The Names of the Game

Submitted into Contest #88 in response to: Write a cautionary fable about someone who always lies.... view prompt

9 comments

Contemporary Fiction Speculative

Just to make things clear: I do not tell the truth. Not now, anyway. I am unable to. If you run into me somewhere, just be aware of this: I will lie to you. 

Don't take it personally, please.

I wasn’t always a liar, you know. Well, maybe you don't know, but I'm telling you lying's not my style, so you'll probably believe me. Probably. Most people are incapable of admitting they are megalomaniacs. When somebody does, they are special. You might learn something from their stories.

What I'm telling you now is that I am a liar. I don't tell the truth. Don't like to tell the truth. Can't tell the truth. If I could, I might. Tell it. Tell my story.

"Truth has its path." That's something I read recently in a book that wasn't written in English. Which means I can only use the English version and need to trust that it's accurately translated. Still, it's possible that a better version would be "Truth will find a way." These two versions do not mean the same thing, not quite. Does this mean the translator was lying when bringing over the original words into another language?

On the other hand, do we ever accuse translators of lying? I think not. We are most likely to call them incompetent, uncreative, or lazy. Translators have no reason to lie. They can color their version differently, taming it or making it flare up, for a new group of readers. They can make or break a book by their version, but they can't lie. They can just be bad at their job.

Because of these considerations, I think I'll go along with truth as having a path to follow, the first version, which does not imply that truth will out. It might be stifled, silenced, or otherwise wither away in the same air where people are judging and accusing one another. So what I am saying is that truth exists and what people do with it can be like night and day. 

There is also the fact that some people don't know if what they say or hear is true, while others refuse to believe it. Others are afraid of it. Those are the ID people, the ones who are In Denial. They are the reason I don't believe the second version, "truth will find a way." I think it can be stopped dead in its tracks, strangled, twisted, by a lot of people.

I think that is enough to get us started. I figured you should know where I'm coming from.

Now that we've been properly introduced, I can show you that truth indeed has its path and how that is relevant to my development into a liar.

The first thing I recall must be from when I was about five years old. I know I was in school, because class we little kids were told to tell a story describing something our family did together. All my friends told about suppertime, going to the lake, playing frisbee, getting a dog, something like that. I told my story at the end. It's just where I was sitting in the circle that made me last.

My story was slightly different. I told the truth, too, which was about my father beating my mother up a couple of times a week. I may have thought that was normal, so I told what I knew. Bloody noses, broken bones, tripping on the stairs. Not too much, though, not all the details, because the other children gasped and my teacher asked me to stop or maybe she changed my story to get me to talk about a pet like some of the other kids. (We didn't have any pets, thank goodness.)

I was telling my story, but nobody understood. They snickered, they wouldn't let me talk, I was confused. Later the school contacted my parents. You can figure out what happened then.

Nothing. At least for a few weeks.

The school became a place where people shot me sideways glances, but the snickering behind fingers had finally stopped. The teacher probably felt relieved, and to prove things had gotten better, she asked us again to talk about our home life, adding that she was looking to hear happy things. Everybody had more examples of fun and games at home or outdoors. The teacher finally came to me and was clearly tense. I was proud to be able to say my mother was in good health. 

Then I had to continue. Truth has its path, I guess, and insisted on coming out of my mouth, like a snake. It said, mommy is fine because now daddy is beating me instead. (Suddenly a couple of bruises on my face and arms made sense.)

You can imagine how that went over. It wasn't long before I went to live with another family, leaning my non-family to do what they want to each other. It was a whole lot better and my new parents were very devout Christians. You could not sin around them, and I learned that in truth there was safety. Like George Washington, I never told a lie and was never punished when I told the truth, even if I had done something bad. The Bible told us so.

I thought it was a good thing when somebody was caught doing something wrong and was able to admit it. That meant they could be "tried" in the eyes of God and forgiven and wouldn't need to go around with a guilty conscience eating away at them. That was my next milestone, to be the bearer of truth.

I told the truth to a professor. The truth was about a few students who were cheating on exams we took together. I saw how they were passing the answers around and thought they should own up to their dishonesty. They all failed, I was praised, and they knew who the tattle tale was. They waited for me not long after that and jumped me as I was leaving the campus library. I was lucky to make it out of the situation alive.

