Imagine people are always honest. Imagine it’s the law, it’s the norm, it’s what the government enforce and what they have always enforced. Nobody lies. It’s not a question, it’s a fact – nobody does. Ever. They never have. Imagine that. Imagine it as clearly as you can, and that world is so strict but so open simultaneously, when someone speaks to you, you know they’re telling the truth, it’s not even doubted. Lying is of fiction, of fantasy. Then imagine that someone decides to break this rule. Imagine – what would happen if someone were to lie in such a world?
Maude Dalowe didn’t have to imagine. Maude wanted to find out. So, she did.
Kicking back in her chair, she glared at her classmate. It’s like if someone’s reading a murder mystery – you don’t just spoil who the murderer is. It completely ruins the fun. It hardly mattered how George McVoy’s shoes had got into the toilet. Maude herself had heard him complain about how he wanted them to go missing or something so he could use it as an excuse to his mother to not wear them. They didn’t need to know who the culprit was so soon – one of the best parts of a mystery is the thinking, the wondering, the ‘maybe it’s them?’ and the ‘but I also think it could be them’. Nobody would read the book if it’s just straight in, you’re told the murderer before you’ve even found out much about the crime. It’s the waiting that does the trick, and the guessing, anticipating the moment when you’ll find out if you’re correct. As soon as someone spoils it, it almost feels pointless to continue reading. But no! Of course, Maude couldn’t blame her surely deranged classmate for ‘spoiling the book’. Fiona had had no choice but to be honest. The teacher had asked her specifically, and there was no way she was going to lie. “I saw Jamie go in with George’s shoes and come out without them, Professor.” Way to go, Fiona.
Maude stormed out of class when it ended. She had been looking forward to taking a little snoop about the men’s cubicles and having a guess at which one of her classmates had decided to do George the favour. She knew it was foolish to be angry at Fiona herself as she’d had to according to the law, according to tradition, according to everything. She should really be blaming Professor for asking in the first place, but her thoughts stewed on, undeniably quite a few screaming insults at her classmate. She wondered if she would’ve said what she knew, yet soon called herself stupid. Of course, she would’ve. That’s just what you do: you tell the truth.
She walked home, a thirty-minute walk from her high school because annoyingly, her parents couldn’t afford a car. Well, they could – but only one, and her father used it for getting to and from work. Had it not been for one little moment in the past when her father had had to be honest about the silliest incident, that ‘mark on his CV’ would’ve never counted and he would’ve been able to get a better job. Her father had been dragged into hanging out with his friends whilst they poached in a local forest, the police had been called and had briefly questioned them all. Maude’s father had been asked if he’d knew they were going to be illegally shooting those pheasants. He’d answered “Yes.” And had it not been for every workplace asking her mother why she wanted to work there and her mother having to be honest, saying “I’m only in it for the money, I’ll leave when I get bored”, her mother would be properly employed. Had it not been for the whole damned ‘Honesty Policy – let’s keep things real’, life would’ve been much better for Maude.
All in all, Maude hated the government. She’d been on the verge cracking for years, but had kept tame. She had to be honest. There must be a reason why there was no questioning, why not even the most rebellious criminal had never disobeyed, or so history books said. It hadn’t been worth her breaking, any punishment seemed likely to be worse than she could ever imagine.
Maude Dalowe had finally cracked.
Everything had finally added up. She’d reached the limit. Whatever the stats said, whatever the absurdity of no one ever standing up to the policy and what that implied – she had cracked. She wasn’t going to keep going on sickeningly like this for the rest of time: Maude was going to lie.
“Maude,” someone snarled. A table was shunted against the wall with rage. “Emery!” A sharp, fuming intake of breath, one that practically seemed to sizzle and release smoke up into the air. “Dalowe.”
Maude looked up, grinning. Glass was splayed across the kitchen floor, some down her lap, nestled in the crevices of her jeans. “Yes mother?” she replied sweetly.
“Maude Emery Dalowe,” her mother repeated, her mouth forming the words with disbelief. “Did I just see you smash that vase? Intentionally?”
