The Man Who Could Not Laugh

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
A tale about a shop owner; his wife and a veteran of the first World War who can neither speak nor laugh at the shop owner's crude jokes.

Submitted: November 20, 2013

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Submitted: November 20, 2013

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The Man Who Could Not Laugh

 

 

by Matthew Bissonnette

 

 

 

Red Falls, Vermont

 

October 5, 1921

 

 

 

William lay asleep in his bed beside his wife early one autumn morning. Their bedroom and living residence was behind the general goods store which William had inherited from his father before his passing. His home and modest business was a single story building with red siding and a large window in front through which was several different items on display. It was in the middle of the town of Red Falls, a small hamlet of no particular importance in a more remote area of the state of Vermont. Along main street, which was unpaved, where a handful of homes and the gas station; surrounding Red Falls was wilderness and fields. That morning as the tree's along main street swayed about in a strong wind and multicolored leaves slowly fell; the somewhat dilapidated store was closed and waiting for William to put the sign in the window which read open.

The bedroom in which they slumbered was small, aside from their bed there was only a nightstand with a alarm clock upon it and a large oak dresser to serve as furnishings; though there was a door to a closet. The morning light cascaded through a window and illuminated the two sleeping in the bed.

William was deep asleep, the slender young man with short auburn hair and pail complexion lay silently, in his under clothing and covered with a blanket.

He began to toss, turn and mumble nonsensical words suddenly in his sleep and his wife awoke and sat up. The petite woman with a attractive figure and curly brunette hair wearing a silk nightgown looked down at him with her very expressive blue eyes then put her hand on him and slightly shook her husband. He then suddenly awoke and quickly sat up and was breathing heavily, he looked around then look to his wife beside him.

She asked, “did you have that nightmare again?”

His breathing slowed and he looked at her. “Nothing you need to worry about Alisa.”

She smiled and stroked his cheek with one hand. “I wish you would tell me what it is about.”

He then kissed her on the cheek and replied, “a man should keep his nightmares to himself, bad dreams I'm told are sometimes contagious.”

Both where startled when the alarm clock started ringing, its small bells filling the room with a loud dinging noise. He reached for the clocked and turned it off. He then got up from the bed and stretched; then he looked down at Alisa and said, “I have to open the shop soon, but stay in bed and rest.”

Alisa smiled and told him, “I'll make us breakfast, I can't stay in bed all day.”

“Are you sure Alisa?”

She seemed a little offended and frowned momentarily. “Don't treat me like I can't do anything William.”

William nodded. “sorry, forgive me for being an idiot at times.”

He then walked to the closet and opened the door. He then pulled out a wheelchair , a wooden chair with rubber edged wheels and metallic spokes. He pushed the wheelchair to beside the bed and Alisa crawled to the edge of the bed. He then went to her and gently picked her up in his arms and placed her in the chair. He then got behind the chair and pushed her towards the door to the outer hallway.

 

“Alisa, there is something which has been perplexing me which I want to tell you,” William said.

They both sat at the small wooden table in their kitchen, speaking as they ate from their two bowls of porridge. The kitchen was a large room with a beat up old stove in one corner and an icebox beside the counter.

Alisa placed her spoon on the table and looked at him and smiled. “William, we agreed long ago that we would tell each other everything.”

“This new customer has been coming to the store,” William explained, “but the damnedest thing; just comes twice a week, purchases his items and leaves.”

“What is so odd about that William?”

“This guy has been come twice a week for the past month and has not said a single word, I try to get a laugh out of him with a joke like all my regular customers but the guy does nothing but look at me for a moment and leave. I'm starting to think he is a mute.”

Alisa asked, “know anything about him?”

“He must have been in the Great War because once he came in wearing an army

uniform; must have been a war hero or something because he had a lot of medals on his chest. But I've been trying to find out if this guy is mute or if he just does not like to talk or laugh. And his face, there is something a bit off about it.”

“Well William, maybe he is a mute.”

William looked at his wife and said, “even if you are mute, you can still laugh. I'll get a chuckle out of this guy somehow.”

Alisa smirked. “Just remember, you told me no more sexist jokes to the customers.”

“Of course dear.”

Then they ate in silence as the morning went on.

William's store consisted of several rows of shelves with merchandise on them, canned good and other items; an old fat cat was sleeping lazily amongst some produce on one shelf. William was behind a long wooden counter on which was an archaic looking cash register, wearing his day clothes and an apron. He was looking at a man who was in front of a shelf and reading the labels on several different brands of canned beans.

The man was in his thirties; tall with a burly appearance and had short, neatly kept dark hair. He was wearing a green army uniform with many medals on the chest. The man's face seemed to be unusually glossy and seemed to be devoid of expression. He was not aware that William was looking at him.

