My brother Marcus has been plotting his theft at Ms. Simone’s Cleansing Fountain for two hours, too afraid to actually go for it. Rather than hurrying to get it over with—or even beginning—we cower behind a leaning, old, rusty tower. He peeks his head around the corner and looks back at me. He repeats it over-and-over again. I sit and look at him.
“Just imagine, Ben. Mother back to her old ways. She’ll forget about Sarah getting sick. Smiling, laughing, and playing with us again,” he says, with his arms and hands pointing in all directions and his voice bouncing something mad like an adolescent kangaroo.
Without much of a breath, Marcus continues explaining his justification. “Ms. Simone produces enough tears for everyone in the whole village. Think about it. That’s maybe, what, like twenty thousand gallons of tears? That woman does nothing but cry. She sits up there all day. We get to come here every year, thank her for healing us, and take one lousy vial. What is taking an extra one going to do? Nothing, I say. Absolutely nothing.”
I look at Marcus and shrug. “Nothing,” he says again. He finally stands and walks toward her; I jump to my feet and follow him.
“Ms. Simone, I thank you for your tears. My family will not forget to remember your sacrifice,” a man says to Ms. Simone. His family nods in agreement and walks away.
“Oh, your pain. Thank you,” an elderly woman then says to her.
“You suffer so we don’t have to. Thank you for your love,” says a mother.
“Sadness is too much for anyone to bear. Thank you for granting us comfort,” a young woman says.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” voices echo from limitless directions.
A calm crowd surrounds the base of the Cleansing Fountain; they stand in awe of Ms. Simone. She sits in the center and rocks and cries. Her sobs are loud. Her face glows with redness, as if blood could burst from her wrinkled pores at any second. She seems immune to the pain, though. Her wails are beautiful to hear, their depth transcending most human’s abilities to comprehend. Each person takes a single vial and fills it. Most drink what she sheds and thank her. They walk away with a reverend silence. Others quickly swallow the vial’s contents without even a glance at Ms. Simone. Even the few who do not show appreciation to her take that which she gives.
Marcus approaches the Cleansing Fountain’s waters and fills a vial. “Thank you, Ms. Simone. Your tears helped my mother before, and they will again,” he says.
I stand back and listen to Marcus. His voice is stern with sincerity. He stares at the old woman who weeps for us all.
“Marcus,” I say to my brother. “How are you going to get Mom to drink Ms. Simone’s tears? She already had her dose before—“
“Look, Ben,” Marcus says to me, cutting me off. “I will put the tears in her milk tonight at dinner. Don’t talk about it. Let me worry about this. Not you. Okay?”
“Okay,” I say. I turn from my brother and walk away.
“Ben, Mother, dinner is ready,” Marcus says from the kitchen.
I enter the room first and grab my plate. “This is yours,” Marcus says. “Take it and sit down.”
I don’t argue; instead, I take what he gives me, and I sit at the table. Mom enters and takes her food and drink in silence. We sit and eat. Mom never asks any questions at dinner. Marcus says it is because sadness suffocates her life. When Mom finishes with her food, she reaches for her milk. Marcus smiles and watches her hand moving to the glass.
Just before her hand can grasp it, I reach to give her my glass. She takes it, as I take hers and pour it down my throat.
Before Marcus has a chance to even look at me, the floors begin to shake. I look down and see the crackling, wooden panels rolling in waves. Then, a delicate humming sound approaches our house from far away. The softness is no more; what strikes is an intensity that I’ve never heard or felt before. The power shatters our windows. The walls pulsate. Mom grabs Marcus by the arm and pulls him under the table. He pauses long enough to look at her and see that Mom was never really gone from us. Her sadness was only temporary. She holds him. I stand from the table to face the kitchen’s window.
“Ben, get away from the window! Come here!” Mom shouts to me.
“Ben,” says Marcus. “Listen to Mother! Get back over here!”
I ignore them both. At the window, I peek above the hill and see golden water, flowing upward into the clouds. I can hear the crying from where I am. Yelling echoes throughout our village.
“I have to go,” I say. I open the door and run back to my brother’s crime scene.
Ms. Simone no longer cries. When I look over to her chair, I see that it doesn’t rock. Ms. Simone lay face down in her pool of tears. Surges of her tears still shoot into the sky. The crowds that earlier thanked her are no longer as kind, as no one tries to pull her body out of the Cleansing Fountain. Men and women, young and old—they all push her body out of the way so they can gather what remains as the Fountain’s water sprinkles off of the ascending waves.
“I need my fill for next year. Please!” an old woman shouts.
“What about me! I need this. I have a sick father. I can’t bear it if he dies. I beg you! Move. Please! I can’t live without the tears,” a young woman cries.
“I need them because of my boy. He died. I can’t live feeling his absence for the rest of my life,” a father says.
I watch them all. The scurry and panic overwhelms the entire village. When I look at the Fountain, I see fighting for tears. When I look over the hills, I see others running with buckets toward the Fountain. I think of Mom and Marcus. I know that they will be okay now. With the milk, I thought that I needed happiness. I was starving for it. I was wrong, though; what I need is sadness. I need it all. It’s all that can fix my village.
I walk to the center of the Cleansing Fountain and fix my chair. Once the first tear starts, I can’t stop.
Bradley Sides holds an MA in English. His fiction appears in Belle Reve Literary Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Fiction, Freedom Fiction Journal, Inwood Indiana, and Used Gravitrons. He is a staff writer for Bookkaholic. He resides in Florence, Alabama, with his wife, and he is at work on his debut novel.
–Art by Marta Bevacqua
–Art by Alphan Yýlmazmaden
–Art by Seamus Travers