Liar

Everything he says is a lie. Everything. He can’t ever tell the truth. Like today he said he was going to the hardware store. As if he needs to go to the hardware store. He never fixes anything. Then my friend Allie says she saw him at the Hallmark Store looking at Mother’s Day cards. He doesn’t even have a mother! She’s been dead five years now. When we first met he told me he was an orphan. That he grew up in an orphanage in the swamps of Louisiana. The nuns beat him so he ran away along the path of the Underground Railroad to Canada. Fitting, he said, because he was mixed-race, like our president.
    Mixed-race? I said.
    Yeah, I just don’t look it, he said.
    Another goddamn lie. His parents are the whitest people you ever saw. They’re from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–where he grew up, not in an orphanage in Louisiana. When I saw a picture of his parents I said to him I thought he was mixed-race. He said the man in the photo wasn’t his biological father. His biological father was a traveling blues musician who got his mother pregnant one night at the boarding house his parents owned.
    What was the musician’s name? I said.
    Blind Tommy Lee Jones, he said.
    Tommy Lee Jones is an actor, I said. We just watched one of his films.
    That’s a hell of a coincidence, he said.
    His life is full of these fricking coincidences. He drives me with crazy with his goddamn lies. The only thing he’s really good at is playing with my daughter Cassie. I’ve never seen a grown man so completely jump into a child’s make-believe. They can play together for hours. They go on imaginary shopping trips with her little shopping cart. They play princess where my daughter is a princess of a kingdom and he is the king or the jester. They draw together. They play board games. They build forts. I keep a good eye on them. I don’t let them alone. I’m not stupid. I trust him but I know I could be wrong. My friend Tiffany’s boyfriend turned out to be a pedophile. One day she went to her hair appointment but she had the wrong day and when she got back home she found her boyfriend and four-year-old daughter naked in bed together. Jesus Christ, I would have cut off his fucking balls! And the crazy thing is, she didn’t break up with him right away. They were together for another two months! I don’t see him doing that, but I’m not taking any chances. His failings are of a different order. There are the lies. And along with that he steals people’s credit cards. He gets people’s info somehow from his loser friend Stevie (who I will not let in my house) and has the cards made. But the thing is he uses the credit cards to do good sometimes. I’m not saying it isn’t wrong, but he’d do nice things with the cards. Like if he saw woman in a rundown car full of screaming kids, he’d buy her a tank of gas. I saw him do that once. And he didn’t even know I was watching. He’d give donations to charities. He’d sponsor poor little starving children in Africa. He’d pay to fix little kids’ cleft palates. I saw his mail. He’d do things like that. Sure, he bought things for himself. He did get stuff for me and Cassie, but I put an end to it when I found out how he was paying for it.
    Don’t you want life to be a little more exciting? he said. Just a little more interesting? Instead of just one fucking boring thing after another.
    No, I said. I want a boring life. I want a nice little life with no illegal bullshit. I want gifts bought from money you earned honestly, or no gifts at all. I looked at him. And, you fucking asshole, I said. I don’t want you to go to prison again.
    He’s on probation now. He’s a gas station attendant. In our state it’s the law that gas must be pumped by the station attendant. When he comes over to the house he smells like gasoline. I find that smell really sexy for some reason. When he smells that way and gives me a look, I can’t help myself.

I don’t know. Cassie’s crazy about him. Always asking when he’s coming over. She likes it when he reads to her at night. It’s something her grandpa used to do. Sometimes he makes up stories for her. I tuck her in and sit and listen.

Once there was a princess named Cassandra, he said. She lived in a big castle in a far away land with her father the king and her mother the queen.
    How old was she? Cassie said.
    Ten, he said. Like I was saying, the princess and the king and queen all lived very happily together. The princess liked to play with her friends, all the daughters and sons of the royal court. They played jump rope games, kick the can, and hide-and-seek in the large rooms of the castle. They also liked to go out into the forest near the castle and explore. But because they were young and the forest was full of danger, their governesses had to go out with them along with the king’s personal guards, and it was princess’s favorite game to escape from the watchful eyes of the governess and climb trees. She was quick and strong and it was easy for her to climb trees. Her governess disapproved of her climbing trees, since she was supposed to be a princess and very ladylike. But the princess didn’t care and always looked for higher and higher trees to climb.