William looked away and muttered, “I'll get that bloke to laugh today.”

The man then picked up two cans of beans then approached the counter and laid his items on it. William smiled and spoke as he punched the prices into the cash register.

“Fella, heard this one? Why does a woman have short feet?”

The man was looking blankly at him.

“So they can stand closer to the stove.”

William then heartily laughed but the man's expression seemed set in stone as he just looked mutely at him. William stopped laughing and glanced at him for a moment.

“Sorry if I offended you, do not think me a sexist, it is just I found such jokes are the easiest way to get a laugh amongst men. That will be twenty cents.”

The man then paid for his goods and picked up his items and walked to the door. But before he went through it William spoke up.

“You don't laugh much do you pal?”

The man turned and looked back at William and just stared at him. William nervously scratched his neck then realized a single tear ran down the man's cheek. Then he was gone.

William said to himself, “what is troubling this fella?”

 

After he had closed up the store for the evening, he sat at the table with his wife in the kitchen as they ate their late nightly dinner together. He looked down at his meal of potatoes and venison and seemed deep in thought. Alisa was looking at him.

“Something troubling you William?”

William looked up at her. “That guy who I spoke of this morning, he came in again and said nothing today like always. But before he left, it looked like he was almost crying.”

She reached across the table and placed her delicate hand atop his.

“Maybe he just wants to keep to himself.”

William nodded and said, “yeah, but I just want to know what is this guy's deal; I hate when there is something I can't figure out.”

She then smiled. “Maybe something happened in the war, a lot of men came back from Europe with dreadful memories of what happened.”

William sighed and looked away. “Do you think me a coward since I did not enlist Alisa?”

She looked into his eyes and replied, “no, and besides; you are really to soft tempered to be a soldier.”

William looked at her again. “I love you Alisa, never doubt that.”

“I love you to William.”

Then they continued to eat, now not a word spoken between them.

 

Several days later.

It was just before noon in the store. William was behind the counter and the man in the army uniform was once again looking over the canned goods. William looked at him in silence until the man then approached the counter and place two cans of lunch meat before William who then spoke as he punched in the price of the items on the cash register.

“Stop me if you heard this one. Why did the woman cross the road?”

The man just stared blankly at William.

“Better question, why is she not in the kitchen?”

William then laughed deeply as the man just looked at him. William stopped then frowned and spoke up.

“I know my wife would not appreciate my humor, I love her dearly; but those are jokes men tell. Now tell me this; are you a mute or what? Why have you not had the common courtesy to laugh even if you find my sense of humor offensive; just to be nice?”

The man was now staring directly at William and there where several moments of silence between them. Then the man reached for his face with one hand, but the bottom part of his face was not real but rather a very realistic replication of a man's mouth and nose made from porcelain; but when he removed the mask beneath was his horribly disfigured face, a gaping hole lay where his mouth and nose should have been, burnt skin all around it.

William stepped back and looked at him then said, “I'm so sorry, I did not know.”

The man then put his mask on again and a single tear was shed from his right eye and it slowly ran down his porcelain cheek. He then paid for his items and walked towards the door with his goods when William spoke up.

“Could you please listen to me for a second sir?”

The man turned and looked at William who then went on.

“My wife is in a wheelchair; has been for two years. One morning she went to the post office in my place; and was struck by one of those new automobile contraptions. She has not walked since.”

William frowned and was silent for a moment then continued.

“Funny thing is that I am usually the one who goes to the post office; and I wish to merciful heaven that I had gone that morning. I am the one who should be in that wheelchair; not her. I still have nightmares about that morning every night; yet I can't let her know just how much it tears me up inside because I have to be strong for her.”

William then looked away and finished his confession.

“I can't tell anyone because I can't let her find out how much it hurts me; her being like she is and how it should have been me. But I guess I can tell you since you might know what it is like hiding how sad you are behind a lying face.”

The man was looking at William then his hands began to tremble, and from behind the mask came his attempt to speak a single word; though it could barely be understood it sounded like sorry.

William then looked at him then nodded. “Fella, come back anytime and I'll keep my jokes to myself. We value your business and want you to remain our customer.”

The man turned to leave when William said one final thing.

“And thanks, guess men like you fought during the war so men like me would not have to.”

The man and his porcelain mouth which could neither move or betray how he felt, looked over his shoulder at William for a moment then went out the door. William just spent several minutes looking at the door.

 

It was night as William and Alisa lay in bed beside each other in the darkened bedroom. She was asleep and he lay on his side looking at her. He then kissed her on the cheek and whispered; “I will always be true to you; and am thankful for everyday we have together.”

He then rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.

And for the first time since it happened; his dreams where not haunted by that tragic morning.

 

The End
 


© Copyright 2020 Matthew Bissonnette. All rights reserved.

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