His abrupt departure left a silence she could not easily fill. The many years of being there, ever-present in her life, even only as background for the last part of it, made not being there felt. For months she did nothing except stare… first at photographs, then out the window, and finally at herself, her stares met with only more confusion. It became obvious, to her at least, that these attempts to find meaning were simply interference—limp distractions from the real effort of moving on.
One day she would remember her father’s words, “Practice makes perfect, little girl,” and would decide to follow his advice. And she would practice her new laugh to make it perfect in every way.
She would practice like a child practices the alphabet: eagerly, incessantly and in search of someone’s approval. She would practice her laugh in front of a full length mirror, in the shower, at night in bed, in complete darkness and out of nowhere, eventually at the park on a Sunday afternoon while walking Mortimer or on her way home from work or the cemetery or the supermarket—a pretend phone conversation her guise, the passing strangers her audience.
The closer she would come to reaching the appropriate decibel and a plausible duration, the perfect balance of pitch and tone, a precise degree of backward head tilt and the occasional snort followed by an emergency “oops” and a graceful hand gesture covering her mouth just enough to display embarrassment but not regret, the more she would begin to believe her own laugh.
At some point, Matilda would find her laughter again. One she could call upon with ease whenever and wherever needed. And every time she did, her father’s words would echo in her head until they would echo in her laughter itself, drowning out the silence by causing all those around her to join in for one reason or another.
That is how I remember her: through the glass at the corner cafe, sitting outside, drinking and looking and laughing, alone but not lonely. She looked like someone fun to have fun with for an afternoon, or maybe even longer. I decided to fall in love with Matilda at that inconspicuous moment. It will make getting to know her much easier, I said to myself, especially if all we have is an afternoon together.
“You seem to be having a lot of fun out here.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, I mean, every time I looked out the window, you were laughing. Someone must be sending you some really funny messages, or…”
“Or I’m a little crazy.”
“Or…you’re a little crazy, which would be even more interesting.”
“Who are you again?”
“I apologize. I’m Oliver, and I’ve been watching you semi-creepily for the past hour from inside the café, wondering what has you laughing like that.”
“Do you think it’s any of your business to know what has me laughing like this?”
“No, it’s clearly none of my business whatsoever, but I would still like to know, and secretly would like to join in. I mean, that’s kind of why I came out here… I’m a bit jealous of all the fun you’re having on this shitty day.”
“What makes it so shitty according to you, Oliver? And what makes it okay for you to intrude on my fun?”
“You’re right, it’s not okay. I should leave you be. You’re probably waiting for your husband anyway. He’s probably the one that has you laughing like this.”
“I didn’t say you have to go, Oliver. Come back and answer my question. And then you can go… if you still want to, that is.”
“Ok, but can I sit?”
“Tell me why it’s a shitty day and why you think it’s okay to burrow your way into my laughter.”
“It’s shitty because you’re laughing and I’m not. It’s shitty because you’re out here, in the cold, alone, and I’m inside, warm and surrounded by people, and you’re the one laughing, and I’m not. It’s shitty because you know my name and I don’t know yours, and now you’re laughing again and I’m not.”
“Have a seat, Oliver.”
“Are you sure?”
“You should never make a woman repeat herself.”
“How old are you, Oliver?”
“Young enough to not know better than to make a woman repeat herself, but old enough to never repeat the same mistake twice, Matilda.”
“How did you—?”
“It’s written on your cup, with a little heart and all.”
“Yes, it’s Matilda with a heart, but not always just sometimes.”
“So what has you laughing, Matilda…if I may ask?”
“Practice, Oliver. Practice.”
“So will your husband be joining us any time soon, Matilda?”
“I don’t think he’ll be coming back any time soon.”
Laughter’s Reason | Christopher Troy ©