Something Like Laughter

By Stephen McMurtrey

“Katy, go to your room,” my dad says coldly, not even slamming the door as we get into the house. I get halfway up the stairs when he says, “Wait, you like your room. Come down stairs. You can hang out and watch TV with me until your mom gets home.” 

I sigh loudly enough for him to hear me. 

 “I hate those judge shows, they’re garbage,” I say, hoping that he’ll change his mind somehow.

 “I know; that’s why I want you down here.” 

I stomp as loud as I can back down the stairs, dropping my bag. I plop on the couch, arms crossed. I know he’s my dad, but grounding me for a week with no internet or phone? That’s a little too much. It’s not like it was when he was my age.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he says from the kitchen. 

I shoot him a mean look. 

“Wow. I thought only your mother gave death looks like that. Just know that I can give one too.”

He gives an angry goofy look. I try to hold my gaze, but I just can’t and laugh, but only briefly.

“Yes! It worked,” he exclaims.

 “I’m still mad.”

 “I get that,” he says, bringing over a bowl of Chex mix. It’s been my favorite since I was a kid. 

He sits down in his recliner and starts eating, bowl perfectly fitting on his belly. I look at him.

“What? You want some? Remember that next time you decide to get suspended.”

I switch to my sad puppy dog look. 

“Don’t you dare,” he says, but I keep it up. “Fine. But you have to tell me what’s going on.”

How am I going to tell him what happened without me sounding ridiculous? 

Just be honest. He’ll understand. 

“I beat up that jerk because he was picking on my friend Reginald, who just happens to be a”—I pause for a moment not wanting to give my dad a heart attack—”a clown.” 

He looks at me and the cogs in his head finally turn.

“A clown? Big red hair, white powdered face, rubber nose, and large shoes, clown?” He struggles to withhold laughter.

“Well, not all that, except the red hair and powdered face, and dresses sharp too.”

He laughs. 

“Dad!”

“A clown? Oh baby girl, couldn’t you have picked a normal boy to like?” 

“I knew you wouldn’t understand. You want me to find someone just like you, like that guy from church you set me up with.” 

“Hey, Kevin is a nice young man. Give him another seven-ish years and he’ll be the best looking guy, with a great heart.” 

Ew, Kevin couldn’t win a beauty pageant if he competed with a goat.

“You really like this—clown?” he sighs bracing for impact. 

I never really thought about it. “Yeah, I do.” 

He pulls out his phone. “Who are you calling?”

“Your mom. Have to tell her to set an extra plate for dinner.”

“Dinner?”

“If you’re going to date a clown, we have to meet him. Dinner’s at 7.” 

* * * *

“So Reg,” —oh good god, he did not call him Reg—”do you always dress so, um, sharp?” 

“Dad!”

“What, I’m just curious. I mean, I’ve seen the kind of guys you like and I have to say, he is the most sharp looking.” 

That’s it, I’m literally going to die. Mom looks just as embarrassed as I do. 

“What my husband is trying to say is you look very nice.” Thanks Mom.

“Did I not say that?”

“Let it go, dear,” she says, getting up to get dinner.

There’s another pause. Reginald looks over and smiles, no teeth showing, just a tender smile. My heart melts. 

“Do you like it here so far?” Dad asks.

Reginald nods, smiling. 

“Are people nice, besides the guy who was hitting you.” 

He nods and smiles, gesturing to me. 

“Oh, yeah, she’s got a great punch. All those years of boxing mixed with ballet!”

He cracks up as Reginald silently laughs. Mom comes back with a plate of meatloaf.

“This has always been Katy’s favorite. What’s yours?” 

Reginald flaps his arms underneath his armpits then pretends to bite something he holds. 

“Fried chicken!” 

Reginald points at my dad and nods. 

“Oh man, I love this kid. You know Reggie, I bet you got a lot of funny stories. Too bad we can’t hear them.” He laughs, but none of us think it’s funny. Reginald’s smile quickly turns to sadness.

“Oh, Reg, I’m so sorry. I get to running my mouth—”

 “Dad, can I see you in the other room?” 

He stands up as he quietly apologizes to Reginald. 

“Dad, what are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. I just got a little carried away. He seems great. I just want the best for you. Look, it’s not easy being a dad, especially when she’s interested in a clown and getting into fights.”

“Can you just dial it down a little bit?”

“How about this, help us get to know him and I’ll do better.”

“Deal.”

We go back into the dining room and enjoy the dinner. I tell a story about a fun demonstration that Reginald did in class. Dad tells the same old embarrassing story of me falling asleep in my birthday cake. We laugh and bust out a board game. Reginald and I totally beat them. Overall, it goes better than I expected. After ice cream, I am ready to call it a night. 

“Reginald,” my dad asks, “do you like judge shows?” 

Reginald nods ecstatically. 

Oh no. 

“I have this one that I recorded, you have to see.” 

“Dad, I think it’s past our bedtime.” 

“Nonsense. Plus, it’ll only take like 26 minutes.” The two get up and Reginald smiles as they go into the other room. I lay my head down on the table. 

Mom stands up to leave, “Don’t worry, you’re father’s just clowning around.”

“Mom!”

Stephen McMurtrey is a SCBWI member, writer, and the author of a short story compilation book, The Meow Effect, as well as the comics “Something More”, “From the Sky”, and “Fistfull of Sand” featured in Okie Comics. He is also a husband and proud father of two young boys.

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