Thursday, 19 November 2009

Lenition 1


Nexis Pas

© 2009 by the author

Lenny is a liar. He lies about everything. When opportunity knocks, he lies. When it doesn’t knock, he lies. He lies about important things. He lies about trivial things. He lies because he enjoys lying. And he is a good liar. Even his closest friends believe the fictitious history he has concocted about himself. Sometimes Lenny himself forgets that that history is a lie. He even lies for a living.

Lenny began lying at the age of four. His parents believed in reading to children, and even before Lenny had started school, he had had dozens of stories read to him and seen hundreds more on television. He was an imaginative child surrounded by stories. Small wonder, then, that he began to tell them. All the children in the stories had friends. It seemed only reasonable to Lenny that he should have one too.

There was no one his age in the neighbourhood. Even if there had been, his mother would have carefully screened his playmates. The back garden was large and fenced in. He was allowed to play there on his own as long as he always came when one of his parents called. At the bottom of the garden in a sunny area was a paved patio, with chairs and a metal table with a sun shade. His mother encouraged him to play there because she could watch him from the back windows of the house. She knew that it was important for children to get plenty of fresh air and to be physically active. On sunny days, she piled the toys she permitted Lenny to take outside into his wagon and told him to wheel it down to the patio and play. But always with admonitions. ‘Don’t sit on the ground, darling. You don’t want to get your trousers dirty.’ ‘Don’t go hunting for bugs again, darling. They’ll bite you.’ ‘Don’t run about, darling. You might fall and hurt yourself.’

One day, after the twentieth circuit of the patio pulling his Paddington Bear in the wagon, Lenny found himself wishing for more. He pushed one of the chairs back from the table and climbed into the seat. He bent his legs at the knees and knelt with his calves folded flat against the seat of the chair and his feet protruding out the back. He rested an arm on the table and lay his cheek on it, his chin almost touching the surface of the table and his fair hair falling to one side. With his free hand he idly ran a small truck back and forth along the table.

‘What are you doing?’

Lenny looked up at the interruption. A boy his own age and size stood at the edge of the patio. He was dressed like Paddington Bear. ‘Nothing. Who are you?’

‘Jimmy. What’s your name?’

‘Leonard. Why are you dressed like Paddington Bear?’

The small boy pulled out a chair and sat down opposite him. He shrugged. ‘It’s what I wore today, innit it?’ Jimmy had a very dirty face, and his fingernails weren’t clean.

‘Doesn’t your mother make you wash your face and hands?’

‘She would if she could catch me. But I snucked away while she wasn’t looking.’

‘Where do you live?’

In answer Jimmy pointed a finger at a vague distance. ‘Over there. In a small cottage in the forest. With a dog and a duck. The duck’s name is Clarence, and I call the dog Bill. But that’s not his real name. That’s a secret. And a big green frog. And a black and white horse. Me da’s a fireman, and me mam’s a . . . ’ Jimmy paused, uncertain what his mother might be.

‘Your mum could be a fairy princess.’

Jimmy’s lips curled in disdain. ‘That’s stupid, Lenny.’

‘Maybe a spaceman.’

‘Yeah, a spaceman. She flies to the moon. That’s why she doesn’t have time to wash my face and hands. She’s busy flying to the moon. And it’s why I get to eat chocolates all the time. She brings them back from the moon as a present just for me, and I don’t have to share them, unless I want. I could share them with you if I wanted. Or maybe I’ll eat them all myself.’ Jimmy swung his feet up and down, his red wellies thudding against the underside of the table.

‘I’m not supposed to kick the furniture.’

‘Neither am I,’ said Jimmy. And he grinned very wickedly.

Jimmy was perhaps not the best playmate for Lenny. He seemed free to do all the things that Lenny’s parents forbade him to do. He jumped out of trees imitating an airplane and plummeted to earth. He sped about the patio in a fast-moving car, in blithe disregard of his own safety. He was quite proud of the scabs on his knees and picked at them and pulled them off to show Lenny instead of letting them heal properly. He dug holes in the ground and filled them with water. His clothes became smeared with mud in the process. He tore the knees of his trousers and he lost his hat frequently. He never ate anything that was good for him. He went behind the bushes when he had to wee instead of walking up to the house and using the toilet off the kitchen. Jimmy was Lenny’s hero. He was very real to Lenny.


‘Who are you talking to, darling?’ Lenny’s mother sat the plate with the apple slices and grapes and the glass of milk on the table.


