Friday Flash - Crocodile Tears

Friday, 26 August 2011

A single tear
Image by Lisa Humes
The steady tick of a grandfather clock filled the afternoon quiet of Madame Duval's Bazaar and Emporium. The madame inspected the wares for sale in the glass display case that served as a counter. She picked an errant ball of fluff from the surface of the travel-sized scrying mirror.

The antique bell over the door jangled and the madame looked up. A tall man in an astrakhan coat looked over his shoulder and slipped into the shop. He walked up the central aisle of the shop, casting glances either side. Madame Duval didn't think he was interested in her collection of esoterica. No, she knew a furtive expression when she saw one.

"Good afternoon, sir, and welcome to my Emporium. Do you require any help?" she asked. She fluffed up her mass of unruly red curls and straightened her green robe.

"Do you, um, are you, er, have you been busy today?" asked the man. He stopped in front of the counter, but stayed several feet away. His fear of the occult clung to him like an objectionable smell.

"I have made several small sales, yes, although as you can see, at present you are the only customer," replied the madame. She hopped up onto the stool behind the ancient brass cash register.

"Ah, I see. Capital, capital," said the man. A small section of his moustache had come away, revealing the small patch of glue beneath. Madame Duval guessed the black hair beneath the top hat was not his, either.

"May I show you anything? Do you have something particular in mind?"

"I, er, I heard that you're the person to come to for unusual items."

"Indeed, my shop is the only place to buy these items," said Madame Duval. She gestured to the display case behind the man. He looked at the beautifully illustrated tarot card decks and shuddered.

"It's not something like that I'm after. No, what I need is probably more of an...under the counter item."

"And this is not something you can purchase from the apothecary?"

The man shook his head. Madame Duval suppressed a smile.

"Sir, it is a crying shame that you cannot purchase said items from a reputable trader," she said. She placed heavy emphasis on the word 'crying'. The man's face lit up.

"Exactly! Exactly! So, er, do you have any?"

"I do indeed. Do you have anything particular in mind?"

"Whatever's the most popular will be fine."

Madame Duval slid off the stool and removed a small panel from the floor. She lifted a wooden box from the hollowed out space and placed it on the counter. Ten glass vials of different colours lay nestled on black velvet inside the box. The man's eyes roved across the bottles.

"How much is that one?" he asked. He pointed to the lavender vial.

"That one is £10, four shillings and tuppence."

"That's ridiculous! I can't afford that!" Horror and indignation burned in the man's grey eyes.

"How about the green one? It is only £4 and seven shillings."

"And the pink one?"

"£3 and two shillings, sir."

"I'll take that one." The man fumbled in his pocket for money. Madame Duval removed the small pink vial from the box and wrapped it in tissue paper. He handed her the money.

"Now, remember, sir. Falsifying tears is a grave offence. Six years in the workhouse, last time I checked. If anyone catches you, you did not get these from me," said Madame Duval. She handed him the package.

"Don't worry, no one will know. I only need them for tomorrow. It's my wife's funeral, and, well, we weren't exactly happy, but I need to look upset or her family will never let me inherit anything," said the man.

"I do not need to know particulars, sir. All you must do is put two drops in each eye approximately ten minutes before you need to cry, and no one will know they are not your tears."

"Only two drops per eye?"

"These tinctures are incredibly potent, sir. I would not wish to bore you with the technical details."

"Oh...well, thank you very much. Good day, Madame."

The man shuffled out of the shop and hurried away down the street. Madame Duval returned the box to its hiding place beneath the floor and ducked through the velvet curtain behind the counter.

Madame Duval followed the narrow corridor around a tight bend. She turned up the gaslight at the top of the crooked staircase and stepped down into the gloom.

The stairs took her into a low room with a vaulted ceiling. Light flickered in glass orbs set at intervals along the central rib. A wooden rack filled with test tubes and glass flasks took up the far wall. A stout woman worked a foot pump beside a small distillery in the centre of the room.

“How does the distillation go, Amarine?” asked the madame.

“Well, it goes very well. I shall have another bottle of our finest Blue ready by the time you close this evening,” replied the woman.

“Good, good. I shall also need another bottle of Pink.”

“Consider it done, Madame.”

Madame Duval nodded and headed back up the staircase to the Emporium. Amarine turned a dial on the distillery control panel and left her seat. She waddled along the room to an iron door set into the far wall. It swung open with a protesting squeal. Pale light fell into a narrow chamber, dancing across rusty bars and scared faces. Amarine reached for the padlock of the first cage.

“Come on, Number Eight. Your turn to cry.”

