Read The Good Lie Online

Authors: Robin Brande

The Good Lie (7 page)

BOOK: The Good Lie
10.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Judges

[1]

Before there were kings in Israel
there were judges—leaders chosen by God to save the Israelites from
themselves.  The pattern was simple:  the Israelites sinned and fell into idol
worshipping and debauchery, the enemy overran them and enslaved them, the
Israelites cried out to their God for help, and over and over again he sent
them a savior in the form of a mighty warrior-judge.

Samson was a judge.  So was
Gideon.  And Deborah, the only female warrior the Bible talks about.  It’s her
story I like the best.

Deborah commands one of her
soldiers, Barak, to take ten thousand men and go kick the enemy’s ass.  Barak
answers, “Only if you go with me.”

There are two ways of looking at
this:  either Barak is afraid, and wants the mighty Deborah by his side, or he
doesn’t trust her judgment, and wants to see if she’ll put her own life on the
line.  Whichever it is, Deborah sticks it right back to him:

“I will go with you,” she says, “but
because you asked this of me, the honor will not be yours today, but a woman’s.” 
You assume she’s referring to herself, but she isn’t.

Barak and Deborah slaughter the
enemy, and only one man escapes—the evil enemy commander Sisera.  He flees to
the tent of Jael, the wife of a friend of his.

The Bible doesn’t say why she does
it—a lot of times the Bible leaves it up to you to decide why people do what
they do.  For whatever reason, Jael speaks honey to Sisera and tells him he can
hide in her tent.  Then she serves him some warm milk and tucks him in for a
nap.

And while Sisera is sleeping Jael
takes a tent peg and hammers it into his skull.

The whole next chapter in Judges is
devoted to the Song of Deborah, where Deborah dances around and sings the
praises of Jael—
she crushed his head, she shattered his temple, she spilled
his brains, fa la la
.  And how’s this for insensitive?  At the end of the
song Deborah gloats about how Sisera’s mother would have been sitting at her
window all day watching for her son, wondering why his chariot is so late in
coming.  Her handmaidens comfort her:  your son must still be dividing the
spoils.  Maybe he’s still raping the women—he’s a very busy man.  He’ll come
home from work soon enough, old mother, don’t worry your poor gray head.

And this is what I think:  how
sweet that must have felt to Jael.  Hard at first to bring herself to make that
first blow, driving the tent peg past his skin and skull, but once she began
she couldn’t stop or Sisera would wake up and kill her.  And when he was dead
she must have looked down at him and smiled and praised herself for a job well
done.

I had thoughts like that myself.  I
thought about cutting off his penis while he slept.  Taking the largest knife I
could find and stabbing my father first in the heart and then through his groin
over and over again without looking at it.  Would I go to prison?  Would they
call that self-defense?

I thought about how I would feel
afterward:  scared?  Sad?  Triumphant?  How do you feel when you’ve dipped your
hands in blood for a cause you know is righteous?  How do you feel when you’ve
violated every impulse you’ve ever had, and committed some act of terrible
violence?  Is there ever a way to feel good about that?  Maybe.  Maybe.

I knew I was in the right.  The
Bible is clear about men lying with men.  There is no excuse, no exception for
it, no “just this one time.”

Incest?  Well, that gets a pass
during times of stress.  Lot’s daughters could sleep with their father.  Adam
and Eve’s children and Noah’s must have had to make do with each other, knowing
they were doing God’s will in repopulating the earth.  I suppose a man who
pored over the Bible like my father did, searching for every single passage on
adultery and fornication, might have run across the stories of incest and might
have created a rational argument in his favor, but on no account is there any
relief in any verse of any chapter saying a father may lie with his son.  You
get stoned to death for something like that.  Good.

It was Sunday.  My father and Mikey
were in church—what a joke that was.  How could my father sit there and pray as
if he hadn’t committed one of the worst sins known to human kind?  But then,
how did the priests do it, either?  No wonder Posie flipped out every time she
thought about it.

I chose my outfit carefully, just
like Posie would have.  Who did I want to be today?  The strong, independent
daughter who was handling things quite well, considering?  Or the pathetic,
forlorn girl who needed her mommy fast?

