OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALiz breezes in and catches the edge of my office door as if fighting the hall tide. “Hey, you have those photos ready from yesterday’s shoot?”

From where I’m standing I can just see the photos, poking out from under my portfolio on the desk. I discreetly tuck them under without drawing her attention. “Oh… no,” I say, feigning concern. “You know, I left them at home? I feel like such an idiot!”

My coworker is no longer breezing. “Hold on,” she says. “You do know we need those photos for the review, Jeff. We need the photos, or there is no review!”

“Of course I know,” I say, holding up my hands in concession. “I just… maybe I can run home and get them.”

Liz looks at her watch. “If you can get home and back in a half-”

“Oh, wait, but I took the bus this morning,” I say. “So that’s probably out.”

There is a place in my mind where I can discriminate between truth and utter fabrication, but that place is not unlike an art gallery. Some items are closer to reality, certainly, but does that make the impressionist pieces any less valid from an artistic standpoint? There is beauty in deceit, without question. I lie just to see the resultant frustration bloom–it’s the same satisfaction a gardener feels standing ankle deep in loam, his bag of seed empty. People lie to cover their asses, to make themselves look good, or to evade punishment. But any half-rate actor could tell you that drama is only interesting when obstacles are overcome, when the stakes are high. When people are happy and satisfied, well, that can hardly be called living.

The truth is so close, yet I hold it at bay. The photos Liz is panicking about are three feet away from where she’s pacing. And my car is down in the garage, should I have need of it. Which I won’t.

This self-crafted problem puts me in mind of an altercation I participated in as a young adult. My stepfather had lost his eyeglasses, and was rummaging through the house like a truffle-obsessed pig. It was a sight to see the man so frenzied, and it was as he was peering into the freezer for his missing spectacles that the compulsion came over me to announce that I had taken them.

“Jeffrey, why would you even touch them?” he asked with a relief masked only by anger. “Where did you leave them?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I was playing with them, but I don’t remember where I put them.”

There was a moment of delicious incomprehension, when my stepfather could not even articulate his thoughts. I wish I had an album of photos featuring all the people in my life whom I had seen wearing that same expression. It’s a unique configuration in the facial musculature that is at once rapt and wholly disengaged, and it’s as beautiful as a rare flower. Maybe that’s the thing I seek.

“That’s unacceptable!” my stepfather yelled, and grabbed me by the arm. “Let’s go. Where were you?”

“I don’t remember! I think I gave them to someone!” By that point he knew I was goading him, and damn the consequences. So he dragged me to his den to administer punishment. The funniest thing about that memory is that he put on his glasses, which were sitting on the low table next to his reading chair, before spanking me. And he didn’t realize he had them on.

It demands all the impulse control I can muster to keep from telling Liz that I have the photos after all. To sabotage my own deceit, that is. Such a revelation would instantly right everything, save for my reputation, perhaps. But though a less committed practitioner of tall tales might not hesitate to reveal the ruse for what it was, I am not about to snip my false flower. Not after I’ve spent so much time cultivating it.

6 thoughts on “Deceit

  1. So continue, please! What happened next? Surely this false flower must have a further blush. Or do you also and equally enjoy letting your readers hang out to dry?

  2. Liz went into the meeting covered in sweat, and was gobsmacked when I unveiled the photos. She confronted me afterward, her cheeks scarlet, and that’s when I revealed to her that she had just passed an important test. The department boss winked at me as he passed by my door (a whole other story), and, taking it as a sign of complicity, Liz fell into a resigned contemplation. Her confidence has been flagging lately… But the story ended before this, so I didn’t include it.

  3. This makes me worry that you are evil. Also, you should write a novel. You could be an Evil Novelist, like E. Annie Proulx!

  4. There’s nothing evil in that at all. It’s instant defiance that has no real rationality but seems completely correct and justified.