Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “Serious Joking”

Andrei Merce and I are texting about me coming back to England. I reply, “If we don’t have a nuclear war, I’ll be there,” and as soon as I’m done typing it, I’m not sure how much of that was a joke. Maybe the tone—the framing of the idea. But the idea itself? Not a joke. I can’t stop thinking about how the world will do nothing substantial against Putin because they’re (we’re) afraid of what he’ll do.

Andrei texts back: “That would be ideal.” Another statement that is posed in a funny way but is entirely serious. You can’t help joking when things are this bad, but the jokes aren’t like before. They’re not careless and they’re not good-natured. They’re not even jokes. Just the hint of a joke—a thin coat of paint over a thousand coats of varying colors that are All Completely Serious.

I text back: “I’m glued to the news these days. I hate this shit.” Not a joke. Not even the shadow of one. I’m afraid and I’m taking this seriously. I tell Andrei if there is a nuclear war, he and his family should come stay here on the farm because we have land, weapons, stockpiled food, and resources, and because Kansas has nothing good enough to nuke—soy fields, cows, backwoods, silos, junkyards. That’s a serious thing to say but it’s said in a way that seems lightweight—or something approaching lightweight.

It’s a beautiful day; I haven’t said that yet and I’m sorry. The snow from Wednesday’s storm still lies in patches on the ground like stray puzzle pieces. It’s very cold outside, but there’s sun and no clouds and where the snow has begun to melt, new tufts of grass reach up for the light, the blades sharp—the prettiest green you could ever hope to see. -Adam GnadeAdam Gnade

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