“I shouldn’t think so,” Maude looked about pitifully, deliberately making a show. She then looked down at the largest fraction of the vase that remained in her hands that she held just above her legs, crossed as she sat on the cold tiled floor. “Oh,” she then exclaimed, a tingling, rebellious delight creeping up and down her veins. “Oh, I don’t think that was me. No, Mom, you didn’t see me do that.”
Her mother stared at her in more disbelief than before. Her jaw swung loosely on its hinge, as if she was trying to say something, but couldn’t seem to articulate. She let out a strangled sound.
Maude cackled, “Yes, Mom, I’ll go to my room.”
She was halfway down the corridor of their bungalow when her mother shrieked, “Maude, you lied!”
Maude sighed. “I know, Mom. We’ll just have to see what happens, won’t we?”
A week later and nothing had happened. Maude’s mother had cared for her more than ever, seemingly terrified she might drop dead at any moment. She was constantly asking Maude things – if she was feeling okay, if she needed help walking to the bathroom – and it was driving her mad. After the first day of nothing, she’d begun to lie more. It felt like stepping into a world of fantasy, a fandom every child grows up dreaming of experiencing as their reality. And the looks people gave her when they realised, she’d just broken the Honesty Policy half irritated her at their obedience yet also half amused her. She felt like she was superior. Nobody joined her in lying. Eyes trailed her with fear, with pity. They all thought she would die, or she’d be taken away by the government – Maude had heard their whispers. She persisted she’d made several by now, and she was fine, but every one of them just knitted their eyebrows pathetically and told her it was definitely coming, and if anything, she should be even more terrified she had to wait so long. Maude either scowled at them or laughed.
The time had to come, though, didn’t it? There had to be a reason nobody was known to have lied.
The time came with the drilling of the lockdown bell. Students sat up bolt-upright in alarm, a nervous chattering instantly breaking out.
“Under your desks, students,” the professor snapped at them. “Under, Jamie. Now, please. I will lock the door.”
Maude scrabbled to crawl under her desk. She heard the professor get flung aside, the crunch as he collapsed against the math wall, a trickle of blood tracing the lines of his forehead. She noticed the number of students staring at them, their eyes wide in knowing and concern. She knew what was coming before it entered. Three government officials had struck the door open.
“Is Maude Dalowe in here?”
Maude swallowed. She hadn’t mean to, but she had become exceptionally anxious.
The same official’s snarl came again, “If your name is Maude Dalowe, I ask you to stand up, now. We know she is somewhere in this school.”
The class seemed to collectively breathe into the silence.
Maude stood up, shaking.
One grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, another dragging her by her blouse collar. She yelped, flailing, but the third official grappled with her legs until they had them trapped. She writhed and twisted as much as she could – they weren’t army men, just officials, she could knock them out if she tried – or so she thought – she swung – her head met metal–
She sat, tied to a chair in a cool, white room. A strictly dressed man sat opposite, his long, pointed face the spitting image of his drool. “Maude Dalowe,” he stated. Maude noticed the three officials from before standing two either side of him, the third behind. A spark illuminated her heart when she realised one with a gauze across his eye.
She nodded, frantically straining against the binds. Her lip was cut and numb, the side of her right eye puffed, blurring half her vision.
“You have been lying?”
“Me, thir? Tho, I haben’t,” her mouth felt like wet sand. Blood daintily splattered the white of the floor at her attempt to speak. She tried to focus her eyes on him as she awaited her verdict.
The man’s lips quirked at the side. The official with the gauze whistled lowly to his colleague, “I think she’s the one.” The man opposite Maude silenced him with a finger.
Maude swallowed. She managed, “Vot do you mean, I’m ter one?”
The man opposite fixed her gaze intently. “Would you be interested in joining the government?”
She ceased her straining, staring at the man with the same disbelief her mother had shown her when she’d lied.
“You’d be perfect,” he pressed. “Lying is the government’s best quality.”
Maude gazed at him mistily, then let out a thick laugh like she was vomiting up the sand.