An hour into the drive and Janine was already on her third TaB. Jacob groaned at the thought of having to stop at every rest stop and gas station over the next five hours en route to her parents house.  In the back, the kids had finally stopped their renditions of the entire Monkee’s catalogue. Daydream Believer was currently on a loop in Jacob’s head. Now Ben had moved onto attempting increasingly aggressive ways of invading Jessica’s space, each assault met with a chorus of piercing whines.

In Jacobs’s peripheral vision he could see Janine’s cheeks becoming flushed.

“Knock it off.” Jacob hoped to cool tensions in the back seat before they leaked into the front and ignited a horrifying explosion of motherly rage.

“Ben keeps putting his feet on me. Stop it Ben!”

Ben giggled. Jacob noticed the vein on Janine’s neck start to pulse.

“Dammit kids, just stop it! We’ve got a long way to go... read or something.” Jacob was getting desperate. Janine rarely lost her temper but it was terrifying when it happened.

“Get off Ben, your feet smell!”

“No they don’t!”

Janine drank deep from her TaB, slightly crushing the can.

“Yes they do, they smell like… Grandma’s farts!”

Jacob was so surprised by the jet of soda that covered the dashboard and windshield that he jerked the steering wheel, causing the car to cross lanes. He quickly recovered and course-corrected back into their lane, just missing obliterating the entire family by an oncoming Hostess truck.

Janine was doubled over coughing, trying to catch her breath.  He pulled onto the shoulder and started patting her back.

“Honey? Honey? You ok?”

She suddenly sat up with a frightening noise and seem to inhal most of the air in the car. She immediately doubled over again, coughing anew, but now it was clear to Jacob that between the coughing fits was laughter.  Boisterous, uncontrolled laughter. Slowly she began to compose herself as Jacob watched, his mouth hanging open. Panting, Janine looked at Jacob, tried to speak, and immediately began snickering again which evolved into unrestrained belly laughs, tears were streaming down her face.  Jacob smiled then burst into a fit of giggles. Janine reached under the passenger seat and found a used McDonald’s napkin and blew out the TaB that had been forced into her sinus cavity.

Wiping away tears, Jacob looked back at the children. Ben seemed slightly offended while Jessica appeared shocked and a bit proud of her parent’s unexpected reaction.

Jacob pulled the car back into traffic as Janine wiped the windshield with the snotty, tattered napkin. Through ragged breaths she slowly calmed herself,  though every fifty miles or so she would suddenly start convulsing again, her body shaking and the laughter started again, infecting everyone in the car.

What Jacob didn’t realize was this moment had birthed a turn of phrase that would become woven into the family lexicon, oft repeated at family gatherings. Delivered in a deadpan drone in response to disappointment or displeasure, it never failed to elicit a burst of laughter from Janine.  

Decades later, three surviving family members stood in light rain at Janine’s graveside. All of them exhausted and shattered by the grief of witnessing Janine defeated by breast cancer. They stood in line along the grave’s edge, holding each other’s hands as they wept. Softly, Ben said, “this sucks.”

“Like grandma’s farts,” Jessica whispered..

Jacob snort-laughed explosively. Carol, Janine’s best friend, stopped her graveside eulogy and glanced confusedly at Jacob who waved her on as he stepped behind his children trying to regain his composure. Ben and Jessica squeezed each other’s hands as they struggled to suppress deeply inappropriate giggles.

RETURN TO WORRISOME:SHORT STORIES