The Girl Who Cried Diamonds
The baby’s mother went to nurse her and found her bassinet full of bits of glass, sparkling around her head like a halo. Panic-stricken, the mother swept up all the crystals into her cupped hand, heart pounding, wondering how the glass ended up there—had a burglar broken in? But on her way to the wastebasket she noticed how the crystals caught the light—not dull and greenish like glass but fiery and gleaming in the canary sun. There were thirty-seven of them in total, plus several very tiny ones that glittered like a smear of eye shadow on the palm of her hand. She put one of the crystals in her mouth and bit hard, wincing in pain as she cracked a molar. She spat it out and scratched it against the window pane.
There were thirty-seven of them in total, plus several very tiny ones that glittered like a smear of eye shadow on the palm of her hand.
Her baby’s tears were diamonds.
As she piled the diamonds on the kitchen table, she forgot all about the hungry baby who was screaming two rooms away. She called her husband at work, and he drove home on his lunch hour to pick up the diamonds, which he sold to a jeweler for $30,000. The jeweler offered to buy more diamonds if they had them. They went back three times with diamonds to sell. Suddenly, the car was paid off and they could afford an island vacation.
Soon, the bills were piling up again, but the baby was sleeping through the nights. Whenever she needed a change during the day, they left her crying, stewing in her own shit, her ass pruning, so they could harvest more diamonds.
By the time the girl was speaking in full sentences, the family had moved to a huge, airy Victorian mansion filled with antique furniture. Just months after they moved, though, the diamond money began to run out.
The beautiful old house had pipes that stuck out of the walls. The pipes were capped and covered in decades’ worth of slapped-on paint. The mother thought they were ugly and wanted them gone. She hired a contractor, who told her the pipes were for the old gas lights that the house had when it was first built. To remove them, he’d have to rip the wall down to the studs.
The father piped up and said it would be best to leave that old plumbing alone, but the mother wouldn’t budge. When the contractor exposed the wall, he found the bad wiring.
“Place could blow at any second,” he said. He gave the couple the name of a good electrician.
One house repair led into another until there was no money left to pay the mortgage or the silk damask fainting couches that the mother had bought on credit.
“Let’s just sell and go back to our old life,” the father said. The mother refused.
“Little girls cry,” she insisted. “We’ll get more diamonds.”
But the child didn’t cry as often anymore and her parents were getting desperate.
They tried everything they could to get her to cry—scary stories, sad movies, sending her to bed without ice cream.
The mother said, “Why don’t you just hit her? Beat her with your belt?”
But the father shook his head. He couldn’t do that. Anything but that.
So the mother tried: hit her in the face with a wooden spoon, seared the backs of her hands with an iron, whipped her backside with an orange extension cord. But the girl didn’t cry. She screamed and howled, but there were no diamonds.
The parents gave up when the girl entered kindergarten. The father stopped talking to the mother, spending all his free time with the girl, reading her stories and coloring in books. The mother slept with her Tae Bo instructor. The family moved out of the mansion and into separate apartments on opposite sides of town.
The girl stopped crying altogether, until she was fifteen, when she saw her boyfriend kissing a Swedish exchange student next to the buzzing soda machines.
She sat in her bedroom surrounded by faces torn from magazines, listening to the songs that had been theirs. The throat tightened into a hard knot. Her eyes burned. She cried in sharp gasps and long sobs, like Morse code. Gasp, sob, gasp, gasp, sob. Her eyes throbbed as if they were being kicked from behind. She felt the cold tears fall from her eyes and heard the tinkling sound they made on the bedspread. She scooped the diamonds up in her hand and held them up to the light for a better look.
As the girl cradled a large diamond between her thumb and forefinger, she heard the echo of a sound from long ago: the mother’s voice saying “Cry, damn you!” followed by the hiss of an iron.
The girl fought the urge to vomit. In the living room, the mother was watching that stupid TV show she liked, the one about the pageants for three-year-olds who posed like pinups and competed for tiaras. The girl could hear it through the wall, though it seemed to get quieter while she was crying.
