A Joker Never Says Goodbye | Teen Ink

A Joker Never Says Goodbye

July 10, 2013
By thepaperinventory PLATINUM, Saratoga, California
thepaperinventory PLATINUM, Saratoga, California
22 articles 0 photos 8 comments

His name was Joker, and we met over a deck of cards. I was no older than seven at the time when my mom left me in a Costco aisle to go grocery shopping. I caught him in the aisle next to mine, tearing through a deck of playing cards.
“Hey!” I yelled. “What are you doing?”
He glared at me over his shoulder. “What do you want?”
“Don’t you know that’s illegal?” I shouted at him. “You didn’t even pay for that!”
“Just don’t tell,” he said.
“I’ll do whatever I want!”
His eyes flashed, and I wished I hadn’t said anything at all. Suddenly, he flung himself up and hurdled toward me. He grabbed my wrist, and I let out a tiny yelp, twisting and jerking in his iron grip. “Let go of me!” I protested.
“Only if you promise not to tell.”
I tried to wriggle out of his grasp, but his hands were shackles. He laughed at me.
“Fine,” I grumbled. “I promise.”
“Promise to what?”
“To not tell.”
His eyes crinkled, and he let go of me. Running seemed like the reasonable thing to do, but I was more curious than I was afraid. I stood behind him and watched him go through the rest of the decks.
He reached the last card with a sigh of defeat. “What are you still doing here?”
I ignored his question. “Whatcha looking for, anyway?”
“A blank card,” he said.
“A blank card?”
“A blank card.”
No elaboration there. I sat down next to him, eyeing the puddle of hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs. “Well, let’s at least clean this up.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon organizing playing cards and stopping occasionally for a game of Speed. As we packed the last set of cards, my mom appeared in the aisle. “Lillian! There you are! Are you ready to leave?”
I nodded.
She glanced down at the unopened card deck in my hands. “Oh, do you want that, sweetie? I can teach you to play some card games when we get home.”
I nodded and turned to say goodbye to the boy. But the only person there was an old man, reading a newspaper of some sort. The boy was already gone.

Several years passed before I saw him again. It was the first day of ninth grade, and my first period class was history. I was one of the last students in. As the other rows were filled, I took a seat in the front row.
The second bell rang.
“Welcome, boys and girls,” articulated the female teacher in a drawling voice. Two drops of saliva hit my eye. “I’m so, so, so glad to have you all here in my class. My name is Mrs. Fischer. I will begin by explain—”
The door swung open, and in stepped a boy. The first thing I noticed was his hair: choppy and black and wild, like inky ocean waves at night. His dark eyes laughed without consent of his mouth.
Mrs. Fischer eyed him as he took five lazy steps to the front and sat down on the left of me. “Sorry, I’m late,” he said.
There was a slight pause. Mrs. Fischer cleared her throat. “As I was saying, there are five teams, each with four members. You and your team members will work together to earn points and whatnot. At the end of the week, the team with the most points will earn a prize.”
The boy raised his hand. “What kind of prizes?”
“I’m so glad you asked.” She grinned, revealing teeth too big for her mouth. “I went to the store yesterday and bought some pencils and erasers. I bought a lot of colorful stickers too. There are wonderful ones with animals on them and whatnot—”
“Wow, that’s lame,” the boy muttered under his breath, though he clearly intended for everyone to hear. And hear they did, indicated by the tiny snickers in the atmosphere.
The teacher’s cheeks turned beet red.
He looked up, an innocent smile playing at his lips. “What’s so funny?”
Howls of laughter erupted around the classroom. The teacher’s cheeks turned even redder.

