Muriel frowned as the couple from upstairs passed by her door, laughing. They were always laughing, and to her mind there was no call to be carrying on like that, especially in public.

Besides, she couldn’t imagine what they had to be so tickled about. Their tiny third-story walk-up apartment wasn’t even big enough to change your mind in. If that was the best that boy could do, then he sure wasn’t making much of a living. Probably too busy giggling like a loon to put his nose to the grindstone, she thought. And that girl had to work at that awful bar, getting her skimpy uniform pawed by a bunch of drunks. Her Henry would never have stood for anybody treating her that way; he’d have died before it came to that.

Of course, he had died anyway.

“You’ll work yourself to an early grave, Henry Roberts,” Doc Benning had told him, more times than she could remember. “You’ve gotta take it easy once in a while, stop and smell the roses an’ such.”

Muriel smiled to herself at the memory of Henry’s stubborn reply. “I got work to do. Them roses’ll still be in the Missus’ garden when I get done.”

He never did seem to get done, though. Her Henry, such a hard worker; that’s what everyone said. That’s what her family said when she laid him to rest underneath the grass at Shady Elms, getting on ten years ago now. Such a good provider, said her sister Rosie, before she got in the car with Fred and headed back to Florida. Such a a pillar of the church, said Pastor Reynolds, before taking her honorarium check and heading back home to Mary. Such a good role model, said her boy John, before he got back in his shiny car and headed back to his important job in the city.

Such a good man, her Henry. But, she paused. Had there been laughing? Of course there must have been. He was good to her, and they had a good life. A solid, responsible life, like folks are meant to. But of course they hadn’t gone through their whole life without laughing…

…had they?

And for the first time, Muriel wondered. What if Henry hadn’t been such a hard worker? What if he had worked a few hours less, and laughed a few hours more? Would it have changed anything? Would they have gotten by?

Would he still be here with her?

Muriel patted the earth around the roses in her window box, and she tried to remember the laughing.

That night, when the couple upstairs got home, they found a basket of cookies outside their door, with a note: “Thank you for sharing your laughter. – Mrs. Roberts, 4B”

“Huh,” he said. “Always got the feeling she didn’t like us much.”

“Pssh, no, everybody likes me. You, on the other hand…” She trailed off with a mischievous grin, as he pretended to take offense.

And they laughed.


Muriel was inspired by a 3D character model by Mauro Corveloni (

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