“You’re like a robot or something,” someone says to Benny. “You never laugh at anything.”
Men and women drink Jägermeister on back porch of Benny’s country house. I, Ha, see it all when Benny opens teeth to speak. I sit criss-cross applesauce on Benny’s tongue. Next to Benny is pretty woman. From her comes Hallowed Ha—that laugh with which I desire to mix with. My brother, Hnng, wishes to mix with her Hallowed Hnng. Benny, man in whose mouth we live, on whose tongue we sleep, gets in way. He never releases me.
Hallowed Ha exits pretty woman’s mouth. “Maybe we’re just not funny enough. We have to earn his laughter.”
Reality is Benny’s barely let me out in ten years. Time came when his big brother fell off bunk bed. Benny opened his teeth and out came me. With mouth wide open, I flew into room and filled it. Loud, pulsating. I was rhythm and melody—a guttural language universally spoken. Then Benny’s brother slapped him and said, “You laugh like a goddamn hyena. Ugliest thing I’ve ever heard. Ow, my knee.”
Like Hnng, I punctuate pleasureful, private moments in Benny’s life. Hnng and Ha represent purity of his guts. His true self is us. Except, for ten years, he’s shut me in with tight lips and tense teeth when around people. When away from people, he sometimes lets me out at bald comedians under covers of bed. Also under covers of bed, every night, away from people, he lets Hnng out. Sometimes two or three times. As all know, if Ha isn’t released around people, then Hnng is not shared with others either. And, oh, does Benny want Hnng shared with pretty woman.
Finally, Benny responds to pretty woman with shrug. Opens mouth for air. I see pretty woman release tension by letting Hallowed Ha escape. Hallowed Ha haunts me. Hallowed Ha is brave and slays tension like King Arthur vs Morgan le Fay. Hallowed Ha pierces silence yet seems to feel no shame. Hallowed Ha is all I want to be and only one I want to be with. For Hallowed Ha to hear me, just once, who knows where it’ll lead?
Moment passes with men and women drinking. Men bring up friend who couldn’t make it to country house. Friend supposedly met up with girlfriend from upstate who nobody’s ever met. They doubt friend’s girlfriend’s existence. Women begin to release their Has. One man says, “Oh, she’s real. She’s even from the city Real located in the country Real on planet Real.”
Has fill room. Some sound like whirring of lawnmower engine. Some like jackhammer; muted trumpet; police siren; rusty door hinge. Together they mix and mingle like sounds of symphony. Lift and tug at each other’s waves as if they were Benny and his brother bothering one another in their bunk bed, before his brother ran away from home. Before his brother stopped talking to him. It reminds me of me and Hnng as well, when we were just being formed in Benny’s guts. We’d been playful once.
I hear Hallowed Ha softly beneath others. She’s more like oboe dancing staccato than siren or horn. I want to burst through teeth. Dismantle them, one by one, and let myself out. Burst into air and shock men and women. Benny would thank me. I would mix and mingle with Hallowed Ha. Pretty woman and Benny would enjoy it. They’d enjoy each other. Maybe later, Hnng can mix with Hallowed Hnng late at night, when others sleep. Maybe tomorrow Hnng will speak to me again.
Instead, Benny smiles.
Lack of laughter draws attention to Benny. He never learns value of releasing me. His lips are tight, so when someone says, “Gone on any dates recently?” I cannot see which man says it. I can imagine, however, pretty woman looking at Benny with curiosity, fascination. Probably pity.
“You know, I basically broke Tinder with all the matches I was getting,” he says. Pretty woman lets out Hallowed Ha. Other Has are released, including man who asked question. Man’s Ha sounds like muffled slapping of thigh.
