The Tear Market
Pain could buy anything at the Tear Market.
Vials of emotion—whether sadness or anger—were often used to purchase stolen silk and rare spices. The market’s merchants coveted decanters of tears wrought from small injuries, and they traded poison-dipped daggers and phoenix-fletched arrows for a flask.
Most desired, though, were tears derived from time.
Death, permanent mutilation, depression...they created invaluable tears. Women would sell their bodies and mercenaries would offer their services for the physical form of a diseased man's misery, for a mourning widow’s anguish, or for even a smallest drop of depression.
Age had rendered sleep ineffective for Harold. Most nights, he stayed up well past
midnight with a cup of tea, his cat, and one of his wife’s favorite books, but tonight was different.
Tonight, he was out of denture ointment.
Cursing his stiff back, Harold stuffed his feet into his worn slippers and drew a pink
bathrobe about his shoulders, bracing against the usual London fog that had settled outside his flat. Cane in hand and his mouth void of any teeth (or any dentures), he locked his front door behind him and made his way to Boots. Despite the mist and the stuttering streetlamps, and even with the cataract that had turned his left eye milky, Harold didn’t falter in the dark. His cane steadily rapped against cobblestone, for he knew the way by heart.
And for that very reason—the fog, the cataract, the confidence—Harold didn’t notice when the mundane streets of London began to morph, to uncannily shift. Brick and stone buildings became tents layered in dusky tones of amethyst and emerald, and the streetlamps melted away, leaving the abnormally bright moon and stars to illuminate an expanse plated in sadness and gold.
Harold only halted his merry humming when a tall wrought-iron fence rose before him, encasing the dim place that had overtaken London. Atop the spires, steel wreathed in gold curled to spell, The Tear Market.
Harold couldn’t read the words without his glasses and, thinking he took a wrong turn, he began to backtrack, mumbling something about the circus.
“Are you sure you want to leave, Harold?” A silky voice whispered, sending a tingling
caress down his spine. He stopped, thinking perhaps his hearing had finally given in, too. “A lifetime of pain comes in handy here.”
Gripping his cane, Harold turned, facing a woman who hadn’t been there a moment prior, who was adorned in a black dress. While her posture was bent, the rest of her was refined, like her clear, porcelain skin and gleaming white teeth.
Harold looked behind him, unsure if she was addressing him. “Are you talking to me?”
“Yes. Check your pocket.” The stranger nodded to his pink bathrobe. As she spoke,
Harold’s left side grew heavier, and with shaking hands, he dug into the soft sherpa fleece, then flinched when his fingers touched something smooth and cold.
“What are these?” he asked, tentatively withdrawing two vials of clear liquid: one nearly as large as his hand and the other smaller than his pinky toe. He blushed a bit when his lisp sounded, and he was careful to hide his toothlessness.
The woman raised her chin as she admired the glass, her rounded spine slowly
straightening with a few pops, her voice proud and strong. “They are all of the tears you’ve ever cried.”
Harold watched the woman for a moment, blinking, wondering if perhaps this was some sort of delusion common for people his age to experience. Then, he laughed, his voice scratchy. “Well, where did these come from?”
“You created them, and time stored them. They’re currency, only usable at the Tear
Market.” Harold eyed his vials suspiciously as she explained, “Only those who have produced a plentiful amount of tears can enter, for something should come from a life of extreme pain. Use your tears wisely.”
Harold looked up from the vials when the sound of creaking disturbed the otherwise
The woman was gone, and the gates of the Tear Market were open.
The old man and his pink robe stood out starkly in the Market. The merchants and
patrons were shrouded in black cloaks, their faces hidden within folds, behind silver masks. Harold’s clinking cane disturbed the tense silence, drawing many gazes.
He warily passed shelves filled with poison and potions, jars of liquid gold, necklaces of platinum, and maps leading to buried treasure, but none caught his gaze quite like the stand in the back, where a mass of people were crowded around fireworks erupting in a myriad of shapes: dolphins swimming around shoals of fish; butterflies fluttering up to the stars; and tigers prowling in sparks of amber. Among the dancing colors were pipes, each able to conjure clouds molded like ships and dragons.
Using his cane to push through people, Harold flashed his large vial of tears, hoping the woman at the gates hadn’t lied about being able to exchange them for goods—or in this case, a cigar. His wife hadn’t let him smoke since the seventies, and the smell of this tobacco was more rich than anything he had tasted: deep and robust and spiced. If this was simply a delusion or dream, then what was the harm?
“A cigar, please.” Harold nodded to one wrapped in turquoise paper, his wife's favorite color. If this was a dream as he thought it was, then no harm would be done with one smoke.
