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All Those Parties We Didn't Cry At

Natalia Theodoridou is a UK-based media & cultural studies scholar and a writer of strange stories. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, The Kenyon Review Online, Nature, and elsewhere. This is her third appearance in Daily Science Fiction. Find out more at natalia-theodoridou.com or follow @natalia_theodor on Twitter.

"Here, let me," Hayley says. She holds my eyelids open and drips a few pseudos onto my eyeballs. Then she lets go and the fake tears run down the sides of my eyes. Her breath is hot on my damp cheekbones. It's the most erotic thing I've ever experienced.
"Now do me," she says and hands me the bottle of eye drops. She tilts her head back while I run my finger over her jawline. She holds her lids open for me and I squirt some pseudos into her eyes. I watch her blink and fake-cry, her cheeks streaked with mascara. She pulls me towards her and kisses me. Her pseudos taste like strawberries. I prefer salty--more natural, more like the real thing--but I don't say anything. I try to focus on the sensation of the tears running down my face. Feel the release. I don't feel a thing, but it's fake it till you make it, isn't it?
I look around the room. My cousin Ari is in the corner sugaring up a girl, going on about all the times he's cried before, cried for real, and how absolutely fantastic it felt. Trying too hard, as usual. It's the same at every crying party, ever since we were kids, even way back, when we could cry at every little thing. The girl doesn't look impressed, but she wipes away his fake tears anyway and smiles.
I've never done this with Hayley before. We've met at other crying parties a couple of times, but we've never shared. I know she expects me to, so I go ahead, give in.
"So when was your last time?" I ask.
"I was 12," Hayley says. "My dog had died. His name was Rusty." She closes her eyes. The underskin moist, smoky. "What children we were, back then, eh? I bawled for two days straight." She sniffles. It all sounds a bit rehearsed. "You?"
Can I tell her? "I don't remember," I lie.
She looks at me sharply. "Come on, be real."
"No, really," I say.
"Whatever," she says, "suit yourself." She glances at her watch, fishes a tissue out of her sleeve and wipes her eyes. "I should get going anyhow," she says. She pauses for a moment. Then she gives me a peck on my right temple. "This was fun, I guess. See you around?"
"Sure," I say, but she's already walking away.
The next time I see her is at Ari's wake. The fool cut his wrists and he didn't even leave a note. At first I felt betrayed when I heard the news. It was a feeling like a gut punch. We'd promised whoever went first would leave a note. He had broken the promise. But then I thought, that's childish. Maybe promises, impossible ones like that, go the way of tears. Maybe we're supposed to grow out of them.
We stand around the casket, say some words, try to comfort his mother. I wonder what it's like for her, not being able to cry at her own son's funeral. She refuses to sit down, stays on her feet the whole time, upright, her back straight, but her face is vacant, as if she's left, she's somewhere far away.
Nobody talks about why he did it. I wonder if his mother knows, Ari's reasons, my reasons, if she's known all along. I keep an eye out in case my uncle shows up, but I doubt he'll dare, after everything. Or I hope he won't. Do people wonder why he's not at his son's wake? Or have they finally figured it out? Has she? She must have. She did kick Ari's father out, after all, eventually. She paces now, back and forth, tracing the outline of the casket.
Someone says we should have a crying party afterwards, but no one feels like it. It wouldn't be proper, fake-crying for someone you not-fake cared about.
Hayley comes and stands next to me when I'm not looking. She takes my hand.
"I'm sorry," she says. "About the way I took off at the party."
"It's OK," I say. "Really."
"Wanna go somewhere?"
She doesn't wait for a reply. She leads the way and I follow. We end up making out in a little back room filled with fake flowers and oil paints. The wake sounds distant, a muffled soundtrack wafting through the thin walls. It's hot and musty and I can't breathe. I peel myself off Hayley and press my forehead against the wall.
"Hey... you okay?" she asks.
I think of the last time Ari and I cried together all those years ago in another little back room, cried for real. What children we were. "It was out of shame," I say, after a while. "The last time I cried. It doesn't make for a good party story."
She stares at me for a moment with an intensity that scares me, but then she nods and runs her fingers through my hair. "It's OK," she says. "I understand."
Does she? Ari did. Ari knew. Look what it got him.
"We should get back," I say, so we do.
There are more people gathered at the funeral parlor now, and the sun has come out. It's bright and warm. Ari would have liked it, I think. He hated dark rooms. Not that it matters any more.
We hang out with Hayley's friends, who talk about the funerals they went to when they were small, and how everyone cried their hearts out, and Hayley squeezes my hand the whole time until it's all sweaty and gross, but she's not grossed out.
I look over at Ari's casket.
The girl from the crying party is there, standing over the casket, dressed in black, like playacting a widow. She still doesn't seem impressed. She fakes a sob as she leans over Ari's body. I wonder, even if she could actually cry, would she still fake it? She presses a kiss onto Ari's lips and smiles as she walks away.
There is dust in the air. It makes everything feel old, redundant, as if this moment is already in the past. I find it hard to breathe again. I wonder if this is also something we'll grow out of, eventually, if a time will come when we will think upon this day and this whole tear drought thing and say, remember, remember when we couldn't cry? Ari had just died and we just couldn't cry. What children we were, back then.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, September 30th, 2016

Author Comments

Most of my flash fiction is written in response to various kinds of prompts. "All Those Parties We Didn't Cry At" was a response to this quote by Rumi: "You left and I cried tears of blood. It's not just that you left, but when you left, my eyes went with you. Now how will I cry?" It could have gone in a completely different direction, but I've been to some very interesting parties, apparently.

- Natalia Theodoridou
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