* * *

A note on money
I used a currency converter to work out the money. £3 and two shillings would be worth approximately £150. £4 and seven shillings would be £210, and  £10 and four shillings would be approximately £493.


Carrie Clevenger said...

Dismal from your mind Icy! I do like the concept, made me remember the movie Children of the Lost City...

Wookies Girl said...

Nice post Icy. I love how you leave it at the end. Perfect anticipation.

Helen said...

Oh those poor people! I wondered for a short moment what it was he was wanting to purchase, you surprised me there LOL. I really liked the concept of the idea of purchasing false tears and that this in itself, was illegal. But oh those poor people locked up. I'm not even going to ask how they made them cry. ^__^

Jason Coggins said...

I could feel the rust and steam grinding through this one. Is it me or is Vertigo City getting a bit Occult on us in recent installments? This is a good thing, methinks.

Tony Noland said...

Ah, a tear farm. Pity the poor inmates...

FARfetched said...

Wow, that's inventive! I'd have never thought of a scenario where false tears were illegal and people would like to purchase them. I wonder why a little onion juice or hot pepper wouldn't do the trick though.

It's a sad situation (yes I went there) though, where caged children cry real tears so others can produce false ones.

120 Socks said...

I liked a lot about this story, and it certainly held me up until the end. I especially enjoyed how the descriptions came throughout, opening my eyes to the shop/madame and all its wonder.

Anthony Deaver said...

I concur with everyone else, excellent story. However... falsifying tears gets you six years?! I want to know more about this world.

John Pender said...

False tears is illegal? What other false emotions are illegal in this world? I know a lot of women who'd be in big trouble.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Carrie - What can I say? My mind is a weird place...

WG - Glad you liked it.

Helen - I don't even know where I got the idea from. My mind comes up with weird stuff!

Jason - You can't keep the occult out forever...

Tony - Unless they revolt...

FAR - Maybe they've never thought of onions.

120 - I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Anthony - Six years of their punishments would be far worse than ours!

John - I don't know...I haven't decided yet!

pegjet said...

The atmosphere and details sell this one. Such an imaginative concept.

Steve Green said...

Oh Icy, I really like the concept, but I can't help but think that buying an onion might have saved him a bob or two. :)

Tim VanSant Writes said...

There's a weird part of my brain that hears a parent saying, "I'll give you something to cry about!"

Cool premise to this. I like it.

John Wiswell said...

If I get praised for use of detail in my work this week, then you deserve the same. The specifics, like the ball of fluff early on, bring this piece to tangibility.

Aidan Fritz said...

The details of the shop are nice and provide a good counterpoint to the sweatshop (tearshop?) going on in the back room. I like how your dialogue captures a sense of what I'd expect the world to sound like.

Anonymous said...

I know I shouldn't, but I really like Madame and Amarine. Illicit trade in tears is a great idea, but then I'd expect no less from you Icy. Ideas are (one of) your strengths. I missed your writing during my three week absence.

Stephen said...

Hi there Icy -- I like the concept, imagining there must be a reason that real tears are detectable and sometimes required in this world. Neat shop, and liked the woman working the laboratory downstairs. Nice brushing of period feel (just the right amount to keep it readable). St.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant premise and perfect execution. Excellent story!

Stephen said...

It's funny (and a bit sad) that he needed to have some tears for his dead wife because he couldn't shed any of his own. It makes me wonder why he needed to put up the front. What was in it for him? Oh well, something so extraordinary deserves a premium price. A good story, Icy.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Peg - Thank you!

Steve - Yeah, a lot of people seem to be picking that particular hole in the story.

Tim - Thanks.

John - The Devil is in the details. *nods*

Aidan - Writing dialogue has become my favourite thing to do.

Justin - Aw, I missed you too!

Stephen - I want an underground lab too, especially one full of steampunk test tubes.

Apple - Thanks!

Stephen - Thanks.

Chuck Allen said...

Great story, Icy. I am always impressed with your ability to draw me into the world you've created while still not putting too much description.

Eric J. Krause said...

Excellent story! The need for an underground market for false tears intrigued me, too. Quite a lot of cool stuff going on in this one!

Adam B said...

I love how you keep revealing the depths and quirks of Vertigo City. The premise is a fascinating one. Brilliant.
Adam B @revhappiness

Anonymous said...

WOW brilliant love this piece Icy - is there going to be a follow on? Fantastic imagery and descriptions

Jen Brubacher said...

Oh, this is wonderful. Creepy and fascinating. This is one of my favourites of yours, I think.

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