I’m ten years old. It was Ash Wednesday and I had given up lying for lent. I got the ash on the forehead at eight o’clock mass. But by 9:30 I had broken my promise to Jesus. It all started with Show and Tell. I had brought in some leaves stuck between two pieces of waxed paper and right before I got up for my turn, Marcus Topping got up and bragged about his new ride-around lawn mower. Nobody in the one-room school had ever seen a ride-around lawn mower so they all thought Marcus was hot shit. Well I couldn’t very well show waxed maple leaves after that, could I?
I walked up to the front of the class, took a breath, and said,
“Last night, I caught a burglar in my house.” The entire class, gasped. “I had woken up because I was thirsty, so I went downstairs to get a glass of milk. As I opened the fridge, I saw in the living room, sitting in my Daddy’s chair reading the newspaper…a robber.”
One of the Everett boys yelled out from the back of the room. “What happenedTammy?”
“Well, my life flashed before my eyes that’s what happened.”
“You should have called the cops.”
“Obviously. But, I’d never seen a real robber before, so I crawled along the floor to get a good look at him.”
I crouched down behind Mrs. Harris’ desk to make my point.
“What did he look like?” Edwin Woods asked. Who always had a booger bubble inflating in and out of his nose.
My head popped up and I leaned in and hissed; “Olive oily.”
Marcus Topping tore up the Canadian Tire flyer into little pieces and shoved them in his mouth. Screw you, Marcus. When it comes to imagination, to thinking on the spot, you are an amateur. Everybody was sitting on the edge of their seats, except for Mrs. Harris who was at the back of the room, pacing back and forth, wearing a hole in the linoleum. “Let’s get this straight, Tammy, His skin was “ Olive oily’?”
“Yes, Mrs. Harris. He had dirty pores, likely because of his poor nutritional robber’s diet.” “You know the kind of food you eat at the fair? Not the kind the Women’s Institute makes, but the kind of terrible food they serve at the Midway? He smelled like the Midway, and he had a shaved head and an orange jumpsuit on.”
“Maybe he was from the Detention Centre.” Billy Everett said, twirled his finger around his temple like a detective figuring out a case.
“Yes, yes, he certainly could’ve been.”
I was starting to scare myself.
“My cousin did time in Limestone Detention Centre. Was it my cousin?” asked Lenny Scanlon.
“Maybe. What does your cousin look like?”
“It depends on which one you saw!”
Most of Lenny’s cousins were in the Detention Centre, so it was only natural he needed more details.
Before we could sort out family identity, Mrs. Harris hollered.
“Stop it. Stop it. I have had enough.” She stomped her feet like she was keeping time to some square dance song we couldn’t hear. “Tammy, you really expect us to believe a criminal from Limestone was sitting in your living room?”
“An escaped prisoner from Limestone was sitting on a chair reading the paper? What was this alleged prisoner’s name?”
“Pig.” That was the name of our cat, who ate like well…a pig…never mind we always ended up calling every cat Kitty…
“Yes.” “Pig…. uh, I looked up and saw a French word on a sign by the exit of the classroom door. “Pig Sortie.”
“Mr. Pig Sortie. He was French. But he could speak English. He was going to rob us blind, but he didn’t because I think when he saw me, he had a change of heart.”
“Oh Tammy, Tammy, Tammy.”
“I know! It’s amazing. I think he saw all of our family pictures on the wall and maybe he started pining for his family. Not his crime family, but his real family, the one he had before his life got mixed up in a life of badness.”
Poor Mr. Sortie.
“He told me not to worry, he wasn’t going to hurt me or anything, because he was tired of the criminal life. It was odd, very odd indeed. I told him I could understand that new beginnings are necessary, then I got him a glass of milk, and both of us sat there in the middle of the night, reading the Naptowoktok Tribune for unique career opportunities.”
“This is too much. Too much indeed. “Why is the truth never good enough for you, Tammy?”
Because it’s dull and it takes too long.
I look at people’s feet when I get nervous. Her feet were fat, she had ankles that looked like muffin tops rising over her shoes.
“You know lying is a habit – a bad habit – a bad, bad habit.” she said. “People who lie will some day want to tell the truth, and then they can’t because they have had no practice – they have never worked their truth muscles. Do you want to be a girl who never worked her truth muscles?”
Why not? It seems to me you get into trouble either way.
Poor Mrs. Harris and her muffin ankles. She looked all sad like I imagined Mr. Sortie would have looked if he really had existed.
“Maybe I dreamt there was a burglar in the house. Since my brain injury I’ve had a terrible time of it, distinguishing fact from fiction.”
“You had a brain injury?” Her ankles held their breath.
“Yes, I fell off my bike last summer. I thought you knew that. It’s on my school records.”
“I’ve never heard any such thing.”
“Oh, I guess it happened before you arrived. I fell off my bike and now a blood clot is lodged in my brain, It’s not like I have permanent brain damage or nothing. It’s called Frequent brain malfunction urgency’
“ Oh dear. I had no idea.” Her ankles exhaled. Mrs. Harris apologized for being so hard on me and I told her I forgave her.
When I got home, I stepped into the kitchen to be greeted by my mother, Alberta whose face looked like it was going to pitch a turd. Obviously, Harris had ratted me out.
“If you don’t stop this nonsense,” she screamed, “I’m going to take you to a psychiatrist.”
“Really? I get to go to a psychiatrist?”
“No, because we can’t afford one, so get in the that car before I crucify you.”
Crucifixion: Can you imagine wearing a cross on your back to school? You’d have to walk everyday because it would never fit on the bus. If I was up on a cross at the back of the room, you could look at people’s tests answers. Find out who was stuffing their bra.
No such luck.
I am dragged to the car to go to confession, to get the mortal sins off my soul in case I might die before morning.
“Father, I lied thirty-two times since last Sunday.”
“Okay, thirty four.”
“That’s an exorbitantly high number, Miss Babcock.”
I’ve been cutting back for Lent.
After I confessed my defects du jour, Father Renault would ask me if I knew how much I was disappointing Jesus.
“Yes, yes, I do lie a lot Father. I’m a terrible disappointment.” I start to cry because it makes me look sincere. I promised never to be honest with a priest again.