Every morning, when I would look out the window of the living room just after waking up, I would see a laughing hyena peering through. It had been doing this for the past two months, always on time, always there in the morning.
My daughter thought it was our guardian angel. My wife thought it wanted to eat our daughter. I didn’t know what I thought. Every time I tilted my head, it tilted its head, like I was looking at a mirror.
When the thick snow came down, I thought for sure the laughing hyena wouldn’t be there, but I saw its head poking out of a bed of snow. My daughter wanted to let it in. My wife wanted to kill it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
That was a few weeks ago, and it was still coming up to the window. How come it doesn’t laugh? my daughter said. Perhaps we’re not all that funny, I replied. They don’t laugh, my wife said. It just sounds like they’re laughing.
The next morning, my daughter was in the living room, facing the window and performing for the laughing hyena. She was holding a rolling pin, pretending it was a mic as she was giving a stand-up routine. The animal looked at her, its head following her back and forth. Donuts, what about donuts? she said and laughed. Her jokes were horribly cute. I chuckled to make her feel better. The laughing hyena remained silent. Fix the table for breakfast, my wife said.
The next morning, just as the sun was breaking, I got out of bed, hearing sounds coming from the living room. My daughter was there, dressed in a makeshift clown outfit, in my overalls and wearing a knotted tie, her face covered in my wife’s cosmetics. She was jumping up and down and doing somersaults, rolling across the floor. The laughing hyena tilted its head left and right, remaining silent. Why won’t it laugh? my daughter said. My wife had a headache. You’re doing great, I said.
A week later, I could tell my daughter was getting frustrated from not being able to make the laughing hyena laugh. Just leave it alone, my wife said. I think it’s laughing on the inside, I said. Keep going. I love it. My daughter said, I’m just going to leave it alone. Good, my wife said. Sometimes, you’re just not funny, my daughter said. She walked out of the living room with her head facing the ceiling.
That night in bed, I kept the lamp on late. I was writing on a piece of scrap paper. My wife was aggravated. What are you doing? she said. I said, I’m writing. I’ve never even seen you hold a pen before, my wife said. Do you have to do that now? I said, I do and she flipped over, covering her head with the blanket, groaning. Just go to sleep, my wife said. I didn’t say anything. Go to sleep, she said again. Almost finished, I said.
I woke up early the following morning, just as the dew was warming, and went to the living room. The lights were off. I put them on and saw the laughing hyena peering through, its eyes sad. I went to my daughter’s room — she was still sleeping — and rubbed her shoulder. She opened her eyes. Let’s go to the living room and try this, I said, holding up the piece of scrap paper. Her eyes were large and wide. Without speaking, without hesitation, she got out of bed. I love you so much, I said.
We went to the living room. I tore the paper in half. It’s a skit, I said. My daughter was excited. We acted and performed a dialogue. My daughter was loving it, though the laughing hyena didn’t laugh. We were loud, and I was trying my best not to cry, playing with my daughter, seeing her so happy. My wife woke up. I could hear her footsteps in the hallway before entering the living room. My daughter continued to act out the scene. Stop, my wife said. Just stop — this is just stupid. The look my daughter gave, I will never forget. And I should have never have said it, not in front of her, but it just came out. My daughter started to cry. My wife dropped the coffee mug, and it shattered against the wooden floor. The laughing hyena started to laugh, cackling, its eyes glowing as it went up and down on its hind legs.
My daughter rubbed her eyes. Encore, Daddy. Encore.
Shome Dasgupta is the author of i am here And You Are Gone (Winner Of The 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest), and The Seagull And The Urn (HarperCollins India, 2013), which has been republished in the UK by Accent Press as The Sea Singer (2016). His first collection of short stories, Anklet And Other Stories was published by Golden Antelope Press in 2017. His novel, Pretend I Am Someone You Like, is forthcoming from the University of West Alabama’s Livingston Press. His stories and poems have appeared in Puerto Del Sol, New Orleans Review, NANO Fiction, Everyday Genius, Magma Poetry, and elsewhere. His fiction has been selected to appear in The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing (&Now Books, 2013). Shome’s work has been featured as a storySouth Million Writers Award Notable Story, nominated for The Best Of The Net, and long-listed for the Wigleaf Top 50. He is a high school English teacher, living in Lafayette, LA, and his website can be found at www.shomedome.com.