His mother said a good cry grew in your gut—a bad cry, in your brain. She’d always fail to calm him by insisting there was a difference. Don’t worry, Lovey, this is a good one. Good cries held a glass of wine, a book face down across the thigh. A good cry wore proper shoes: fuzzy socks with rubber floor grips. A good cry involved the dog, regal, sitting tall beside her, an ivory thing she reached for, to steady herself, a cane.
Bad cries were things she hid. They happened in the Pontiac. Driver’s seat. 9:45 pm. Just home from work. Headlights off. Seatbelt still buckled. He’d watch her from the window beside his pillow. Down there. Where the only light was the winking red eye of the Marlboro. How it shook in her hand. Grand-Am filling with smoke. When she finally crept inside, he was as bad at feigning sleep as she was at pretending to believe him.
Tonight—his stomach growling, blood pulsing in both temples—he wants to call her. Not to apologize, not to answer the question of why he never calls, but to ask for a diagnosis. Mom, listen. Tell me which this is.
Tyler Barton is a cofounder of Fear No Lit, home of the Submerging Writer Fellowship. His work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. He works at a nature museum and writes in Lancaster, PA, which some people know as Amish Country. Find him at @goftyler and tsbarton.com