Flash Fiction: Liar

She didn’t think she would actually end up here. Especially not in the middle of March, not because she had nowhere to go. After all was said and done, after all the accusations and the denials and the expensive dishes thrown against walls like nothing, nothing. She didn’t think that she would have the guts to prove him right.

But here Vivian stands, goosebumps prickling up her arms because she’d been too angry to remember her jacket as she stormed out. Here she stands on that doorstep she swore she wouldn’t approach ever again because I am not like this, no, no, I am normal. Completely normal.

It has never been this hard to knock on the door. Days before this, she would have just walked inside even without a key, because Stacey never remembered to lock the door. Viv wonders if there is someone on the other side of the door right now, watching her through the peephole. The goosebumps prickle uncomfortably and she fishes a cigarette out of her suit skirt pocket. She realizes that her hands are shaking.

I’ve loved you so long, Viv. Whose words were those?

She almost drops the cigarette as she searches for her lighter and jams it between her teeth for safekeeping. Paul’s words.

“I love you too, Paul-”

“How can you look me in the eye and say that?” Paul had asked. And, what, exactly, could she say to that? It was a trick question, an unfair query that had no answer. Because if she reacted calmly, she was a conniving liar. If she cried then she was guilty, and still a liar.

She didn’t want to be branded with such an ugly word but that’s exactly what she was and she knew it. She hadn’t meant to lie to Paul, or to her family, but maybe she meant to lie to herself. She lied for years, lied and lied and never even knew it. Was that an excuse? Did she still have to answer for herself when she wasn’t even aware of her own deception?

It was only when Stacey had dimmed the lights on that first night that she knew just how long she’d been lying.

He looked so small in the too-much space of their expensive apartment.

So the tears rolled down her cheeks and now she was guilty, horribly and irrevocably guilty. Paul stood over her and tried to be menacing but it wasn’t really within his nature. That’s why she had fallen in love with him – and she had fallen in love with him, there would never be doubt about that, at least not from her. There were tears in his eyes but not the kind that ask for forgiveness.

Paul was broken now. Like the vase she dropped the other day, or the Italian china he’d just thrown against the wall. The pieces, the pieces were everywhere, scattered. He would pick them all up and glue them back together because one doesn’t just let good china go to waste like that. But if you looked closely enough you would still see the veins where the pieces had shattered. Paul would always have those points of weakness, those teeny tiny cracks that would betray him for the rest of his life.

She turns and walks down the porch steps. She’s leaving. She will not do this, will not admit what it means that Stacey’s is the first house she has found herself at since leaving the apartment. Vivian walks briskly down the sidewalk, cigarette still unlit. She swears vehemently and the cigarette falls from her lips, hitting the pavement and breaking at the end. She stares down at the little cancer stick, then notices the extra sharp points of her Jimmy Choos. Such horribly uncomfortable shoes, these pumps she’d agonized over buying. They were so fashionable, everyone said. They would put her ahead at work. The scent of Stacey’s vanilla lip balm fills her senses. She hears a voice in her ear, uncomfortably close. Just take them off, Viv. Whose words? Never Paul.

Stacey’s words.

She turns again, leaving the cigarette behind.

“How long?” Paul had asked her. And she’d just stood there, staring open-mouthed, as though the question had been asked in a foreign language. Was it natural to forget English when you’d forgotten who you were?

Paul got angry, but it looked so pathetic on him, like a child about to cry.

“I don’t know,” she replied. It was true. It was true. How could he ask that, as though she had marked the date on the calendar?

“How can you not know?” His hands were shaking. She wondered briefly if he would try to hit her, if he would fancy himself that kind of man.

“I just don’t.”

And then the question.

“Did you ever love me?”

“Yes, Paul. I did. And I do.”

Paul faltered, not sure how to take that.

“It’s just not the same, is it?”

Vivian had no more tears. Her face was numb, her eyes puffy and an angry red. She shook her head.

“No. It isn’t.”

There had been a long silence then, the longest she’d ever known.

The memory sticks in her throat as she walks up the stairs for the second time. She stands at the old door, staring at the brass knocker, staring at the peephole. She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and she is again aware that she has no jacket. The chill is starting to penetrate her skin.

Paul waited for her to speak but she never did.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said.

Vivian raises her fist and knocks quietly on the door. Would the sound even be heard? Would Stacey know, upon opening the door, that this was not just a visit between friends, two women who used to go to coffee and then started doing other things?

There is a rustle of fabric behind the door, coats shifting and rugs being pushed out of the way. A dog barks and a woman shushes it into silence.

The door sweeps open and Vivian is bathed in warm, orange light. Stacey appears in the doorway, a scarf wrapped around her hair in a way that so few women can pull off.

“Hey,” she says. She notices Vivian’s bare arms and reaches for her hand. “Come inside?”

Vivian hesitates. Inside is warmth and the smell of baking bread. Inside is a dog that Vivian hates but will never say so. Inside is a woman and her arms and her thighs and her hair. Inside is home.

Vivian squeezes her hand. Stacey kisses her and Vivian lets herself be pulled ever so gently, inside.

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