One good lie

blurry crowd
What’s not to believe?

I got an email inviting me to audition for a show filled with lies. For the audition, I have to tell a three-minute lie, as outrageous as I like. How hard can that be? So I accepted and figured something would come to me. But now the audition is just days away and I’m starting to panic.

I’ve come up with two so far, one about a friend’s strange restaurant behavior and one about accidentally killing my piano teacher. Both sound good in my head, but when I start telling them out loud, I trail off. I lose my sense of purpose, which at least tells me something about why I like true stories, even when they’re not outrageous. They’re true, so they reveal something about something, even if I don’t always know exactly what the something is. But what does lying reveal? So far, I’ve lied only to hide things. But then again, a lie is just a fictional story and I’ve written those, so this shouldn’t be any different. But it is. I’m thinking about cancelling my audition, but I don’t want to chicken out.

Last night my brother Rolando came over. His friends have opened a hardware store, Matty K’s, and we were going there for a sort of gardening pep rally. Rolando came early to bring us gifts of dog food. Their dear old family dog passed away last month, so they had boxes of treats and bags of food which I coveted. My plan was to pass it on to Zoe’s new owner, because the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park has also passed on, and Zoe was now living with one of the B’s.

There are two B’s, B-e and B-y. For months we’ve emailed each other to schedule Zoe’s walks. We’ve also tried to plan a dinner together, because the Hepburn sisters gave us checks to dine at Blackbird, as a Zoe thank you. We’ve tossed dates around and B-e even made reservations twice, but something always comes up. Yet when Miss Hepburn died, we found ourselves suddenly able to wrangle ourselves and husbands and bottles of beer and whisky for pizza at a local BYOB. It was soon enough after Miss Hepburn’s death that it didn’t feel real, and we had a boisterous time.

I planned to email B-e and tell her I had food to pass on for Zoe – it’s even her brand – but B-e had already emailed to say she’d brought Zoe back to live with Miss Hepburn’s sister. She convinced her that we didn’t mind continuing the walks, and Zoe is good company and good protection. So in a little while I’ll go over and pick her up for a walk. But first, I need my lie.

Last night, after Rolando parked the car and we had dinner, we walked over to Matty K’s. We passed a man dressed in a plumed page’s costume. He looked exactly like a royal chicken, with a plumed headpiece and puffy satin middle and tights. I wished I had my phone out, but he didn’t look like he would appreciate a picture. He was smoking a cigarette and adjusting his headpiece. We continued on to the store, where we had cookies and root beer and got fired up about gardening.

When we left, the royal chicken was still standing on Western, greeting people going into an event. If this were a lie, something outrageous would happen right here. But because it’s true, all I have is a blurry picture, because I grabbed my phone in time but didn’t stop to focus because I was afraid of getting yelled at. I don’t know if I’m cut out for lying, if I don’t even have the nerve to get a decent picture of an outrageous apparition placed right in my path like a golden egg.

Longing for normal

a sign hanging on a tree
Always and everywhere.

I keep longing for normal, like I’m saving up rewards points. Dave says, “Why waste time on normal, what I want is extraordinary.”

He’s probably right, but the normal I long for will feel extraordinary. I know it. I can’t articulate the feeling, but I know it will be tangible and complete.

Maybe it’s what my mom meant when she’d say, “I got nothing to do today, and that’s exactly how I like it.” I used to get angry at her, willfully wasting her life. But maybe she was just looking for normal. Maybe she thought if she got all the actual living stuff out of the way, normal would seep in, like fog across a bridge.

In my mind, here’s what a normal weekend looks like: Friday night is a movie at the neighborhood cinema. Perhaps a bite afterward. Saturday is errands and small home repairs – cute ones, perhaps requiring dungarees or a bandanna. Then it’s a leisurely dinner with friends. Sunday is a walk to the park, reading on the couch, and cooking a big pot of soup for the week. Don’t tell me how Saturdays are the worst traffic days to run errands, and all the pit bulls are loose on Sundays. This is my ideal. Week after week, when I’m in the middle of doing something I absolutely did not plan for, I think, okay, scrap this. Next time will be normal. Must purchase dungarees.

This weekend was going to be It. Our huge freelance project just wrapped, so we didn’t need to work through Saturday to catch up. No house emergencies, no big plans. We were set. Friday I figured we’d either see “The Descendents” or “The Artist” at the Davis. I warned Dave to be ready. But first I had to go to the hospital because the Katharine Hepburn of Horner Park is ill. So I went there and had my heart broken by the new set of indignities life is hoisting on this most fragile of survivors. Then I stopped at Harvestime for groceries—the clock was ticking but the store was right on the way.

I got home just in time to meet Louella and give her a quick lesson on how to work the Roku and not lock herself out. She’d come to town on Thursday with her ailing dog Lancelot. The downstate vet said this handsome and debonair creature could go at any minute, he has unspecified heart problems and probable cancer in addition to the stomach ailment that had brought him in. “Be prepared, he doesn’t have much time.” Another friend had invited her to come and stay so Lancelot could say goodbye to all his Chicago friends and so they didn’t have to deal with all the stairs at Lancelot’s castle.

