Pulp.net - The Crying Man

The Online Home of New Fiction

November 2008
THE CRYING MAN

Andrew Newsham
His weeping was such that the whole street ground to a halt and watched him with open-mouthed amazement. What was wrong? The man didn’t know and couldn’t explain.
Crying-Newsham-

He pushed his way blindly through the city centre crowds and tried to hide his face in the arm of his jacket. Such pain, such sadness. It washed out of him like a tidal wave and swept up everyone in its path. Those who got too close suddenly found tears welling up in their own eyes.

If you were to ask any of them what had made them cry, they would all be hard pressed to explain it. For some this took the form of nameless existential angst, for others it was more personal; the death of a loved one, the sight of a dirty starving pigeon pecking at a piece of yellow sponge convinced it was bread.

IT WAS ALL SO DESPERATELY SAD.

The man found his way to the public toilets at the bus station and locked himself in a cubical and wept uncontrollably. He tried to keep the noise down but the more he tried to restrain himself the harder the tears fell and so he moaned like a wounded animal. He reached into the bag and tore the top off the whiskey bottle and began to drink.

It was the sales girl in the shoe shop. She had disturbed his mind. The whole meeting had lasted little more than a few minutes but he had somehow become involved in her tragedy.

She had a growth on the right side of her face and it jutted out like a bulbous vegetable. The other side of her face was perfectly normal and she sat in such a way as to hide her deformity from view. In fact her long blond hair promised beauty, if anything, so when she turned at you suddenly it was quite a shock. She obviously took a mischievous delight in doing this and there was a challenge in her eyes as she looked at him, almost as if daring him to say something cruel, as if she expected it.

He’d done his best not to flinch, to be discreet, but maybe just a flicker of disgust had registered on his face. How could it not? It was more than just the growth; the weight of the thing pulled down the skin under her eye socket revealing the internal pulp of her skull. It was as if one half of her face was already dead and waiting patiently for the rest of her body to catch up.

Even if he had flinched, it didn’t mean he was a bad person. He wouldn’t make fun of her to his friends. He wouldn’t warn people not to come into the shop. How could she jump to such a conclusion? Unless she had been taught by bitter experience to expect no other response, the natural result of a life of torment and ridicule.

This thought had hit home as he handed her his credit card to pay for the shoes. He imagined her suffering. Of course they’d given her this job in a shoe shop but was it not little more than a sickening act of charity? And how long before people started to complain, before business dropped off? The world was full of bastards.

He’d tried to say something, to make her think he was not like the others.

‘You have wonderful shoes here,’ he said. It wasn’t much but he meant it to be friendly, to carry simply the message that she was OK, that he was not embarrassed by her condition.

It hadn’t worked and she’d glared at him as if gravely insulted before stepping back from the counter to reveal that she was missing her legs. In their place, at the thigh, were two stick thin robotic limbs that tapered all the way down to the floor. She did not in fact have any shoes, wonderful or not, just a pair of wooden blocks carved into the shape of feet. She did a little dance for him like a demented puppet, raising one foot and then the other in a mocking, dainty movement.

His jaw dropped open.

Was there no end to the misery inflicted on this poor girl? Even her job was a sadistic joke. Once outside he had begun crying, thinking about the girl with an overpowering empathy. He imagined her at home, alone, how difficult it must be for her to make friends, how just a few brushes with a few heartless people must have imprisoned her in expectations of evil.

ALL HER LONELINESS AND SUFFERING.

He pictured her in a meadow. She had been told to go and play with other children but when they saw her they ran away in terror. She hid herself in bushes, cowering in the dirt, discovering her newfound occupation as monster.

How this scenario entered his head he had no idea, but it consumed him, along with others until he could no-longer think straight, until he could do nothing but cry.

IT JUST WOULDN’T STOP.

Of course he had seen much worse. You couldn’t get through life without learning about all the horror people inflicted on each other but for some reason the plight of the girl seemed worse.

He remembered the horrific experiments by the Nazi doctors and imagined the girl to be one of the tortured subjects. He pictured her head in a vise, fiendish doctors sawing off her legs… It was impossible of course, she was too young to have been alive during the war but he just couldn’t stop himself. His thoughts plundered on like a man desperately trying to run from a burning building but only ever finding an endless series of rooms.

He grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled. ‘STOP IT, GET A GRIP.’

After a while the whiskey began to calm him down and he became drunk enough not to care about the girl so much. She was still foremost in his mind but with his thoughts filtered through the rosy glaze of alcohol it troubled him less.

He tried to look at things positively. The modern era was so much better than olden times and the girl might not have to suffer much persecution. She had rights and a job. Maybe she was saving for cosmetic surgery? Things didn’t necessarily have to be as bad as he imagined. He still felt like crying but he managed to hold it off and left the toilet and walked home. As he began to sober up he found himself on the verge of tears again. So he started drinking once more.

