* * *
One day I wrote: “all the bodies in the dormitory, all the bodies in the cots, on the floors, in the stalls, in the closets and lockers, in the pools and showers: they are waiting to know what will happen to them, who will take them, where they will be taken to, how they will get there and what they will do when we get there.”
I couldn’t keep these words. I had no use for them, even though, inexplicably, they meant everything to me. I couldn’t keep these lives. Just as I couldn’t keep the water that overtook the streets. And I couldn’t keep the looters and thieves and killers that followed the water. And I couldn’t keep the journalists who followed the looters and I couldn’t keep the soldiers who came to clear away the water and the corpses and the looters.
But I could keep this one voice (it’s impossible to explain why). It spoke to me often while I was writing this book. One day, it told me a story. It whispered:
“I remember the day they brought me here. I found a cot and attempted to die in my sleep. But it was impossible to die and it was impossible to sleep because of all the laughter. Soldier laughter and doctor laughter. Child laughter and parent laughter. One old man, who lived in the cot next to me laughed so hard he fell off his cot and had to fight with another body to regain it. He squirmed around on the floor, laughing, literally trying to die from laughter. But they would not let him die from laughter. He laughed and laughed and when the laughing would not cease a soldiering body threatened to slice of his hands and tongue if he did not stop laughing. More laughter. I will slice off your hands and tongue, said the soldiering body, but in the end he could not find a sharp enough blade so he filled the mouth of the laughing old man with sludgy foam, clumps of dirt and worms and leaves and bloody bandages and hair and all the refuse he could find on the floor of the dormitory. Fill your mouth with little angels of laughter, old man. Fill your mouth with laughter, old man, and laugh until the moment of peace.”
* * *