I went with jeans and boots and a
tank top.  The boots to make me feel taller and tougher.  The tank top to prove
to my mother I wasn’t listening to her anymore.  I was going to show some
skin.  And if I burst into flames from being out in the sun more than ten
seconds, oh well.  A small price to pay.

I was ready.  I hoped.

 

[2]

I mentally rehearsed my speech to
my mother on the bus ride to Mc Donald’s.   I thought I might put it like this:

“Mom, I think something is going
on.  I need you to come home.”

Or maybe like this:

“Things are awful.  You have no idea. 
You have to come back home.”

Or maybe just:

“Would you stop being so selfish?! 
I’m sixteen, for God’s sake!  I shouldn’t have to deal with this!  Your husband
is molesting your son and he tried to molest me!  So stop having sex with your
boyfriend and come home and clean up your own damn mess!”

 I stepped off at the bus stop.  I
saw her before she saw me.  She sat at an outdoor table under an umbrella, face
lightly lit by the sun, everything about her glowing with health and happiness
and sex.

I didn’t realize until that moment
how desperately I had been missing her.  I missed her voice.  Her smell—that
mixture of hair gel and moisturizer and whatever she had been cooking that day
and some indefinable organic scent that I’d be able to pick out of a scent
lineup ten times out of ten.  The feeling of her fingers combing through my
hair.  Her thin strong arms hugging me at night.  I wanted to take her back
home with me, curl up on the couch, tell her everything that had happened to me
since I saw her last, on April 23rd, the worst day of my life.

And that’s when the blood froze
inside me.  That’s when I realized I couldn’t forgive her.  I couldn’t be happy
to see her.  I couldn’t give her the satisfaction of having me back the way I
used to be.

“Lizzie!”  Her eyes were moist. 
She moved to hug me and I stiffened.  Did she think it would be that easy?  She
looked pained.  Good.  Deal with it.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Fine.” 
Except for your pervert
husband.  Except for the fact that he’s made your children’s lives a nightmare,
but I wouldn’t want to bother you with that.  How’s tricks?

“How’s summer school?” she asked.

“Fine.”

“What are you taking?”

“Biology.”

“Oh.  Mikey thought it was
Government.”

“That was first session.”  I was
trying to use as few words as possible.  She didn’t deserve conversation.

“Oh.  How’s Posie?”

“Fine.”

“And your writing?”

“Fine.”

“Written anything new lately?”

“No, I’ve been a little too busy
taking care of your house.”

Ouch.  Direct hit.  Score!  Did you
see the look on her face?

“I need something to eat,” I said,
and abruptly left the table.  Let her stew on that one for a while.

I went inside and treated myself to
a vanilla milkshake and fries, knowing my skinny pretty mother wouldn’t
approve.  Too bad. I made the rules now.

I returned to our cozy table
outside and proceeded to stuff my face.

“Honey, I’ve missed you so much.”

“So, how’s Charles?” I asked.  “Good
in bed?”

“Lizzie!”

“What, too nasty for you, Mother? 
You’re the one fooling around.”

She took a deep breath.  “I know you’re
angry with me—”

“Why would I be angry with you?”  I
wanted to hear her say it out loud.

“How are things, really?” she asked
in her most motherly tone.

I laughed, this fake ugly laugh.  “Just
wonderful, Mother.  What do you think?  You left me home to take care of your
husband and child.  I’m having a great life.  Just what every teenage girl
could want.”

“Lizzie, I’m sorry.  I know it isn’t
ideal, but I didn’t know what else to do.”

“How about this?” I suggested.  “How
about divorcing your husband first, then fooling around?  How about telling
your children you’re leaving?  How about not sneaking out while your daughter
is at her prom?”

“Lizzie, lower your voice.”

“Why?  Are you embarrassed?”

“No, but I don’t want you to be.”

“How considerate.”  I shoved in
half a dozen fries and washed them down with shake.  God I love fats and salt
when my heart is breaking apart.

“I knew your father would be ugly
when I left,” my mother explained.  “I wanted to spare you kids.”

“Oh, gee, thanks, Mom!  Way to look
out for us!”

Unlike me, she was calm and quiet. 
“Can we talk about this like grown ups?”

