Who Are You?

 

Who Are You M P from Pixabay

Moira carefully shaped the damp clay to make a cleft in the chin. The baby’s picture showed that cleft and it was something that wouldn’t have changed with age. She raked some strands of hair over the brow, then stood back and looked critically from her work to the photograph she held in one hand. It wasn’t much to go on – an image of a baby who’d vanished from his crib one night while his parents slept in the next room. Moira had been seven at the time, and the unwelcome knowledge that a neighborhood child could just disappear had a profound effect on her.

His name was Andrew Kirkpatrick, he’d been nine months old when he disappeared and he’d never been found. His parents had no more children. They continued to live in the little house to which they’d brought Andy as a newborn, “so he can find us when he comes home,” as the mother was quoted in a newspaper follow-up article some years later.

Nobody ever figured out what happened. The grief-stricken parents were under suspicion themselves, and when the case went cold, nobody ever bothered to exonerate them. They lived under that cloud for the rest of their lives. Moira had never met them, but she could imagine what it was like to be watched and suspected. Her decision to choose forensic science for her college major arose from a desire to solve mysteries like this one.

“You’ve watched too much CSI,” her Dad said. He’d tease her by singing, “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”

“Isn’t it depressing, recreating the faces of dead people?” her mother asked.

Moira agreed good-naturedly that she probably had watched too much CSI, and said, no, it didn’t depress her to honor the unidentified dead and unfound missing by showing the world their faces. And maybe it would help. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of her recreations solved a cold case and allowed a family some peace?

“Not that they’d ever really have peace in their hearts,” she added. She knew that.

Moira made a forensic forecast in clay of what Andrew Kirkpatrick would look like as an adult. There were sophisticated 3D laser projectors available, but somehow she needed to shape Andy’s face with her hands. She brought to the task her training and technical expertise, but also her artist’s intuition. It was inexplicable, what happened as she worked. Something seemed to guide her hands and the finished product surprised her with its humanity. When she was finished, she showed it to her boss.

“Good work, Moira,” he said, and looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “Keep that up and you’ll crack some cases.”

But after a photograph of her sculpture was printed in the newspaper, it raised no leads. There were a couple of phone calls from the poor souls who routinely called at such times, but no new information.

Andy’s memory haunted her. In her dreams he was sometimes an infant, sometimes  an adult. In one dream, he told her what happened to him and she startled awake. Instantly, his words were gone. Tears soaked her pillow when she couldn’t call them back. So near!

Stop it, she scolded herself. Now you’re believing in dreams. What’s next, a Ouija board?

Moira drove past the Kirkpatrick house one night after work, peering at the lighted windows. She felt a tug of connection to that tiny intersection of theory and reality. It became her routine to pass the house every night, even though it was miles out of her way. Andy would be thirty-three now. What kind of life might he have had? Or was still having? His body had never been found. What if he had been brought up by whoever took him, and was now an adult with no knowledge of his past?

Sometimes she feared she was bordering on the obsessive, so she tried to banish Andy from her thoughts. It was possible during the day when she was busy at work, more difficult on her own time.

As a distraction, she joined a book discussion club at the library. The group met every third Thursday evening and members took turns suggesting books to read. She couldn’t remember who proposed a true-crime book about famous unsolved cases. Sure enough, Andrew Kirkpatrick’s kidnapping filled one chapter.

She resolved to say nothing about her involvement in the case. When it was her turn to weigh in on the book, she’d just say it was well-written and well-researched. No way would she tell about creating an adult face from a baby picture, about a lonely house with a light in the window. No way would she creep everyone out with that story.

There was a new person at book club that night. With an inward sigh so profound it turned her bones to water, she recognized him. That cleft chin – she’d shaped it with her hands and she could still feel it. She’d know him anywhere. On trembling legs, she walked directly to him and held out her hand.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Moira.”

His brow wrinkled. “You seem so familiar. Have we met before?”

“In a way. I’ve been looking for you.”

