THE LIE

Chris R-1-79 Image by Christine Renney

Edmund had told just one lie in his life, or at least that he could remember. He must, as a boy, have told tales but he couldn’t now be sure as this other lie, the big one, had wiped from his memory the childhood untruths, untruths that he now felt were an essential part of growing up. He wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly if this muddying of his past had in any way hindered him but it had begun to trouble him.
Edmund realised that he could remember very little from his childhood and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was because he had told far more than his fair share of tall tales. Perhaps he had lied almost constantly and it was because of this he had been able so easily to tell the big lie; to hold firm and not back down and retell it as often as was necessary until it had taken root and he no longer needed to say it aloud. But thereafter Edmund had vowed always to tell the truth, whatever the consequences for himself or others.
He had quickly gained a reputation as someone not to be messed with; who could be relied upon to make difficult decisions, who could cope with being in control. He quickly discovered that his new found honesty, this direct persona he had adopted, only helped him to achieve. In his chosen profession he climbed ladder after ladder until it wasn’t possible to climb any higher.
He still worked for ‘The Man’ but Edmund was comfortable with this. He was forty five years old and had everything that money could buy. It struck him that, at this point, he could easily divide his life into two. During the second half he had been undeniably successful with a beautiful wife, two young children and a large house. But it didn’t feel like home – Edmund realised that he wanted to relax at last, to take his foot from the pedal and revel in all that he had achieved and he was sure then he could make it feel a little more real.
The first half of his life was much more problematic. His memories resembled a series of photographs, snapshots that he could linger over for a moment or so but he couldn’t properly remember and was unable to delve into that world again.
What had he been like? Edmund asked himself this constantly. Had he been a mischievous boy and a sullen teenager or was the truth more startling than this? Had he been conniving and malicious? Since the lie he had, with his unbridled honesty, upset many people. He could be brutal, there was no denying this but maybe, just maybe, he had been different back then and he wanted desperately to know.
He had contemplated asking his mother but felt awkward about this, unsure of how to broach the subject, unsure how honest she would be, and so instead, one evening after work, he had driven out to their old neighbourhood. He had parked in front of the house where he had grown up. The house had changed very little, likewise the street, but both house and street had been engulfed by somewhere else. The surrounding area had been built upon and reinvented. In order to find his way Edmund had been forced to consult the GPS.
Momentarily, he had considered knocking on the door, explaining to the new owner that he had once lived there. Asking if he could come in and wander around, go up and into his old bedroom. But he realised how ridiculous this was, that he wasn’t a character from a Springsteen song but a successful man with a bright future. That he should be able to push through and beyond this, get over it and get on with his life but he couldn’t. And as he had driven away from there he felt as if any chance of retrieving his childhood memories had been buried under so much concrete and so many bricks.

It was two days later that she came and stood in the open door to his office. Edmund glanced up but just briefly.
‘Yes?’ he asked.
‘I wanted to ask you a question,’ she said.
‘What is it?’
‘Why are you so rude?’
Edmund looked up from his screen and studied her. She was short and stout, strikingly ordinary.
‘Have I been rude to you?’ he asked.
‘Yes, but of course you don’t remember.’
‘But if I upset you then I apologise.’ Edmund returned to the screen, ready to dismiss her.
‘But why are you so mean?’ she insisted.
Edmund pushed back in his chair and away from the desk.
‘I don’t consider that I am mean. I always speak honestly about what I see, how I perceive things, what I really feel and I do not tell lies. If I upset people from time to time well, I’m sorry, but it isn’t my concern.’
‘But why do it when it upsets people?’
Edmund sighed.
‘I told a lie once. I was young, very young, seventeen, eighteen maybe and I benefited from this lie. It made things much easier for me but I haven’t lied since.’
As he was speaking the woman stepped into the room.
‘No!’ he snapped, ‘don’t come in. This isn’t a confession.’
The woman flinched and her face turned white, she was visibly shaken but she didn’t move.
‘What was the lie?’ she stammered.
Edmund was unsure of what to say, just for a second or so.
‘I can’t tell you,’ he said.
‘But you have to, don’t you?’
‘Yes, perhaps I do.’ Edmund smiled and leaned forward to switch off the laptop. ‘Come back tomorrow.’
‘I can’t. I’m a temp and this is my last day.’
‘I see. Well, come back anyway.’
‘And then you’ll tell me?’
‘Yes.’ Edmund said and stared at her until she turned to go. He rose from the desk and closed the door behind her. He wasn’t going to tell her. He had already decided and found this revelation exhilarating. He didn’t need to wait until tomorrow but he didn’t call her back. She thought she had information she could try to use against him but who would believe her and what difference could it make now, after so long?