“Sure,” I said.  “Since I’m the
lady of the house now.”

My mother sighed.  “Please,
Lizzie.  I want us to be a family again.  You and me and Mikey.”

“And Charles?”

“No.  Not now.  I love him and I
hope you will some day—”

“Highly doubtful.”

“—but I realize it’s much too soon.”

Chomp, chomp, suck, slurp,
everything will be okay.  Just keep eating.  Don’t look at her.  This will all
be over soon.

“I’d like to have you and Mikey
over for dinner a few times a week.”

“Oh, how generous.  I’ll tell
Mikey.”

“Lizzie,” my mother pleaded, tears
springing to her eyes, “please don’t be this way.”  She grabbed one of my
napkins and held it to her nose.  Good.  She should cry.

But not me.  Stuff your face.  A
little more shake.  Keep it all together.

“Please?” my mother asked.  “Will
you think about it?”

“Why should I?” I snapped.  “You
left me, Mother.  I didn’t do anything.”

“I know, Lizzie.  I love you.  I’m
sorry it turned out this way.”

As if she didn’t have any choice in
the matter.  As if she were an innocent bystander.

“Things with your father—”

“I don’t want to hear about it.”

“But you must have seen how bad
things were.”

“Nope.  Sorry.”

“I just want you to understand—”

“I said I don’t want to know. 
Leave me out of it.”

Her mouth grew small.  “It’s so
easy to judge, isn’t it?  Well, maybe one day you’ll understand.  I finally
feel I’m with the right man.  He respects me.  Your father never has.  For
heaven’s sake, we’ve been together since I was a child—”

And that’s when I got it.

Oh, my God.  I’m so dense
sometimes, it’s a miracle I ever learned to read.

Of course my  mother already knew
about my father—she had to.  Who would know better?  She left us alone knowing
exactly what he was.

My mother used to love to tell me
the story of how she and my father met.  It was at a church picnic.  She was
there with her parents, and my father was with his.  He lived out of state, but
had decided to come home for a visit, just for the weekend.

“It was a fateful day,” my mother
liked to say with a smile.

It sure was.

I used to think that story was so
romantic.  There was my father—tall, handsome, twenty-five, just starting out
as a broker, on his way to becoming who he would be.  He was just the Christian
Real Estate Prince back then, but oh, what potential.

And there was my mother—petite,
lovely, “a mature-looking thirteen,” she liked to say.

Hold it.

How mature could that be? 
Fifteen?  Sixteen?  No matter what she was a child and he was a grown man and
he was attracted to her.

Now I see everything because the
universe is circular and a man who is attracted to a child is attracted to
children.  That’s all there is to it—once a child molester, always a child
molester.

She wasn’t going to help me.  Mikey
and I were on our own.  I should have known that the moment she left us.

“Will you think about it?” she
asked again.

“What?”

“Dinner.”

“I have to go.”  I stood up.

My mother caught my hand.  “Lizzie?”

I shook her loose.  “What?”

“Thank you for coming.”

“Uh huh.”

“I love you.”

“Hm.”

I walked away in a stupor.  My
brain was worn to the bone.  I had come for a solution and left knowing I
wouldn’t get one—not there, anyway.  Mission unaccomplished.

There was only one thing to do.

The thing I should have done in the
first place.

The Sword of the Angel of Death

[1]

King David commits a sin which
doesn’t seem like a sin at all.  I once wrote about it to an online service
that answers questions about the Bible.

“Why was it wrong for King David to
count the number of men in his army?”

“Because it showed pride,” came the
answer.  “Instead of trusting in God’s strength, he trusted in the strength of
his army, and wanted to know how large it was.”

That still didn’t satisfy me, but I
haven’t been able to come up with a better answer yet.  I put it to you.

But let’s assume that was a
terrible crime.  God thought it was.  He offered David three choices for his
punishment:  three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies,
or three days of the sword of the Lord, meaning three days of plague.

David immediately rejected the
three years of famine, because that was too long.  And he rejected three months
of fleeing from his enemies because, “I would rather trust myself to the mercy
of God than the mercy of men.”  So God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem with
a plague.