 

 

 

 

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Mick Jagger Makes Me Smile

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Why was it Misha’s fate to be raised by a dear, but ancient grandmother when other people had cool young mothers? Those moms wore short shorts, had pink streaks in their hair, and their car radios blasted rap; they could easily be mistaken for their daughters’ slightly older sisters. Misha’s grandmother wore mom jeans and cardigans and big white sneakers with socks. Her car radio was apt to burble PBS in a genteel whisper.

Gran had taken her in after her parents had each gone off with other partners to lives that had no room for a little daughter. Misha had only a very dim idea of what it must have been like for Gran to suddenly be in charge of a six-year-old. All she knew was now that she was 16, Gran embarrassed her. Misha hated herself for it, but there it was.

True, Gran could absolutely be depended upon. If she said she’d be there, she was there. Misha was never one of the kids sitting glumly in the school’s front office waiting to be picked up. If Gran said she’d do it, it got done. Dinner was on the table and so was breakfast. Beds were fresh and laundry was always caught up. Misha’s friends complained about having to do those tasks themselves and said she was lucky. But still.

Misha was into retro. She explored the world of the 1960’s and thought it was definitely a better time than the present. She and her boyfriend, Jem, picked up some 60’s clothes at thrift stores and Misha found some in the attic. On Saturday nights, they’d dress up. She’d wear a bright micro-mini skirt, tease her hair into a giant bouffant, apply pale lipstick, black cat-eye liner and mascara and white nail polish. Jem would wear plaid bell bottoms, a turtleneck shirt and platform boots that he confessed killed his feet, but looked amazing.

They got acquainted with the music of those times on old 45-rpm records, introducing themselves to the Rolling Stones, Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. With like-minded friends, they’d dance the Loco-motion and the Twist in somebody’s basement. Gran said at least the kids were supervised and safe.

Misha’s mild rebellion blossomed into a quest for freedom she thought teens enjoyed in those swingin’ 60’s. Gran had to say no too many times. It led to tearful scenes and a bedroom door slammed so hard it made the house echo.

“I know I should be grateful she took me in,” Misha sobbed to Jem, “and I do love her, but she’s just so old. She can’t possibly remember what it’s like to be young.”

“Talk to her, why don’t you, Misha?” Jem advised. “She’s not as uptight as a lot of parents.”

Misha tried. She waited until one night after supper when Gran was washing the dishes and Misha was drying. It was a ridiculously old-fashioned way to clean up, but Gran would often say, “Oh, there are so few dishes, let’s just wash them instead of using the dishwasher.” Misha had learned sharing this activity was the perfect time for conversation.

“So, Gran, I was wondering what you’d say if I got a chance to go downtown to see a Rolling Stones tribute band. They’ll be playing at the Apollo and Jem and I could go on the bus.” Misha knew very well that the Apollo was in a part of town that made Gran start shaking her head at the very mention.

But Gran surprised her. She smiled into the dishwater and said in a reminiscent voice, “The Rolling Stones! I used to love them when I was your age.”

“You did? You did?”

“Oh, yes. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and that drummer, what was his name?”

“Charlie Watts.”

“That’s right. Oh, they were bad boys.”

“And you liked them?”

“Yes, and my mother thought they were awful. I saw them in person once, on their first U.S. tour in 1964.  There were thousands of people there, but I wormed my way to the front under the stage, and I thought Jagger looked right at me and winked.”

“Gran! You never told me. Do you still like the Stones?”

“Well, Mick Jagger always makes me smile when I see him on TV, so I guess I do.”

“Why is that, Gran?”

“It’s just that he has all those wrinkles, but he keeps dancing and singing and jumping around like a kid, even after heart surgery. He’s my age, you know. We were born the same year.”

Misha felt her jaw drop; she had to sit down. Jagger and Gran were contemporaries? Could it be that her old-fashioned Gran had been a groovy 60’s chick? The micro-mini skirt from the attic, had Gran worn it to the Stones concert where she caught Mick Jagger’s eye? That one incident bestowed coolness that no amount of pink streaks or short shorts could match. It put a whole different spin on things.

Misha couldn’t wait to tell Jem: “Mick Jagger winked at Gran back in the day, and he still makes her smile.”