“Laughing is weird, ever think about that?” pretty woman says. Benny opens mouth and I see men and women curled up under blankets. Stars are out and moon is full. His porch looks out over quiet woods. Chirping of grasshoppers, aroma of pine trees. He has knit blanket over him, sharing with pretty woman sitting next to him. He likely wants to brush his feet against hers. Tickle her. Make her release her Hallowed Ha. Benny takes deep inhale, then opens teeth for exhale. Benny peeks under blanket, and brushes finger against bottom of pretty woman’s undressed foot. Hallowed Ha escapes like finch fleeing clutches of peregrine falcon.
“Did you just tickle me?” she says as Hallowed Ha barks. Even guffawing, Hallowed Ha stuns.
Men and women are quiet except for pretty woman. All are uncomfortable. He’s not dating pretty woman. Tickling is intimate thing reserved for those who date.
Suddenly, I feel throat quake behind me. It folds like water during tsunami. It pulls me, for a moment, back like slingshot. Teeth open and enter starlight. Tongue dips into back of mouth and throat launches me forward. I burst into air. I fill porch and see clearly all faces. Pretty woman smiles. Others look at Benny in astonishment. He has eyes shut. Tear rolls down cheek. First time seeing him this way. He is beautiful.
“This is the most I’ve ever seen you laugh,” one man says to him.
They join in. One woman releases Ha that sounds like shrieking brake. Another like stomping on wood floor. From man comes Ha that sounds more like Hoo. Some are silent; some voluminous. And after moment, I hear Hallowed Ha from pretty woman. Hallowed Ha and I meet mid-air. We smash like quarks in particle collider. Something new, with mass, is created. Some new frontier established between Benny and pretty woman. Foundation on which Hallowed Ha and I will continue to sprawl. Hallowed Ha embraces me as Hnng used to, when we were young. We tango on sound waves, gyrate on atoms. Hallowed Ha smiles at me and it is most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed. I smile too.
I’m too distracted to notice what I sound like. “My god, you sound like you’re dry heaving,” pretty woman says.
What did she just call me? I think. Yet Benny still releases me. He doesn’t stop. Neither do others. The Has trample me like safari gone wrong. Innocent tourist squashed by elephants in Sahara. Voluminous Has come down on me like I’m naked in hurricane. Shut your mouth, I try to communicate to Benny, but he’s driver. He controls mouth, and he seems unmotivated to shut it. Men and women all laugh.
He looks happy. In fact, it’s happiest I’ve seen him in ten years. He’s probably not wondering where his brother is or what he did to deserve excommunication. One thing’s for certain, he’s not embarrassed of me. I am embarrassed, though. Does he care? No.
“Like a wet fart,” woman adds. All are in tears. Me too.
Later, Benny heads back inside, mouth shut. I recede into his throat, wiping off bothersome tear. Hnng pops head up. “He let you out?” he asks.
I nod, walk past Hnng.
“Well, how was it?”
“Just great. Everyone had much fun.”
“Oh,” says Hnng. “That’s good. You must be happy.”
“So happy. Can’t you tell? Greatest day of my life, Hnng. It’s like life just started. Fresh perspective. So very happy.”
Hnng looks at his feet. “You’re being facetious.”
“Not at all. Wouldn’t you be happy to be publicly released after ten years just to be humiliated? Just to be called wet fart? Hmm, Hnng? Wouldn’t you?”
Hnng shrugs. He’d just be happy to be released at all. It’s been ten years for me, but it’s been forever for him. “Sorry they were mean to you,” he says.
“Me too,” I say. I don’t tell him Hallowed Ha embraced me. I don’t say how warm she felt, like hand in mitten. I also don’t say how Benny touched pretty woman’s bare foot and she didn’t respond harshly. How she seemed to enjoy his touch.
Benny opens mouth to brush teeth. I sit scowling between bottom incisors. Tongue hangs over me like umbrella. Drool drips around me. He looks happy. Glad someone is happy.
He shuts lights off and sleeps in master bedroom. Usually he sleeps in children’s room, but since family not at country house, his friends take that room. He takes master bedroom since he’s master now.
