A distinction without a difference

The Ex-Executive Assistant, a story published on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a limited number of installments
"The Ex-Executive Assistant" is a comedic story about a young man who loses both his job and his girlfriend on the same day.

Recap: Lyle — currently at a party thrown by an old friend, Irene — has spent most of the evening talking to Chad, a fellow journalism major he went to college with. Chad disappears into the crowd, and Irene finds Lyle on the back porch. When Lyle tells her who he’s been talking to, Irene’s face pales, and she tells Lyle that Chad has been dead for three years. But Lyle’s not so sure, and he suspects that the copious amount of wine Irene’s drinking might be clouding her judgement. Which is worrisome, because she’s also trying to find Lyle a date. 

Lyle took a sip of water and ran his hands through his hair. “I can’t believe Chad’s dead. How did it happen, anyway?”

“How else?” Irene said. “Lung cancer. You don’t smoke like he did and live to collect Social Security.”

“I don’t think anyone our age is going to collect Social Security.”

“Don’t tell me that,” Irene said. “Social Security’s the cornerstone of my retirement.”

“Do you and Tom have a plan?”

“Yeah — Social Security.”

“Don’t either of you have a 401k?”

“In this economy, we’re lucky even to have jobs.”

“I get that, but what about putting money aside?”

“Lyle,” Irene said, motioning with her wineglass-filled hand, “take a look around you. We’re a young couple living in a two-story home on a one-acre parcel overlooking downtown Reno. Does it look like we’re putting money aside?”

“So you’re spending everything you have?”

“More than that — we’re spending everything we don’t have.”

“But why? What about the future?”

“What if there is no future? Look at Chad — he died in his twenties. Tom and I don’t want to spend our lives saving just so our kids can take all the money.”

“You and Tom don’t have kids.”

“That’s OK — we don’t have any money.”

“So what happens when you and Tom get old and can no longer work?”

“Not a problem — we got a safety net.”

“A safety net? What safety net?”

“Social Security.”

“Social Security’s your safety net?”

“Social Security is everyone’s safety net. It’s a social safety net.”

“Uh-huh.” Lyle held out his hand. “You want me to take your glass?”

“Not at the moment. It’s filled with wine.”

“I know. I was thinking I could dump it out and replace it with water.”

“Let me have some fun, will you? Tom and I are broke. It’s only during times like these that we can live a little.”

“You’re not living a little with your two-story house on its one-acre parcel?”

“Well, we’re living a little … but we’re working a lot.”

“You’re working a lot, but you’re not saving money.”

“That’s why I’m looking forward to growing old and collecting Social Security,” Irene said. “Then we’ll really be living.”

“But what happens if Social Security runs out?”

“Then I guess we’ll stop living.” Irene raised her wineglass. “Which is why we should drink up while we still can. What are you drinking to?”

Lyle held up his water bottle. “Don’t ask me — I’m not even drinking.”

“I know — let’s drink to our dearly departed friends.” Irene raised her wineglass higher. “To Chad. May he wander peacefully in that seedy, discount tobacco store up there in the sky.”

Lyle nodded. “Beautiful. I’ve heard many expansive, sweeping, awe-inspiring depictions of heaven, but that one takes the cake.”

“Doesn’t it, though? If only Chad were alive, I’m sure he’d appreciate it.”

“Why don’t you ask him? He’s over there by the barbecue, talking to your husband.”

“Huh?” Irene spun around. “Chad’s alive?”

“For the time being, but I see someone gave him a cigarette. If he keeps it up, he might turn your exceptionally inaccurate recollection into an astoundingly dead-on prophesy.”

“I thought I smelled smoke. That jerk. I bet he’s been leaving his butts all over the yard.”

“Did you really think he was dead, or you were just living out some half-baked fantasy fueled by wine and a woefully poor memory?”

“No.” Irene shook her head, biting her lip. “Someone I know died of lung cancer in their twenties. I was sure it was him. Who could I be thinking of?”

Lyle shrugged. “If it was someone I knew, then I didn’t make their funeral. I didn’t even send flowers. What a jerk, huh?”

“You could have sent a donation in lieu of flowers.”

“A donation to who? I don’t even know who died.”

“You don’t know anyone who died of lung cancer?”

“The guy who played Ernest died of lung cancer. Jim Varney. But that was years ago — and he wasn’t in his twenties.”

That’s who I’m thinking of!” Irene said, snapping her fingers. “Jim Varney. Thank you!”

Lyle frowned. “How do you confuse Chad with Jim Varney?”

“I didn’t — I confused Chad with Ernest. They both annoyed me, and they both smoked.”

“Ernest didn’t smoke. The guy who played him did.”

“Same thing. That’s a distinction without a difference.”

“Then why did you make the distinction?”

“I just had a vague memory of Ernest dying, and Chad always reminded me of Ernest. They’re both tall and wobbly, and they each have a face like Jim Carrey.”

“You mean Jim Varney?”

Irene waved her hand. “A distinction without a difference.”

“I think there’s a bit of a difference between Jim Varney and Jim Carrey.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Irene said. “I prefer Jim Morrison. He was a gifted writer and singer — and so sexy! It was too bad the Doors broke up.”

“I think the Doors broke up because Jim Morrison died.”

“Maybe that’s who I was confusing Chad with — Jim Morrison! That makes sense. Jim Morrison died in his twenties, and that’s what made me think of Chad. Thank you, Lyle. That was driving me crazy.”

“I think that ride might have ended a while ago.”

“You sound just like my therapist. He says I drink to unleash my repressed inner self.”

“You repress your inner self?”

“I guess. Apparently, that’s why I’m so depressed.” Irene took a gulp of wine, then threw back her arms. “Be free, be free! The wine is flowing and the night is yours. I release you, my heart and my soul — be free, be free!”

“I’m released?” Lyle asked. “I’m free to go?”

“Not you! I was talking to my inner self. That’s what I do when I drink — I unleash my soul to roam and mingle.”

“I think your soul’s having a better time at this party than I am. May I be excused, now?”

“Not yet. I haven’t told you what I came out here to tell you.”

“Can it wait until you’re sane?”

“Trust me, you’ll like this.” Irene smiled, licking her dry lips. “Which do you want to hear first — the good news, or the bad news?”

Lyle sighed. “Why do I get the feeling that’s a distinction without a difference?”

Author: Allen

I’m a humorist and fiction writer, as well as the author of two books. One is a collection of humor, and one is a collection of short stories. Both books are available on Amazon. I always wanted to write a comic strip, but I can’t draw. Not even a stick-person. So that’s why “The Lawn-Cutting Crew” is a comic strip without drawings. I hope you enjoy!

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