Just a few days earlier, the girl was sitting with her friends at lunch, half listening as one of them ranted about what a horrible message that TV show sent.
“It’s gross,” the girl’s friend had said. “It’s”—what was the other word her friend had used?—“exploitation.”
The girl’s blood pounded and rushed to her cheeks. She bit the inside of her lip. “I’m not your diamond mine,” she said quietly to herself.
“I’m not your diamond mine,” she said quietly to herself.
Suddenly, her mother burst in and the girl immediately clenched her fist, concealing the diamonds.
“I heard you crying,” the mother said, her voice as smooth as Tupperware. “Are you all right, dear?”
“I’m fine,” she said, wiping her eyes, smudging the tiny baby diamonds that clung to her skin, leaving a trail of glitter across her face.
She felt the mother’s cold fingers around her wrist.
“Give them to me,” the mother ordered.
“No,” the girl said, “they are mine.”
“Give them to me,” the mother repeated. “You’ll just lose them. We need a new car.”
The girl tore her wrist away, turning the bone against the mother’s thumb, breaking her grip.
The girl ran, the diamonds still clenched in her fist. She ran until she found a place to sell the diamonds in exchange for a train ticket, a fake ID, and hair dye. She took the train into the big city, where she would sell her tears herself and maybe even become famous.
But when she got to the big city, she couldn’t cry. Not even when she slept in the park, or when a thief stole her purse. She shoved safety pins under her fingernails and let old men who smelled like gin touch her under her clothes. The men gave her handfuls of wrinkled $10 bills. But no diamonds.
She left the big city and retreated to a rundown village by the sea, where she lived in a cottage with a leaky porch. A cafe by the pier hired her to wait tables and serve the fishermen who came in after long days at sea. One of them had a tanned face, amber eyes, and black hair that peeked out from underneath his baseball cap. His hands were rough but warm. He came to the cafe every day and stayed until it closed for the night.
The fisherman proposed. “I’m sorry I can’t afford a bigger diamond,” he said to the girl as he opened a small velvet box.
“I don’t care about diamonds,” she said. On their wedding day, the fisherman lifted her lace veil and kissed her. She began to cry, and when they parted, she saw diamonds clinging to her new husband’s face.
That night, she told him all about the diamonds. “You’ll want to sell them, I suppose,” she said, half asking and half dreading the answer.
The fisherman shook his head. “No. I think you should keep them. People make money so they can buy diamonds. What will we buy if we sell these?”
“People make money so they can buy diamonds. What will we buy if we sell these?”
He stroked her hair. She didn’t know what to say. Didn’t he want a big house? A nice car? Didn’t he want to be able to stop working?
“What . . . what should I do with them?”
He shrugged. “Wear them in your hair. Sew them into your dresses. Ride on a parade float and toss them into the crowd.”
A few years after the wedding, the fisherman was out at sea when a storm swept through. Waves tossed his fishing boat and swallowed it. All of the men who worked on that boat were lost.
When she received the news, the girl went to the beach near the spot where her husband’s boat went down. She waded out into the cold water until it was up to her waist. She sobbed as the waves tugged at her body. Large diamonds dropped straight into the water, sinking to the ocean floor.
The girl never remarried. She cried every day for the rest of her life, and stored the diamonds in a cedar hope chest. By the time she was an old woman and died in the house, the chest was full, tight up to the lid.
Six young pallbearers, all fishermen, carried her casket out of the church. After the oyster stew was gone and all the funeral guests left, two women went to clean out the house. When they lifted the cedar chest, the bottom gave way. Diamonds spilled everywhere, burying the women’s legs up to their ankles and piling up so heavily that they could barely lift their feet.
Elizabeth Sowden is a Minneapolis native. Her work has appeared in Paper Darts, Revolver, Whole Beast Rag, Verbsap and Contrary. Her novel, Tough Love at Mystic Bay, will be published in 2020 by Running Wild Press. The novel is about the troubled teen industry.