A little more than a year ago, while discussing my love for the Short Story, a coworker suggested that I start writing short fiction. "I make a better essayist," I responded. But the bug stuck. And I have been having a hard time writing either one since then . Well, as it happened, I had time tonight to try something a little different. The following is my first attempt at a (very) short story. It is, unedited and un-reviewed. I am not satisfied with the final few lines yet. But perhaps this is the beginning of something altogether new for me.
Boys Don't Cry
“I think you should cry every day. I do,” the young man said.
The comment went unnoticed or at least unacknowledged by the other boys in the group. Each of the three, not really boy but not yet men, well-built, fit, and popular among their peers, were unlikely candidates for lachrymose outbursts. The dissonance of the comment, however, seemed apparent only to the priest who, for the better part of an hour, had been mostly listening to the conversation. He did not necessarily disagree with the young man. There was probably nothing wrong with having a nice cry when one was certain he was alone. But to speak of it aloud? In front of one’s peers? One’s male peers? What was the world coming to?
The priest had not cried for a very long time, he reflected. He could not remember when last he had wept. Indeed, in his adult life, he could remember only vaguely a few instances wherein he had lost his composure and given himself over to tears. These were not pleasant memories. Such loss of control could only be occasioned by the most shattering of disappointments. For everything else, a cigarette had always sufficed.
The priest could no longer help but interject. “Do you cry in front of people?”
“Not always,” the boy said.
“Your dad?” the priest asked?
“Do you ever see him cry?”
Here the boy paused. “Not very often,” he finally answered. “He cried at his dad’s funeral. I saw him cry last year when one of his student’s committed suicide.”
The other boys began speaking about their own father’s but the priest did not hear. He was thinking of his own dad. The priest could recall only one occasion upon which he had seen his own father cry. It was at the funeral for Benny, the son of a friend. Benny had been only sixteen years old when his head was crushed in an ATV accident. Everybody, mused the priest, had cried that day.
More memories made their way into the priest’s consciousness. Had his father cried when the priest’s grandmother died? When the priest’s younger brother had left home for misadventure in the military? These recollections provided no certainty. Once. He had seen his father cry once. As a child, the priest’s father had convinced him that he was no longer capable of tears, having wasted them all during his own early years. The priest’s father made this claim most commonly as a way to induce his own sons to stop crying. It must have worked. The priest seldom cried these days.
The buzz of a cellular phone brought the conversation to an abrupt halt. “Where are you?” the text message asked? As though being roused from a stupor, the boys simultaneously came to the realization that it was late, and the snow that had been a flurry when the boys had arrived for their catechism classes was now beginning to accumulate on the streets. Homework was still undone. Basketball practice was scheduled for early the next day. Further conversation, regardless of how edifying it might be for any of the parties involved, would have to continue at another time.
The priest remained sitting for a long time after the boys had left. It had been a long week. In the confessional, twice women had told him, after having kept it secret for decades, of babies they had aborted. As the priest had prayed with them and had, by the power of his office, absolved them of their sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, he felt a sudden spasm in his stomach and quickly swallowed the lump in his throat before a teardrop had time to gather in his eyelashes. The same thing had happened again when the new bride called him on his cell phone to tell him that her marriage had already disintegrated. His heart ached for her. But he didn’t cry. This urge to let go, to give in, to lose control, to be vulnerable, this thing he had so carefully avoided, was creeping up on him. He no longer believed in coincidence. Surely this all meant something.
That had all be months ago, now. And was the priest was tired. So many people needed so many things. Was there no one else who could help them? Surely others could offer advice better than his own. He was bored. No book was interesting. No television show was amusing. His hobbies were dissatisfying. He was lonely. One of his friends was moving away. They would not see one another for a long time. He missed his parents. He missed his brothers. He missed the place where he grew up. he missed the smell of cow, and the smell of grass, and the smell of stagnant stock dam water, and the smell of summer. He wanted, just for a minute or two, to lay everything down. He felt heavy. He wished he could cry.