 

 

 

The Clawfoot Tub

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You know how when you’ve been through a bad time, you get the idea that you “deserve” something you’ve been wanting anyway? A reward, a gold star, a treat for being such a big girl? Well, that’s how I felt about the clawfoot tub.

I’d always wanted one to replace the dinky little builder-grade tub in my bathroom, but it was too expensive, too much trouble and too…unnecessary. I mean, I already had a perfectly usable tub, right?

But after that winter! Everything went wrong that winter. My car stranded me beside the interstate highway in a snowstorm; I got bronchitis that lasted for weeks; my old dog had to be put down; the furnace needed frequent house calls. It was one terrible thing after another, but I soldiered on, much of the time barking like a sea lion. When it was finally over, when the first snowdrops pushed up through the frozen earth, I decided I had earned a treat. And that treat would be the clawfoot tub I’d always wanted.

I look back and think, “Why didn’t I get a new outfit, or go on a cruise, or…or anything but a clawfoot tub?” Well, who knew? That’s why we have hindsight.

I decided I wanted a genuine antique, not a replica. That meant haunting antiques stores and estate sales. When I finally found a rusty, blotchy tub in the basement of an old house, it wasn’t even for sale. I kept mentioning figures until the owner drooled and agreed to let it go.

Now there’s a euphemism. A clawfoot tub isn’t “let go.” It weighs approximately a million pounds and it takes a small nation to move it. Plus, this tub needed resurfacing, so I had to decide whether to have it hauled to a workshop or have it done after it was installed in my house. Given the difficulty of moving Clawdette, as I thought of her, I decided to put up with the mess and toxic fumes and have it done after.

So on to logistics. The tub was in the basement. That meant it had to somehow be muscled up the stairs, then into a truck strong enough to take its weight, on to my house and then – wait for it – up another set of stairs. I would need strong men. Lots of strong men. A survey of my friends wasn’t promising. So many bad backs, knee braces and iffy rotator cuffs! I hired a moving company.

Four huge men with rippling biceps surveyed Clawdette in her spidery resting place. They walked around her with worried faces, hands on hips, looking from her to the stairs, shaking their heads. Finally they seized her and began an epic wrestling match. I won’t even describe the groaning and cursing that accompanied every inch of Clawdette’s progress. We’ll go straight to the moment she was plopped into my upstairs bathroom and all her tremendous weight settled on a floor never meant for such stress. One clawfoot immediately popped through the ceiling of the living room below. It looked like I’d been visited by a giant bird.

“Gotta reinforce that floor, lady,” one of the giants said unnecessarily, slinging sweat from his forehead.

“Can you…?”

“Nope. We don’t do that. Gotta get a contractor. Meanwhile, don’t stand too close to the tub or you might both go through the floor.”

Then he handed me a bill that drove all thoughts of contractors out of my head. I’d be lucky just to eat. Clawdette idled in lop-sided splendor for a couple months while my finances recovered.

I needed a contractor to shore up the floor and repair the ceiling, plus a plumber to reroute the pipes, and then a resurfacer to make Clawdette beautiful. I had nightmares in which money flew out of my wallet and rained down on others. It was now month three and I was still taking sponge baths in the sink.

At last, many thousands of dollars later, my clawfoot tub was in working order. I was given the green light to actually fill it with water and insert my trembling body into it. I leaned back and savored the luxury. It had been a long time coming, but it was all worth it. “I’ll love you forever,” I crooned to Clawdette, stroking her glossy porcelain.

The next morning, my boss called me into his office and informed me I was being promoted to my dream job, the one I’d been working toward all my adult life. I was filled with joy until he mentioned the job was in another state.

“You mean I’d have to move?”

“Of course. You’ve always said you were willing to relocate for the right opportunity. I put my reputation on the line to get you this job.”

That evening I filled Clawdette to the brim, slipped into her depths carefully so as not to splash my phone, and began calling realtors. The next day one came to survey my house from top to bottom.

