The Weeping Man, Paris
Tuesday afternoon she’d passed a man lying face down on the sidewalk in front of the Hermes store, clean powder-blue sweat pants, matching sweatshirt unstained.
The man was huge: at least three hundred pounds. It was late fall, the weather oddly warm, and before she saw the man she’d exulted at the clouds— saffron-tinged in late sun, quickly moving south, not a threat of rain in them, in their shapes the fantastic figures children conjure.
The man was weeping inconsolably, his forehead on the pavement at the base of the marble Hermes steps, his right hand pounding the pavement, his body wracked in the sobbing, one hip raised, the word Mamman cried over and over, but this man was no infant—he must have been fifty.
That night she slept poorly, dreamed of him, and Wednesday, unable to rest, exhausted, she felt debilitated. She’d hurried past that scene the day before, stopping only briefly—mere seconds—but in her dream, pausing beside her, stood a kind man, his eyes grieving for the weeping figure on the sidewalk, and, like her, frozen—unable to act.
Again Wednesday night she dreamed the scene, almost unchanged, then Thursday, and for a third night in a row she could find no relief, the sight of the man’s back heaving and heaving, his voice, the man beside her in her dream looking into her eyes, wordless, helpless.
She knew that if her husband were alive he’d say Stop it. Decide to stop it before you go to sleep and just stop it. You have the power to do that. But her husband’s heart had betrayed him, attacked him, and by Saturday she came to wonder who really she was dreaming of—she reviled the weeping man, he disgusted her with his endless Mammans, his pitiful fat-fisted pounding,
Get up, you bastard, she screamed in her sleep, Get up.
Afternoon party in a downtown bar to celebrate the publication of a literary magazine, most of the attendees younger than he, many cocktails, much shrieking, fragments of sentences blending, Subaru not a Honda I said prestigious magazine he came on to me, Republican Neruda to the doctor on Amazon…
He extricated himself from the meaningless din, drove home to his country place, took a walk in the dark to clear his head, returned, went to the bathroom, stepped to the sink & noticed a chrysalis hanging from his old shaving mirror in the corner, next to the window they always left slightly open. The chrysalis was pale blue, hanging from its almost-invisible string. He stared at it as if it were from another world, then realized that slowly over a period of months he’d been sinking into despondency.
What’s the metaphor here, he wondered. I shave. Transform myself. Emerge new. He pulled the mirror toward him, looked into it, felt somehow new—and though these last months he’d refused to impute meaning to anything, he became, if temporarily, a believer at least in the “healing power of nature,” and said swallowtail chrysalis! out loud, thought about the contortions of swallowing a tail, and laughed—an immoderate laugh, he thought, too wild for such a silly image.
His wife came home & said Tomorrow’s your day, and he asked her what she meant, and she said It’s your Name Day, tomorrow is André Day, and all the Andrés in Europe celebrate it—
But we’re not in Europe, he said.
But you’re still André, she said, and when she left the room he said his name again and again. André. André.
He told the woman about a suicide attempt. Not his, though—he was boastful of what he called his “cowardice” in that regard, believed that if he was opposed to the death penalty that ought to include himself as well. The attempt was by his best friend in college who was a terrible swimmer, tried to drown himself, jumped from a clump of jagged rocks at Gilbert Point one winter and was swept away, but this swept away wasn’t what he’d wanted—within minutes the waves delivered him to a beach & he cried & drew himself up & again climbed the rocks, his feet bloodied, dove then toward the other side of the point, but again was delivered to a different beach, but this time he laughed & could not stop laughing, the first time he’d laughed in a year, & he walked back to the cove & gathered up his clothes and went home.
I wonder how many of us are out here like that, the woman said.
What do you mean? the man asked.
Well I think I know what you mean, he said, but I won’t push it. And the distance between the thought of the thing and the thing itself isn’t really far, is it? I’m glad he lived, for sure, but I didn’t at all feel pity for him.
Well, I can tell you’re not in The Club, the woman answered.
Something in her response angered him. He should have let it go at that.
The Club? he said. And its officers? President of the Vortex of Bitterness? Vice-President of Complaints Inside a Shallow Life? And they all wear the scratchy scapulars in reverence for Our Lady of Bloodletting’s Inescapable Imminence, don’t they…
You live in a sort of prison, don’t you, she said.
For information about Gerald Fleming, his biography and writing, see issue N. 1 of The Dreaming Machine https://www.thedreamingmachine.com/worlds-in-3-flashes-short-stories-by-gerald-j-fleming/
Featured image: Photo by Aritra Sanyal.