by Lisa Beebe
2nd Place: Flash 405 February 2016, Amy Gerstler’s “6 Themes”
It was a high, awkward giggle, and it was contagious. Everyone within hearing range was embarrassed for the person who’d made it, and terrified that they, too, might one day emit such a noise. A nervous creak of a laugh, it was more disturbing than joyful, and once a person encountered it, there was no escape.
Federica had heard rumors of the giggle, and was worried that if she caught it, it would scare away her beau, Federico. She was so determined to avoid the giggle that she began wearing earplugs everywhere, and communicating entirely by gesture. The only time she took the earplugs out was when she was alone with Federico. She loved the sound of his deep voice too much to give it up.
Each day, as she moved through her muffled, nearly soundless world, she witnessed the pain the giggle was causing throughout the village. It came between parents and children, close friends, and loving couples. Some people, like Federica, isolated themselves, afraid to trust anyone. Others, who’d already caught the giggle, struggled to regain their self-respect.
Federica found life with earplugs very lonely and grew to cherish the nights she spent at Federico’s house. He was so strong and healthy, he didn’t worry about catching the giggle.
“It is a concern for lesser men,” he told her one evening. His confidence and courage excited her. She and Federico made passionate love, and she thrilled at his low, masculine grunts.
Afterward, as they lay together in silence, Federico began to giggle. Each sound he made was higher and more horrifying than the last.
Federica jumped from the bed. She inserted her earplugs and dressed hurriedly, while Federico watched. She looked back at him only once. Instead of her muscular hero, she saw a red-faced simpleton. She couldn’t believe she had ever found him attractive.
As she rushed out the door, he called to her, but she couldn’t hear what he was saying.
She ran toward home, trying to block Federico from her mind. That greasy hair, those weak, pleading eyes… To think that she’d loved him, that she’d dreamed of one day marrying him!
A flash of what their wedding might have looked like popped into her head, and the image was so revolting that she began to giggle. It was the giggle of her nightmares, high and creaky, and it continued even after she got home.
Lisa Beebe lives in Los Angeles, where she sometimes talks to the ocean. Her work has appeared in Indiana Review, Eleven Eleven, Switchback, and Psychopomp, among others. Find her online at lisabeebe.com.