There’s knock on door. He opens and pretty woman says hello. House is quiet. No crickets, no squeaking wood floor. No laughing. She slips past him and lays in bed. He lays next to her. He touches her, and she touches him. Behind me, Hnng walks out of throat. Hnng approaches incisors slowly, as if not to disturb sleeping pitbull. He looks at me for reassurance. Is it going to happen? Will I finally be released? his look seems to say.
I sneer. Pretty woman laughs. Soft Hallowed Ha prances into silent, dark bedroom.
“What?” Benny says.
“Sorry. I’m just still laughing at your laugh from before. It just gave me the giggles.”
Hnng pats me on back, and I scowl.
The touching continues between him and pretty woman.
In quiet room, new noise comes from pretty woman. Hnng perks up head. It’s Hallowed Hnng. He wrings hands nervously and looks at me for support. I shake my head.
As Hallowed Hnng continues to flood room, albeit delicately like gentle cycle on washing machine, Benny’s throat quakes behind Hnng and me. Like before, it folds like water during tsunami. Wet fart, I remember.
I could stop Benny and Hnng, if I felt like it. I could ride this wave. Instead of Hnng meeting Hallowed Hnng in sound waves, it could be me. Pretty woman would hear “wet fart” instead of Hnng. Touching would stop. Hallowed Hnng would retreat into pretty woman’s mouth.
Hnng is pulled to back of throat like slingshot. Hallowed Hnng mombas in mid-air like Hallowed Ha before. She awaits Hnng.
As Hnng soars out of mouth like flying squirrel, I reach for his ankle. I want to pull him back. I want to ruin this for him. And Benny. They rely so much on me yet, first chance they get, throw me under bus. No matter that Hallowed Ha hugged me. Hnng and Benny betrayed me.
And yet it’s made Benny and pretty woman closer. It’s let me and Hallowed Ha meet. And, if I allow it, it will lead to Hnng’s first shared release.
So I let Hnng out.
Hnng and Hallowed Hnng smash mid-air like high five after Olympic victory. Gold medals for both of them. Hnng sounds like mechanical pencil sharpener. Hallowed Hnng sounds like whimpering puppy who misses owner during weekend getaway. They combine to sound like construction site gone awry.
Pretty woman and Benny seem satisfied as Hnng returns to tongue. He sits next to me and sighs.
“Everything you hoped it would be?” I ask.
“And more,” he says. He puts his arm around me, which I shimmy out of.
We sit in silence for while. Benny falls asleep next to pretty woman. I wonder if Hallowed Ha and Hallowed Hnng sit on pretty woman’s tongue in awkward silence too. “You know,” Hnng says, breaking quiet, “just because they laughed at you doesn’t mean they don’t like you.”
“What they think doesn’t bother me,” I say. “What Benny thinks kind of does.”
Hnng joins me sitting criss-cross applesauce by back molars. “If he hadn’t released you before, he wouldn’t have released me now.”
I shrug. “I don’t know if that’s true.”
“We both owe you.”
I give him kind of smile you only give your brother once or twice in lifetime.
“Plus,” Hnng says, “I think he’ll be releasing you lots more now. This is just the beginning with Hallowed Ha.”
“And Hallowed Hnng too,” I add.
We head to Benny’s cerebral cortex to see what dream’s playing tonight. Twins are there, Hm and Eh, so we find seats farthest from them. We sit next to Oy, who’s always got funny story. Dream begins. It’s Benny and pretty woman in airport terminal. They are in each other’s arms, kissing. Whole airport watches. They look around at everyone. They laugh. Hallowed Ha and I bounce around terminal, echoing through men and women’s ears. Everybody laughs. “Wet farts,” men and women shout and release their Has. Entire airport is shut down because everybody, including TSA, can’t stop laughing. Air traffic control stops doing their job because of laughing. Airplanes collide in mid-air because of laughing. Many people die. Kissing continues.