“You have a lovely home,” she said. “The only thing is, clawfoot tubs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. They’re kind of like swimming pools – very appealing to some, but a deal-breaker for others. For young families, it’s hard to bathe little kids in them – the high sides, you know. I’d suggest you replace yours with a conventional bathtub.”

“Replace…?”

“Oh dear, are you crying? Was it something I said?”

 

 

The Day I Saved My Sister

 

 

The Day I Saved My Sister

The day I saved my sister, it was my fault she needed saving. We were at the neighborhood pool and I was supposed to be watching her. Mom had a dentist appointment and she’d agreed, after much begging from me, to let us go to the pool for an hour while she was gone.

“Do not take your eyes off Jolie for one minute!” my Mom said, already second-guessing her decision. She’d gotten right in my face, fierce-eyed, trying to burn her words into my fourteen-year-old brain.

“Geez, Mom, I know. Only the baby pool, keep putting sunblock on her, make her wear her swimmies – I know all that.”

What I didn’t know was why it was my fate to be saddled with an obnoxious three-year-old on a beautiful summer day. It was the first year I’d noticed – in a new way – the boys who hung out at the pool. They’d always been there, a source of annoyance, but now it was different. I wanted them to notice me in my new red swimsuit. Maybe talk to me a little.

And that was happening. I was surrounded by a group of boys pushing and shoving each other, having burping contests, making fart sounds with their underarms, showing off – all for me. The sense of power it gave me was so heady there was no room for anything else, including Jolie.

When I heard someone scream, my head jerked around to the baby pool – which was empty – and then to the big pool and the little patch of color on the bottom. Without even thinking, I ran and dived, swooping down to gather up my little sister and bring her to the surface. I laid her on the side of the pool and began chest compressions. Don’t ask me how I knew to do it. Maybe all that television paid off. It seemed like forever, but finally Jolie coughed up a gush of water and started to cry. Then the paramedics arrived and took over.

I was a hero – the girl who saved her sister from drowning. There were cameras and reporters and the story even made the national news one evening. The mayor gave me a proclamation, I got a thousand dollars in scholarship money from an anonymous donor, and a local ice cream store gave me and Jolie free cones for a month. Social media went nuts and I was hot stuff for about three days. Then the news cycle moved on.

It changed me, that experience. It made me aware of how fragile and precious everyday life is, and how quickly it can turn sour. And it made me love my little sister in a fierce, protective way that never changed.

Jolie didn’t even remember what happened after a week or so. As the years went by and she heard the story over and over again, she grew resentful.

“Okay, okay, she saved my life,” she would say wearily.

My persistent loving gestures only annoyed her. She’d run ahead like she was embarrassed to be seen with me when I walked her home from school. She’d shake her head when I offered to paint her nails or fix her hair. It certainly wasn’t the usual kid-sister worshipping big-sister scenario. In fact, she avoided me.

“It’s like having two moms,” Jolie said. Two was clearly one too many.

As we became adults, I still hovered over my baby sister and she still resisted. I worried when she got her driver’s license. I fretted when she went off to college. I cheered when she landed her first real job. And then I watched in horror as Jolie slowly sank in a quicksand of depression.

“Let me take you to a good psychiatrist,” I begged. “Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain and it can be fixed. There are drugs that really help.”

Jolie looked at me hopelessly and shrugged. She wouldn’t talk to the doctors and she wouldn’t take the medicine. She moved back in with our parents and spent most days in bed.

~*~

I went straight to Mom’s from the doctor’s office. I wanted my mama in the way we all do when life overwhelms us.

“It’s cancer,” I said as we sat at the kitchen table and cried. “What am I going to do? I’ve got the kids and all their activities, the house, laundry, cooking…I know Brad will do his best, but he can’t boil an egg. And now there will be all that treatment – surgery, chemo, radiation and physical therapy. Just the logistics alone…”

“I’ll handle it,” said a voice from the hall. Jolie had heard every word.

She stood there in her frowsy bathrobe, hair matted on one side, face pale from all the hours indoors. The same – but different. The vacant stare was gone. She was present behind those eyes again, and she looked at me with love.

“I’ll take care of you and you’ll get well,” she said simply.