But when I stopped there on Thursday Louella was panicking because Lancelot had peed on the rug and her host was upset. She was steam-cleaning an already clean spot for the fifth time, like Mrs. Macbeth, while Lancelot lay very quiet, with that absent look dogs have when they’re close to the end or just temporarily sick. You never know. When I got home Dave said, “They should come here.” We already had Miss Hepburn’s dog Zoe, but she’s not the bullying type, and Django loves Lancelot, so here they were, setting up on a big waterproof sheet covered by blankets and pillows. Lancelot was looking a little better, and Zoe and Django were gentle with him.

We didn’t get to the Davis in time for the early movie, so we had dinner instead, and gelato at Paciugo. Saturday we ran errands, taking Zoe to the groomer, returning a Christmas present, and letting a Vitamix rep at Merz tell us why we might need a five hundred-dollar blender. We don’t, but I got a free mini-smoothie. Dinner was appropriately leisurely with Xeena and Buck at Fin. Then we all headed back and had drinks with Louella and Lancelot, who was now walking a bit, wagging his tail, and eating small morsels.

After Xeena and Buck went home, I did what I always do at the end of the night: gathered up any random cups and glasses to load in the dishwasher before Dave ran it. I pointed to a small blue glass on the coffee table and asked Louella, “Is that yours?”

“Oh yes,” she quickly grabbed it, “I was just going to put it in the dishwasher like you said.”

“No, no, I didn’t know if you were still using it, or if it was Buck’s…” Too late, she’d already rushed it to the kitchen. I suddenly felt like some maniacal hausfrau who must have everything perfect at all times. I tried to mitigate. “Did you want a new glass?” I offered.

“No thanks, I’m good.”

“That glass is so small for water,” I said lamely. I whispered to Dave, “Do you think she thought I was trying to take her glass away?”

He shrugged, like “Why worry about it?”

“I don’t want her to think…” that I’m abnormal. But I am. Because I have this picture of normal, and it includes everything being back in place at the end of the day, as if the humans were never here. Normal means absent, I realize. Fitting so well into the groove that you can’t be seen or heard. Longing for normal is like starving myself to fit into a fabulous dress I have no occasion to wear. I still long for it, but I’m trying to recover.

It’s like this

Like boots.

I went to pick up Zoe. I put Django’s boots on first, because of the salt. We walked over there. It was cold. We went up and Marianne was just coming in from shoveling. Her face was rosy, like a storybook child’s. Katharine Hepburn and her sister were at the kitchen table. I said hi and Marianne leashed up Zoe. Elaine said, “Look at Django’s boots. They’re so cute!” “You should see her with her coat on,” I boasted extra loudly, like an intrusive home help lady from a British mystery novel.

Back outside, I felt bullied by the cold. I walked the dogs up north, aiming for a mailbox so I could mail my letter. But my hands were starting to ache, like the last gasp of water in the tray before it freezes into ice. I was so cold I started to whimper, so quietly that passersby didn’t notice, so quietly that even the dogs didn’t turn around. I decided to stop home and warm up.

My hands were so numb I could barely unlock the back door. The dogs bounded in. Django stopped on the rug and waited for me to take her boots off. Zoe jumped up on a counter, looking for snacks. I whimpered more loudly now, “Ow. Ow. Ow,” as I pulled off Django’s disposable balloon boots.

I rubbed my hands together briskly, like a Buddhism teacher on Lawrence Avenue once taught, reminding them what circulation feels like. As they thawed, Dave came in the back door from rehearsal. He offered to walk Zoe back with me, noting that Django didn’t need to go out again.

He was right, and certainly I didn’t want to wrestle Django’s boots back on, but when she followed us to the back door I said, “I think she wants to come.”

“No, she just doesn’t want to be left behind.” Dave opened the back door and both dogs pushed out past us. “See?” I said, “She wants to come.”

At the bottom of the stairs, Django immediately ran back up and inside, but I ignored that. “Let’s just take her.”

“She’ll get cold,” said Dave.

“It’s only three blocks,” I said. I figured we wouldn’t have to carry her until we were on the way back.

Dave leashed her up and we started walking. When we got to the first salty stretch of sidewalk, I tried to walk fast, like that kid from the Bazooka cartoon who paints the fence quickly because he’s running out of paint.

Django stopped and held up a paw. “Come on, Django,” I said annoyed, “There’s hardly any salt.” Zoe and I were already at the end of it. But Django held up two paws, switching among them to keep herself upright. “Django, come on!” She started shivering, like an old lady.

Dave picked her up and shook his head without shaking his head, like a statue of a person who is about to shake his head. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Go on back. I’ll be home in a minute.” I continued on with Zoe, who plowed happily through snow, salt and ice like a draught horse. When I got to Katharine Hepburn’s, the kitchen was as dark as night. I let Zoe in and wondered if it would be rude to just leave. Then Miss Hepburn’s sister came in from the hall. “My boots are snowy so I won’t come in,” I explained from the back door.

Miss Hepburn’s sister told me briefly about Miss Hepburn’s upcoming surgery and effusively complimented Marianne’s shoveling and asked politely about Dave’s playing and my projects. She is the most civilized person I have ever known, like Maggie Smith in Tea with Mussolini. She gives me hope for 92, or 93, or whatever she may be.

I walked home without whimpering, just like a person with their hands in their pockets.