I think things went south because I was a habitual liar, especially about the story of how we met. I have an active imagination. I considered it charming, and for a time – a long time – so did you.
When I balanced Jonathan on my knee in the glow from the tyrannosaurus lamp, for instance, I told him I leapt four hundred feet in the air to catch you as you plummeted from the whitest, softest cloud. In light emanating from the mouth of the fiercest of all dinosaurs, he asked: Was mom an angel?
Absolutely. And unbelievably clumsy.
You leaned in the doorway and called Dad a purveyor of falsehoods and untruths. This vocabulary could put anyone to sleep, especially a five-year-old, and after Jonathan’s eyes closed you spoke through a smile, calling me an asshole. I did not protest. The truth was that the only thing I enjoyed more than making shit up was being reprimanded for it.
We kissed by the kitchen sink. I felt your muscles tense momentarily, and soap from your hands drip down my neck.
Perhaps my suspicion was sown then. Or perhaps after your company’s Christmas party in the Brazilian steakhouse, when I told the COO, Paul, that we met after I rescued you from tumbling over an active volcano’s lip. Paul was sidetracked trying to pronounce Mount Nyiragongo after three manhattans, but your laughter was strange – a bark, a cough, an unpleasant thing. I picked up a distinct sense of I’m considering stabbing you.
I was so unnerved I could think of nothing else; there was a strange smell I could not wash from my skin. Then the account executive, a Greek with eyebrows and hair so thick they looked painted, caught my eye because I caught him catching yours. You didn’t say anything, but I felt compelled to loudly recall your short career in Bollywood to combat the feeling I was intruding.
In the car I laughed about Paul’s mush-mouth, but you were quiet; maybe tired, maybe drunk, but either way, it reinforced my suspicions. I regarded the headlight-lit, winding road, certain now we were bound for a shadowy, unexplored country. I pictured jaguars and deep green vines.
I was drunk at the helm, helpless to control our descent. I sensed dissembling in your replies, felt aggrieved preemptively at distance I perceived or invented, for me and Jonathan (though mostly for myself). Your defensive gaze was suddenly unfamiliar; I saw in your eyes the cold ocean’s floor, and the Greek there, swimming ghostly amongst a hundred faceless others.
The last thing you asked me was what, exactly, I wanted. I said I wanted you to admit I was right, and arms falling to your sides, you did. I was lying, as usual, I guess you were, too. And when it comes down to it, what I really wanted to say was: no, please, or wait, or yes, I am a liar, and I need you around to tell me the truth.
Kenneth Gagnon is a writer from New Hampshire. His fiction is published or forthcoming at Esquire, Menda City Review, and Midwest Literary Magazine. You can find him online at kennethgagnon.com