    One day when they were out in the forest the princess escaped from the watchful eyes of the governess and ran as fast as she could. She ran until she could no longer hear the shouts of the governess and guards for her to come back. There Cassandra came upon a tree she had never seen before. It was the biggest tree she’d ever seen. She looked up and it seemed to go on for miles. She immediately knew that she had to climb this tree. She looked around to make sure no one saw her and she began to climb. She climbed and climbed and climbed. Up and up she went. Soon she was above all the other trees in the forest. She could see for miles over the tops of the trees. She could see all the way to the village and over the fields of wheat and all the way to the castle on the hill. As she was looking at all this a bluebird came and sat on the branch next to her.
    Hello, princess! the bluebird said.
    Hello, little bird, the princess said. How did you know I was the princess?
    The princess had never talked to a bird before.
    Of course I know you, princess. You’re the most beautiful girl in the entire land, and all of us bluebirds know who you are. But, princess, I landed here to warn you. This is one of the tallest trees in the forest and at the top lives a family of evil tree nymphs. In this forest there are both good and bad tree nymphs and in this tree the nymphs are especially evil and devious. They steal from all the other tree nymphs, from the villagers, and even from your royal highness.
    From me? the princess said.
    Yes, princess. From you. Remember the tiara your parents gave you for your birthday. The one that went missing?
    Oh, yes, I loved that tiara, said the princess. It was my favorite.
    Well, these tree nymphs stole it. I overheard the father tree nymph boasting about it the other day.
    They did? said the princess. Well, I will get it back. No one is allowed to steal from me!
    Oh, but you must be careful, little princess. These tree nymphs are evil and devious and kidnap little children to sell as slaves in faraway lands.
    I am the princess! she said. They wouldn’t dare do anything to me. She began to climb again to the top, as quickly as she could because she had loved that tiara and had cried when it went missing. She wanted it back very badly.
    Oh, you must be careful, princess, the little bird said and flew around her. You must be!
    Thank you, little bird. Don’t worry, I will.
    The bluebird flew off, still chirping loudly because he was worried about the princess.
    Soon the princess reached the top of the tree. There she found a small dingy brown house covered in leaves and branches. Outside the door of the house were five dead squirrels hanging from their tails. Their dead eyes looked right at the princess. There was blood on one of the thick branches where the squirrels’ throats had been cut.
     Not too violent, Sam, I said.
    Sure. You’re not scared are you, Cassie?
    Cassie shook her head no.
    The princess took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
    Who’s there? An old woman’s raspy voice said.
    The Princess Cassandra! Let me in.
    The door opened a crack. It was dark but the princess saw a huge bloodshot eyeball looking her up and down.
    The princess? the raspy voice said.
    Yes. I am here to take back my tiara. It belongs to me and I want it. Let me in immediately!
    But of course, princess, of course!
    The tree nymph opened the door and the princess walked in. Inside the house it was dark, dirty, and cold. The princess shivered. The tree nymph looked like a little hunched over old woman, her skin rough and wrinkled, her gray hair tangled with leaves and twigs hanging down to the dirty floor.
    Please, please, princess, come in. Come in. Welcome, princess, welcome. It is an honor to have you in our home.
    The tree nymph made quick movements. She didn’t stand still for one second and the princess had a hard time following her.
    Please, sit down, princess. Sit down.
    I have come for my tiara, the princess said. I don’t want to sit down.
    Yes, princess, yes. It was my husband who stole it. I told him not to. See, princess, our daughter, Marigold. Our daughter was born on the exact same day as you. She is the same age as you, and if I do say so myself, she is very unusual for a tree nymph, because she looks quite like you, a human child. But we are very poor and had nothing to give her on her birthday. She cried all day because she had no presents. Well, my husband, his heart is not made of stone. He decided to steal your tiara. It was wrong but he did it. I told him not to but he doesn’t listen to me. He’s very stubborn. He wanted something nice for Marigold, something beautiful. We had never before given her anything beautiful for her birthday.
    She called out. Marigold! Come down here, Marigold!
     A girl came down the ladder. She was dressed in rags, had a dirty face, and like her mother, had twigs and leaves in her long ratted hair. On top of her head was the tiara, still sparkling even in the dark house.
    That’s my tiara, the princess said.
    No, it’s mine, Marigold said.
    No, it’s mine, the princess said.
    Please girls, don’t fight. Let’s try to be friends. Here, sit down, princess. Please have some apple cider, and then Marigold will give you back the tiara and you can go on your way.
