It is hard to know where it starts and where it ends. This lying business. The first one is for self-preservation, an awkwardness avoided, an inconvenience dodged. And then you put two together which is a kind of story, the most basic lie a person ever tells. And by the third, you are well and truly lost, entangled in a web, struggling to remember which parts of it are real and which parts are the ones you made up.
And then you stop struggling. The story has weight and pleasure all its own. And even if it isn’t exactly the truth, it is a version of things the way you wish them to be and who can fault you really for wishful thinking. We are all liars. Some of us just don’t know enough to relax and go with the flow of it. You can remake the world anyway you wish it to be so long as you don’t concern yourself too closely with the costs and consequences.
Bradley pressed the cigarette out, letting the lush gray smoke wreathe him with long, lingering arms. He hoped to never become one of those people who quit smoking. He loved the decadence of it, the strong alchemy. He breathed in anxiety and fire, breathed out cool, detached intelligence.
“Are you finished yet?”
She was starring at him, impatient. He had forgotten she was there. It was an unfortunate fact. He wished he could breathe her in and dispel her with a strong, single blow.
“Almost,” he said. Which was another lie. He was already reaching for another cigarette.
“Another? God in heaven, what is wrong with you?”
Bradley lit the cigarette, real slow and casual. Her question was fair. What was wrong with him?
“We are already twenty minutes late. We were meant to be there at seven thirty.”
He shrugged again, keeping his face still so she might not see the pleasure he took in her consternation.
“I should have gone without you.”
He nodded. “You could have.” As if to say the whole thing had been her fault all along.
“Honestly. I don’t even know why I bother.”
“Do you? Bother?” Now he was just provoking her, prodding to get a few extra minutes to enjoy this one more delicious cigarette.
“You’re an asshole,” she said.
“Okay.” He couldn’t disagree.
She stood up, smoothed her skirt. She stepped across the porch, her feet almost tangling on the rockers of the chair. She stumbled for a moment but caught her balance.
“Do you even remember what started all of this happening? Do you remember what you did?”
And that was where the lying had complicated things the most. If pressed, he wouldn’t be able to definitively say what had caused these latest skirmishes. Some perceived slight. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Forgetting to call. Forgetting to rinse off the lingering ghost of a lover’s perfume. Forgetting to properly button his shirt in the rent-by-the-hour hotel room mirror.
He smiled. That sly, incorrigible rogue’s smile. She hated it and she loved it.
“Honestly, love. I truly don’t.”