"He's a monster!" I shouted. "I can't work with him! I can't make copies in an environment like that!"
"You'll just have to learn to," my boss responded. "We can't fire him just because he's different."
"I have to be honest here, " I said in a sensible fashion. "I sincerely object to the employment of Mr. Marrow. He's a skeleton and he won't stop laughing!"
"The way I see it," said my boss, "he has nothing to hide. He probably got a funny joke forwarded to him through the e-mail. You know that happens all the time!"
"I hardly think a skeleton has qualifications to work in an office copy room!"
"He's well qualified for the job. We're lucky to have someone like that in the copy room. It's the economy, you know. Well qualified people are taking jobs that would otherwise be beneath them."
"What kind of qualifications would a skeleton have? Did he work in a copy room on a haunted pirate ship?"
"He was the assistant manager of an Olive Garden, and while that's not that big a deal, it definitely shows he will do fine in our copy room."
I had no choice but to endure this torture. The day was volatile and plagued with an obnoxious laugh that would go on for minutes at a time. In the space between laughter, there was the cracking of joints and chattering of teeth. I don't know how I made it through the day, let alone the next three.
My first glimmer of hope came on Friday, when I was called over to give my opinion on a situation developing in the janitor's closet. It seems a small treasure of office paraphernalia had mysteriously amassed there, and the culprit was obvious in my mind.
"Mr. Marrow's fingerprints are all over this," I confidently stated.
"He doesn’t have flesh so he can't leave fingerprints," a coworker argued.
"This is all your fault," my boss interjected. "You ostracized him from the start. You made him an outsider by not just refusing to set boundaries for him, but refusing him altogether. He wanted authority and that's why he started acting out. He was hoping to get caught and punished."
"But—" I started to say.
"But we aren't going to let this stand. We're going to be more embracing of him now. I just found out he has to walk to and from work. I want you to give him a ride home tonight. We can't have him as an outsider this Saturday when we have the company picnic!"
As fate would have it, this new development would strengthen my relationship with Mr. Marrow by exposing him in new light. After a grueling day of laughter, I proceeded to the office copy room to let Mr. Marrow know I was heading out, and that I would indeed be giving him a ride home. He stopped laughing then, and instantly started grating his teeth in a nervous manner. He did this throughout the ride to his home. Aside from some spastic flailing against the seat belt, he remained relatively quiet and nervous, occasionally lifting his cold dead hand up to point in the direction I needed to go. Had I been on the receiving end of that dreadful pointing finger, I probably would have considered it a sign that my life was over.
"You can put on whatever you want on the radio," I said.
He just stared away at his window, fearful of making eye contact.
Mr. Marrow didn't even bother to tell me to stop when we arrived at his home. He just tore through my seat belt, opened the door, and jumped out awkwardly into the street. I quickly slammed the brakes and threw the car in park before rushing out to check on him. He managed to sever his leg at the knee and was flailing madly in the street laughing the most heartbreakingly sad demonic laugh I ever heard.
"There, there," I said. "You'll be okay. We can glue this back on. Let me help you to your apartment."
When I saw the poor conditions of his apartment building and then of the room he was renting and the way that he lived, I finally understood him. He did his best to keep laughing in a world so cruel that it wouldn't even give him the lips with which to form a smile. That demonic laugh was the only way he had of showing that he was okay, and he did his best to keep the illusion going for himself and others. He could no longer do that for me.
I looked around the decrepit studio apartment, almost barren except for an open treasure chest full of medical journals that I think he was using as pornography. I wasn't sure, but it looked like there were some printouts of e-mail joke forwards in there as well, but I didn't want to ask. I could swear he tried to look ashamed when I saw the chest, but he lacked the facial muscles with which to curl his eyelids, let alone eyelids to curl. Those eye sockets of his, so big and dark, were like the black holes in outer space. They say a black hole can crush a man into a tiny speck and keep him just as heavy. His eye sockets were like that as well. They compressed the sorrow of a thousand wounded puppy dogs into two tiny little black pits that sucked you in and made you long to provide comfort and love.
As luck would have it, I had some glue in my briefcase that worked wonders in mending his broken leg and equally broken spirit. It seemed to get the job done and I could tell he felt a little better afterwards since he went from nervously stroking his medallion to grating his teeth frantically in an almost joyous manner. He tried to get up, but I held him down reassuringly and told him to take it easy until the glue fully dried.
After years of being misunderstood, I had hoped we finally had "our" story. I was wrong.
He had a yellow inflatable tube around his waist, the kind with a comical duck head. There was a tiny fish in one of his hands, and a trident in the other. In the background a squirrel wearing shades was water skiing.
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