A Matter Of Choice

I do so enjoy participating in Cricket’s Slice Of Life. If you haven’t given it a go yet, you really should.

This week one of the prompts is a matter of choice.

I’ve always thought that lying is a choice.

To lie or not to lie.

It’s not always a matter of ethics or even honesty. Sometimes it can be a way of protecting someone from a negative outcome.

I have lied many, many times. To stop myself from getting into trouble as a child. To prevent someone’s feelings from being hurt. Because sometimes the truth is more glaring and shameless than a little white lie. Or a big fat one.

 

Stacey Stapleton was the Imelda Marcos of my High School. When she was 17 she had more than a hundred pairs of shoes. She had a walk-in wardrobe full of them. When I used to go over to her place I would spend ages looking at all the different styles and colours, imagining myself wearing them.

Whenever we went out or to parties, Stacey always looked fantastic. She wore the latest fashions and of course, the latest shoes. She could afford them, her father was a doctor. A well-respected member of the community. Her mother was a lush.

I don’t ever remember Stacey’s mother being sober. When we used to come home from school she always had that little buzz about her, that forced sense of casualness that only comes from gin. ‘How’s it going, gals?’ she used to say, like she was our best mate and cool to boot. ‘I made you some afternoon tea.’

Afternoon tea usually consisted of orange cordial that was so sweet you felt your teeth ache and cheese sandwiches where the cheese looked like it had been hacked by a saw and dropped on the floor a few times before it landed on the bread.

We retreated to the sanctuary of Stacey’s room and her shoes very quickly, but the chink of bottles and glasses was never completely out of earshot no matter how much we cranked up our Cure records.

One day Stacey came to school wearing a sweatshirt. Not an unusual occurrence, you might think, except that it was the middle of summer and forty degrees. As the day wore on she grew red-faced and clammy. When Miss Markham insisted she remove her sweatshirt before she fainted, we all gasped at the series of bruises and welts on Stacey’s arms.

‘What happened, Stacey?’ asked Miss Markham.

‘I fell over,’ Stacey replied.

Some of the welts were indented at the edges as if someone had dug a long fingernail deep into the skin. I thought of Stacey’s mother, holding her glass of gin on the rocks, her long red nails wet with condensation. For the rest of the lesson I felt sick, slightly panicked, with a low-lying, brooding kind of anger.

When the bell rang I pulled Stacey into the locker room and confronted her.

‘Did your mother do this to you?’ I asked. ‘Did she hurt you?’

‘I told you, I fell,’ Stacey replied, but the pain in her eyes was palpable.

When I got home that afternoon I learned that Stacey’s father had moved out of home the week before. It was the talk of the town. I saw him the next day in Woolworths where I worked three afternoons a week, buying towels and a kettle. For his new life.

I wanted to rush up to him, to shout aloud : ‘I think your wife is hurting Stacey,’ but I couldn’t. I was frightened if I said it aloud that it would be true. I was frightened if I approached him he would say he already knew and that was why he had left. Then I would think he was a monster too, for leaving his only daughter alone with a woman who should be kept on a leash.

Stacey wasn’t at school the next day. Or the day after that. Or the one after that.

I walked past her house after my shift at Woolworths even though it was completely out of my way, trying to gauge the lay of the land by how the curtains had been drawn or whether or not the mail had been collected. Everything appeared to be normal. Apart from the deep, cloying silence.

The next day was Saturday. I was alone in the house as my sisters and parents had decided to go to the beach. I had stayed at home because I had an essay due and I was planning to check up on Stacey.

I was halfway through my essay when there was a light tap at the window. It was Stacey. She was carrying a suitcase. She looked like she’d been crying.

‘I’m running away to my Grandma’s,’ she said. ‘She’s sent me a plane ticket but I need you to drive me to the airport. I don’t have enough money for a cab.’

It all came out on the drive to the airport. The extent of her mother’s drinking, her unadulterated cruelty, her disdain for her husband, his abandonment.

