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We Were Always Laughing

Story by Mark O’Neil (Read author interview) December 18, 2012

art by Karen Prosen

We were laughing all evening long. We laughed over drinks waiting for a table, huddled together on barstools, unable to touch our feet to the floor. Claire told a story, but halfway through Peter interjected. Claire’s story had been about her boss, the man with the hairpiece, and Peter was almost bald. What he said about being bald, in the light of Claire’s story, about the hairpiece, made us appreciate our friendship with him even more. Peter is a wit, I’m sure we thought, an old style wit from back in the day. Peter is also a drunk. Claire and I met him and Ann at the restaurant right after work. The bar was dim, the music too loud, the service was thoughtful if a bit hurried, but all that mattered was that she keep our drinks coming, that was what Peter kept saying. Soon we lost count of our drinks. One of us noted, without the least bit of irony, that you are not really drinking until you have lost count of your drinks. We all agreed that losing count of our drinks was not at all a bad thing.

The dining room was full and the lines outside were very long, so we took our appetizers at the bar. We shared a platter of the deep fried calamari. It came out exactly as we liked it, crisp and not rubbery. We all agreed that this was the best place for calamari.

Peter had started a new job recently, a State job, and in a way we had gotten together in order to celebrate this, though that was not something that we had actually said. We were kind of worried that he’d lose the job immediately, but again, this was not something we said. Even Ann seemed to feel this way as Peter talked about the retirement package this new job offered him. Peter had really been drinking that day. Everyone was very happy for him. Perhaps we were drinking a bit too quickly? One of us suggested this, probably Ann or Claire, but the waitress kept them coming just the same.

How often do you get a night out with old friends like you guys? How often do you get a night out away from the kids with old friends the way we used to? Remember how it was, back in college or working that first job after college, that time in your life when it seemed like you were making all of these important first connections. Those were times when you would meet up with friends at places like this all the time. You weren’t tied down at the house; you could actually go out and just walk the streets any time you pleased. It didn’t matter. So little seemed to matter yet everything was so important, rushing around everywhere, staying out all night, having to do and have everything, all the time.

We continued our laughing all evening even when we got our table, though we were quite drunk already and quite full from the fried squid. Squid is the largest mollusk, one of us mentioned, and there had been some discovered in excess of 30 feet in length. Floating about in the dark water, larger than most anything on the land, it made us think a bit about the deep. The deep which holds so many things, things that are larger than us, but so distant they might as well be microscopic. We noted recent films working in this direction—the dark, the desolation—all of them featuring this kind of a malignant deep. This was a buzz kill, Peter told us, the only deep we needed to be concerned with was the dark unfathomable bottom of this beer bottle. To Peter’s chagrin this beer bottle was not as bottomless as he had hoped; these dining room waitresses turned out to be not quite so snappy as their barroom counterparts.

So Peter’s job with the state was a night security position at the Museum in Albany. Ann didn’t work—she stayed home with their kids. Claire had wanted to stay at home with our girls as well, but for us it just wasn’t feasible. There was some question as to the feasibility of things for them as well. Peter said he wished he could stay home instead of Anna in order to sit around the house in his underwear—this new job was certainly cutting into his drinking time. We laughed. Soon there came another round. At all of the other tables around us you saw the same laughing people surrounding their tables, laughing women, laughing men, laughing wives, laughing husbands. If we were alone, if any one of us were not here but were alone saying similar things to ourselves or to the wall, perhaps, we would not be laughing. Laughter is of course a social response. When people are alone and are still seen laughing, then they are the type of people who are not actually alone when they are alone, but rather can always be found to carry one or more extra people around inside of themselves. You might see them walking alongside the road or pushing the shopping cart, their walking bound to a kind of dreamscape, shackled in desolation though they are right there, in the midst of all of our laughing faces.

About the Author

Mark O’Neil lives in Gansevoort, NY, with his wife and kids, working as a freelance writer. His stories and essays have appeared in 5_Trope, The Cortland Review, Pindeldyboz, Eyeshot, Tarpaulin Sky, Thoughtsmith, Exquisite Corpse, Elimae and other publications.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Eight

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