I was still confused, however. It seemed that nobody wanted to hear the truth, and some people would gladly beat you to a pulp if you tried to tell it.

Naturally, I stopped paying attention to the cheaters. It wasn't worth trying to shed light on their actions. However, I then discovered the nation's foreign policy and, after doing my homework, understood the real truth of the wars around the globe. People were making huge profits from killing lots of people in countries they couldn't even locate on a map. It just felt wrong, and people were trying to conceal the truth, so I joined a few protest groups and became known for being against all the wars based on greed. We named names, which were the names of a lot of corporations that never acted in ways that were beneficial to anyone but themselves.

For that sort of truths (there were lots of multinational corporations), I ended up in jail for several nights. When I started showing how I believed pipelines were a serious threat to the environment, I landed in jail again. No power to make that true story heard. Jail was a horrible place. Not something to talk about.

I thought then that telling the truth about liking men and women and I know that means being bisexual, well that would be safer. It wasn't about my parents or my classmates, it was about my personal preferences. Being transparent is good, I thought. 

I was wrong. You probably know what I'm talking about. I was still the same person, but now people knew a little more about me. A "more" some of them didn't like. They were mad and, yes, it hurt. Sticks and stones, names, it's all the same. 

I'm sorry they didn'y like my truth. I certainly wasn't hurting them.

Since the sexuality side of me, my most personal story, hadn't worked, I had to go to plan B, which was still personal but did not involve other people. This required consultation with a doctor and then a psychiatrist, and I then could tell my story about being depressed. It was possible to give causes, medications, symptoms. A story of real importance. Many people are depressed. They should be able to understand.

I did that, told my story accurately, but either people turned away because they had nothing to say, or they turned away because they were afraid I was crazy. Depression hurts, like the ad says. Not much helps, although the ad says there's a medication that works miracles. 

Now I am not a person who gives up easily, and somewhere along the way I managed to meet a wonderful person. This person was so wonderful and after a while we both assumed that we had made the decision to be faithful. It wasn't a religious thing; we just felt we owed it to each other. We might have been together about three years, but then I met somebody I found to be so interesting that I ended up cheating on my partner. Well, actually, I'm not sure I thought of it as cheating, but it probably was. You know what I mean.

Of course, knowing my experience with classmates cheating on exams, you will not be surprised that I felt the need to report myself. I therefore told my partner what I had done. It was in the hope of being allowed to atone for my 'sin' which wasn't really a sin from certain angles. That old belief learned from my foster family. Not true.

The opportunity for atonement didn't happen. Honesty might be the best policy, but sometimes it's a really, really bad idea. Needless to say, I do not have a partner any more.

It had taken me a while, but I had finally run out of options. I was truth-shy, afraid to open my mouth.

In essence, I had learned that lying was surviving. You tell the truth, you pay the price. Your brain gets confused, because when you were little you thought it was the right thing to do. Listen to Emily Dickinson, darn it:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

-----

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

Where did I go wrong? Truth is terrible. Too complicated. Everything I heard about truth was a lie. Avoid it like the plague. Avoid opinions. Don't tell it like it is. When people hear the truth, they are morally obligated to respond. That's a big burden to put on your listeners. They have to think, to judge, and nowadays thinking has become a lost art.

Tell truth slant? Emily, I don't know if I've mastered that yet, but I'm trying.

Just say something, I tell myself. If you need to, you can tilt it to the left or right. If you're as confused as I am about that advice, try dumbing things down a little more.

You can talk about the weather, a sports team, a vacation in Barbados or the Bahamas. Temperatures, scores, or the beach don't require moral assessment. There's no truth associated with things like that. A beach just is, it's a place. It is not controversial, for the most part.

That's what I believe now. Now that I've become a liar. I just say things, make most of them up. Now I also say what they want, the others who do not like thinking. We might argue about the best pizza place in town, or the best place to buy candles, or which store sells the most brands of pet food, but at least we won't get into a knock-down-drag-out fight over those topics.

I lie, but I am still alive, and am no longer black and blue, because I follow this policy.

