(A lightly edited version of the piece I wrote for the weekly writing challenge my friend Sarah and I set each other.)
She’d laughed a lot in the early days. She was young and she was beautiful—the sort of woman men would gaze at, unable to help themselves. Then they’d realise what they were doing, and turn away, embarrassed. That was one of the things that made her laugh, but only a little, because she was tender-hearted, after all. Mostly she laughed for the sheer joy of life. Her husband was rich, and he adored her. Fortune had smiled on her in every way since she had been born, and so she laughed–the carefree, delighted laugh of a child–in return.
As she grew older, however, she laughed less. Worry buried itself ever deeper inside her as another year left her figure as lithe and slim as it had always been. She saw the expanding stomachs of other women, and then their radiant faces as they held their babies in their arms, and she could no longer laugh. With each grey hair she grew a little sadder, and a little more bitter.
And then one day, she did laugh again, but not for joy. Three strangers had come to visit, and as she sat in the tent, she listened as hard as she could to the conversation outside, curious as to who these men were and what they had to say to her husband. “Soon,” one of the strangers confidently pronounced, “your wife will have a son.” And she thought of her wrinkled breasts and the flow of blood that never came any more and of her elderly husband and she laughed in sheer astonishment at the stranger’s audacity. And she thought of the years of promises—empty promises—that had been made to her husband and she laughed in bitterness. That old tale again.
But when, the following year, she held her tiny son in her arms, after she’d stared at him with tear-filled eyes for what seemed like forever, she threw back her head and laughed in peals more beautiful and joyous than even those of her happy youth.
And she named her baby Laughter.