    Okay, the princess said. She sat down and drank the apple cider the tree nymph handed her. After the princess drank the cider, suddenly she felt very sleepy. Her head felt like a heavy weight and she couldn’t keep her eyes open.
    I’m so tired, she said, and rested her head on the table.
    Sleep, princess, the tree nymph said. You must be very tired from the climb. Sleep, princess, sleep.
    When the princess woke up, she was shocked to find herself lying inside a small cage inside the tree nymph’s house. She was wearing Marigold’s horrid outfit of rags, and Marigold was sitting happily at the table wearing the princess’s dress and shoes. Marigold’s face and arms were scrubbed clean, and her mother was combing her hair. Marigold looked exactly like the princess.
    What are you doing? the princess said. Her head still felt heavy and she could hardly talk. Let me out, let me out. My father will punish you.
    The tree nymph laughed. I will not let you out, princess, no matter what you say, so you can just shut up. My little Marigold will be a princess now. She will take your place at the castle and no one will know. When your parents die she will become queen and rule the entire kingdom! And you, princess. We will sell you as a slave in a faraway land, and you will never return.
    No, no, no, the princess said, but she was still too tired to do anything but fall back asleep. She dreamed she was back in her own soft bed in the castle with her mother tucking her in and kissing her on the head. When she woke up the next morning she thought for a moment she was back in the castle, but she rubbed her eyes and realized she was still in the cage.
    Get up, princess! the tree nymph mother said. We have work to do. She laughed her evil laugh. Marigold was gone. She must have gone back to the governess and guards. Before the tree nymph let her out of the cage, she locked the front door and tied a chain around the princess’s leg. From that day on, the tree nymph made the princess work from early in the morning until late at night. If the princess complained and said she was tired the tree nymph whipped her with a branch and threatened to sell her as a sex slave in a faraway land.
    Sam, no!
    Sorry.
    He went on. To make money the tree nymph often weaved baskets, and she made the princess weave these baskets for hours, until her hands were tired and bloody. Then she made the princess clean up the house but since they were tree nymphs their idea of clean was to make the house as dirty as possible. So it was the princess’s job to spread the dirt on the floor and use a brush to scrub it into the wood and the walls and everywhere else. She also had to cook meals for the tree nymphs. They ate boiled squirrel, tree bark pudding, and leaf soup. If she stopped for one second to rest the tree nymph would hit her. At night when the father tree nymph would come home he would look at the princess and snarl and ask the mother tree nymph when they could sell her as a slave, because royal blood would fetch a lot of money in a foreign land. He laughed evilly when he said this. The mother tree nymph said that they would sell her if she ever started complaining or stopped working. They would sell her and she’d realize how easy she’d had it here.
    This life went on for many months, and soon the princess began to think it would never end. Her whole life would be lived inside this small dirty house, eating disgusting leaf soup, with the tree nymph beating her. Some days the tree nymph would go off to sell the baskets and leave the princess home alone. She would lock the princess inside her cage because she was afraid of the princess escaping. If she did ever escape, the tree nymph told the princess, she would find her and kill her along with her mother and father. On the days the tree nymph went off to sell baskets the princess would lie on the floor and cry. She’d think back to her times in the castle with her father and mother and all her friends, and she would cry and cry because she missed them.
    One day when the tree nymph was off selling baskets, and the princess was lying on the floor crying, she heard some birds twittering outside the small window that was high up on the wall. She usually never heard birds, because she realized the tree nymphs would kill them for food, and so the birds avoided coming near this tree.
    Help, me! Help! Help! she shouted. The tree nymphs have kidnapped me! Help me! Help me! I am the princess! I am the princess!
    The princess shouted until her voice become hoarse. Just as she was about to give up, a bluebird cautiously peeked his head inside the window.
    Princess? he said.
    It was the same bluebird who had warned the princess about the tree nymphs.
    O little bluebird, please help me! The tree nymphs have taken me captive and their daughter Marigold has taken my place at the castle. Please, little bird. I want to see my mother and father again. Help me escape. You were right about the tree nymphs! They are so evil!
    The bluebird tweeted and flew furiously around the house. He promised to help her, no matter what. He looked at the lock on the cage.
    Where is the key? the bluebird asked.
    The tree nymph has it, the princess said. She always carries it in her pocket. She’s selling baskets now.
    Does she let you out of the cage?