Seventy thousand men fell dead
before God couldn’t bear it anymore.  He cried out to His angel, “Enough!” 
Just then David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven
and earth with his sword drawn and extended over Jerusalem.

What an awesome moment.  Can you
imagine?  How could you not die of fright?  To see a gigantic, glowing angel
with a menacing face and his enormous sword stretched out over your kingdom—what
a humbling, terrifying moment in a man’s life.

I understand now how that felt.  I
was about to summon an avenging angel myself.

 

[2]

I didn’t expect Posie to cry like
that.  I had only gotten a few sentences into it when her hand flew to her
mouth and her eyes squeezed shut and she murmured, “No, no, no . . .” and began
to sob.

And I did, too.

I tried to tell her the rest but
there wasn’t any point.  We were both weeping so fiercely I thought our guts
would end up on the floor.

Then her tears cleared and a fire
rose in Posie’s eyes.  “That bastard.”  She picked up the phone and dialed 911.

“I want to report someone.”

I grabbed the phone and hung it
up.  “You can’t, Posie, you can’t.  I never would have told you!”

“You didn’t,” Posie reminded me.  “All
this time you—”

The phone rang.  You can’t dial 911
and just hang up—they want to know about it.

“Please, Posie, let’s talk about it
first.  We have to figure out what to do.”

Brrrring.

“I know what to do.”  Posie reached
for the receiver.

“There’s more,” I rushed to say.  “Let
me tell you everything.”

Posie hesitated, then answered the
phone.  “No, ma’am.  I’m sorry.  There’s nothing wrong.  I was mistaken.”  She
listened a few beats more.  “I’m alone and I  thought I heard a noise outside,
but it was just my friend.  I’m sorry—I’m fine.”

Posie hung up and fixed me with a
commanding glare.  “You’d better tell me everything, Lizzie.  I mean it.  I can’t
believe—”  She burst into tears again, and I cried with her and it was hard to
say who was more stricken at that moment because Posie knew she would have to
act somehow and neither of us wanted that.  We were still girls, more in love
with the fantasy of life than with real life itself.  If the fantasies would
all be dark from now on, who wanted to know?

 

[3]

“Hello, my name is Posie Sherbern. 
May I please speak to Ms. Peligro?”

Oh, my Lord.  Oh, my God my Lord.

I sat shaking on Posie’s bed.

“Well then,” Posie responded to the
person on the other line, “can I make an appointment?  It’s about a
molestation.”

Oh, my God.  There was nothing I
could do now.  This was really happening.

“No,” Posie said, “I have to work
tomorrow.  Can we make it Wednesday?”

“Afternoon,” I mouthed.  As if I’d
be able to concentrate on summer school that morning anyway.

“Yes, around three o’clock?  Thank
you.”  Posie hung up.  I started bawling again.

“It’s going to be all right,” she
assured me.

“It’s not going to be all right!” 
My heart thudded in my chest.  “Everyone’s going to know.  He’s going to find
out I told—”

“Who, Mikey or your father?”

“Both!”

Posie eyed me sternly.  “As well
they should.  This shouldn’t be a secret.  It shouldn’t be happening at all. 
You’re saving your brother.  I don’t care what it does to your father.”

“They’ll take him away.”

“They should.”

It was sinking in.  “They’re going
to put my father in jail.”

“Lizzie, he’s a bad, bad man.  He
deserves to go to prison.  They all do.”

Posie’s idealism sometimes
separates her from reality.  I spelled it out for her.  “He supports us, Poz. 
My mother can’t.  Mikey and I need groceries, a place to live—”

“Your mother will take you in.”

“What if she can’t?”

“Then I will,” Posie said simply.  “My
mother will.”

It was a solution I hadn’t
considered, nor would I.  To bring not only a teenager but also a little boy to
the doorstep and beg for alms—I couldn’t see doing it, no matter how nice Mrs.
Sherbern might be about it.  And the truth was, I didn’t know if she would be
nice about it or not.  I liked Mrs. Sherbern, but I didn’t really know her all
that well.

They say everyone’s brain can be
divided into a pie chart.  Guys supposedly have a big slice for sports, and
only a teeny tiny one for relationships.  Mrs. Sherbern’s pie, like Posie’s,
had a large slice devoted to all things Hollywood.  She read voraciously—
People,
Us, Entertainment Weekly, Biography
—anything having to do with television
and movie stars past and present.