I walked to the library after school by myself.
There wasn’t much homework on the first day—it was mostly just “All About Me” essays for the teachers. I went to the marble tables near the vendor machine and started on my autobiographies. Jaylene, a girl who I had spent every lunch period with last year, emerged into the library, also alone. She glanced around, hands fidgeting against each other. I waved at her, and I swear she saw me, but her eyes glazed right past. She glanced back at the library door, nervously.
I averted my gaze back to the table and grimaced.
After plowing through the math and science essays, I arrived at history class homework. We needed to answer ten questions about ourselves instead. But for some reason, I couldn’t find the assignment sheet. Did I accidentally leave it in the classroom?
I sighed. It was the first day of school, and I had already lost my homework.
I glanced around to see if any of my classmates were there. Two of the most popular girls at school were giggling behind a shelf of magazines. I glanced behind me, and there was the Joker from history class.
His backpack was unopened, and he was playing Solitaire with a deck of cards. There was really no one else to ask.
So I went to him and stood there for what felt like ten minutes before he looked up.
And there he was: a taller, older version of a boy I had met before. I wasn’t sure where I knew him from at first, until I noticed the deck of cards he had in his hands. And then I remembered that day I spent at Costco, five whole years ago. The card organizing, the games of Speed—it all came flooding back to me. My mouth dropped open.
“Whoa,” I said.
“Yeah?” he said.
I closed my mouth quickly.
A black hole had formed in the pit of my stomach. My clammy hands went to alleviate the destructive orb, but it continued to swallow everything in sight. What if he didn’t remember me? It had been five years after all. I wasn’t even sure how I remembered that seemingly insignificant day I went shopping with my mom.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Joker,” I said. God, I not only looked stupid, but I sounded stupid too. I took another step toward him and tumbled over the table leg. Oops.
“Clumsy, clumsy,” he smirked as I stood up and brushed myself off.
I chuckled uneasily and cursed myself inside my head. “That was embarrassing.”
He laughed, and his eyes crinkled. “Don’t worry about it. So what are you doing here?”
“Well, I came over here for the history homework, but forget about that. Do you remember me at all?”
He studied my face, and I tried not to look away. A second ticked by. Two. He cocked his head, and our brief eye contact dragged on for minutes, before his eyes widened in disbelief.
“History class?”
I laughed drily.
“Am I wrong?”
“Costco,” I told him. “When you were looking through those card decks? You were looking for a blank card.”
He smirked. “Yeah, I was just kidding. Of course I remember.”

On the next day of school, Mrs. Fischer put on a lengthy YouTube video and went back to her desk. The video was titled “Mr. Jordan’s History Videos: Christopher Columbus and his Explorations.”
“She doesn’t know how to teach,” Joker muttered to me, rolling his eyes. Halfway through the video, Joker was asleep, with his forehead on the desk. I watched as the teacher’s eyes raked his dark hair.
She turned on the lights as soon as the video ended. She stood at the front of the room and glared.
A minute passed. I nudged Joker on the shoulder, and he stirred and lifted his heavy head.
Mrs. Fischer glared for a few more seconds, then decided to speak. “Okay, that is not acceptable in my class. You are wasting my time and your classmates’ time. They are here to learn. They—”
“How did I waste their time?”
“You fell asleep in my class! You—you—you…” she trailed off, at a loss for words.
“How does that waste their time?”
“I will not tolerate it,” she said finally. “If I see you asleep again, you will go to the office. I don’t care that it’s the second day of school.”
“I was paying attention,” he said.
Her eyes grew bloodcurdling, and I was afraid she would start shrieking or something. But then she grinned craftily. “Well, young man who was paying so much attention to the video, what year did Columbus discover America?”
“He didn’t discover America.”
“That proves you were not paying attention. You have detention today for talking back and not paying attention.”
“I was paying attention. Columbus didn’t discover America—the Native Americans were there first.”
She exhaled slowly. “He was a great man, and we should know about what he did. What year—”
“He wasn’t a great man.”
“Excuse me?”
By now, the whole class was watching the scene unfold. Joker blinked, a bored look in his eye. “I said he wasn’t a great man. He forced the natives to bring him gold and he cut off their hands when they couldn’t find any. He enslaved them and sold them off to slave-owners, just for the money.”
“He was just an icon at the time.”
“I...well, you…”
“I told you I was paying attention,” he said, and Mrs. Fischer fell silent.
Why couldn’t I be as brave as him? As he turned to me and winked, I felt a jolt of excitement, that maybe if I just stopped caring, I could live life as recklessly as he did. That maybe I didn’t have to please everyone, as long as I was happy with myself.
For a split second, I felt like I was balancing on the edge of a cliff, so close to toppling off, but stable on the ground nonetheless.
It was a scary feeling. Thrilling, but scary.

“I’m gonna go get pizza!” he called over his shoulder once the lunch bell had rung. “You wanna come?”
I stared at him. “Pizza? Where are you going?”
“There’s a pizza place next to the school,” he replied. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Why? They sell pizza at school!”
“School pizza sucks. Come on!”
“We’re not allowed to go off campus!” I protested. “Come back, you’re going to get in trouble!”
He blinked at me with a look I didn’t recognize. Then, he smirked. “Who cares about rules? You’re still that girl I met at Costco. Are you coming or not?”
“No! I don’t want to get in trouble!”
He shrugged. “All right, your loss. See ya.”
Some more pleading from him and I might’ve followed. I watched his figure recede into the distance. Why hadn’t I said yes? If I ran after him now, I would look stupid and indecisive.
His words echoed in my mind. You’re still that girl I met at Costco. What was that supposed to mean? Of course I was—it wasn’t like someone had swapped me with someone else. Did he dislike that girl he met at Costco? Did he dislike me?
The thought caught me by surprise, and I took a minute to ponder over it. He hadn’t seemed to have anything against me until now. Had he really said what I thought he said? Maybe it was just my imagination.
And then I realized what I was doing. Stressing about what one insignificant person thought of me—the thing I’d just promised myself not to do anymore. Why did I care anyway? I barely knew him at all. But as I bit into my cold, school pizza, the thought entered my head again and refused to depart.
Jaylene ambled into the cafeteria a few minutes later. I forced a smile at her, and she shifted her eyes awkwardly. My smile turned genuine at that. I laughed to myself, and Joker left my mind.

