AUGUSTUS YOUNG        light verse, poetry and prose

  a regular webzine of new and unpublished work
‘There’s no such thing as a poet. Only people who write poems.’

Smith's Family Fortunes


Dr Marcos

Moge and Bols

Dan the Dog

P'tit Frère

Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier

The White Twins


Fancy Footing

Nature Morte

Sleeping Dogs

Verse Journal


Tears are the sweat of the nervous system when the body is cornered. Just as its response to embarrassment is a blush. Both impulses are inadequate. The blush aspires to be a mask, but it reveals what it purports to hide. Tears stains the face rather than wash it clean.

Tears fell on thorns, as far as my mother was concerned. A ploy to gain sympathy when it wasn't deserved. Proper sadness signaled itself by silence. She was quick to notice if you fell quiet. I have not wept since I was an infant, and then rarely, it's said. There is no record that I ever cried. In family albums I'm always sleeping. Nevertheless a single tear running down the cheek is always moving. Until the moment it is wiped away. Once it becomes self-conscious it loses its innocence. It is joined by another and the floodgates open. A good cry is never just a good cry.

Dr Marcos, when cornered, reduced others to tears. At work it was said that he had 'tipped it'. The latest complaint against him was calling an Irish nurse a 'peasant'. When she slapped him in the face, the patients had to separate them. Since numerous attempts to get rid of him had failed, an offer of early retirement was proposed. As the only colleague lacking a history with Dr Marcos, I'm to take it to him.

Dr Marcos is a bachelor in his fifties. His resemblance to Omar Sharif does not include the dewdrop eyes. The sockets look empty, like a statue that had its lapis lazuli plundered. The romantic allure has faded into pinching bottoms. However, he shares with the star of Oh Heavenly Dog (1980) a requited passion for bridge. When cornered, he plays his cards close to the chest, one move ahead. His righteous smirk says, 'I'm invulnerable. I know your game'. Nothing can touch him.

Hafif, a Turkish-Jewish novelist who writes about gypsies, is a bridge player. I bump into him in Waitrose at Temple Fortune, weighing and considering the fruit as though reckoning their cosmic significance. He is throwing a party and can't decide between sharon fruit or farina bread for a pie. I'm invited, and after all the guests have departed, while picking the pomegranate seeds from our teeth, we discuss Dr Marcos's likely approach.

'In the end', Hafif says, 'it's your moves that will count. Set up the venue to make him at home and uncomfortable at the same time. After that you have to trust your instincts.' 

So on a cold, wet, late Friday afternoon, Dr Marcos and myself are sitting in his car in the rain with the engine running, night falling on a washed-out Portobello market, no sign of life, not even a rat rooting in the grain. Patience is a characteristic I pride myself on. I believe I can exhaust anyone into agreeing with me. As a last resort I'm playing the line that retirement would give him a chance to fulfill his potential at the card table. But I'm getting nowhere. My patience snaps. 'There are so many people unhappy with you, you must be unhappy with yourself', I say. Adding, as I already feel sorry for the outburst, 'At our age there is surely more to life'. But the statue beside me sees nothing, save his proud reflection in the glass.

Our breath is fogging up the car. The windscreen wipers are like double slaps on the face. I have nothing more to say. Weeping in these circumstances would seem quite natural. I'm humiliating a proud man who must know my last words are fair comment, and he has turned to stone. I bunch up my features and think of Anew McMaster in the early sixties, performing Othello to a cold audience in a Limerick cinema after the last showing. Though I didn't achieve tears (or, to my credit, introduce sound effects), I convulsed convincingly. 

'Stop, Dr Young! You must control yourself. You must be strong. We need you to be strong.' Dr Marco's manly statement should have made me want to laugh, but I was letting myself go in the opposite direction and could not stop. He put his hand on my heaving shoulder and said, 'There, there'.

I make a distinction between stress and distress. Stress is a cry for help, distress is a call to yourself. The cry releases emotions, the call keeps them in. Dr Marcos is stressed, and I'm distressed, I conclude. It isn't that I'm distressed because someone had seen my sad performance. Dr Marcos would not speak of it to others at work, because he had no friends. I feel a strange welling-up of affection towards the man I loathed a minute ago, moved by his concern that my strength is needed for the good of more than myself. I could almost cry.

I wonder if he suspected I was bluffing. After the initial convulsion, I wasn't so sure myself. The possibility would have occurred to him later. And it would have bothered him, like losing a hand. Maybe that's why he wanted out? I think not. The mercenary little ploy with tear gas had backfired. And it is me who was stressed. My lack of self-respect in blubbing restored his, and pride, in this case, came before a falling into line. He went along with the retirement plan like a soldier to a marching song.
Everybody is a closet weeper. We cry all the time, subliminally, an invisible low-grade refreshing of the film that keeps the eyes healthy. It's the production of drops that blurs the picture. So I have been faithful to my mother's conviction, in my fashion. But I regret missing the chance to secrete from an eye a single tear  that runs down the cheek to the lip, which I bite. Dr Marcos would have been my witness.