She looked like a movie star
herself with her tall slim build, square face, and soft wavy brown hair.  She
wore just a touch of makeup, just a touch of perfume, and was as comfortably
feminine as Posie was, just in a taller, more womanly package.  She liked that
Posie wanted to be an actress.  I think she saw herself at the Oscars beaming
while Posie made her acceptance speech, then hobnobbing at the parties afterward
with all the celebrities whose lives she kept careful track of.

She sold real estate sometimes, but
didn’t seem to work very hard at it.  Posie’s father had left them some money,
and I guess it was enough to get by on.  Mrs. Sherbern had a good life with a
daughter who was nearly grown.  Why should she want to take on two more kids?

“No,” I answered, “that won’t work.”

“Why not?  There’s plenty of room—”

“Forget it,” I said.  “Don’t even
talk about it.  Mikey is my responsibility, not yours.  I’ll get a job and find
someplace to live.”

“Come on, Lizzie, don’t be
ridiculous.  You’re sixteen—you can’t support the two of you.  You can move in
with me.  Honestly.”

“I don’t think so.  We’ll see.  Let
me figure it out.”

 

[4]

Angela Peligro’s office was
downtown in an old house that had been converted to offices.  The wood floors
squeaked as we walked across them.  The assistant looked up from her typing.

“We’re here to see Ms. Peligro,”
Posie announced with confidence.  We had both dressed carefully for the part.  Posie
wore a navy dress with a crisp white collar, and blue pumps.  It was a costume
she had worn—along with tortoise shell glasses—to play the lead in a one-act
play about a business woman having an affair with her gardener.

I wore nice khakis, my black boots,
and a black long-sleeved T-shirt.  It was my Tough Girl look.  I thought I
would probably need it.

Posie and I sat in the waiting room
pretending to study the magazines.  I sweated beneath my bra, a cold nervous
sweat that reeked of indecision.

Through the closed door we could
hear Angela Peligro bellowing into the phone.  “Yeah, keep talking, Jim—you
guys really want to take this to trial?  You think I don’t know what I’ve got? 
Every one of those jurors is gonna look at your guy and puke.  When I play that
video for them—”

Posie and I locked eyes.  I could
see she was beyond impressed.

“Yeah, right,” Angela Peligro
sneered.  “And when I tell them he was going down on her when she was ten—I don’t
care if you are sick of it, you’re going to hear it a lot more!  Why don’t you
find someone to associate on this case who’s got a brain out of his ass who can
tell you you’re going take a bath on this, then call me when you’re ready to
talk numbers!”

We heard the phone slam down.  A
split second later, the assistant’s phone buzzed.  She clicked on her headphone
and continued typing.  Angela barked out instructions we could hear clearly
through the wooden door.  The assistant tapped out a few more lines, then
mentioned, “Your three o’clock is here.”

The door to Angela’s office burst
open.  She stood there, all five-feet-two of her, wiry black hair bunching
messily at her shoulders, cigarette burning between her fingers.  She wore a
wrinkled white blouse and stout black pants and I wasn’t expecting that smile—genuine,
warm, and halfway smug.  “Well!  That was a good day’s work.  Love to make the
defense lawyers sweat.  Hello, ladies.”

Posie rose with dignity, playing
the part of a woman accustomed to meeting with her solicitors.  “Hello, Ms.
Peligro,” she said, extending her hand.  “I’m a great admirer of your work.  I’m
Posie Sherbern, and this is my friend Lizzie Aimes.”

Posie always brings such flair to
her parts.  Angela nodded approvingly.

“Hi,” I croaked.   As usual my own
entrance was underwhelming.  I stumbled to my feet and knocked over a stack of
magazines on the little table by my chair.  Angela Peligro closed my hand in
her iron grip.

“Call me Angela,” she told us
both.  “Which one of you is here to see me?”

“Both of us,” Posie answered.

“You both being molested?”

I stammered an “uh,” but Posie held
her composure.   “No, I’m just here for moral support.  It’s Lizzie.”

“Sorry—Posie, was it?—moral support
has to happen from the lobby.  I can only talk to Lizzie.”