~*~

A couple of years later, when we were both fine, Jolie said the day I got my diagnosis was the second day I’d saved my sister.

 

The Day I Saved My Sister

The Day I Saved My Sister

The day I saved my sister, it was my fault she needed saving. We were at the neighborhood pool and I was supposed to be watching her. Mom had a dentist appointment and she’d agreed, after much begging from me, to let us go to the pool for an hour while she was gone.

“Do not take your eyes off Jolie for one minute!” my Mom said, already second-guessing her decision. She’d gotten right in my face, fierce-eyed, trying to burn her words into my fourteen-year-old brain.

“Geez, Mom, I know. Only the baby pool, keep putting sunblock on her, make her wear her swimmies – I know all that.”

What I didn’t know was why it was my fate to be saddled with an obnoxious three-year-old on a beautiful summer day. It was the first year I’d noticed – in a new way – the boys who hung out at the pool. They’d always been there, a source of annoyance, but now it was different. I wanted them to notice me in my new red swimsuit. Maybe talk to me a little.

And that was happening. I was surrounded by a group of boys pushing and shoving each other, having burping contests, making fart sounds with their underarms, showing off – all for me. The sense of power it gave me was so heady there was no room for anything else, including Jolie.

When I heard someone scream, my head jerked around to the baby pool – which was empty – and then to the big pool and the little patch of color on the bottom. Without even thinking, I ran and dived, swooping down to gather up my little sister and bring her to the surface. I laid her on the side of the pool and began chest compressions. Don’t ask me how I knew to do it. Maybe all that television paid off. It seemed like forever, but finally Jolie coughed up a gush of water and started to cry. Then the paramedics arrived and took over.

I was a hero – the girl who saved her sister from drowning. There were cameras and reporters and the story even made the national news one evening. The mayor gave me a proclamation, I got a thousand dollars in scholarship money from an anonymous donor, and a local ice cream store gave me and Jolie free cones for a month. Social media went nuts and I was hot stuff for about three days. Then the news cycle moved on.

It changed me, that experience. It made me aware of how fragile and precious everyday life is, and how quickly it can turn sour. And it made me love my little sister in a fierce, protective way that never changed.

Jolie didn’t even remember what happened after a week or so. As the years went by and she heard the story over and over again, she grew resentful.

“Okay, okay, she saved my life,” she would say wearily.

My persistent loving gestures only annoyed her. She’d run ahead like she was embarrassed to be seen with me when I walked her home from school. She’d shake her head when I offered to paint her nails or fix her hair. It certainly wasn’t the usual kid-sister worshiping big-sister scenario. In fact, she avoided me.

“It’s like having two moms,” Jolie said. Two was clearly one too many.

As we became adults, I still hovered over my baby sister and she still resisted. I worried when she got her driver’s license. I fretted when she went off to college. I cheered when she landed her first real job. And then I watched in horror as Jolie slowly sank in a quicksand of depression.

“Let me take you to a good psychiatrist,” I begged. “Maybe it’s a chemical imbalance in your brain and it can be fixed. There are drugs that really help.”

Jolie looked at me hopelessly and shrugged. She wouldn’t talk to the doctors and she wouldn’t take the medicine. She moved back in with our parents and spent most days in bed.

~*~

I went straight to Mom’s from the doctor’s office. I wanted my mama in the way we all do when life overwhelms us.

“It’s cancer,” I said as we sat at the kitchen table and cried. “What am I going to do? I’ve got the kids and all their activities, the house, laundry, cooking…I know Brad will do his best, but he can’t boil an egg. And now there will be all that treatment – surgery, chemo, radiation and physical therapy. Just the logistics alone…”

“I’ll handle it,” said a voice from the hall. Jolie had heard every word.

She stood there in her frowsy bathrobe, hair matted on one side, face pale from all the hours indoors. The same – but different. The vacant stare was gone. She was present behind those eyes again, and she looked at me with love.

“I’ll take care of you and you’ll get well,” she said simply.

~*~

A couple of years later, when we were both fine, Jolie said the day I got my diagnosis was the second day I’d saved my sister.

