I know we just featured work not too long ago from Passager’s new issue, but there’s so much good stuff in there, we’re going to do a couple more pieces.
Marc Morgenstern said that his story “Splatter” started by thinking that the “invasive absurdity of the pandemic could only be handled through humor. And that led to the question, ‘What would happen if a character couldn’t stop laughing?’” In this excerpt, a company manager has been told by his boss to find a job for his niece.
When we met in the commissary, Pamela Splatter looked nothing like her Uncle Jamie, but just like someone named Pam should — petite, flat ginger hair, quiet and precise. Not exactly Miss Congeniality . . . Like all of her classmates, she wanted to follow her passion while becoming her best self.
“And what is your passion?” I asked, expecting the usual Gen Z pursuit of creative bliss.
Instead, her eyes emptied out, hands flapped like pinball flippers, mouth cackled like a drunk crow. The racket rose and crescendoed, from runaway giggles to loose-jawed hee-haws to . . .
She never took a breath.
“Pam . . . Pamela! Young lady!”
She honked like a semi.
Heads swiveled. Lunch conversation froze around us. I led her out to the courtyard, past loud fruit trees, and deposited her onto the farthest bench.
Gradually, her explosion of laughs shrunk to squeaks, then see-sawing huffs. Finally, the girl’s mouth rested, prim and closed. Motionless in her mouse-grey interview pantsuit, she stared down at the fake cobblestones . . .
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Apologies for wasting your time. I guess I’ll be going now.” She stood up, all four-and-a-half feet of her. I towered over Pam, even sitting down.
“You’re not going anywhere . . . What was that?”
“A condition . . .” She explained: a neurological disease that launched her into uncontrollable laughter without warning or provocation. Not Tourette’s, but like it. Even has a name: Pseudobulbar Affect. Happens mainly when under stress. Nothing seems to help, not meds or meditation. She remembered always having it. And hating it . . .
“Let me just go. Okay?” she pleaded afterwards. “I know my uncle asked you to help. You tried. Okay?”
“There’s a rule around here: you can’t leave the interview until I say it’s over.” . . .
“They all thought I’d grow out of it,” Pam said. “But I never did.”
For a long time, she’d wished for a refuge from her affliction. Really wished, with actual prayers in her college dorm room (“psycho single,” they called it behind her back). After graduation, say, in a mall or movie line, her audiences were at first aghast, confused, leaning away — until they found themselves laughing, too. They couldn’t help their nervous snickers, sounding half hyena and half chimpanzee to Pam . . .
“I’m not contagious,” she said.
Excerpts from Marc Morgenstern’s story “Splatter.”
Anne Sheldon said, “After hearing the Beatles’ song ‘When I’m 64’ for the umpteenth time, I thought, I’m already 64 — I wonder what’s next?” Here’s her poem “When I’m 93.”
When I’m 93
will I remember my address?
And, if I do, will it be this one,
where I ripped up so much dirty carpet (single-handed),
and the back window pretends
to gaze into the woods?
No, I don’t think so,
and not my very first one, either,
the one I left when I was seven.
No, if I live that long,
and you ask me, I’ll say
I live at 3636 Greenway Drive.
I won’t think to tell you about poems
I didn’t write or trips I never took
or words I never said to Jeff Warren.
I’ll say Colonel Green was a drunk
and tore up our fort by the creek;
I’ll tell you how my silver barn cat
supplied all the first kittens on our block;
and I might be able to tell you
about the times my mother
stopped talking to us.
These stories would be true
and bear no shame.
But what if I live to inhabit
mistaking orderlies for gallant knights
of stormy visage
and myself, for Fair Rapunzel?
That’s what almost makes me wish
for a bomb on the metro
while I’m on my way downtown
to see the dentist about
my broken bridge.
“When I’m 93” by Anne Sheldon.
Both Anne’s poem Marc’s story are from Passager Issue 70. To subscribe to Passager or to learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com.
You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.