“Why?” I asked in alarm.  This was
already out of control.

“It destroys the privilege—you know
about attorney-client privilege?  Whatever you tell me is private.  That means
no one else in the room, unless it’s another lawyer on the case.  Understand?”

“Yes, but—”

Angela smiled at me.  “Don’t worry,
Lizzie.  I only bite my opponents.”

“It’s okay,” Posie told me, “I’ll
be right out here.”  She nudged me forward.  “Here, take this.”  She handed me
her neatly-organized manila folder of articles she had accumulated about Angela
Peligro.

Reluctantly I entered Angela’s
smoky chamber.

“Sorry,” Angela said as she closed
the door behind us.  “I get that all the time—boyfriends wanting to be in here
with their girlfriends—”

“Posie’s not my—”

“—friends wanting to give moral
support.  I get it, believe me, I just can’t do it.  Not allowed.  Have a seat—Lizzie,
right?”

A sign above Angela’s desk reminded
everyone NO SMOKING.  A cape of  smoke hung over the room.  A butt fizzled in
the overburdened ash tray.  Angela’s husky, gruff voice gave independent proof that
she was a chain smoker.  Her teeth and fingernails were the color of margarine.

Angela plopped into her chair and
took a last drag off the cigarette between her fingers before smudging it out. 
She leaned back, the picture of relaxation.  “So, Lizzie, why don’t you give me
the short and sweet?”

It was too abrupt.  I was hoping to
ease into it, let Posie do most of the talking, add a few details of my own
here and there.  I had prepared for a supporting role, now suddenly I had the
lead.

As soon as Angela realized she had
stunned me into silence, she guided me along with baby steps.  “It says in your
message, ‘Dad screwing the kid.’  That you or somebody else?”

“I didn’t say that—”

“No, I’m sorry, that’s just how
Georgia puts it.  She’s used to me.  You tell me in your own words.  Are you
the one being molested?”

“Uh, my brother, mostly.”  I had
pictured this whole thing completely differently—where were the euphemisms and
the anatomical dolls?

“Well, tell me about it,” Angela
prompted.

“Wait,” I stalled, remembering how
Posie and I had rehearsed it.  I opened the manila folder in my sweaty hands
and started thumbing through its contents.  “Posie saved all your clippings…”

“All of them?  Wow—can’t even say
that myself.  Didn’t know I had groupies.  I like that.”

“Posie’s not a groupie she just—” 
I paused when I saw Angela’s amused smile.  “She just admires you, that’s all. 
She thinks you do important work.”

“Well, that’s nice of Posie, but
let’s talk about you, huh?  What brings you to me, Lizzie?  What are you hoping
to see happen here?”

I was suddenly aware of her clock. 
Was this like a counseling session where the doctor’s watching the clock the
whole time, and you’re just in the middle of your breakdown and he says, “Oh, I’m
sorry, time’s up”?

I rested my forehead in my hand.  “I’m
sorry.  I just don’t . . . this is hard to do.”

Angela smiled.  “I know it.  Take
your time, Lizzie.  I’ve got all afternoon.”  As if to prove it, she picked up
a magazine—
The Vigorous Lawyer
—and began flipping through it.

I could breathe again.

I shouldn’t have liked her—she wasn’t
my kind of person at all—but I did.  Something about her brusqueness and
throaty rasp relaxed me.  I liked how plain she was—the cheap clothes, hair in
need of a good cut and a dye job to cover up the gray, the lumpy, comfortable
body—it was a standard I could live up to.  Before coming there I had pictured
a prim, small-mouthed woman with a high collar and her hair in a tight bun.  I
couldn’t tell my story to someone like that—she’d make me feel like I was
showing her porn.  But this woman in front of me was as worn in and practical
as an old wooden spoon.  She had seen it all.  She had seen it and could name
it, and I knew suddenly I could tell her anything.

BOOK: The Good Lie
10.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Northern Exposure by Debra Lee Brown
Airplane Rides by Jake Alexander
Nan's Journey by Elaine Littau
Death Threads by Casey, Elizabeth Lynn
Lucian's Soul by Hazel Gower
Am I Right or Am I Right? by Barry Jonsberg