It had been twelve years since Janine had laughed. Or was it thirteen? The summer had been exceptionally cold that year she remembered as she watched Aiden teetering on a dining chair as he stretched up to change a light bulb for her. At least twelve years since she had even broken a smile.
She had friends.
Friends who still stuck by her but there were fewer every year. Eventually each one would find an excuse, a reason to stop coming around. For the last year or two those who were left would come to her house every Thursday night and they would try something new, try to make her laugh.
They didn’t come around on Fridays. Janine assumed that was because they went out with people on a Friday who laughed more easily and were, as a result, more fun to be with.
At the top of the stairs in her house, Janine had a trophy cabinet. Aiden had built it for her to try to cheer her up.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work.
She had tried to make it work, followed her friends’ advice and filled it full of mementos. Reminders of the attempt they made each Thursday. The feather they tried to tickle her with on the first night, ‘funny’ books, ‘hilarious’ pictures, all the failed attempts at making her smile. She just didn’t get it. None of it was funny.
Or rather, it was funny, she assumed. She just couldn’t laugh. No matter how much she wanted to.
And then, one Thursday morning, something happened. She was at work, in the office where no-one noticed that she didn’t laugh because no-one had a reason to smile anyway. Just in front of her a light bulb was being replaced by a man she thought probably wasn’t an electrician. Janine watched him pull up a rickety plastic chair, watched the seat bending under his weight as he clambered up onto it with first one foot and then the other. She watched the legs of the chair wobbling with the pressure as he reached up above his head and she continued watching when everything dipped into slow motion.
Something sprang off the underside of the chair and all four legs simultaneously went from perpendicular to horizontal. The man remained in the air for a while, apparently schooled by Bugs Bunny or Road Runner, suspended there perhaps by the fact that he had no notion he was no longer supported. As he glanced at the ground gravity reached out its hand and grabbed him, pulling him back down harder than he deserved.
Janine hadn’t even realised what happened to her next. The smile cracked across her face as if it had been punched upon it and hit her as unexpectedly as the desk hit the would-be electrician. He made a sound that reminded her of a guinea pig. But she didn’t know why.
Looking quite dazed, the man jumped back up onto his feet, saw Janine laughing and immediately looked away, his cheeks flushing red. But she laughed and laughed and laughed until she had to go to the toilets to laugh by herself in private because no-one else was joining in.
And in the ladies’ toilets she made a decision. She wanted Aiden to be the one to make her laugh. She couldn’t wait until everyone arrived this evening. She would engineer it for him to arrive early.
And so he fell. Aiden. Fell to the floor and his head bounced twice, once perhaps six inches and then another, tiny little bounce perhaps half an inch from the ground.
And Janine roared with laughter this time. Expected it and relished it.
She had expected Aiden to join in, to laugh with her and when he didn’t she wiped the happy tears from her eyes, walked forward and touched his head, brushing his fringe to the side. A giggle danced out of her mouth and into the space between the two of them.
Aiden just stared.
A trickle of red liquid ran along the tiles from under his head.
Janine shuddered out a half-laugh as something cold skittered up her spine.
She would go out to the shop and buy a bottle of wine, arrive back at the house when the others arrived and they would all find Aiden together.
But would they laugh?