“Don’t Laugh” (short story) by Yasutaka Tsutsui
English Publication History:
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Alma Books, 2006)
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno (Pantheon Books, 2008)
Original: Japanese, 1975
Translated by Andrew Driver, 2006
Synopsis: The gravity of Saita’s dilemma sounded serious and sincere over the phone, so his friend rushes over to his house to console him. Actually, Saita has invented another machine, adding one more to his growing list of patents. But when Saita breaks the news that his invention is a time machine, the duo break into a fit of hysterical laughter while looking at and, later, using the same contraption.
Analysis: This is an odd little story and the shortest story of the entire collection. Though only seven pages long in my e-book edition (oh how I wish I could track down a print copy!), it has sixteen lines of “Wahahahahaha!” Their canned and projected laughter is such an steady part of the story that the reader, too, smiles at the curious unfolding of the story.
The man’s initial burst of laughter, even after a warning to not laugh while he himself was giggling, is at Saita’s news that he had invented a time machine. Through the man’s suppressed snort, Saita laughs first and soon fits of laughter flow through the story. While the man inspects the machine with Saita, all the while laughing their heads off and clenching their stomachs in pain, the machine actually does transport them back in time a minutes.
While it seems linear enough, the truncated ending feels like an uncompleted Kafka story, left open to interpretation. As they travel those few minutes back in time, they witness themselves through the floorboards above: Saita paces, the man walks in, a short conversation ensues, and they burst out in amusement. They suppress their laughter as to not to disturb their prior selves below. Will, then, a time loop establish itself? Will they meet themselves and proceed with further laughter?