‘He left me in the lurch,’ Stacey said. ‘I don’t think I can ever forgive him.’

We hugged and wept as Stacey’s flight was annnounced. She was wearing a white dress with little pink flowers on it and pink strappy sandals. You wouldn’t have known to look at her that she had a broken heart.

When I got home my mother was sitting grim-faced on the couch. Stacey’s mother was sitting opposite her, nursing a cup of tea that had long gone cold. A thin film of cooled milk was forming on the surface.

‘Where is she?’ she shouted when she saw me, getting to her feet so quickly that several drops of tea spattered on my Mum’s best white rug. I saw my Mum’s eyes widen and Stacey’s mother’s hand fly to her mouth, the red nails glistening like talons dipped in blood.

‘I don’t know,’ I said.

‘Oh, I think you do,’ Stacey’s mother wasn’t going to give up that easily.

‘I told you. I don’t know. I haven’t seen Stacey for days.’

‘I will sue you if you’re lying,’ Stacey’s mother was verging on hysteria. She began to rant and harangue me but I stood firm. The sight of those red nails tethered my resolve. At that moment telling the truth or telling a lie became not just a matter of choice, but a matter of survival. Stacey’s survival.

I did not falter. I did not tell. Stacey made it to her Grandmother’s where she lived amid laughter and sunlight. She did not encounter the stark mercilessness of her mother ever again. I lied for her. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

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25 thoughts on “A Matter Of Choice

  1. You did the right thing, Selma. I have been in a similar situation and also lied through my teeth.

    When I mentioned this in a support group session years ago, I was told that “no lie is right” and “even a lie of omission is a lie and is wrong.” I finally blurted out, “he trashed the lunchroom at work because of his suspicions. I knew he would have killed her if I’d told the truth.” They each looked down at the floor and finally the facilitator said, “Ok. I guess in this case, you did the right thing.” Jeeeze… you think so?

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  2. Wow, what a story Selma. I am so glad that your friend got away from this abusive home-life and her horrid mother. Have you ever been in touch with her, in recent years? I wonder how her life turned out,as an adult. G

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  3. Hi Selma…I was so caught up in your well written story, my heart was aching for you both. You know you did the right thing, it WAS a matter of survival. Did your mother know the truth? Have you kept in touch with Stacey? You did what every GOOD writer does….left me wanting more of the story. Great Job!

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  4. Hi Selma,
    I like the prelude to the story (“I’ve always been told that….”). It’s very much in the style of storytellers at fairs. You sketched a great portrait of Stacey. I’m such a relativist that I can’t decide which way to vote.

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  5. The question isn’t whether it’s right to lie but to whom you owe the truth. You owe the truth to yourself. Obviously you didn’t owe anything to that woman. Just because someone asks you a question doesn’t mean they have the right to know the answer.

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  6. I would do it too, if it was a matter of protecting a loved one from harm. The dynamics of lying are so wide and can be cloudy at times that wisdom needs to be our guide in order for us to do what is right.

    But more importantly… what happened to the shoes?

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  7. KAREN – it is so true. How can one generalise and say: ‘Lying is wrong and that’s that. If you lie you’re a sinner.’ In my view, if being honest places someone in danger, that’s as bad as lying in the first place. You did the right thing. I feel that I did too. Lying is rarely a case of just black or white.

    MELEAH – I was proud I helped her. I was scared and nervous about it because her mother was quite intimidating but I knew I had to help her. I shook for days afterwards. It was quite stressful.

    CRICKET – I think I made the right choice too. It was hard, though.
    I suppose doing the right thing is often difficult. Another great prompt, Cricket. Keep ’em coming!

    GERALDINE – Stacey and I have kept in touch. She and her father reconciled. Her mother died when Stacey was 22. She drank herself to death. Stacey is now married with 2 kids and works as a lawyer. She still loves shoes!

