I Hope You Laugh Forever

Photo by Jug George – St. Croix River

I Hope You Laugh Forever

By Jug George

Sally and Carol Winona smirk behind coffee cups at the kitchen table. I probably said some stupid things last night. I think I told them I wanted to sign up for astronaut training. I don’t feel like an astronaut today, pouring flat ginger ale into a glass. That’s worth a laugh to them. I look at them with a blank expression on my face.   

I had a crush on Carol Winona first. In high school, she would walk by our front picture window on her way to school. Calf-length black pants with white socks sticking out of black pumps, curly blonde hair afloat in the wind, a smile on her face her pink leather coat popped against the white house across the street. When she saw me at school, she’d say sweet things like, “Hey, honey bear or hey, sweet pea,” which brought a softness to my eyes similar to blushing.  

When I was a sophomore, Carol Winona was a senior. She took a slight interest in me and invited me to her basement to “make out.” My head convulsed at the possibilities. We walked home from school together, and Carol kept turning her head and smiling at me. We reached her driveway as Mr. and Mrs. Winona were leaving the house to go somewhere. I didn’t know them, but I had seen them around the neighborhood and at various school events. Mr. Winona scared the hell out of me. Mrs. Winona gave me strange looks.

They were walking toward the car. Mr. Winona stepped in front of his wife like a bodyguard. He glared at me and said, “Where do you think you two are going?”

“We’re going to the basement,” Carol told her dad.

“Well, so are we.” Mr. Winona looked at his wife and nodded his head toward the door.

“I thought we were going to the store?” Mrs. Winona protested.

“No, dear, you must be confused. We’re going to the basement.”

 Carol called their bluff, and the four of us went downstairs. Mr. Winona turned on the television. Carol put her coat over the space between our legs and grabbed my hand. That’s as far as it went with Carol Winona. 

Her sister Sally, the Winona I would marry, sat upstairs in her room at the time. We were the same age. After holding hands with Carol, I took notice of Sally. I saw Sally Winona’s smile before, but the first time the smile landed on me, I fell for her. Carol and Sally have the same smile.

It took their parents a long time to like me. Mrs. Winona told Sally I had a dark side. I did. It was called depression. I watched my father die of cancer for months. Then on the day he died, I was amid puberty without proper ignorance or coping mechanisms. Therefore, I spent the next two decades unknowingly depressed. But one day, after a couple of years of figuring out the root, most of it fell off me. I feel good now. I’m where I’m supposed to be. 

The Winona sisters had their tragedy too. Mr. and Mrs. Winona had died in a car crash before Sally and I were married. After this, the two sisters were inseparable.

The crash occurred two months before our wedding in the summer of 1974 when I heard a soft knock on my apartment door. Sally and Carol came straight from the hospital. Mr. Winona died instantly in the crash. Mrs. Winona made it to the hospital and died hours later.

Sally and Carol melted into each other on the couch. I let them be. In the morning, the tops of their sleeping heads and shoulders were touching on the couch. I knew they didn’t want to wake up. I’d been there. The first morning after a tragedy, you don’t want to open your eyes and enter whatever form life had taken during the night.

Sally and I postponed the wedding. It took months for Sally and Carol to find those grins again. Still, when they did, the smiles preceded nonstop collaborative laughter. Carol comes to our house every day, and none of us think twice about it. She dated over the years but had yet to find a man to make her happy. She’s not sure if she wants to get married. Carol has an apartment nearby, but she is at home with Sally and me. She has a room here and a key to the house.

It took me a while to figure out why the Winona sisters were always laughing at me. Their cackling only made me do stupid things. A short time after Sally and I were married, the three of us were playing cribbage. The two sisters raced for the finish line. They were pissing me off because of a potential double skunk. 

After a bad deal, I threw my hands in the air, accidentally spilling my drink all over the cards and cribbage board. The sisters simultaneously doubled over in their chairs, laughing so hard they started to cry. I walked into the bedroom and started throwing shirts on my bed. I made some unnecessary noise to draw them into the room. 

They watched me put clothes in the suitcase. No one laughed. I pulled out a t-shirt that I loved, a white one with an iron-on of Fonz’s head. I delicately folded it on the bed, and they began to laugh. I closed the suitcase and walked to the door. I stood there with my head bowed.

