Laughing to Death

Ficus lyrata, the fiddle-leaf fig, is one cheeky sonofabitch, a real bastard of a plant. He bends towards Seinfeld, as if the sun, yet turns away from Friends.

Writing by James Callan
Art by Katy Somerville

Laughing to Death

Ficus lyrata, the fiddle-leaf fig, is one cheeky sonofabitch, a real bastard of a plant. He bends towards Seinfeld, as if the sun, yet turns away from Friends, as if under threat of wilting. Both shows make me laugh, and besides, I am the one with the remote, the one with two arms, two hands, and sentience. If he makes too big a deal about it, I’ll water him a week late. I’ll show him who is in charge.

Have you ever noticed Jerry Seinfeld’s smirk? It accompanies the wide spectrum of his emotion; joy, sorrow, stress, fear, triumph, hate. Is it an acting flaw or a quirk of character? A signature nuance of the comedian that is delivered with purpose? I can’t stop laughing when I watch Jerry and the gang. Even when I know their lines, delivering them aloud, Kramer and George bring me to tears, almost to my knees. Elaine is hysterical. She cracks me up. It’s no wonder Seinfeld cracks a smile.

Ficus has a crack in his pot. The jagged lightning bolt splits the Japanese ceramics from lip to base, severing a bridge over water, dividing a rice farmer from his wife, who gazes across the chasm, the deep, rushing river beneath her wooden sandals. Sometimes, when I water the cheeky fiddle-leaf fig, the liquid runs black through the rupture in its container. The black sediment feeds into the grooves of the hardwood floors like waterlogged avenues in a rice field. It makes its way to my sock and bleeds into the white cotton. Fuck, I say on occasions like these, and pause whatever argument ensues between Ross and Joey. I turn to Ficus, who I swear, for once, is laughing during Friends, so to spite him, I change the channel, but then I hear it again, that self-satisfied chuckle, a hiss like water slowly seeping through a tub of soil.

Natural light is important to a fiddle-leaf fig, so I offer him a south or east-facing window. This is as far from the television as possible, so despite the optimal conditions, he sags and yellows. He shrivels and sheds his leaves. I didn’t know I cared, until I stopped laughing every time George and Kramer did their thing, wild hair or no hair, a juggling act of anxiety and neurosis. It didn’t make sense, but I didn’t even smile. During these times, I swear, Jerry didn’t even smirk. I didn’t realize I harbored sentiment for Ficus until Elaine started to bore me, until the slap base diddy between scenes made me sick to my stomach, even made me cry.

When I found out my south-east facing window was actually north by northwest, I kicked the ceramic pot in frustration over my error. I stubbed my toe, but that was the least of my problems. I watched as a Japanese bridge splintered into infinite shards, a rice farmer torn apart, his wife obliterated by forked lightning. I winced and watched a fine fissure widen like a mouth laughing at an amusing sitcom, the liters of black dirt spilling out like so many grains of rice, multiple missed opportunities, countless mistakes.

I remembered that the pot was priceless. Something my grandfather brought back from his time while stationed in Japan. From WWII, or perhaps in its wake –but for me, none of that mattered. Ficus was gone. Fiddle fig was dead. For me, a nuclear warhead exploded in my apartment. Thirteen kilotons of force, or thirteen liters of spilled soil. They called the bomb that ended it all Little Boy. I held his wrinkled leaves and cradled his tender roots, now exposed to the open air. I whispered to fill the silence. My precious, little boy.Ten seasons of Friends couldn’t revive him. Nine seasons of Seinfeld couldn’t rouse Ficus from the dead. I didn’t know I was so attached. I’d never really loved anyone in all of my life. But throughout it all, I couldn’t stop crying. Joey and Ross got through it, even though I could not. But Jerry –that heartless bastard– no matter how I suffered, he wouldn’t stop smiling. No matter how I spilled my soul, he couldn’t hide that fucking smirk.

About the Author

close up photo of gorilla

James Callan is a great ape and the descendant of deep ocean microorganisms. He has never been to Greece, but has a frequent, recurring dream of standing in the long shadow of the Parthenon, a blood-red sun bloated on the horizon. He once binge-watched all the movies with Ray Harryhausen animations and by the end forgot he was flesh and blood, not made of clay. To this day, he feels awkward in his own body, moving disjointedly, mimicking the stop-motion steps that to him only seem natural. He is the author of A Transcendental Habit (Queer Space, 2023).

About the Artist

Katy Somerville was beamed into existence on a Monday night in the mid-eighties by stars, glitter, and a glorious Italian woman from a long line of very strong women. In the present timeline, she likes to drink coffee, pat any animal that will engage with her, make collages, and spend time laughing and finding moments of joy wherever she can with her partner and her goofy, lanky dog.

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