Author’s Note: I spend a great deal of my writing wondering about and exploring masculinity; here, I wanted to look at the idea that “men don’t cry” and really twist that around to ask questions about the value of emoting. As a queer writer, I’m also always trying to examine what it’s like to feel islanded outside of the world of heteronormativity, and when those two things came together, this story emerged.
EVERY DAY AT RECESS, SOMEONE MADE LARRY HELVIG CRY. We kept eyedroppers in our pencil cases, extracting them right before the bell rang if it was our turn to suck tears from the corners of his eyes or draw them up off his cheeks. Larry’s tears were magic. A single drop squeezed onto a worksheet made the answers appear, written in perfect black graphite. Spiking our parents’ wineglasses ceased their fighting. A tiny smear rubbed into the palms transformed a klutz into an expert free throw shooter or pitcher. Daubing Larry’s tears on a scrape dissipated the pain like a powerful analgesic. Larry, we all knew, would one day change the world. His tears would cure cancer, eradicate AIDS, probably create world peace. But while we had him, we would use his tears to pass science and get better at playing the oboe.
Making Larry cry wasn’t difficult. Some people, especially the girls, tickled him, the ribs on his left side were particularly tender. Others smuggled Tabasco sauce in their lunch boxes and dabbed it on his sensitive tongue. Naomi Marcus had a knack for singing sad songs, and these made Larry bawl profusely; some of us subcontracted her to serenade him, for which we promised her a portion of the take. Others, like Willy Ziegfeld, used pain, pressing into the tender spot of Larry’s shoulder or giving him rabbit punches to the sternum.
The great tragedy was that the only person his tears couldn’t help was Larry himself. For him, they were just saline and salt. They could give the rest of us exactly what we wanted but left him only hiccupping and red eyed. Larry was small, pale—rumor was he suffered scoliosis—and we all knew he was madly in love with Peter Frost, a tenth grader with bronze calves who played soccer and swam for a club team. We once sent Peter’s younger sister home with a vial of Larry’s tears, a massive dose that she slipped into one of Peter’s protein shakes. They made him run faster but did nothing to make him notice Larry.
But we noticed Larry. We noticed that he smelled like stargazers and sweet alyssum, which his mother grew in a tiny greenhouse in their backyard. We noticed how hollowed out he looked after weekends with his father, who had left his mom for his secretary. We noticed everything but that which we should have, and when he didn’t show up for school on the last day of eighth grade, it took awhile for us to realize something was deeply wrong. When we learned what Larry had done to his eyes, we cried. But we sobbed not for what the world had lost or for Larry’s hungering pain but for what had slipped away, all our hopes and dreams leaking out of our eyes in tiny, hollow twinkles. We tried using our own tears, but all they did was sting, soaking our mouths in our own bitter taste.
Joe Baumann’s fiction and essays have appeared in Phantom Drift, Passages North, Emerson Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Iron Horse Literary Review, Electric Literature, Electric Spec, On Spec, Barrelhouse, Zone 3, and many others. He is the author of Ivory Children, published in 2013 by Red Bird Chapbooks. He possesses a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He was a 2019 Lambda Literary Fellow in Fiction. His debut short story collection, Sing With Me at the Edge of Paradise, was the inaugural winner of the Iron Horse/Texas Tech University Press First Book Award, and his second story collection, The Plagues, will be released by Cornerstone Press in 2023. His debut novel, I Know You’re Out There Somewhere, is forthcoming from Deep Hearts YA. Website: joebaumann.wordpress.com.
Delmarva Review publishes evocative new fiction, nonfiction, and poetry selected annually from thousands of submissions locally and nationally. Designed to encourage outstanding writing, it is an independent, nonprofit literary publication. Financial support comes from tax-deductible contributions, sales, and a grant from the Talbot Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Website: DelmarvaReview.org.