I’ve changed the name to protect the innocent, but this is an excerpt from my new book, Windowshopping For God.
I was ten years old and it was a Wednesday and I had just given up lying for lent. I got the ash on the forehead at eight o’clock mass and by ten a.m. I had told the class that we had a burglar in the house, and that I had caught him red-handed. It was Marcus Toner’s fault. We were about to do ‘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 bragged about his new ride-around lawnmower. His Dad was a big shot at Canadian Tire and was able to get a company discount. Since nobody in the three-room school had ever seen a ride-around lawn mower the entire class all thought Marcus was hot shit. He brought in mimeographs of the catalog model to rub in our faces, and I couldn’t very well show waxed maple leaves after that, could I?
So, without missing a beat, and no story in my head I
walked up to the front of the class, took a breath, and out came the lie that got created as I spoke.
“My ‘show and tell’ today is more tell than show. 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 Dad’s chair reading the newspaper…a robber.”
I remember one of the Everett boys yelled out from the back of the room. “What did you do Debbie?”
“Well, my breath froze in my throat, and my life flashed before my eyes.”
“You should have called the cops.”
“ I’d never seen a real robber before, so I crawled along the floor to get a good look at him.” I actually crouched down behind Mrs. Harris’ desk to make my point.
“What did he look like?” Edwin Woods asked. A booger breathed in and out of his nose, like a bubble.
My head popped up and I leaned in and hissed; “Olive oily.”
Marcus Toner tore up the Canadian Tire flyer into little pieces and shoved them in his mouth.
Screw you, Marcus. When it comes to using your imagination you are lost. When it comes to thinking something up 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, Debbie, His skin was “ Olive oily’?”
“Yes, Mrs. Harris. I could smell his French fry skin. He had dirty pores, likely because of his poor nutritional robber’s diet.”
“What’s a robber’s diet?” asked the other Everett, in grade eight and already six foot seven. I looked up. Way up.
“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. “A killer?”
“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.
“Debbie, 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…. uh,” I looked up and saw a French word on a sign by 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 Debbie, Debbie, Debbie.”
“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.”
I began tearing up. I was starting to feel sorry for 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. He said he wanted to start his life anew. I told him how 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, the Napanee Beaver.
“Sit down, Debbie.” Mrs. Harris hit the tops of her legs with her hands. She hit herself so much I’m sure she likely had welts. “Go back to your seat!”
“What? What did I say?” I began walking back to my desk.
“Go back to your seat!”
What do you think I am doing you stupid cow?
“This is too much. Too much indeed.” Her voice began to sound like chalk pulled across a blackboard. And she tried to screech her way back to order but it was pointless. She had lost all control. I was a queen, and one of the Everett boys gave me a stick of Wrigley gum.
It would have been my best recess ever if Mrs. Harris had not asked me to stay inside to ‘talk’.
“Why is the truth never good enough for you, Debbie?”
Because it’s dull and it takes too long.
“I don’t know, Mrs. Harris.” 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 someday want to tell the truth, and then they won’t be able 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.
I think there is something wrong with my head. My brain gets too full, and then I have to frequently relieve the pressure. Many times I don’t know I’ve done anything wrong, until its too late. So, it’s not me, it’s my brain.”
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, 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 that car before I crucify you.”
But again an idle threat, because I was dragged to the car to go to confession, to get the mortal sins off my soul in case I might die before morning.
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