She’s actually quite a nice person. But it’s her laugh that really gets to you. It burns your ears. Literally.
She used to come over for tea, and we’d all just sit there – the whole family in this big line on the sofa, tea-cups jittering against saucers on our laps – we’d all just sit there and we’d talk about things like cancer and genocide and starvation and inflation and things. You know, depressing stuff like that. Stuff that only someone really sick could laugh at. It seemed foolproof. But it turns out she’s got this habit of laughing when she feels uncomfortable. So we had to think of something else.
That’s when we started baking. Sponges, crumbles, cheesecakes, muffins – we made hundreds of cakes. And I mean hundreds. If she had her mouth full then she couldn’t laugh, right? It was great. We almost got to enjoy her visits, and the house smelled amazing. But – well, then she went on a diet. So that was the end of that.
We tried sticking cotton-wool in our ears for a while, but it only muffled the laugh and, nine times out of ten, when you picked the cotton-wool out, it was soaked in blood.
You’re probably thinking we’re a really horrible family right now. But you’ve never heard her laugh, have you? It’s sort of hard to describe...
Think of nails scraping against glass or of the splutter while someone vomits. Think of the crunch of a breaking tooth, or the phone ringing at half-three in the morning. Think of the sound of your favourite song on the lips of someone you hate, or of your granny’s porcelain teapot – that one with the strawberry pattern, the only thing of hers you have left – think of the silence as it falls, of the sound as it shatters: a-million tiny shards spewed across the kitchen floor. Or – think of his voice, of the way it goes – high-pitched, school-boyish – the way it goes when he’s talking to that redhead at the library who – you know – just really doesn’t get his jokes at all, and just doesn’t share his passion for Tolstoy, and – I mean – she doesn’t even say his name right, so she obviously can’t know how it feels to lie awake every night and ache.
So, yeah. Think of that. And the sound of screaming foxes too. Don’t forget the foxes.
Have you got all that inside your head? All of those sounds? All at once? Well – just try and imagine what that would do to your brain cells. The sound you’ve conjured doesn’t even come close to her laugh.
I’m not exaggerating.
We all feel really bad about it. We’ve even been going to confession and stuff, one after another, day after day. Because, I mean, it’s not like it’s her fault or anything. It’s kind of a shame, I guess. But – wait – did you just hear that? Look, can you keep your head down for a minute? I think I just saw her shadow at the window.
So anyway – like I was saying, it’s not like she can really help how she laughs, can she? She’s probably just – look! – can you quit whining because no! We’re not putting the light back on yet – well, you’ll just have to hold it in.
She’ll stop knocking eventually. She always does.
Melissa Reid, University of Strathclyde. She says, 'Hello. I'm Melissa, a curious 20-something writer, reader and photograph-taker who lives by the sea (and likes to drink tea). I'm a note-taker, journal-keeper, train-traveller, eavesdropper. A collector of sentences and unfinished stories. Currently writing my first novel. I’m a literature graduate, now working towards a PhD in Creative Writing. You can find more of my writing on my blog, 'Something I've Noticed' (click here), which is in itself a sort of love letter to the ordinary.'