My wife and I had a cookie jar, a gallon-sized container with a glass lid that was left over from a Christmas gift we got before we married. It was Olivia’s idea to save it for jokes long after the cookies were eaten. Whenever one of us came across a funny joke, we wrote it down on a piece of paper, folded it, and deposited the slip in the jar. If the day came when we were down, upset, angry, or otherwise needed to uplift our spirits, we opened the jar, took out one of the pieces of paper, and read the joke aloud.
After seven years of marital bliss, our deposits into the jar significantly outweighed our withdrawals. It wasn’t that we were always happy, but most of the time, we found a way to solve our problems on our own without needing to resort to our jar of jokes. Gradually, we filled the jar to the top and placed it in the cupboard for a rainy day, where it lay unused but not forgotten.
Then the doctors diagnosed Olivia with cancer. The first night we found out, after the crying and questioning why God let such a fate befall my wonderful wife, we opened the jar to make a withdrawal.
One joke wasn’t enough to crack the mantle of gloom that enclosed us. We took out another slip of paper and read it aloud. Olivia just nodded her head, the slightest hint of a smile starting to form. I read another joke, and this time, Olivia chuckled softly. One by one, we took turns reading the jokes we collected throughout the years. That night alone, we went through a third of the contents of the jar.
The ensuing days consisted of more doctor appointments, chemotherapy treatments, and prayer. None of it worked. Olivia grew sicker and sicker.
I watched my once vibrant wife stop eating and sleeping, growing pale and thin. My presence alone no longer brought a smile to her face. The only times when she forgot about the sickness and pain were when we dug into our jar of jokes. Olivia eventually became so sick that she couldn’t read, so I read to her. I told her a handful of jokes every night to help her sleep, when it was time to eat so that she would allow some food to pass through her lips, and whenever the pain became too much to bear.
The jar slowly emptied, and I found myself spending my free minutes searching for new jokes to replenish our supply. However, I couldn’t keep pace with the number of jokes that we used up each day.
When they moved Olivia to the hospital, I brought the jar with her things. We both knew what was to come, but my wife accepted it better than I did. When I sat by her cot that night and read jokes to her, she laughed, but more for my benefit, I believed, than because of the humor she found from my words. I vowed to try harder, to make her days as pleasant as her condition allowed.
It was ironic that during her stay in the hospital, she found peace but I grew more solemn. I rarely left her side, even though she now spent most of her time asleep. I read jokes to her while she slept. I told myself that she could hear me and that my words helped her rest more soundly. When a smile graced her sleeping face, I credited it to my actions.
One day, I reached into the jar and felt the glass at the bottom. I hadn’t realized that it was now almost empty.
I waited until Olivia woke up to read another joke to her. I saved the next two for after the nurse changed her gown and sheets, a procedure that always displeased my wife.
Olivia slept most of the next day. I didn’t notice when she woke up until she tried to reach her hand out to me. I took her hand in mine and asked if I could do anything for her. She asked how many jokes were left in the jar, and I told her there were two.
“Do you want to hear one now?” I asked.
“Yes, please, dear.”
I read a joke, and she smiled.
I started to reach for the last slip of paper, but she squeezed my hand to halt me. With a slight shake of her head, Olivia said, “Not now.”
“When should I read it?”
I closed the lid and put the jar on the table next to her bed.
She squeezed my hand again and said something I couldn’t hear. I bent my head down close to her face. “Thank you for everything, my love,” she said.
“I love you,” I replied and kissed her.
Olivia closed her eyes for the last time. Somehow, she knew the end was near. I wondered why she wanted to save the last joke if she wasn’t going to hear it.
Four days later, I held her memorial service. Through tears that I didn’t bother hiding, I gave my eulogy and said goodbye to Olivia. I didn’t know what I was going to do without her.
After everyone left, I knelt by Olivia’s casket. I held the jar in my hands, for I intended to bury it with her so that her soul always had one final joke to keep her happy. In the depths of my sorrow, I asked her how I could go on.
Then it came to me in an instant. I was certain this was what she wanted. Without hesitation, I took out the last joke and read it silently to myself.
“Thank you, my love.”
She saved the last one for me.
H.S. has been writing for as long as he can remember. In addition to short stories, he has published three novels for MG and YA readers under the name H.S. Stone. H.S. lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay Area.