“You have more tears than I’ve seen at this market.” The clerk nodded to his large glass flask, eyes shadowed. “Life hasn’t been kind to you, has it?”
Harold uncorked the larger vial of tears, tucking the smaller one in his pink robe. After
the clerk used a plastic syringe to extract a few droplets, he handed Harold a cigar, then lit it with a flourish.
“Quite the contrary,” Harold began, exhaling a puff of orange-tinted smoke. The tobacco cloud separated magically into a dozen stars, these shining nearly as brightly as the ones above. “I’ve seen and done many things in my time.”
“Each tear has a story.” The clerk helped another customer as he nodded to Harold’s
large bottle. “And each story is one of misery and anguish when it comes to the Tear Market.”
Harold smiled, careful to keep his lips closed and hide his toothless gums. “Not my
“No?” The clerk raised a brow.
“No.” Another drag from the cigar. This time, the smoke became three Skyhawk fighter jets releasing rounds of sparks like ammunition. “One of the hardest times of my life was when I was stationed in Vietnam.”
“Let me guess,” a thin costumer beside Harold spoke up, voice warbled and malicious. “You saw many die? Killed some, even?”
Harold shook his head. “It was because I was separated from my family.” He looked
down to his tear-filled vial, wondering which droplet belonged with which memory. “I actually cried the hardest when the war ended and I was reunited with my fiance.”
Harold took another heady drag of the cigar, coughing a bit when the smoke morphed into golden, ringing church-bells. “My best man teased me relentlessly for crying at my wedding, but my wife was so beautiful that day. I suppose I’ve always been soft.” His smile grew, and he didn’t help when his toothless gums came into view. “I cried when my children were born, when they went to college, when I walked my daughter down the aisle...”
The people around him had gone quiet, each watching Harold’s large vial with wide eyes.
He doubted his tears were like theirs.
The next cloud of cigar smoke coiled into a toy train that circled around the gathering
crowd. “I cried when meeting my grandson for the first time, and I cried when my brother got hit by a train, but especially so when they told me he had miraculously survived.” Harold laughed loudly when the cigar smoke became a smoggy version of a calico prancing about. “Shucks, I cried when my wife retired and bought that stupid cat. All of these tears,” he nodded to the vial, “were derived from happiness, relief, love...and not pain.”
Delighted, he drew another puff, enthusiastically awaiting what the smoke would create—which wonderful memory would amass from the tobacco.
This time, the face of a beautiful, young woman arose from the ashes. With the visage of high, sweeping brows, dark eyes, and long, curling hair, Harold inhaled sharply, for even age hadn’t dulled the memory of this woman.
The thought of the name was like a thunderclap. Harold wrinkled hands started to shake, and he dropped his cigar and the flask of his joyful tears.
He couldn’t move, fixated on the sight of the woman as the mass of people around him paused, watching the fallen bottle.
Then, they lunged forward, fighting each other for Harold’s valuable vial. He was pushed back by the frenzied crowd, his cane barely catching him as it tore through the grass.
The riot’s movements disturbed the smoke, and the woman disappeared, then the flask of Harold’s tears were swept up from the ground, taken by one of the thieves. The patrons left the stand quickly, running after a thin woman who had grabbed Harold’s bottle, each hoping to snag some of the bountiful currency.
Clearing his throat, the clerk, now alone with Harold, inquired, “That was your wife, I
Harold nodded, eyes wide as he recalled the mirage the tobacco smoke had created.
“Josephine was beautiful, wasn’t she?”
“More than anyone I have ever seen.”
Harold sighed, reaching into his pink robe and pulling out his much smaller vial of tears. “Is this enough for another cigar?”
The clerk smiled, a sad, rueful thing, “Perhaps, but now I want to hear the story behind them.”
Harold swallowed thickly. “My wife died a year ago,” a surrendering breath, “and these are what I shed when I kissed her goodbye.”
“Hmm.” The clerk eyed the vial, then shook his head. “They’re not enough.”
“I thought pain could buy you anything here.”
“I’ve acquired a new taste. One for happiness. Those aren’t happy, are they?”
Harold shook his head.
The clerk smiled, then said, “But that,” he pointed to Harold’s eyes, to one small tear
streaking down the old man’s face, “looks like a tear shed for a life well lived.”
Madison Greenly studies Creative Writing at the University of Colorado-Boulder, where she has been published in a few local journals. Her stories are primarily influenced by her personal adventures, and her favorite escapades include working at Walt Disney World; hiking at night in the beauty of Boulder’s Flatirons, and traveling to Santorini and Rome. Other than reading and writing, she enjoys skiing, painting, and hanging out with her pet lobster.