    Yes, the princess said. But she locks my leg to that chain.
    Oh my, the bluebird said and flew around. Well, don’t worry, princess, we’ll come up with a plan. We’ll come up with a very good plan. The bluebird thought for a while because he was a very intelligent bird. Then, together with the princess, they came up with a plan, and made their preparations.
    Be brave! the bluebird said when they were ready, and he flew off, because he needed to get all his bluebird friends to help him when the time was right.
    Later that day, when the princess heard the jingle of the keys on the front door, she lay down in her cage and closed her eyes.
    The tree nymph came in and screamed at the princess, Get up, get up you rotten little child! Get up you lazy no good piece of garbage! Enough sleep for today, you lazy sack of bones! Time to get up, you spoiled piece of shit, you daughter of a no good whore!
    Sam, language, please! I said.
    Sorry, he said. We must prepare the house for my husband, the tree nymph said. He is coming home today from his trip. The house must be perfectly dirty for him and we must have the finest leaf soup and squirrel because he’ll be hungry.
    But the princess didn’t move. The tree nymph came over and opened the door to the cage and whipped her. Get up! Get up! You no good piece of rotten trash.
    But still the princess didn’t move. The tree nymph cursed her and pulled the princess out of her cage by her legs. But still the princess didn’t move. Now the tree nymph was a little concerned. Was the princess dead? The tree nymph leaned down to hear if the princess was breathing. Just then the princess took the knife that the little bluebird had given her from the top shelf in the kitchen and the princess stabbed the tree nymph in the neck. The tree nymph screamed in pain and blood spurted out of her neck. Just then the bluebird and all his bird friends burst through the small window. They attacked the tree nymph and poked her eyes out with their beaks.
    I was watching Cassie. She seemed to be okay with the story. I guess it was fine.
    The tree nymph was screaming in agony and anger and was trying to pull the knife out of her throat.
    Not so violent, Sam!
    But the princess grabbed the key from the tree nymph and unlocked the door and ran outside. Other bluebirds were waiting there with a rope for the princess to tie around her waist so they could carry her to the castle. She tied the rope around her waist and just as they lifted her off, the father tree nymph arrived at the house and leapt and grabbed the princess’s ankle. He was very strong and the birds tried to fight against him. It was a tug of war with the birds and the father tree nymph. Somehow the birds managed to lift both of them off the tree and they were flying through the air, and still the father tree nymph held on. But he was too heavy and soon they all begin to sink. The princess kicked the tree nymph’s head but still he held on. Soon the birds who had attacked the mother tree nymph saw what was happening and they surrounded the father tree nymph and pecked his eyes out. The princess gave him one final kick to the head and he let go and fell screaming to the ground.
    The birds carried the princess all the way to the castle. Her father and mother and Marigold were all eating dinner. The bluebirds set her down gently in the dining hall and the princess ran to her father and mother.
    I am your real daughter! she cried. That girl is a fake, she said, pointing to Marigold, who was so shocked by the princess’s sudden appearance she choked on her food and died right there. The princess embraced her parents. They immediately knew it was their real daughter, because Marigold had been acting very strange. That night after the king heard the princess’s story he sentenced all evil tree nymphs in his kingdom to death by beheading and sent his knights to capture them. Her mother the queen decreed that bluebirds should never be killed or hunted and should always be treated with love and respect, which is why to this day in that kingdom bluebirds are revered as good luck and bringers of good fortune. And the little princess and king and queen all lived happily ever after.

I kissed Cassie her on the forehead. Goodnight, sweetie, I said.
    I want my tiara, she said.
    Sweetie, you’re going to sleep now. You might crush it.
    I want to put it on.
    Let’s put it right here on this table, and when you wake up you can put it on. That’s what the princess in the story does, right, Sam?
    Yep. She keep it on her bedside table. Just like this.
    Is a tree nymph going to steal it?
    Tree nymphs aren’t going to steal it, I said. I promise. Right, Sam?
    Yep, I promise, he said.
    Okay, Cassie said.
    Night night, sweetie.
    I led Sam by the hand to my bedroom. I kissed him. He still smelled a little of gasoline. That’s the kind of lie you can tell, I said. Those are the good lies. Only tell those lies, okay? Promise?
    I promise, he said.
    I love you, I said. I don’t know what come over me, but I had to say it. I’d never said it before. I wasn’t even thinking. Do you love me?