Monday, June 20, 2016

The Man Who Laughed

There once was a land that had been overcome by a great sadness and had no laughter.  The laughter had all been stolen, quietly gathered up by greedy men who wanted to keep it for themselves.  They packed the laughter away in boxes and though there was a trickle of laughter here and there, most people in the land had never known what it was to be full of laughter and enjoyment.  Many had never seen laughter at all and all they could do was cry great tears.  Their neighborhoods became awash in their tears, their soil and their sewers no longer able to take so many tears and so those places were often flooded, salt tears up to ankle deep over all the streets of village and town.

But the greedy men never saw this.  They only went to places where laughter was full and abundant and never knew of the streets flooded with tears.  Eventually the greedy men got greedier and each started to collect laughter from the others, until finally all the laughter in the world was in the possession of a very rich man.  The rich man had a son and then he died, leaving his young son with all the laughter in the world.  Now the son was very young and immature, and he laughed all day and all night.  He laughed and laughed.  One day he realized no one laughed with him.  That all around him were somber and sad people.  The boy did not understand the sadness, or that he had all the laughter in the world, kept up in a box in the attic.  He knew there was the box.  He knew the laughter had been taken and that he had inherited all the laughter from his father, but despite this knowledge he still did not understand why he was the only one who laughed.  He felt he was better than others because he was laughing and they were always in tears.  That if they would try harder, they would be able to laugh like him, even though he had all the laughter and they had none.

One day the man finally grew tired of all the weeping and decided he wanted to have someone laugh with him.  He summoned his valet to attend him and ordered the valet to laugh.  The valet hesitantly tried to smile, to summon the movements to his face.  But he had never smiled before and he felt no reason to smile in his heart and so his smile seemed wrong.  The laughing man grew angry that his valet could not even smile, much less laugh, and ordered that they cut off his nose.

Then the laughing man summoned his cook and ordered him to laugh.  Now the cook had seen what had happened to the valet and determined he would do better.  He wanted to keep his nose.  He smiled believably (he had been practicing just in case this should occur) and tried to chuckle.  He drew his belly in and out as he had seen the laughing man do when he laughed.  But the poor cook did not understand laughter, nor did he have a reason to laugh, and so all that came out was a huffing sound that was nothing like laughter.  The laughing man grew angry, but the cook pleaded prettily and so the laughing man decided to give the cook one more chance.  The cook tried and this time he got it right, belting out a "Ha ha ha ha," for everyone to hear.  The laughing man was happy at this, and was just about to praise his cook for his strength and fortitude and goodness when the sadness became too much for the cook and he stopped laughing and fell to weeping, dropping his tears into the onion soup.  This angered the man even more and he ordered his servants to chop off the cook's hands.

He called in his wife and she was very good at faking her smile and her laugh, so much so that the man believed she could laugh too.  He called in his children, and having learned from the man's wife (because his current wife was not their mother) and from their own mothers, they could pretend to laugh as well.  They had grown up practicing, trying on their laughs as other children play dress up in their parents' clothes.

The other rich men could also laugh, or at least seem to, some having some small vestiges of laughter left in their banks and others remembering what it was to laugh and could therefore creditably seem to laugh.  And if they and the children and his wife all quickly left at times to cry by themselves, the man did not notice it because he noticed nothing that was not himself.

That he believed there were others who could laugh only strengthened his belief that those who could not laugh were simply weak and if they only tried more, the land would have all the laughter they could ever want or need.  He forgot that he had all the laughter stored up in his box or that he had gathered none of this laughter himself.  He only saw that he could laugh and others could not and felt those others were pathetic losers.

Many in the land agreed with him, even though they also cried.  They dried their tears and thought he was a great man.  A man who could bring all the laughter back into the world.  They followed him and listened to him and in their cheering for him forgot that they were sad and that they still could not laugh.  They mistook cheering for laughter and their hatred of those who would not cheer as a sign they were better, like the man.  They forgot that the man had never known sadness and that he'd had no part in his own laughter.  They considered him a self-made man.

And so the people of the land, those who considered the man great and those who knew he was not, argued vehemently and the man just laughed and laughed and laughed.  He staged parties and shows where he spoke of laughter, of bringing back the laughter, and laughing for everyone to see.  And some people cheered while back in the flooded neighborhoods and villages others cried, ignored by the man and those who cheered.

But through these many years, hidden in the vault where the box of laughter was stored, a family of cockroaches had made a nest.  Many think that cockroaches are vile insects that only eat rotting food, but in truth they are wily creatures, able to eat anything, and they began to eat the box.  It is unknown if the cockroach family knew what it was doing, but through the years they ate the box and ate the box until one day the family was eating and they broke through, letting the laughter out.

The laughter rushed like the wind, spurred on by gusts from the north and breezes from the east.  By cold fronts and hot fronts from the west and storms from the south.  All the directions came together to spread the laughter to the people again, and the people began to laugh.  They started to tell funny stories.  The children giggled at burps and farts again.  Comedians took to the stage again.  The floods stopped and the streets dried clean and gleaming.

Everyone laughed except for the man, who had no idea what had happened to him.  He had never made his own laughter and without the vast stores of the laughter of others, he could not create his own.  He stopped laughing and began to cry.  It was a strange sensation for him and he wondered at these droplets of water streaming from his eyes.  He went to doctors and he spoke to experts, but no one could stop his tears.  With laughter in the world, all his followers had left him, no longer needing to cheer at him in order to forget their sadness.  He found himself alone and he had no understanding or ability to change this since he had never done anything ever but laugh.

He cried and he cried and his tears fell until he lost all moisture and dried up into a husk.  Still he thought other people loved him.  That they cared.  That they worried for him.  He staged another party for himself and invited the people who had cheered him before.  It was to be a great party, with 80 kinds of wine and food from all over the world.  It had rare flowers for ornaments and a glittering floor made of silver and gold dust.  There were to be dancers and singers and entertainers.  It was the grandest party the world had ever seen.

On the day of the party the man felt better.  He dried his tears and waited in expectation for the guests to come.  He waited for minutes before he began to get impatient.  By an hour he was angry.  By two hours he was in a towering rage.  No one came.  It seemed they had all forgotten him.  With this his tears grew larger and came faster and all his moisture evaporated into the ground until there was nothing left of him but dust.  The wind blew and the man crumbled away, taken by the four directions to be scattered in pieces about the earth and it was as if he had never been born.

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