She came back the next door. Edmund hadn’t doubted that she would. He was looking forward to it, excited even, had set a chair for her in front of his desk, something he rarely did.
‘Come in, sit down.’ And before she could make herself comfortable he said ‘I’m not going to tell you.’
‘But you have to.’ she replied.
‘But I don’t.’
‘Then why am I sitting here in your office, at your invitation?’
‘I remembered something from my childhood last night. Something small and inconsequential. Something I had not thought about for years,’ he paused.
‘Go on,’ she urged.
‘You see, I haven’t been able to remember and now I can remember this, and I remember it so vividly.’
‘What is it?’ she asked.
‘I’m not going to tell you that either.’
Edmund watched the woman carefully, trying to determine how she would react to this.
She was dressed casually in jeans and a sweatshirt and was much more at ease. She smiled.
‘But does this mean that, in the future, you won’t be so mean?’ she asked.
Edmund chuckled. ‘I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it but maybe things are different now, maybe I will be different.’
He laughed again and then neither of them spoke and for what was just a few minutes but seemed to him like an eternity they sat in silence.

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THE ERASER #3

Chris R-0903 Image by Christine Renney

There were others. Other Erasers and occasionally their paths crossed. Tanner always attempted to keep his distance and this hadn’t proved so difficult because each worked alone, forbidden from sharing information or collaborating even when their cases were connected and the names linked.
Tanner had always accepted this and never questioned its validity. In fact, it seemed right to him that just one Eraser be responsible for extracting a life, for changing that history and the covering of the tracks. It was respectful, he felt, and dignified. Although he wouldn’t ever have told anyone, Tanner believed that even rebels and dissidents deserved that.

Tanner is the oldest of the Erasers, the last of the ‘Old Guard’. When he is around the younger men sense his disapproval and yet they don’t hold back and talk openly about their cases. Tanner is shocked by this and also at how fiercely ambitious they are.
They moan about how antiquated the job has become and how they could be so much more effective if only they were allowed to work as a team.
‘There is still a place for the foot sloggers,’ they say, as they glance across at Tanner, ‘but we need our own offices, our own archives even.’
For them the job is simply a step up onto a ladder and one that they intend to climb. Tanner has often thought about reporting them to those above but the system is, of course, evolving, and these young men aren’t rebels. No, they are a part of its future.

RESTORATION

Chris R-0392-2 Image by Christine Renney

The sitting room at the nursing home is always bright, even on the dullest of days, and yet the air hangs heavy and stale. Breathing it in, I remember his workshop with its heady aroma; the wood shavings and sawdust, the varnish brushes soaking in old jam jars filled with turpentine.

I sit across from him and we begin to talk, and at first I am uncertain as to who he believes I am. I am convinced that he is speaking to himself and that I represent the younger man, still working, providing and caring for his family. Still married and still very much in love with his wife. But as he quizzes me and the questions come thick and fast I’m not so sure.

He hasn’t changed, not really, he is older, yes, and paler. He could do with a fresh coat of stain but, overall, his appearance isn’t so different. I look for the tip of the pencil in the breast pocket of his chequered shirt, but it isn’t there. However, it is the shaking hands I find the cruellest. He had been a joiner and furniture restorer and I picture him at work with the plane, his movements smooth and streamlined. Or with a chisel and the ‘tap tap’ of the mallet, and a bracket or a brass plate sliding into place, the satisfied expression on his face.
‘There you go,’ he would say, ‘how’s that?’

He is constantly preoccupied with his old job. Not surprising, I suppose, given that it had been his trade for more than fifty years. I am impressed by his questions, they are so very specific but I don’t know the answers. But what he is asking has long since passed and so I try to humour him.

I had worked for him a little during the school holidays and at weekends and such, but I hadn’t ever really been that interested. I attended to the sanding and polishing. The work had been monotonous but I had completed these tasks leaving the more interesting and rewarding work for him and his apprentice proper. I had no desire to progress, to move on, to be schooled. My head had been elsewhere, the workshop wasn’t for me. I didn’t belong there, at least that is what my mother had always said. It was an unspoken command that I would continue with my education, go to university.

I do remember the furniture that was brought into the workshop. All the tables and chairs, old and broken. The dressers, chests of drawers, wardrobes and desks; dilapidated and damaged. But when he and his apprentice had finished with them they had been restored, made new. And I had helped – my fetching and carrying, the sanding and polishing, had been a part of the process, although I hadn’t thought of it as such, not until he started with his questions.

He is confused and I believe I can convince, that I can reassure him. He asks how a particular piece is coming along, which hinges, handles and brackets, should we use? Should it be this or that stain, which is the right polish or wax? He talks about how different oak is from teak or mahogany, how to spot infestation, how to isolate and treat it. Despite my hazy recollections he might as well be speaking in code, one that I can’t crack. In the end I haven’t any choice and, shrugging my shoulders, I tell him, ’I don‘t remember.’

I glance down at his hands. They are yellow, the colour of beeswax. He is holding a plastic beaker, fumbling with it, the cold tea spilling into his lap.
‘Shall I take that from you?’ I ask, reaching out.
But he looks down and remembering he grips it a little tighter and will not let the beaker go.