I thought maybe it wasn’t in my trouser pocket at all. Maybe there was something the matter with my leg. I got our Molly to call the doctor.’ His bushy eyebrow snaked together in a frown. ‘ He wasn’t pleased about making a house call. Especially when I told him what the trouble was. He said for a minor thing like that I should have gone to the surgery.’ Joe straightened his back and said with a note of satisfaction in his voice. ‘I soon put him right - There’s no way I’m sitting in the waiting room among all those women, with something moving about in my trousers.’

I wanted to laugh and resorted to making snuffling noises in my handkerchief, pretending I was blowing my nose. ‘I don’t blame you. Neither would I.’

Joe gave me a suspicious look, but the moment passed.  ‘That idiot said there was nothing wrong with my leg. It was just nerves and he prescribed a sedative

I shrugged. ‘Just stress - they all say that.’  I rolled my eyes for emphasis.

‘The medicine didn’t do no good. I thought the best thing to do was get rid of the pockets, so I asked Molly to sow them up.  She grumbled, said I was going crackers, but she did it anyway.  I thought that would be the end of it.’

‘And it wasn’t?’

‘No, that’s the thing of it see? It just moved to other pockets and started fiddling about in them. Once, it got inside my vest and tried to crawl under my arm. Bloody thing disappears when I look for it.’

‘And it’s there now?’  I said feeling slightly ill at ease.

‘It’s always there.’ he rose and folded his lunch paper. ‘I don’t know how much more I can take.’ He shook his head in a despairing manner and lifted a hand in farewell. As he disappeared from view through the park gate, I wondered if I’d just been the victim of one of his jokes.


I had lunch in the park several times in the following weeks, but Joe didn’t appear. Finally, more out of curiosity than concern, I paid a visit to his house.

Molly answered my knock. We hadn’t met that often, and by her blank look I could see she was searching for a name.  ‘It’s Mr. Cox, isn’t it?’ She pulled her cardigan together and fumbled to do up the buttons. ‘What a surprise.’

‘Call me Martin - Mr Cox sounds so formal. I was passing and thought I’d drop in and have a yarn with Joe.’

‘Joe’s not here.’ Molly said. She picked nervously at her grey woollen skirt and avoided my eyes.

‘Never mind, I’ll call back tomorrow,’ I said

She hesitated as if trying to make up her mind about something, then took my arm. ‘Come in, I’ll brew us a pot of tea. I’ve just baked a batch of cakes. Sit yourself down.’ She indicated a comfortable chair by the fire. ‘That was Joe’s favourite chair. He’d have wanted you to sit there.‘

Oh, Molly. I’m so sorry,’ I said aghast ‘I didn’t know Joe had passed away.’

She patted my hand comfortingly ‘Bless you, no, he hasn’t passed away, Mr Cox,’


‘Er, Martin, it’s nothing like that. Joe’s in a nursing home, he was having funny turns.’

‘I am sorry.’ I said again, thinking immediately of Joe’s last conversation in the park

‘ He was having optic delusions.’ Molly looked flustered and once again avoided my eyes. ‘He thought - funny things.’

‘You mean about his pockets?’

She looked up surprise written on her face. ‘He told you?’

‘Yes, but I thought it was just a story. Joe always liked his little jokes.’ I said, and realized that I was talking about him in the past tense.

‘I’ll just make that pot of tea.’ Five minutes later she return with tea and cakes, settled herself opposite and launched into her story.  ‘At first it wasn’t so bad. It did get on my nerves a bit, Joe forever wriggling and complaining about,’ she paused a moment and her voice dropped to a whisper. ‘The thing in his pocket.’

‘I thought you sewed up his pockets?’

‘I did, but he said it didn’t make any difference. He’d rather have it in the one place and not roaming all over the show. Anyway, one day my sister comes to visit and Joe’s fiddling about in his pocket as usual. My sister keeps looking over at him and I can see what’s going through her mind. So I lose my temper and tell him, if he doesn’t stop fiddling I’m going to leave him. ‘All right then,’ he shouts, ‘you look after it! ‘  The next minute he’s dropped his trousers and standing with nothing on his bottom half.’ Molly lifted her hand to smooth a stray grey hair from her flushed face. ‘I was half dead with shame, I can tell you. My sister leaps to her feet and calls him a bloody pervert and rushes out. Mind you, she has a good look first.’

‘How awful for you,’ I said, wishing that I didn’t want to laugh.

‘That wasn’t the worst of it, I can tell you. When anyone came round, he’d open the door with – you know - everything there on show. Somehow I managed to talk him into putting his clothes back on.’

‘Obviously, that wasn’t the end of it,’ I said. 

‘Oh, no,’ she replied. She reached across the table and put a second bun on my plate. ‘Next thing is, he gives it a name and starts to feed it.’

‘He gave it a name?’

‘Yes – Arthur, I don’t know where that came from, there’s no Arthur’s in our family. What was worse, you couldn’t please this Arthur. Every day it was - Arthur said he doesn’t like stew - Arthur said there should’ve been more butter on the potatoes - Arthur says, what’s for pudding and he hopes it’s better than yesterday.’

I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I made do with an ‘Oh, dear.’

‘Joe kept pushing more and more food in his pockets and that’s what made the whole thing odd.’

‘How do you mean odd?’

‘Well, after they took Joe away I got around to washing his clothes. I wasn’t looking forward to that, not with all the food he’d been shoving in them. Only when I turned his out pockets, they were as clean as a whistle. ’ She beamed at me across the table.

She looked so pleased I felt bewildered. ‘I don’t understand?’

‘Can’t you see what that means?’


‘Why, it means that Arthur really liked my cooking after all.’


The park seemed empty without Joe’s cheerful presence. I thought about him often as I wandered through the pleasant grounds. One morning about a year later, I walked through the park gates and he was there, sitting on his favourite bench. He waved me over and to my delight seemed to be his old self. I avoided the subject of Arthur, not wishing to embarrass him. We chatted awhile and ate our sandwiches and it was as we were about to leave that Joe brought the subject up.

‘You were the only one that believed me about Arthur living in my pocket. Did I tell you his name was Arthur?’

I felt the colour rise to my cheeks. ‘Yes, I heard from Molly. He’s gone now, that’s why you’re home again, isn’t it?’ Joe didn’t answer he just smiled.

I watched Joe cross the park and head home. I noticed he patted his chest, the way a man does when he’s checking he has his wallet. I can’t be sure, as he was a good distance away, but I thought I saw him stuff what looked like a bar of chocolate in his breast pocket. I wondered what Molly would say about spoiling Arthur’s appetite for dinner.


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