Maybe I was wrong about him disliking me, for we began to walk to the library together. And oddly, we never ran out of things to talk about. We talked about teachers, tests, and homework assignments. We talked about card games, card tricks, and life in general. And we never did stop searching for that blank card.
“Why are you looking for a blank card, anyway?” I asked him one day. “You never explained it that day at Costco.”
“It’s not just a blank card,” he replied.
“What is it, then?”
“It’s the origin of everything I know.”
“I didn’t know you were so deep,” I laughed.
He chuckled too, though I could hear a sort of strain in his voice. It didn’t register in my brain at the time, but he had just unlocked a vital part of himself to me.
“What do you mean it’s where you belong?” I asked. “Where do you live right now?”
“With my foster parents,” he replied.
“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t know you were a foster kid.”
“Well, I am.”
Sometimes, when I brought up topics like these, Joker would crawl into his shell and not come out. Whenever I asked him about his card pursuit, or his foster parents, or where he had transferred from, he shut himself away and became a distant, icy Joker I didn’t recognize.
And so, I wasted my sleepless hours counting lines on the ceiling and puzzling over Joker’s odd ambition. As I lay awake one night, the puzzle pieces began to assemble in front of my eyes. His name was Joker. He was trying to find a blank card. He was a foster child. They had found him on the street with no adult whatsoever. His name was Joker. Joker. Why else such an unusual name? And he was trying to find a blank card? And an origin of everything he knew?
I asked him about it the next day, and he stiffened and looked away. He changed the topic immediately after, so I figured I was correct.

He was at detention one day for “disorderly conduct” (he had once again corrected Mrs. Fischer and made her look stupid) so I slunk beside the classroom wall and started on homework. Thirty minutes into the session, Mrs. Fischer left for the bathroom and asked me to make sure Joker stayed where he was.
“I like how she trusts you to watch me,” he smirked as I walked in.
“I know,” I laughed. “How much longer?”
“Half an hour. I can meet you there if you don’t wanna wait.”
“Ehh, it’s fine, I can wait.”
We chatted for a while more about nothing in particular. “Where the heck is Mrs. Fischer?” I asked after five minutes had passed. “You could just ditch.”
He looked at me oddly. “Did Lillian just suggest I ditch?”
“Wonder what she’s doing in the bathroom so long,” he said, and we both snickered.
Then, there was the question that I didn’t want the answer to. “What are you going to do when you find the card?”
“Go back, obviously.”
“So you’re just going to leave.” My voice threatened to break.
“Well, yeah.”
“After all this.”
He smirked. “I told you. I don’t feel those stupid emotions you humans do.”
I could feel the inferno traveling up my chest, the forest fire spreading rapidly within me. The fire didn’t agitate me like it should’ve, however—it alleviated me. The fire felt good, and the one thing that could put out the flames was if I lashed out at him. I watched as I charged toward him. I watched myself punch him square in the nose, sending him crashing through the wall. But when I blinked, the illusion was over. I was standing a distance away from him, glowering at him, letting the flames wash over me in one big soothing wave.
After all, this was how he dealt with his emotions, right? Because he had to have emotions. Right?
But his grin didn’t falter, and I felt the flames inside me burst up in scorching, toxic fumes. “You’re a freaking coward!” I yelled. “You can’t even tell yourself the truth!”
I slammed the door as hard as I could behind me and started toward the library, red-faced and panting. Five minutes later, I turned back to see if he was following.
He wasn’t. I felt like crying but my eyes refused to moisten. He thought this whole thing was a joke. He really had no emotions. Unfeeling and two-dimensional.

Jaylene was third-wheeling with the two popular girls when I got there. Every time the brunette made a comment, she feigned laughter and said, “Oh Ashley, you’re so funny!”
I walked by and waved to her. Once again, she pretended she hadn’t seen me.
Well if she thought I was too embarrassing to talk to, I was going to embarrass her by talking to her. “Jaylene!”
Reluctantly, she turned. “Oh…hi.” The two girls giggled behind her and started away.
“Hey! Come sit with me!”
She smiled weakly. “Um…I’m kinda talking to Ashley and Scarlett right now.”
By then, the two girls had already disappeared behind some shelf, leaving Jaylene alone in the middle of the carpet. “They’re not there anymore,” I said, stifling a smile.
She inched toward my table. She didn’t bother to set down her backpack as she unwillingly pulled out a chair.