‘What if I can never stop thinking about the girl?’ he thought, ‘What if I can never stop drinking?’

He took several deep breaths and decided he’d try to reason himself into normality. His inner voice however sounded like that of a child, pleading with himself that there was no bogeyman under the bed. It was ready to crack at any moment.

Maybe she had sprayed him with something? It was a possibility. Or perhaps she had put a curse on him? Of course, he didn’t believe in witchcraft but then he’d never inexplicably started crying and not been able to stop. The western world was supposed to have gone beyond such nonsensical thinking. There was science, equality, the disfigured were encouraged to work in shoe-shops and not be thrown in the stocks as ‘demon-spawn’, but what if, in some instances, that older way of behaving was valid. Maybe not all witch-hunts were the wild injustices we had come to believe them to be?

He imagined how thousands of years of mankind had dealt with people like the girl. How fairy tales of trolls were probably based on some kind of freakish truth. Downs Syndrome they called it now but in previous times, might not these poor people have been expelled from the village and forced to live in forests and caves? Might not they have gone wild and turned violent to survive? Their size would no doubt be exaggerated by the boastful stories of errant knights. What then of witches? Could not someone be born with the genetic memory of the warfare between these tribes? It made a sort of sense to his tired battered mind.

If the devil appeared one day with enormous horns, we’d probably give him social security and alter the shape of doorways so he could go to the cinema. The question is, would he behave any less devilish?

He made it home just as he ran out of whiskey. When the tears started again he drank a bottle of beer from his fridge and then set on a selection of miniature liquors his brother had brought him back from holiday in Malta. After he had finished licking the last drop out of a tiny bottle of fig brandy he became so utterly despairing that he contemplated suicide. His swollen tear ducts were sore with all their work and each new teardrop felt as painful as a paper cut.

‘PLEASE GOD,’ he screamed and he dashed his head against the wall in a mad thumping rhythm in time to his own racing heart.

This went on until the next morning when his elderly neighbours eventually got tired of listening to his screams and called for the police. When they arrived they had no idea what to suspect and so pressed the doorbell with a good amount of trepidation. When the crying man appeared the two officers took one look at him and found themselves consumed with their own tearful tragedies. They all wept together until one of the policemen went back onto the street to get away from the crying man. After awhile the policeman found himself able to function quite normally and he called in a report to his superiors who had the great idea of sending in some doctors.

When the doctors arrived the same thing happened to them and so it went on until finally, all kinds of experts were called in. None of them could help the crying man however because whenever they went to study him they found they could not function due to their own despair and the distraction of their own tears.

The crying man, who was quite insane by this time, argued that he could end it all if only he could see the poor girl who worked in the shoe shop and apologize to her on behalf of mankind. Since the authorities were at such a loss to explain the phenomenon they agreed to it and the crying man led a large procession into town to see the disfigured girl. It was shown live on television and wherever it was watched people broke down in tears.

When the man found the girl in the shoe shop he fell to his knees and begged forgiveness.

It was like a nightmare for the poor girl. She had gone to work that day expecting nothing but the usual tedium only to suddenly find herself mobbed by a mad crowd, all of them consumed with some sort of inexplicable grief. It was clear it was no joke and that they expected something from her but she had no idea what it was.

She asked why they were crying but only provoked them to respond with the question, ‘WHY AREN’T YOU?’

In their distressed state the man and the weeping people around him interpreted her behaviour badly and with the hideousness of her deformity a great storm of ill feeling grew up against her.

She did begin to cry when they dragged her into the street but by then, nobody noticed, consumed as they were with their own tears.

‘BURN THE WITCH,’ sang the crying man. It did not take long until everyone took up the chant and it resounded throughout the town.

They built a bonfire outside the town hall using Christmas trees, for it was that season, and burnt her alive. So natural did it come to the people that nobody felt inclined or even capable of stopping the murder, least of all the crying man who was the keenest of all of them.

The girl died in agony with fire slowly cooking the flesh from her bones. It didn't solve anything though and when only the metal rods that were her legs remained the man had still not stopped crying and neither had anyone else.

The decision was taken quickly and the people threw him on the fire as well. Once the flames had melted his face and he had no way of crying anymore, everyone's tears dried up.

Nobody could adequately explain what had happened and though there were calls from many people, including the United Nations, for a full and proper inquiry nothing ever happened. The mayor and the chief of police had been involved in building the bonfire and sacrificing the girl so there was little political will to make anyone take the blame.

The internet buzzed with gossip and wild conspiracy theories but in a remarkably short time people forgot all about what had happened and moved on to other things that were much easier to explain.




© Andrew Newsham


Andrew Newsham is reading at the Poetry Cafe, 22 Betterton Street WC2 on October 28, 2004 (a Tales of the Decongested night). Entry £3 / £2.50, 7.30pm.

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