Go Ahead and Laugh

by Marc Zeedar,

Two days after Harvey enjoyed a simply marvelous third birthday he used the new baby spoon to pop out his left eye. His mother was absolutely beside herself with joy, though at first she'd hardly noticed; the eye had flipped into her soup and she'd almost swallowed it. When she finally realized what was between her teeth, she proudly spat it onto her hand and presented it to her husband as evidence of her son's genius.

The man was less than thrilled. "Drink your coffee, dear," and "Harvey, don't do that," was all he said, though I'm not really sure which came first. As soon breakfast was finished he and Harvey went to the woodshed, but this time there were only half as many tears as there used to be.

When Harvey was seven his parents found he had baited a mousetrap with his left pinky. He cleverly popped the finger out of joint before he cut it off, his mother clarified to her stupid husband as he dragged Harvey off to the woodshed.

Later that day as Harvey stretched out on his bed he could hear his parents arguing. As usual, of course, it was about him. Harvey's mother pointed out what a fine boy he was. He doesn't snore, she grinned. "Nor does he laugh," snorted the father. "All geniuses must laugh."

Harvey wasn't understanding anything, so he went ahead and fell asleep. But the arguments continued long into the day, and when Harvey got up for breakfast his parents weren't speaking to each other, which suited Harvey just fine since he had a full conversation planned and didn't want to be interupted. So while he munched and mumbled they just glared at each other and secretly conlcuded that the other was probably right, though neither would have admited it in a hundred million years even if they could have been so unfortunate as to live that long.

Harvey always remained neutral. He simply lived life and learned his lessons well; he took great care never to drop anything in his mother's soup, and he never played with mousetraps again, even though his mother was always telling him he must build a better one if he was to show the world how to beat him with a door.

If Harvey had been forced to take a side I supose he would have chosen his mother's. Hers was nice and soft and she always wore a skirt he could hide under, contrary to his father's side which was stiff and hard and sometimes bloody and always wore difficult blue jeans.

It was no wonder then, for example. at age twelve, when his father found him feeding his left foot to a cat, that Harvey called for his mother. As usual, of course, she came too late. It was only after the woodshed, after Harvey had been sent to the river to clean the axe, and after his father had put his bloody belt back on that she came to the door of the castle.

She wondered what was wrong and her husband told her Harvey had cut off his foot with the axe and that satisfied her. That evening when Harvey came home with the cat -- apparently the feeble boy had fainted by the river and that was his lame excuse for being late -- it was to his mother he asked if he could keep the cat.

To his mother's supreme delight Harvey again demonstrated his genius by naming the cat Cat. His father grumbled something about naming the cat Dog or Cow but of course he was stupid so they didn't listen to him.

Cat became Harvey's closest and only friend. Together they'd burn their hair or try to drown themselves in the shallow river, and on one extraordinary day Harvey and Cat played with a ball of yarn. It ended somewhat stiffly as Cat suffocated when Harvey pulled the yarn too tight for a little while too long, but Cat made dandy eating.

After Cat died, Harvey was by himself once again. He would spend hours roaming the nearby woods and fields and playing by the river. He'd climb high trees apparently daring the ground to pull him down, which, in fact, the ground suceeded in doing often enough. But mostly Harvey would build things.

He was such a genius he changed their shack into a castle; he turned a leaf into a suit for himself to wear, finer than an emperor's new clothing; and once he used sticks and stones to make a name for himself, and it didn't even hurt. He even modified the old spinning wheel to spin gold into straw. Harvey's father complained that what the world needed was the reverse, but what did he know.

At other times Harvey was required to help his mother with her housework, but whenever his father wasn't around his mother would let him go and play, since geniuses didn't need to work.

Harvey's father worked -- he was the night janitor at the local high school. On some evenings, if Harvey had been good, his father would take him to the school. Of course Harvey was too smart to need to go to school, but he enjoyed these trips into foreign lands and would do his best to earn permission.

It always happened over breakfast. Harvey's father would set aside the evening paper and look over at Harvey and Harvey would nod and his father would get up and they'd go. They didn't need to say anything; Harvey's father might have been stupid, but Harvey was intelligent enough to know what was intended.

When Harvey was sixteen he suddenly became the ideal child; he chewed his finger and toenails down to respectable length, started wearing clothing during the summer months, always did what his father told him, and actually listened to his mother. This insane passion continued for almost nine months, from August clear to April, and every night Harvey followed his father to work. Then one April evening he suddenly shook his head and stayed home. And it wasn't until Harvey was twenty-two that he again nodded his head and agreed to go, and since that's what this story is about we will skip six years of Harvey's very unimportant life and move to that particular day of his twenty-second year.

That day was the second strangest in his life. Harvey nodded his head instead of shaking it, though he didn't know why. Just a freak accident, I guess. A silly mistake. Anyway, the deed was done and Harvey went with his father to the other world; across their neighbor's freshly-plowed land and over the barb wire fence and onto school property. Harvey did slice open his left arm crossing the fence; another freak and silly mistake. His father was pretty upset and cuffed the kid; after all blood on barb wire causes it to rust.

The school was a long, red brick "L" structure, secure, solid, and safe. The leg on the "L" had been added since Harvey had last visited, and there was now a baseball diamond next to the football field, but everything else was the same. From where he was standing he could see the setting sun glinting off the rows of windows of the classrooms and staring at him like ordinary white eyes, or yellow or red eyes, glowing all by themselves in the black night. Harvey shivered and hurried after his father. He stood close by as his father unlocked the side door and entered.

