No more tears
“I hate myself more than I hate mirrors. This morning I looked into one. Three hours later I was writhing on the school ground. Tears in my eyes (as predicted), because of a kick below the belt. Every attempt to avoid it fails. Once I’ve seen the numbers, all I can do is wait.
The only upside is that I saw Mack’s eyes before he kicked me. So I know he’s got it coming too courtesy his drunk father. Or maybe someone else. Who cares? He’ll cry.
The next time, I’ll tell him though he’ll hit me again when he finds out I was right.
Can’t avoid shiny things forever anyway.”
His hands quivered as he shut the tattered journal — he knew he’d best skip the next entry. Seven decades later, the weight of it all had hardened like an invisible shell around him. It did the job of maintaining a safe distance for him, because it bit into him whenever he tried to get too close to people, to memories and to himself. Thus he stayed in bed caressing the cover of his teenage journal, amazed that he still had it. It had been in a box of belongings dropped off at the nursing home by his college-bound grandson yesterday. A surprise, but not unwelcome.
Someone began to play the piano downstairs, and he wandered back into pleasant memories stirred up by the journal. Two pages back there was an older entry, above which was pinned a Polaroid photograph of three boys. One of them was standing awkwardly and the others were laughing hard. He smiled at it, lingering before continuing onto the not-so-pleasant words written under it.
“This has to be the gayest power possible. (And caused me a world of pain in checking if it wasn’t anything else)
There’s no way to switch them off. Whenever I look anyone in the eye, the numbers appear next to the head. Ticking away the seconds till they cry next. The moment a tear drops, they start ticking down to the next one. Dan’s father who just returned from the war overseas is different though. He just shows 88...88:88:88:88 now as if the timer broke. The day counter stretches to the left as far as I can see. His smile never reaches his eyes.
Anyhow, this photo shows my attempt at explaining this nonsense to the fellas, and their reaction on hearing that both of them were about to cry. They did cry of course, but the tears came from laughing their asses off.
I have the best friends.”
He loved photographs and covered the walls with them wherever he lived. He could look at them for as long as he wanted, and the static eyes wouldn’t yell back the moments he had left till his friends would be down on the ground laughing at his stupid “power”, till his mother would cry silently every year on his father’s death anniversary, till the next time he was kicked in the groin or told to stay away.
Till forever, because the numbers next to her head stopped ticking when his wife bid him a rushed goodbye for the last time. The realization came too late though, and he had lived long enough to know nobody would believe him. Since then every peek at a mirror had been accompanied by a deep wish to see the numbers next to his head stop ticking similarly, but he trudged on under his curse’s determinism.
He wiped a lone tear with a sigh of resigned regret and looked around. The frames on the wall showed a life lived on tip-toes that tried to dance in its better moments, and was crushed by its own weight in the others. It had settled for the faces that acquiesced to smiling so that a lonely man could glare at them at length.
The entries got more sporadic as he continued flipping through, more carefully since he had a stubborn lump in his throat after the previous entry. Each bitter reverie they caused was an old traitorous friend’s greeting. The last entry read,
“I can’t stop it. If I don’t look in someone’s eyes they think I’m not interested and they leave. Or they see an easy target and they push me to the ground.
If I do look and show up with tissues and a bottle of water, people think I am nice. But given time, I’m the person they see when they cry, and they stay away. Always. Even ma.
Which makes sense, I shouldn’t exist.
I try not to look in mirrors, but how do I stop?”
Now that his cheeks were dry, a familiar thought urged him to look at a mirror but painfully gained experience prevailed for the moment. This vicious cycle of deciding to look and regretting it, or avoiding and regretting it more till the next time someone was hurt, was as much a part of him as the by-lanes of memory he would travel down to avoid looking into eyes, mirrors and himself. Yet, he kept sneaking glances. The questions in them swirled around, some settling down, others floating to the forefront of his mind, needling him till he tried to answer even if it always ended in tears.
A chill wind blew in, turning the pages over to a dog-eared page near the end. That’s odd, he thought as he turned over to find written in a scribble recognizably different from his —
“Grandpa, I have it too. Don’t worry.”
He flicked the journal aside and stood up. An urgent phone call was needed to be made. After relieving himself, of course. He was still an ailing old man.
For the first time in a long while he did not glance at the mirror on his way out of the washroom. He could not make the call though, and if he had looked at the mirror he would have seen that the numbers had stopped ticking.
Prompt — An octagenarian man on his deathbed, is given a diary he maintained through his adolescence. Describe the emotions that surge up in his mind.
IF you're writing a review or even just commenting, I'd really appreciate it if you could also add how relevant you thought the story was to the prompt. ( It did reach the 1 k word limit)This is the 3rd draft, initially the story was named "The Absurdity of hope". Do comment on the title too, if possible.
Link to the first/second version of this story — No more tears v 2.0