This story is a short-short, as opposed to flash fiction. Comments are welcome, but suggestions on what I can do to improve the work are more useful than head pats. So, what works/doesn't work for you? Anything you don't understand, or that feels like it's left out? Anything that feels inauthentic? (Okay, this is a little scary -- I feel like I'm calling, "Here, troll, heeere, trolly, trolly, trolly.")
The first time he told the lie was in the back seat of a 1985 Grand Am. At eleven o’clock on a Saturday night, parked next to the baseball diamond by the middle school, he said, “I just want to experience this one time before I die.” The back windows were so fogged that the streetlamp overhead was a hazy glow. His left hand was inside her sweater, his right on the button of her jeans.
She gripped his wrist. “No, I can’t.”
“I wouldn’t ask you,” he said, “but I don’t have long to live.” He only wanted her to believe him long enough to drop her panties. He didn’t really expect her to buy it, but when he got to third base, it seemed like something worth hanging on to.
A few weeks later, in the hallway outside the office of the Wilson High Gazette, when she tried to break up with him, he embroidered a bit. “It’s a rare form of bone cancer – I only have a few years.” He wasn’t sure what the symptoms of bone cancer were, but it sounded like a disease that wouldn’t show on the surface. She looked at him through narrowed eyes.
“One of the Kennedys just had his leg amputated for that,” she said, staring at his calves.
“Mine is in my rib cage. There’s nothing they can amputate.” He put a hand to his side and stifled a groan. That night he received his first hand job.
Every time she raised a question, it raised the stakes. She was supposed to be one of the smartest girls in their class, but her gullibility amazed him. It didn’t seem to matter what he told her, as long as he answered immediately, and with authority. He told her the cancer had been discovered by an x-ray when he broke his ribs playing freshman football (her first orgasm). That was why he didn’t go out for varsity (his first blow job). An afternoon of research at the library yielded the term “multiple myeloma.” Score! After that, she stopped hounding him for details.
In the fall she went away to college. The Grand Am was on its last hubcap, but he drove over every weekend, and each day in between he talked to her on the phone. Any guy she spoke to was a threat, any professor she admired put him at risk; he had to add a lot to keep her interest. His bones were turning into Swiss cheese, he told her. The typical progression of the disease was 10 to 12 years; the doctor estimated that he’d already had it from 4 to 6. She was an English major, but she could do the math. It was a relief when, at the end of her first semester, she told him she was pregnant.
They got married in the next state, where they didn’t need their parents’ permission. They got jobs, an apartment. Ashley was born. They got better jobs and bought a house. They spent a lot of time with his family, less with hers, who always eyed him like he’d stolen something from them.
He felt like a spider trapped in his own web.
Sometimes she’d ask how he was doing.
“Stable,” he’d say. “I’m still in remission, thank God.” Jesus Christ, he’d think to himself, was this woman really our valedictorian?
They’d been married eight years when he realized she was having an affair. She became more and more detached. Every day he expected her to announce that she was leaving, and when she didn’t, it gave him hope. He decided to dust the story off one more time.
“I saw the doctor last week,” he said, as they unloaded groceries.
She placed a box of Rice-a-Roni on the shelf. “Oh?”
He plowed ahead. “I’m out of remission,” he said. “He said it’s only a couple of years now.”
She turned to look at him.
“Really?” she said. “I spoke to the nurse on Monday. She said you haven’t been in since you sprained your elbow three years ago.”
The solid slab beneath his feet seemed to melt, until it felt like his ankles were encased in concrete. The fluorescent light over the kitchen sink backlit her hair with a halo. She grabbed two cans of green beans off the counter as though she wanted to hurl them at him like low-sodium thunderbolts.
“Why did you lie to me?”
He tried to think of something to say. He could tell her she’d been the most beautiful, most fascinating girl he’d ever seen. He could tell her he’d known she was way out of his league, and the only way he’d had a chance was to somehow be more interesting than the other guys in the school. He could tell her the life, the family, they’d built had gone beyond his wildest dreams, and he’d been willing to do anything to keep it together. He could point out that if he’d gone out of bounds by lying, then she’d been equally out of bounds in believing what was obviously bullshit. In the end, all he was left with was the truth that had first set him on this path.
“I just wanted to get laid.”