The Crying Girl
By Len Kuntz
She’s thinking of age eight, of beetles that her brothers shoved down her skirt, them crawling around in her underwear like sticky fingers, how her brothers could coax her into doing the cruelest things. She’s thinking of a boy named Ben whom she loved even though he picked his scabs and liked to light matches on his upper teeth. She’s thinking of Popeye, her pet Collie that licked salt from her hands and mewled whenever she left for school.
The music is techno and the bass throbs through the stage-lit floor like the swollen heart of a whale, but when she wills it away, it goes.
She’s not thinking about the crowd or cameras, the men with their notepads and laptops. She’s not thinking about any particular color or pattern or fabric. Her gait is of no concern. She doesn’t even see Gisele and Gisele certainly doesn’t acknowledge her as their hips nearly touch in passing.
No, she’s thinking of the pipes in her apartment, how they moan arthritically in the middle of the night, reminding her that she’s alone in a loft in a city that doesn’t need her. She’s thinking nothing matters, really. She’s thinking of Minot, North Dakota, busted rope of a tire swing, air smelling like cattle hide and manure, about her Gran, the only person who actually respected her, who died when a train hit her car in the middle of the night. She’s wondering why her Gran would have been out in the middle of the night, even though she knows why--that men can be unkind, and wise women flee.
She’s not thinking about paychecks or perfume or mascara or butterfly-braided hair. She’s got her period but she’s not thinking about that. She has her veins pumped with a different kind of horse than the ones her Dad owned on the farm, yet she’s not thinking about that or him.
She’s thinking about the first time a boy slapped her for something she didn’t deserve. The bruise looked like a purple island and so she knick-named it Galapagos and when the imprint started to fade she hit herself in the same place but the island was never the same, nor was she.
She’s thinking and thinking and thinking, and it’s astonishing that she’s not running out of things to think.
The lights are a hot itchy vest, even though the gown she’s wearing is gossamer. She’s not thinking about being braless or how Eduardo had told her to click-pivot-click, “The clothes have to be the hero.” She’s thinking, instead, there are no more heroes and the ones who pretend to be are false prophets with razor wire fingers.
For just a moment she lets herself see how the crowd has taken to pointing. In the front row the woman with the big moon sunglasses and Dutch boy haircut whispers something to Gwyneth Paltrow who looks up and mouths, “What’s wrong with her?”
What’s wrong is she’s no longer a model but a little girl again, sitting by a riverbed staring over a hill, afraid of what’s on the other side. She’s thinking of that one day, and how the others dominoed, and it’s these latest thoughts that have her heaving and bawling like a dolt instead of the loping colt she’s paid to be. The tears are globes of mercury, streaking down her cheeks and neck, pooling in her cavernous clavicles. The tears are so hot they might as well be blood. Blood and tears, but no sweat, because women glow instead.
People toss tissues. Someone throws a hankie on the runway and it clings to the buckle of her black stiletto and she stumbles which makes her sob more, and then the crowd goes really nuts and she realizes that’s what they want, what they crave--her tears and anguish--and so she becomes famous for that. “The Crying Girl,” they call her. Every designer wants The Crying Girl.
And it’s not hard to do, cry every time she’s on the stage. There are a million things that will get her weeping. A million. I bet you can think of at least one yourself.