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When I Laugh
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By SS Mooney

When I Laugh
By SSMoony

There really is only one thing that makes me happy. Nothing else seems the same to me, never has the same rippling effect of joy – I smile for a split second with the other options, but the underlining remains dark. More than words can describe. The pills: pop one, two… what ever the amount… smile, and then, it’s gone. The feeling has vanished, because I remember what it does to me. The yo-yo: down up down up, this is fun… then it the action slows in my mind, the glimmering circular plastic sliding up and down the string. It bores me. The video games: fake people with unrealistic anatomic structures beating the crap out of one another. Yeah, that will begin to bore me, too. I can’t even go one day without feeling bad about at least one thing I have said. All it takes is one little twinge on my conscience, and I’m vowing not to repeat myself the next day. None of this used to bother me. I think at one time I may have been blissful doing everything that now makes me feel like shattering it violently. And in that time, I had forgotten true, innocent joy; only one thing makes me happy.

 

I sat in my office, twirling the cane in my fingers, letting it drop to the ground, and I sighed. Complications. I can’t go a single day with out a confrontation, even more so now that a certain big rich asshole has decided to take over and manipulate my career. Convenient timing. I thought I had had enough problems. The words echoed in my head hundreds of times, overlapping voices:

 

“Pick someone else or it’ll be the whole department.”

 

The sound of it was making me insane. Pick someone else? I thought. Fuck outta here! I liked my choice… I had to observe everyone and come to my own regretful conclusion. And yet it wasn’t good enough. Nothing ever is, after all.

 

It hit me rather late who I was being betrayed by – the same certain person who I considered firing. And did it shock me? No, not really. I had had a pretty good idea. The way he stammered. How he was trying almost too hard to defend himself when I accused him. He has a face that’s easy to read. What he doesn’t have are morals. People may not believe I have them, because I don’t often express them, but they are there. Like a child in hiding. You just have to wait for the right moment before someone comes to find you. But I’m good at hiding. I’m good at lying, too. That’s more than you can say for Chase.

 

Finally, “…or it’ll be the whole department” one last time in my head, the echo unbearable. I slammed the cane against the side of the desk and seethed: “Knock it off!” Then I sighed. I couldn’t fire Cameron – she’d done nothing wrong. Neither did Foreman. They were both respectable doctors. It had to be Chase.

 

I lifted myself off the chair and made my way out of my office. Just before I closed the door behind me, I glanced back at the one open window behind my desk. Overcast sky, caked with gray rain clouds. Perfect for April.

 

Chase was in the clinic, finishing up on his last patient before lunch. I swung the door open to the second exam room, and he and the patient – an older woman with a wildly distracting cold sore – jumped.

 

“We need to talk,” I snapped, and I nearly slammed the door shut.

 

He met me in the waiting room, where I had been tapping the cane, my hand, my foot, with impatience. Talk wasn’t exactly the word I would have said if there hadn’t been someone else around. He stepped in front of me, like I was an art exhibit, and frowned at me curiously.

 

“What’s up?” he asked.

 

“Can you tell me exactly why Vogler rejected my decision to fire you?”

 

He blinked, completely gobsmacked. “You were gonna fire me?”

 

“Yeah,” I said shortly, “I was. Now why would Vogler want you to stay?”

 

“I dunno… maybe because I’m a good doctor.” He said it all so innocently. I felt like spitting in his hair.

 

“So are Cameron and Foreman. And Cameron is more sympathetic towards patients. Foreman is more precise. All I have seen from you for the past two months is… well… a bit of slacking off. So why couldn’t a man like Vogler see that?”

 

“He likes me?” Chase stammered. “I don’t know! What do you want me to tell you?”

 

“I want,” I snapped, “an explanation to why someone who doesn’t pay attention to how he’s been screwing around can pass by someone like Edward Vogler, who clearly isn’t blind, and remain his very favorite in the whole wide world.”

 

“I’m not his favorite,” he protested. “And I’m not screwing around. I’m really serious about my job—”

 

“Why? Pays good money? Keeps you out of debt? You get to show off to the ladies that you’re a big strong doctor who heals people? This is not a show-off job. And I don’t think I should keep anyone who takes advantage of his job like you do.”

