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This Is No Place for Peace MAG
There are people on the Golden Gate Bridge who are sad. A man forgets how to eat an ice cream cone. His lethargic tongue swirls and mounds the single scoop of strawberry that he's gotten every Tuesday from Mr. Farmingdale since he was a boy. He is wearing a sharp suit. It hangs on him like a towel on a rack. His eyes are empty. He is pinching the layer of skin above his eyebrows. He is cupping his wrinkles like a child would cradle a head wound, lest his brains spill out and make a mess.
When he shuffles by, he murmurs, “Nothing is forever,” his eyes flicking nervously back and forth. The tourists drop their cameras first and their eyes second. Some hold their earlobes, some their bottom lip; some cup their wrinkles too.
He wonders why they are all sad. He is just talking about his ice cream.
There is a woman walking across the bridge as well. She is naked, save a green plaid shirt tied around her waist. Her wrists are beautiful. The shirt is pilling at the cuffs and is thick with musk, sweat, and orchids. She lets herself stop every five steps. She seems so tired.
She would stop to twist her hair. She would gently untie the knot, let the pilling fabric slide across her ridged back, and bury her face in the shirt. She is sad because she cannot smell anything anymore. She takes her time. She makes sure to smooth out the wrinkles before she ties a square knot at her waist and resumes her walking. She does not feel naked; she feels sad.
Mama said that people used to cry when they were sad. She said it was like waiting for the F-train to arrive. How you'd look and look, maybe even squint your eyes at the black hole. You'd watch for what felt like the longest minute of your life before turning away because you knew you were going to be late for your 12:15 lunch. But then it'd come, pushing wind up around your face, leading your hair in a stuffy waltz, burning holes in your collarbones as the riders bobbed their heads along to an invisible beat.
“But crying people are easier to deal with.” Mama scrubbed and oiled her cast-iron skillet. “You can't pretend the train didn't arrive. You can pretend someone isn't sad.”
I cover my mouth and hold her knee. “Mama, I am crying.”
Mama said there had been rain once. That for three hundred years the people had known nothing but gray skin and clothes that never dried. Mama said everyone had a different explanation. The divine had said it was God's perfect justice, thus selling all they had and instead dwelling in sea caves. The non-divine had spent the three hundred years trying to explain the rain with udometers and taste-testers and surveys of children's opinions. The semi-divine simply brought their potted plants inside every other day to avoid overwatering.
At first the rain hadn't been too bad. It had followed a drought, so the news said – so Mama had said:
“This is exactly what the people need!”
But soon the drains stopped draining and the buckets started bucketing themselves.
And it only got worse when the people mourned! Because things never dried, tears simply slid off cheeks and into tear buckets or into tissues – which were only for the royals who could afford such things, and the big-name tissue company was denied Chapter 7 liquidation – there was too much liquid!
Weather reports became relative. There were no more killings or stock market plunges or viral pet videos. The anchormen responsible for those stories set up automated messages for when the station called. Heavy traffic due to rain.
And when that got boring or prolix: Heavy rain due to traffic. Heavy due to rain. Rain due to heavy traffic.
Mornings were instead spent wrapped in lovers' rain-scented hair.
After an extensive survey, the semi-divine decided the people were no longer allowed to cry. All these years the people had been, in fact, drowning themselves in their tears. Just because the sky or God or the earth decided to weep did not mean the people could too. Inspirational speakers, chemists, kindergarten teachers all began dreaming up ways to forget sadness: the speakers spoke of twelve-step programs, chemists injected sponges into tear ducts, kindergarten teachers began punishing crying students. It was all for the greater good, surely.
A hundred rainy years of tearless humanity had passed when it had been discovered. Bouncing and bumping to the choking, synthesized beats of east LA, a young man suddenly missed his late mother. But he knew he was amidst a revolutionary time, and fighting the prickling behind his eyeballs, his stretched out palms grasped desperately at the air, all clumsy-like. He was clawing at the air, fighting the demons pressing up on his lungs, when he finally grabbed hold.
Some people even say the hands on the clocks stopped. All eyes were on his panting, heaving chest, watching his milky eyes roll to the left and right, his right palm trembling up toward his neck. Sliding past his scarred right cheek, his palm found his ear and would not come undone. And as quickly as the music had stopped and the breathing had ceased, his left palm found his left ear, and he had finally found silence.
He was no longer in the club, but at his pallid mother's deathbed. Two years earlier, on a salty Louisiana morning, she had been counting down the seconds of the day, and when she had ten left, she chose only to caress her son's ears.
Everyone suddenly understood.
Everyone had known the numbing hell for years: noses that looked like their father's, the many aching hearts, the weary ankles – but only that night did humanity know what to do with that pain. Those demons were to be hidden behind their shivering fingers and crinkled palms! Almost as if on cue, every palm found a new place of rest. The few hands in the air were looked at with scorn; this is no place for peace.