Neither Joker nor I mentioned that day ever again. It was as if it never happened at all. We were halfway to the library one day when he stopped and shook his head. “I’ve gone through all the card decks they keep at the library. Let’s go somewhere else today.”
“Sure,” I tried as casually as I could manage. “There aren’t many public places with cards, though.”
His eyes crinkled. “Are you inviting me to your house?”
“Uh, no. Maybe. Well, you know. Yes? I mean, I…”
The edges of his mouth curled upwards before he interrupted me with a deafening burst of laughter. I cursed myself and laughed along tentatively. “Lillian,” he uttered in between chokes of laughter, “why do you always get so tongue-tied?”
“Ha-ha,” I muttered.
“Your parents home?” he asked me the minute we stepped inside.
“They’re at work,” I told him.
“Where’s the bathroom?”
I pointed to the hall. “It’s the second door on the right. I’ll start going through some card decks.”
He nodded, dropped his backpack, and ran to the bathroom. I headed to my room and started going through new decks I had bought.
When I had come home with these bags and bags of playing cards, my parents looked at me like I’d brought home bags of tarantulas instead. They thought I was crazy. And if I was crazy, I knew for certain that my sanity had disappeared along with him. For I had walked the earth with my sanity still there, then met him and gone utterly fanatical.
In my dreams, I had gone after him numerous times, demanding him to give it back. But no matter how much I begged, he would only sneer and walk away.
I dove into a plastic Target bag and pulled out several, unopened decks of cards. I shuffled through them, but to no success of finding a blank card.
Then, I noticed a deck of cards hiding under my bed. I crawled onto my stomach, took it out from under the bed, and brushed the dust bunnies off of it.
How old was this deck anyway? I flipped it over and started going through the cards, one by one.
And then I saw it.
At the very back of the deck was a card with a poorly drawn girl. A self-portrait. But other than the drawing, the card was lacking of any kind of professional marking. In other words, it was a blank card.
I gasped.
“Joker!” I shrieked. “Joker, Joker, Joker! I found a blank card!”
The toilet flushed, and he sprinted out, wide-eyed. “What? You serious?”
I showed him the card, and he grabbed it, clutched it, and screamed like a girl. His eyes crinkled. I screamed along with him. The card had been in my room for all this time.
Once we’d both stopped screaming, however, his excitement vanished entirely. “Well, bye, I guess,” he muttered, fingering the blank card between his thumb and middle finger.
I blinked. “That’s it?”
“That’s it.” He set the card on the edge of the wall. “When I’m in the card, put me back in the deck, okay? And keep the deck safe.”
“Okay,” I said. My voice was tight, and I wondered if he noticed it.
“Okay.” He backed up two steps, cleared his throat, and started toward the card.
“Wait, Joker.”
He looked back. “Yeah?”
Gosh, didn’t he get it? “You don’t have to go back, you know,” I heard myself say. “You could stay here as a human.”
“No,” he replied curtly. “I can’t do that.”
“Why not?”
“I’m a Joker. I belong in a card deck.”
I stared at him for a long time. “Will you miss me at all?”
His gaze went to the ground. “Of course not. I’m a playing card. Cards don’t have emotions.”
But his voice wavered as he spoke, and he couldn’t meet my eyes. When he glanced up at last, his eyes were moist with his lies.
“It’s okay,” I said finally. “I’ll miss you a lot. Thanks for being a friend, even after all these days of nothing.”
He turned away again, this time with a stifled choke. My cheeks stung from saltwater, and I turned away too. For a couple of minutes, everything was silent.
And then he spoke my name.
I spun back around, and he pulled me into an embrace. We were both crying now. All the time he had spent on earth must have given him the ability to feel.
“A joker never says goodbye,” he whispered.
When he pulled away, I squeezed my eyes shut. I knew what was coming and I didn’t want to see it happen. The only thing I heard was the quickening of footsteps. And just like that, he was gone.
I glanced down at the worn-out card that sat on the edge of the carpet. A newly inked figure had appeared beside my self-portrait—a figure so familiar I froze.
For a moment, I sat there wondering if he could see me at all. Was he aware of my presence? Could he see through those printed eyes of his? Then, his eyes crinkled softly at me, and I had my answer. So I picked up the card, and my eyes crinkled back.

The author's comments:
His name was Joker, and we met over a deck of cards.

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This article has 2 comments.

on Jul. 20 2013 at 10:22 pm
thepaperinventory PLATINUM, Saratoga, California
22 articles 0 photos 8 comments
Aw thank you :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

on Jul. 20 2013 at 8:59 am
Dessometrics BRONZE, Charleston, South Carolina
4 articles 0 photos 43 comments

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I love this <3 you did such a great job