 

He paused. “I don’t take advantage of—”

 

“If you don’t, then why is Vogler so set on keeping you here? It’s not like he had someone else in mind… it was an anyone-but-Chase decision. Maybe he’s got a crush on you.” I sighed. “Or maybe he’s protecting you. Got something you wanna tell me?”

 

He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off as I exited the clinic, leaving him to his numb-minded sputtering. I checked the clock behind the receptionist’s desk: Two forty. I figured I had about three hours, maybe a little less. In the mean time, I headed back to my office to rest my eyes.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*

 

A knock on the door snapped me back into consciousness. It was Cuddy. She had a crestfallen look on her face, which vanished almost as soon as she saw me.

 

“Were you sleeping?”

 

“Dosing off, yeah.”

 

“Well,” she sighed, coming in to stand across from me, “I can’t get a word out of him. He won’t tell me why he won’t let you fire Chase. He just says it’s a ‘business decision.’”

 

“And you believe him?” I asked.

 

“What? You don’t?”

 

“Not particularly, no. I think I have a pretty good idea of why he’s doing it – not just to be a pain in the ass. No,” I said, opening the bottle of Vicodin in front of me and swallowing one. “Nope, that’s just a plus.”

 

“So what’s going on, then?”

 

“Ask Chase.” I lifted my legs, resting them on the edge of the desk, and leaned back, closing my eyes. I was feeling very drained all of a sudden.

 

I heard her sigh shortly, then listened as her heels tapped out the door and down the hall. The door the office shut gently on its own.

 

I moved the mouse on the computer to shake off the screensaver, then checked the clock: Ten after three. Slow day.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*

 

Color. Light. Silence. No need for the chaotic scheme of my day keep me busy, because I could watch a sunset for hours on end, if they would only last that long.

 

I checked out early without word to anyone, and drove the Corvette to the only cliff-like area I could find. I remember when I was a kid, going with my mother to Los Angeles and watching the city from a cliff. There were no sunsets there like there were here. Just lights, smog, confusion. Here, there was no city over the cliff’s edge. To the left there was an empty field, to the right a small development of houses. The rest beyond that was part of a small town, but in the distance were hills. Hills with trees. Deep hills. The sky was perfect: remnants of the earlier rain clouds, but clear enough to see a few stars.

 

I’m sure that I would have been able to see it even if I were blind. I would have felt it through my forehead. There was nothing that could keep me from remembering how it looked.

 

*~*~*~*~*~*

 

When I drove home, it was completely dark. I had stayed longer than I had planned, but I had a lot of thinking to do. But when I reached the kitchen of my apartment, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I had thought about.

 

I sat in the chair of my living room, in the dark, without a sound, and absorbed the silence. What good am I getting out of this life, anyway? Not happy, not very satisfied with what I do. I can’t even watch the sunsets anymore and not remind myself when it’s over that it’s just a passing thing. Sometimes I feel like dying. Not by force, not suicide, but just climbing into bed and accepting the end. That’s how helpless I can get sometimes. I don’t think I ever really grew up, because when I was very young – like eight or something – I would curl up into a ball and sleep. In the morning, the sun would shine on my face, and I would get ready to meet with a new day. I can’t believe I remember that.

 

If I did that now – climbed into bed hoping that it gets better, or that it stops here – would I wake up feeling stronger in the morning? I can’t even guess.

 

There are times when I look at my own hands. They look so awkward to me, like they don’t belong on my arms. I can also remember being a kid and looking at my hands. Sometimes I imagine having the same young hands on my arms now.

 

It’s amazing how I could have gotten so much older, yet I still remember being young. And I am still pretty meager, in spite of it all. Or maybe I just think more clearly when there’s daylight.

 

I climbed in bed, the lights completely off, the shades on the window drawn. There was no one, no person around to listen. Only one thing has ever made me happy. Not sunsets, not being antagonistic, not yo-yos, pills, music or silence. It has been so long since I’ve tried. I pulled up the bed sheets, leaned my head to one side, and let it happen.

 

There really is only one thing that makes me happy: When I laugh….

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