‘Who’s Jimmy?’

‘He’s my friend.’ Lenny turned around to point at Jimmy but his friend had faded away. ‘He’s gone. He must have gone home.’

‘And where does Jimmy live?’

‘In the forest. Over there. He has a duck. Its name is Clarence, and a black and white horse. And his da’s a fireman and his mam’s a spaceman. She brings him chocolates from the moon, and . . .’

‘Don’t say “da” and “mam”, darling. It’s “father” and “mother”. Wherever do you hear such words?’

‘They say them on the telly.’

‘Television, darling. And if you’re learning words like that from the television, we’ll have to take more care about what you watch. Are you warm enough? It’s getting chilly. Let’s pick your toys up and go back inside the house. You can eat your snack at the kitchen table and then play in the sitting room until your father comes home.’


‘Leonard has an imaginary playmate now. I overheard him talking to his “friend Jimmy” in the garden. I wonder if we should take him to see a doctor.’ Lenny’s mother didn’t bother to lower her voice. She was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Lenny stopped paging through the picture book of birds that his mother had given him to occupy his time. He sat very still and listened carefully.

‘It’s just a stage,’ Lenny’s father said. ‘All kids have imaginary playmates. Do you want me to pour you a glass of wine as well?’

‘No. I’ll wait until later. I need to get this in the oven. I’m sure this imaginary playmate’s not healthy. Perhaps you should talk with Leonard.’

Lenny heard his father sigh. A short time later, his father came into the sitting room and sat down. ‘How are you doing, champ?’

‘Fine.’ Lenny turned a page in his book.

‘What are you reading?’

Lenny picked the book off the floor with both hands and held the cover side toward his father.

‘Is that a good book?’

‘I guess so. It’s about birds.’

‘Why don’t you put it down for a minute and come sit by me.’ Lenny’s father patted the cushion of the sofa beside himself.

Lenny carefully closed the book and sat it squarely on a table. He took a seat gingerly beside his father, barely resting his buttocks on the edge of the sofa. His father put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it briefly. ‘What did you do today?’

Lenny shrugged. ‘I played outside until Mother said it was too cold.’

‘Your mother tells me that you were playing with someone.’

‘With Jimmy. He’s my friend. He has a horse and a dog.’

‘Both a horse and a dog. Jimmy must be very lucky.’

Lenny nodded his head vigorously. ‘And he gets to do whatever he wants. His parents let him do what he wants.’

‘Do they? Well, I’m sure that sounds good, Leonard, but sometimes little boys need their parents to guide them.’

‘But . . .’

‘Now, no buts. And there isn’t really a Jimmy, is there? You mustn’t lie to your mother. It worries her. And you must never worry your mother, Leonard. Let’s hear no more of this nonsense. Now promise me that you’ll forget all about this Jimmy.’

Lenny looked guilelessly at his father. With his blue eyes and blond hair and fair complexion, he could have posed for cherub. ‘But he’s just a story. Like in my books. He’s just a story I made up. I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t. I was just pretending. I’m sorry if I worried Mother.’

‘That’s better. I’m glad to see that you know the difference between pretending and the truth, Leonard. Pretending is fine for people who write stories, but it doesn’t do for the rest of us. Now why don’t you read your book until dinner is ready.’ Lenny’s father turned away and picked up the newspaper.

Lenny and Jimmy talked about it later that night when they were lying in bed together. Jimmy had climbed up the tree beside the house and crawled in the bedroom window. It was raining outside, and his boots were quite muddy. He didn’t bother to take them off before he got into bed with Lenny. Lenny discovered they didn’t even have to whisper. They could hear each other inside their heads.

‘You did good. Pretending I’m just a story. Now we can be together for ever and ever. And no one will ever bother us again.’ Jimmy put his arms around Lenny’s shoulders and hugged him tightly, like his grandmother did, but it was much nicer with Jimmy because Jimmy wasn’t wearing a lot of perfume that made Lenny’s eyes itch. He smelled comfortably of damp leaves and wet earth. It made Lenny feel very safe and secure, and he soon went to sleep.

And that was Lenny’s first lesson in lying. His parents thought they had helped Lenny see the difference between lying and reality. Instead they had taught him how to dissemble to authority. One gave the authorities the answer they wanted to hear, not what was true. In the years to come, it would become Lenny’s standard method of dealing with his parents, his teachers, and other adults who crossed his path. He was free to pursue a rich inner life as long as took care to make his outer life conform to the proprieties.

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