Laughing Out Loud
By Colleen Wells
My husband Rick and our two sons and I were at the podiatrist’s office waiting to get my calluses scraped off. It was an evening appointment, so we decided to make it a family affair and go out to eat afterward. Yakob, who is seven, had settled into a miniature rocking chair almost too small for him. He rocked back and forth, occasionally looking up at a poster that graphically illustrated various foot diseases. Ayalkbet, just shy of eight, sat in a chair thumbing through a Highlights magazine, pen in hand. Rick was next to him asleep in his chair.
On the other side of Ayalkbet a man in his forties stared at his hands. He had Down’s syndrome and wore thick glasses. His pants were belted high on his waist.
When the nurse called him inside she spoke loudly and slowly, saying, “Come on in here and sit down in this chair.”
“Okay,” he said, the volume of his voice matching hers.
He left the door open, so Yakob got up and closed it.
Shortly after, the door opened again and a large woman with a wide smile and a gold tooth came out with an older man, probably in his sixties, on her arm. She gently sat him in the chair next to Ayalkbet.
I wondered when it would be my turn and thought about how I never had to wait at my old foot-doctor’s office.
The man next to Ayalkbet lifted my son’s left arm and began to tap on his blue plastic wristwatch. As he did this, he kept his eyes turned upward, straight into space. They had a deep, glassy sheen to them. As I watched, the man took the pen from Ayalkbet and dropped it into the fold of the magazine. Then he held Ayalkbet’s hand.
My son looked at me and smiled the sort of smile you do when a baby does something cute, but other than that he acted like this sort of thing happened every day.
A woman came in complaining of her infection after having an ingrown toenail removed. The glassy-eyed man looked up and tapped his fingers against his thumbs like he was playing a flute.
Yakob saw me looking, caught my eye, and raised his eyebrows. I felt nervous laughter rise in my chest. I looked away, biting the inside of my cheeks. I nearly had to leave the room. I hadn’t had this feeling since I was a child sitting in church with my best friend, fighting back the urge to giggle when something struck us as funny.
We had been waiting nearly an hour. I surveyed the small, cramped space with its worn carpet and dated, navy-blue, striped wallpaper wondering if I had chosen the right place for my foot care. Rick continued to sleep, his legs crossed and head back.
Yakob came over, sat by me, and whispered, “I think that man is talking to God.” He was at it again with the flute-playing movement, his eyes indeed cast heavenward.
Finally the door opened and the woman with the gold tooth emerged with the first man. “Thank-you,” she said to me and then to Ayalkbet. Then she helped the man with the glassy eyes out of his chair, and they were gone.
One of the reasons we used to laugh in church was because there was a woman, a very big woman with a big voice who would sing “amen” and hold the note for two minutes straight. Her voice rose and dipped and seemed like it would never stop. When she finally finished there was silence, an uncomfortable hush, and by then my friend and I would be shaking.
Colleen Wells writes from Aiken, South Carolina, where she lives with her husband Rick, sons Yakob and Ayalkbet, and three dogs. Her work has appeared in Adoptive Families Magazine, NUVO, and Verbsap. She is a student in Spalding University's MFA program.
Photo "Hand 4" courtesy of Dora Mitsonia, Athens, Greece.
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