    SHORTCHUTEROAD – thank you so much. My mother didn’t know the truth at the time but when she found out about it afterwards she went round and gave Stacey’s mother a piece of her mind. Stacey was one of those sweet people that everyone likes. It was unfathomable that anyone would want to hurt her. My Mum was incensed!

    LINDA – The Cure were a great band, weren’t they? I still love them to this day. I saw them live a couple of years ago when they came out here and they were brilliant. I think the music offered Stacey a lot of solace.

    CAROLINE – how lovely to hear from you. To be told that I am like a storyteller at a fair has made my day.When I used to holiday in Ireland as a child there was always a fair and they had this great storyteller there. I spent all of my pocket money listening to her stories. One day I’ll have to do a post about her because she was incredible. Thanks for reminding me.

    RICHARD – you always have such clarity of thought. Thank you so much for that. I really needed to hear what I was feeling worded the way you just have. You are brilliant!

    CHRIS – aaaah, the shoes. Stacey got her father to collect them all and distribute them to her friends at school. Fortunately, we wore the same size, so I got a few great pairs. Whenever I wore them I thought of Stacey and her lucky escape.

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  8. I’m so glad you lied to protect Stacey. I would have done the same thing for my friend too. Sometimes lying is better than telling the truth, but I wonder what the man upstairs thinks about that?

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  9. TBALL – I think the man upstairs is all about us looking out for one another. I think he understand that we sometimes have to bend the truth to do that. Well, I er, hope he does!

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  10. What a good friend you are! Perhaps sometimes the truth serves no purpose but to hurt. This was a spellbinding story – excellent my friend! Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂

    I’m trying to sift through my thoughts to pick a slice of life for me this week…

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  11. Oh I’m so glad you’re still in touch. And that you inherited some of those shoes! You have had such an adventurous life.

    If I wasn’t so shy I would have loved to become a storyteller at a fair – how cool! I used to tell whopping big lies as a child (sometimes for no reason at all), concocting whole backstories to them so that I would have every angle and question covered. I never got myself tied up in my stories either; I just had a really good memory. I think it was great grounding for a fiction writer. 😉

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  12. I also loved what Richard said. There is no way you owed the truth to Stacey’s mother. She would have used the truth to do Stacey harm and how can that be better than telling a lie. I am a firm believer in honesty but there will always be occasions where the kindest thing would be to lie. This was one of those occasions and you probably helped to save Stacey’s future by NOT telling the truth.

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  13. GENUINE GEM – thanks so much for stopping by and for your lovely comment. It does feel good to have done the right thing!

    TEXASBLU – I think you’re right about truth sometimes being a source of hurt. Sometimes it pays to bend it just a little. Hope you have time to write a little slice for us this week.

    DAOINE – great grounding, indeed. To remember every angle like that at such a young age is incredible. I would have enjoyed hearing your stories at the fair!

    GERALDINE – happy endings seem so rare sometimes. It’s nice when they occur naturally.

    GYPSY – oh, absolutely. I cannot bear to think what would have happened if I had turned Stacey in to her mother. Not only would I have been the world’s biggest stool pigeon, I might have been the cause of more severe abuse. I’m glad it turned out as it did.

    RELUCTANT – it is hard not to blurt. I almost did but at the last minute something stopped me. Thank goodness for that!

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  14. MELEAH – it was tough, but poor Stacey – I’ll never forget the look on her face when she had to take her sweatshirt off and we all saw the bruises on her arms. My heart went out to her. I couldn’t believe her own mother had done that to her.

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  15. as only a true woman of her word would have… you did the only right thing selma,, and i am sure to this day,, stacey is grateful for your friendship,, keen lying ability and all…

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  16. EPIPHANY – it does take gumption to lie like that, especially to someone’s mother. I am really surprised I was able to do it at the age I was. Sometimes though, when we are faced with looking out for someone, we can have more daring than usual.

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