I heard the two sisters scamper into the room.

“Where are you going, Hal?” Sally asked me.

“I haven’t figured that out yet.” The three of us knew I wasn’t going anywhere, and I knew how ridiculous I was being.

“Do you want to watch Happy Days with us? You know it’s on in a few minutes.”

I set my suitcase down and walked over to the sofa as Sally went to the kitchen and grabbed three beers. I didn’t like the expression on their faces. They were birds ready to caw.

“If you two interrupt Happy Days, I swear I’m leaving for real this time.” They didn’t laugh, but I knew it killed them.

The Happy Days gang hung at Al’s, and the Fonz walked in with a babe on his arm. He hit the jukebox with his fist causing me to lean forward in my chair. Carol and Sally started to giggle, then couldn’t stop the cascade. I went to the bar.

Carol and Sally claimed I would get a blank, puppy dog expression on my face when they laughed at me, which egged them on further. I decided to manufacture some anger to come across as tough.

Soon after the Fonz incident, we were sitting around drinking cans of beer on the back patio. I had moved the kitchen television out there to watch the Minnesota Twins game. Carol and Sally were playing cribbage. The Twins loaded the bases, and the Oakland A’s changed pitchers. I went into the house to put on my Twins hat. I felt like it helped the team during crucial moments. I walked back out onto the patio with the cap on.

They laughed when they saw me.

“What’s so funny?” I confronted them.

“We don’t know,” Sally said.

“Well, I don’t think it’s so funny. This is a big moment here.”

“Okay,” Carol said.

“Please. Refrain from laughing until the inning is over.”

“Got it,” Sally said.

Rollie Fingers pitched for the A’s facing Rod Carew of the Twins. In the ninth inning, the A’s were up by one with two outs. Ball one. “Here we go!” Ball two. “Lay off it, Rod lay the frick off it.” Ball three. “Oh, baby. That’s it, Rodney. Take, take, take.”

I glanced up at the sisters, and they looked like they just heard a fart in church. I didn’t care—big moment. 

Strike one. “Okay, Carew, take again. Make him earn it.” Foul ball. “Shit.” Foul ball. “Jesus, Carew.” Strike three. “RODNEY!” 

I heard a muted giggle and then a short squeal. I stood up in my chair and tried to kick my hat but missed it completely. Carol and Sally had no more options. Sally took her hand and put it on Carol’s shoulder. Their heads were touching in a merging of laughter and bodies, the perfect time to unleash the fake anger. I turned to them and yelled, “ENOUGH!” They stopped laughing. 

I had their attention but hadn’t thought it through. I decided to chug my beer, which obviously only had a sip left in it, to go straight to the sky. I crushed the beer can in my hand and threw it on the ground. Carol and Sally laughed so hard I had to go inside. I had no chance.

A couple of hours later, I sat on the stoop having a cigarette. The image of Sally putting her hand on Carol’s shoulder and their heads touching would not escape me. It reminded me of the night their parents died.

One evening we were at a patio fondue party on one of the last nights of summer. A bunch of our friends sat around the table. I couldn’t stop eating fondue, and I could see four Winona sister eyeballs following my every move with wispy traces of a smile at the corner of their mouths. I took a piece of bread, put it on the poker, and dipped it into the melted cheese. I followed with a huge swig of beer. Some cheese fell off the bread and onto the collar of my shirt. I looked around, and no one noticed except Sally and Carol Winona. They didn’t laugh. They didn’t even smile. They both had concerned looks on their faces.

I went into the kitchen to get another beer, and Carol followed me in. She grabbed a washcloth and poured soda water over it.

  “You certainly are a clumsy boy.” She said, wiping the melted cheese off my collar. She looked into my eyes and smiled. We went outside, and she sat next to Sally. They both smiled at me.

After the party, we drove home, and no one said a word. Carol rolled down the backseat window. The wind howled through the opening. A song I liked played faintly on the radio, so I turned it up. I whistled the tune at first, tapping the steering wheel with my fingers. I started to sing along when the chorus began. Carol let out a guffaw in the backseat, Sally roared. I sang louder because I liked the song.

Photo by Jug George – St. Croix River