What do I mean I lie? Sometimes I pretend I actually care about the local pizza joints, for example. That's a lie, because I don't care. If the other people mention places I've never been to, I might agree and say they're good if the others like the, or say they're bad if that's the opinion expressed. Or if somebody has just painted a room or a house with the putrid macadamia nut color nobody should ever have invented, I will adore it until the cows come home. They don't need to know I'll probably go home and be ill.

This attitude of agreeing with everything, which is a lie because I rarely agree with others as I revealed in all the examples prior to turning into a liar, saves a lot of grief. It can become a bit complex when navigating political topics, however, because I definitely make sure I lie to support whatever other people want to hear. I want them to realize I'm on their side. Always.

Now allow me to tell you a few of my favorite things to lie about.

I know how to speak nineteen languages fluently. Or maybe nine. Actually, five are a lot, but I'm able to speak them all like a native.

I can get away with this because the ones I speak are ones 90% of the people have never heard of. They have no way of testing the truth of my claim.

I have eaten iguana, guinea pig, fire ants, white slugs,komodo dragons, and many other interesting animals. They all taste like chicken, you know, so that story sounds reasonable, right?

I have twenty-five brothers and sisters, but have only met two of them. Not impossible.

I can play the zither and the harpsichord. Nobody would say that if it weren't true. The statement is hard to verify, because rarely does one find either of those instruments in a music store or somebody's house. You can't say you play the guitar or the piano, because there might be one of those around and then you get asked to play something. But with the zither, I can launch into a description of the origins, the ways it is held or strummed, and my claim is legitimized. I've considered adding the bagpipes to my repertoire, but don't want to get over-confident.

It's easy to give a list of the famous people one has met, even down to the year, place, occasion where that happened. If the year, place, and occasion are in synch, then there's no way of proving the meeting didn't take place. I mean, I've met easily a couple hundred very important persons in my life, and there's nothing to disprove that. I can describe the handshakes, the hugs, the thrill, of each encounter. I really can.

Sometimes I like to mention what I've written. In my case, there are a dozen (or two dozen, or more) novels, unpublished, stashed away in drawers and cabinets. Some are five hundred pages long. I can say exactly how long each one took to write and what the plots are. Nobody's going to go to my house to read any of them. And nobody ever asks to read an unpublished novel. Mostly people don't read much, anyway. Not any more.

By this point it must be clear that lying is not only a good thing, it's also a safe thing. It can also be a lot of fun. Why would anybody risk telling the truth and the suffer the consequences? Not moi, never again. Prevarication is a sort of armor. You risk nothing and always end up going along with the others. With practice, I've gotten really skilled at sussing out what should be said. Also, since I don't care about the truth after getting punished so often for telling it, the lack of veracity is of no concern to me. 

(No way am I going back to my devout foster parents with their useless convictions about morality and the evil of subterfuge. I will practice all the subterfuge I want.)

Until the moment when I can’t live with it. Can't live with the lie. Or all the lies. 

Unfortunately, there is no plan C.

April 10, 2021 01:26

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9 comments

Shirley Medhurst
15:29 Apr 10, 2021

I found this profoundly sad... Well written!

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Kathleen March
17:45 Apr 10, 2021

Thanks. It saddened me as I wrote it.

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Kathleen March
17:45 Apr 10, 2021

Thanks. It saddened me as I wrote it.

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Jay Stormer
13:37 Apr 10, 2021

I like the way you put a lot of truth in a story about someone who always lies.

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Kathleen March
17:47 Apr 10, 2021

Unfortunately, it is possible for things like this to happen.

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Gerald Daniels
18:27 Apr 14, 2021

Bold and unashamed, loved your story...and that's the truth.

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Chelsea Iversen
13:29 Apr 11, 2021

I liked the visuals throughout, and there was something sad and matter-of-fact about the voice. I really enjoyed it! One comment: it may work well to take out some of the exposition at the beginning and get to the action a bit sooner. I wanted to know what you were lying about and why you were a liar! :)

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Harry Rapheal
10:28 Apr 11, 2021

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Ann Tillinghast
05:43 Apr 11, 2021

Very interesting. I feel the same way about subjects that my friends are interested in but I find them to have no meaning. I haven't been able to find the words to tell my friends about how I feel about it. Please read mine and like it if you want ☺️

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