The Girl Who Couldn’t Cry
She shed glitter the way people shed tears, and she shed them for the same reason too. People thought she never cried. Her face was an exquisite slab of polished marble, fair and rouged. But if ever there was a way to fathom what she was feeling, it was by watching for the trail of gold dust she left behind. No one knew it but me and her mother, who used to dust her skin every night when she settled in the cushy, worn ottoman with a book she wanted her mother to read to her. I would lean out the window and listen in. It was better than focusing on the conversation going on at home. The stories were usually about girls with secret identities and abilities – girls who could fly, who turned into swans at night, girls who could speak the language of flowers and stars – and she listened to them with rapt, keen attention, as though she could figure out the answer to her condition in them. I should have told her that there wasn’t an answer to how special she was. But I wasn’t any much older than her then and didn’t know how to put that into words. By the time she got older, she had stopped believing in fairy tales and their happy endings, and there was nothing more I could say.
She bled glitter the way people bled pain, and she bled them for the same reason too. I watched her roll up her jeans and kick off her shoes by the river the day after her mother’s funeral. She stretched out her legs on the grass, the exposed parts of her skin glistening as they caught the late afternoon sunlight. All the while, her face was as smooth as porcelain and just as brittle, her eyes dry as baked earth and just as wanting. She didn’t respond when I joined her by the river, just sat watching the stream of water cresting over the ridges in the riverbed. I took her hand, feeling the specks tickling my palm. There was a world of words in that inch of space between us, and I imagined them floating like dust motes, illuminated by the light she gave off. A while later, she leaned her head against my shoulder. “She said she was glad the last thing she saw was my light.” She lifted her head and fixed her wide, heavy gaze on me. “Do you think she believed me when I said I was too?” I drew a hand across her cheek, collecting her tears on my fingertips, if they could fall. “I think she’ll only believe it when she sees it.”
She walked in stardust the way no one else did, and it was my aim to make her see it as the wonder that it was. No amount of pricking herself with a needle or watching the sappiest tear-jerkers, letting her heart get broken or trusting in the wrong person could evoke any tears. I would hold her hand and stretch out my legs next to her by the river, watching silently as the water washed away the dust on her feet. The words finally tumbled out one day, hard as bricks, after I noticed a new bruise the colour of midnight on her pallid skin. “Stop it. Just stop punishing yourself, will you? When are you going to see that there is more than one way to hurt? Why do you keep putting yourself through all this pain just to be like everyone else?” Anger was an emotion reserved for normal people – people who could feel pain, who could cry and laugh and feel the burn of emotions. But there were some who couldn’t cry, and some who could not feel rage. She wasn’t the only one surprised at my outburst. She turned and walked away – quickly at first, before slowing to the pace of memories – oblivious to my calls. When I caught up to her, the apology sitting on my lips, she stopped and looked up at me. In her eyes was a telltale glimmer. She blinked, freeing a tear. I caught it with my thumb, then rubbed it away. We didn’t know if this was a fluke – her tears and my anger – or if it would ever happen again. But it was enough for us then, enough for her to feel the release of hurt and enough for me to feel the fire in my chest. She didn’t completely believe it yet that we could feel and cry like everyone else, but maybe she would when she saw it: the light on her skin that shone like tears.