Inside, there was a long dark hallway, classroom doors on the right and half-height lockers making up the opposite wall. Locker 321 was to Harvey's left, but Harvey instead took the keys from his father and began unlocking classroom doors.

When Harvey heard the click of the bolt in the lock on the door of the first room he stopped turning the key and for a split second it was six years earlier and Harvey was helping his dad as usual and nothing had happened or changed. But then this was real; things now were concrete and no longer simple abstract imaginings. Harvey slowly drew the key in and out, listening to the zzzzt of the pins in the lock as they ran across the bumps on the key, a comfortable sound.

Harvey turned and saw his father pushing the cleaning cart towards him, heading for the classroom just opened. He waited until his father was inside the room before moving on.

At the second classroom Harvey paused. He could see through the window on the door into the room. There was a matrix of chairs to the left, and on the right was the inevitable teacher's desk, though Harvey wasn't aware of its inevitability. The effect, through the window, was very three dimensional and forced Harvey to refocus his eye.

Finally Harvey threw open the door and saw ghosts. The empty chairs were full of imagined and forgotten children, cruel children with evil faces and cute little beady eyes that made the sweat on your skin crawl backwards. The room was filled with empty sound. Harvey could feel the beating heat that squeezed his belly fill his chest and cheeks with red. Tears welled up within his eye and his ears rang with senseless noise. His mouth watered with that cruel taste of clover that is exhaustingly sweet and suddenly bitter. And his nose could smell the taste of sweat and hear the hollow silence -- empty void -- his mind spun and everything went back. Back.

Harvey remembered. Harvey remembered that spring-like August day when he left the safety of the empty woods and wandered to the school in search of. Harvey remembered the restless feeling, the insane urge to talk, the mother who only listened and the father who only acted. Harvey remembered standing outside the rows of glaring classroom windows. Harvey remembered looking to his right and seeing that girl who sat in the fourth chair in the last row by the window where he now stood. Harvey remembered how every night for nine months he had breathed perfume from that locker. Harvey remembered how he stood outside the window and stared at that girl in utter joy and rapture and how content he was to stare at her for eternity, never moving or breathing, merely seeing and feeling -- living -- alive -- content beyond contention, more satisfied than eager Fate allows, living a dream and feeling a fantasy. Harvey remembered.

The girl turned her head slightly and then looked at Harvey, a reward above anything he'd dreamed. Then her simple smile took him beyond ecstasy. Her mouth opened and eyes widened and as her voice rang out Harvey went beyond beyond. He smiled and stuttered and fell in the grass and his mouth filled with sweet clover and suddenly the windows were full of happy eyes and gleeful faces, mouths all open in a silent universal sound. At first Harvey was puzzled, then realized, of course, they were applauding his genius. He beamed at them, and in thanks, rolled over, chased his tail, and pretended death.

Suddenly a child opened a window, to the world, and the rythmic taunting chant rang out and though Harvey didn't understand he instantly understood. In the center of the field of faces, to Harvey's left, was that blond high school girl, her trim white teeth cutting and happy eyes ripping, her light voice maiming. Harvey bit his lip and for the first time wished he wasn't as smart as he was.

He turned and in a blur of tears and blood ran all the way home. He spent the afternoon in the barn loft using his teeth to pull out all the fingernails of his left hand. That night he shook his head.

When Harvey stepped to the window he could see the six-year old footprints where he had stood, still imbeded on the grass. He could see himself running away, tangling in the barb wire, and stumbing across the field, bloody pools from his left stump his only trace. And behind him forever rang that haunting childish sound -- echoing with cute little beady faces pasted on glaring windows.

In the classroom next door (the neighboring one), Harvey's father was drying desks freshly-cleaned with a soapy cloth. He quietly cursed the kids who had painstakingly engraved precious momentos of themselves and their worlds across the surface of the desks. A reluctant part of him remembered that as a kid he too had done the same, but then he had been stupid as a kid.

As soon as he finished the desks, he swept out the room carefully, emptied the trash, and he was through. The room was empty, secure, sound. He turned out the light with his left hand as usual, of course, and put the broom back on the cart and headed for the next classroom. Inside, Harvey was standing by himself near the windows, his right hand fingering the edge of a desk the same way a boy lets a dog gnaw on his fingers. Harvey's father was about to talk, then as usual, of course, he changed his mind. He entered and began cleaning the blackboard.

Harvey whipped around, saw his father, and yelled. He kept yelling and yelling and yelling and pushed his father outside. "I want to be alone!" he screamed. "Leave me alone in my peace. Leave me with my friends!" Harvey quietly closed the door and pushed over the teacher's desk.

Outside for some reason Harvey's father paused.

Inside Harvey looked over to the windows. Barely visible in the night a white cat slunk past. It paused to stare at Harvey, then moved on as though nothing had changed.

What he realized at that moment, Harvey won't say. Perhaps he was trying to look through the window instead of beyond it. Perhaps he was remembering the importance of not being left-handed. At any rate, Harvey began to laugh. It was a silly freak thing: he laughed and laughed and laughed and didn't snore and laughed and couldn't stop and laughed and kept on laughing anyway. Yup, it was the second day of his life. And a third or fourth or fifth or maybe a sixth and possibly even a seventh was on its way. Go ahead and laugh, Harvey. Go ahead and laugh.


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