My Mother Laughing
by Dan Sklar
My mother laughing. The sound of my mother laughing, closing her eyes, mouth wide open, the sound coming out. A Chinese Restaurant next to a movie theater. They play double-features in the afternoon. You can see a double feature, then go out for Chinese food. It is 1962. I am ten years old. It is a Friday in a sunny August. We are to meet my father after work at the Chinese Restaurant. My mother and I go to the movie theater double-feature. No one else is in the dark theater. She has wanted to see these movies. They are funny movies. We wait for the movies to start. I think about how she laughs at the Three Stooges on TV. She’s the only mother I know who does. She would never sit down to watch them, only in passing by the den would she look in. She caught the one where the boys are learning to be gentlemen and at the dance lesson the instructor says now do as I do and a bee goes down the back of her dress and she goes wild running all around and the boys copy her crazy movements like nuts jumping and spinning and rolling on the floor and they follow her jumping out the window into the fountain. My mother roars, tears flowing and I am laughing too at the Three Stooges and the dance instructor and with joy at how my mother laughs. Now we are at an afternoon double-feature. It’s The Mouse that Roared, and Modern Times. This afternoon they are playing old movies. No matter what Peter Sellers does, even if he does nothing, my mother laughs. Something about Peter Sellers is hilarious to her. I chuckle. She loves the motley army in their goofy helmets and chain mail and tights and bows and arrows. I like Jean Seberg. I don’t know why. She does something to me. And we laugh at Modern Times, the factory, the feeding machine, Charlie having a nervous breakdown. And there is Paulette Godard. My mother likes her because for one thing she’s Jewish, and for another, my mother looks like her. Charlie getting all that food at the cafeteria, the cigar he smokes and the candy he gives to the kids—getting arrested and stopping the jailbreak high on nose powder. The music–”Smile”. We sit at a big round table with a white table cloth in the Chinese Restaurant—pot of tea, we wait for my father who is walking there from the station. He’s got a five o’clock shadow, hair black and slick with neat part on the side, blue suit, white shirt, stripped tie. Beaming. My mother stares at him. She doesn’t smile. We order. We eat. I tell my father all about the movies we saw. How Peter Sellers played three different characters and one was the queen. How Charlie Chaplin went through the giant gears at the factory and it was a silent movie when they were all ready making talkies, but the factory owner talked when he watched the whole factory operation on TV screens in his office and when Charlie went to the bathroom for a cigarette a giant screen was there with the boss watching him and said, “Quit stalling. Get back to work,” like Big Brother in 1984. The fortune cookies come with a small bowl of pineapple chunks with toothpicks in them. My father says he ‘ll be right back. He’s gone for a long time. My mother tells me to see what’s taking so long. I go to the back of the restaurant to the bathrooms and there are two phone booths there. My father is in one of them. The door is closed. He doesn’t see me. I just see the side of his face. He is talking on the phone and smiling and very cheerful. I watch him for a while. He is laughing sometimes. I walk back to the table. “He’s in the bathroom,” I say. She looks down and then away. She is not laughing. Her eyes seem to sink into her head. She does not look like Paulette Godard anymore. We leave the restaurant. The sun is still out. He tells me to get into the car. I see them talking. My father’s face turns red. He slaps my mother. She is crying. My mother is crying. The sound of my mother crying.
Dan Sklar teaches writing at Endicott College. Recent publications include Harvard Review, New York Quarterly, Ibbetson Street Press, and The Art of the One Act. His play, ”Lycanthropy” was performed at the Boston Theater Marathon in May 2012