 

Reigning Cats and Dogs

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I see her there beneath the hedge. She’s crouching like a tiger. Only the very tip of her tail twitches as she glares at me with yellow eyes. She’s waiting for me to pass by and then she’ll reach out and slash me with her claws. It’s happened often enough; I know what to expect.black-306213_1280I’ll just wait. He’s so stupid, he may fall for it again. If he doesn’t, I’ll nap.black-306213_1280The day Mom and Dad brought her home, I had no idea the shambles she’d make of my life. She was so tiny. Just a little bit of harmless fluff.  Even I thought she was cute. They were gaga over her, and while I didn’t particularly like that, I couldn’t complain. I still got plenty of attention.black-306213_1280Oh, he tried to make friends at first, but his clumsy efforts annoyed me. I’d mew piteously so the humans thought he was hurting me. They’d swat him and yell NO. It was funny.black-306213_1280She’s clever, I’ll give her that. That time she barfed on Mom and Dad’s bed, she waited until I came to investigate before meowing her head off. Mom came in and saw me standing over the disgusting pile. Who got yelled at? Me. Okay, full disclosure, I was thinking about rolling in it, but still.black-306213_1280It’s too easy sometimes. Once he dared to lie on my favorite sofa cushion. He didn’t move even after I walked over and hissed – just rolled his goofy brown eyes at me. He should know puppy eyes don’t work with me. So I waited until he was asleep and then pounced from the top of the sofa. He leaped straight up in the air, came down on the coffee table and broke the big human’s remote. Oh, there was hell to pay, but I didn’t pay it. I just dematerialized and watched from under a chair. When the ruckus was over, I took a nice nap on my favorite sofa cushion.black-306213_1280I hurt my back leg in that coffee table incident and got an awful scolding, but the worst thing was seeing her grin. Mom and Dad don’t know cats can grin, and I’m glad they don’t. I wouldn’t want them to see such a sight. I try to protect them by blocking her, but they don’t understand the danger. They say, “Look who’s jealous,” and laugh. They wouldn’t laugh if they really knew her.black-306213_1280My plan for today is simple. If I can’t claw him from under the hedge, I’ll wait until he’s sleeping. He sleeps twenty hours a day, so it won’t be a long wait. Then I’ll drag the kibble out of his dish a piece at a time. I’ll scatter it where the humans walk so when they step on it there will be what they call a mess. I’m hoping they’ll put his bowl on the counter where he can’t reach it. I’ll jump up and sit over his food and grin at him. He hates that.black-306213_1280I’m so hungry! I didn’t finish my breakfast, thinking I could go back for a mid-morning snack. But then she scattered my food all over the floor and they thought I did it. Now my bowl is out of reach and she’s sitting up there pretending not to see me. I hate her, I hate her! I wish I could think of revenge, but I’m not good at planning. I’m good at walkies, though, and naps and fetch.black-306213_1280He’s never figured out that fetch is a degrading exercise. (There is absolutely no correlation to me chasing the laser pointer, no matter what he says. That’s a ballet of feline grace and agility.) In the “game” of fetch, humans throw something – a ball, a stick, whatever – and he runs like an idiot, brings it back and drops it at their feet. Then they throw it again, and he runs after it again. He smiles all over his dumb face and runs until his tongue hangs out. It would bring me to tears of vicarious shame if I actually cared.black-306213_1280Maybe once a day, she’ll approach Mom and Dad and rub up against them. They drop everything and stroke her. Sometimes she’ll roll over on her back and let them rub her belly and when she’s had enough, she’ll bite. She bites them, and they just laugh! If I bit somebody, oh my, baaaad dog! Call the vet, call the dog trainer, call the police. Who made these rules? The Cat King?black-306213_1280He’s asleep again and I’m cold. I’ll curl up next to him for warmth. At least he’s got one use: he’s a big furry heater.black-306213_1280Even though I’m asleep, I can feel her settle right up against me. It’s creepy, but I can’t make myself wake up to chase her away. I’ll put my paw over her to hold her down. So sleepy…skknnxx.black-306213_1280“Honey, come look at this. Get the camera. Aren’t they the sweetest little best friends!”

