The flimsy Formica threatens to buckle in protest if I leave my phone unanswered, so I pick it up and press the little green button.
“I found some of your records.”
My precious old vinyls. Surely I’d picked them all up long ago. “The Ramones?”
“The…the old Cream ones. And some Jefferson Airplane, I think.”
“I don’t listen to Jefferson. Never did.”
“Listen, I gotta leave in ten. I’m working on something really big. You’d be blown away by it.”
“Ooh. When can I see it?”
“Soon.” I let a smile colour my voice.
I should finish around five, six. Six-thirty max.”
“I’ll see you then. Don’t… .”
I want to say Don’t do anything stupid, but it’s so clichéd, isn’t it? So I cut the call short. He would be hurt by this. Too late; my thick oafish fingers had done the deed.
It is probably too late to reverse what I’d set in motion. All I can do is watch the paint chips fall.
* * *
His tongue glides across dry lips, reminding me that it was as wont to spin its own untruths as hide behind mine. Old memories curl ghost-like around us as we sit with our backs to the dying sun.
“You’re losing your touch,” I say as I take a swig of cold Chang. The Thai beer reminds me of our balmy days in Bangkok; I’d been haunting my local shops for it ever since. “Cream records my ass. I bought exactly one record, and it wasn’t even one of their best.”
He smiles. “I am getting rusty. Perhaps I rely on you too much.”
Eight years old. Stolen candy and the neighbouring kid's scraped knee. Our unruly scraped elbows versus flashy tricycle and Forbes 100 parents. Howling, high-pitched accusations. And in the middle of it all, a fair-faced boy with buttery words running off his small pink tongue. While the candy-smeared hand remained hidden and the big brother stood up for him. The one who always stood up for him, and would continue to do so. Lies upon lies.
We won the battle. We would win again ten years later, when a few well-placed phrases and the signature of a teacher that did not exist helped secure a place at a prestigious university. The kid with the Forbes parents was not so lucky. Born with a silver spoon, but not a silver tongue.
It was a life built on deception. It was a good life.
Lying could save you from trouble. It could save you from bullies. From getting skinned by a disciplinary belt. From the wrath of women you were no longer in love with. From those whose delicate egos would have been crushed by the blunt force of honesty.
And was it so bad, in the end? If we were to count the people we had actually hurt with falsehoods on one hand, we'd still have fingers left.
So when is it alright to spare the truth?
And when are truth and lies equally cruel?