The Truth Hurts

 

Truths a bitch

Like George Washington, Alissa could not tell a lie, even as a child.  Backed into a corner with her mother’s finger waving two inches from her nose, only the truth, however damning, came out.  Questions like, “Who made this mess?” or, “What’s all the screaming about?” always elicited a truthful if reluctant response.  It wouldn’t have been so bad had she only confessed to her own sins, but as often as not she helplessly ratted out a playmate or a sibling.  Even at a young age, she realized this was not the path to a peaceful life.  How she envied those who spread lies like oil slicks over the choppy seas of life.

Time and maturity did not cure what Alissa thought of as her truthfulness disability.  She dreaded questions like, “Do these pants make me look fat?”  Or worse yet, “What do you honestly think of my new boyfriend?”  Try as she might to equivocate, her honest brown eyes gave her away.

When she met the man she would marry, Alissa relaxed in the belief that she had found someone who truly understood and accepted her as she was.  So she was totally unprepared for the discovery early in their marriage that her new husband was a nonchalant liar.

“Little white lies,” he called them, “just ways to grease the wheels of social interaction.”

She shivered the first time he said, “I need you to lie for me.”

“What about?” she asked in trepidation. “You know I’m not good at lying.”

“Just a fib,” Mike assured her. “No big deal. Harmless, really.”

“If it’s no big deal, why don’t you just tell the truth?”

“Look, it’s complicated. You know when I left last Thursday and was gone all weekend…on a business trip?”

“Yeah?”

“So if anybody asks, like someone I work with or my boss, you just tell them you were sick and I took some time off to take care of you.”

“Wait, what? Where were you? Did you lie to me?”

“No, well, not exactly. I did call on a client in Palm Beach, and then I went to Kent’s bachelor weekend.”

“You knew I was afraid of what could happen at that wild party!”

“Exactly. That’s why I didn’t tell you. You didn’t have to worry about me all weekend, and I didn’t disappoint Kent. Win-win.”

“If you were so determined to go, why not just take a couple of vacation days? That would eliminate one lie, at least,” Alissa said.

“I don’t have any vacation days left this year. Used ‘em all on our honeymoon. But taking a couple of sick days for my new wife – totally acceptable. So you see? It’s just easier to tell a little white lie, and no one gets hurt.”

“And you get to do as you please,” Alyssa said. “How convenient.”  She wondered what else he “didn’t exactly” lie to her about.

As the years passed, Mike’s lies became a commonplace thing in their lives. Alissa’s attempts at covering for him were so clumsy and transparent that she only made things worse. Finally, he left her out of his deceptions, which meant that she, too, was deceived.

“Wouldn’t it be easier, less stressful, to tell the truth?” she asked him after one of her inadvertent exposures. “You wouldn’t have so much to remember, and neither would I.”

“You’re a child.” Mike’s voice was filled with scorn. “You have no idea how the real world works. If you didn’t have me to take care of you, you’d be cut down like a weed.” He sounded like he thought she deserved it.

Alissa told herself to stop trying to change him and accept him as he was, but it was exhausting. As the years passed, she felt tired to her bones. She thought of leaving.

She’d read advice columnists who said you should ask yourself, are you better off with him or without him? Alissa examined that idea dispassionately. She was by now fifty-five years of age and had not held a job since her marriage. Mike earned a comfortable income for one family, but not enough for two households. There was money in the bank, but not enough to support two retirements. Alissa could count on no more than her share of his Social Security in her old age, which wasn’t that far off. Clear-eyed, she assessed her options and decided she was better off staying.

She had her own little world and she retreated into it. There were compensations, she told herself; there were friends and books and music – plenty of things she enjoyed doing alone. So what if she wasn’t living love’s young dream. Who, at her age, was?

Eventually – and it took a while – Mike noticed her withdrawal. “Is anything wrong?” he asked.

Her smile never reached her eyes, but Mike didn’t notice. “Of course not,” she said.

It was her first successful lie.