The Art of Petard-hoisting

If there’s one benefit that age confers upon its users, it is the time they’ve had to practice. You can’t expect five year olds to be as good at stuff as people a lot older than them. That’s probably why elders used to be accorded such respect by five year olds. To be good at things, you usually have to do them over and over again.

Of course, if you actually make it to Old Age, there is an expectation that you should be good at something.  I suspect it’s why elders are inordinately fond of recounting past successes that others have either forgotten already, or for which there is no reasonable likelihood of effective invalidation. History is a long time ago, and memory is fluid -easily hijacked.

So, it is with some shame that I have to admit that I have never been good at lying, in spite of all of the practice-time I’ve been granted so far. Heaven knows I’ve applied myself assiduously to the task when the occasion demanded, but with barely discernible results. Or, put more honestly, my feeble attempts at camouflage have been noticed like a child with a full mouth and jam on his shirt after denying a visit to the fridge.

Of course, at my age, not even my children dare to out me; they just smile into their sleeves and recheck the availability of Old Age Homes to see if any of the long-timers have moved on yet. And it is with this Damoclean sword swinging precariously over my head, that I have decided to work on my technique -figure out how to get away with it.

Lying is an art I suppose, and much to be admired in some venues –political promises and discussions in pubs spring to mind. But these are both highly suspect to start with –both are the adult equivalent of playground braggadocio at recess. No, to ascend to the level of a Caravaggio, lying, it seems to me, has to transcend the ordinary fib. You don’t polish Meissen porcelain with a Brillo… or, at least there’s probably something better. Actually, I broke one doing that, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to clean it. But I digress.

The issue of lying surfaces from time to time in all of our lives –usually when we are on the cusp of being caught- but it arose, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of a discussion I had with Brien the other day on his porch. A day like any other day, it was remarkable only in what the wind was doing to Sheda, his favourite tree… well, actually his only tree, but he is sensitive on the subject of singularities –he was an only child- so we seldom dwell on the subject. Sometimes, however, the issue is carbuncular, demanding drainage.

I had just dropped by his house on the way back from town and saw him ensconced in a Hudson’s Bay blanket and waving at Sheda. He likes to watch the branches moving in a wind, because they seem to notice him –like I said, he was an only child, and he misses the attention.

“Brien,” I yelled, as I tripped over one of the chipped and irregularly spaced slabs of concrete that serve as a sidewalk to the porch.

One hand turned to look at me, but his eyes were clinging to the branches, like birds perched precariously in a storm. “Come on up,” he yelled at me, as if I were hiding somewhere behind Sheda. The free hand indicated the only other chair and pointed to a can of beer under it. I had yet to encounter his face, so intent was he on his other friend.

He sat in silence, sipping occasionally at his beer, intrigued by the movement of the needles, I suppose. “So, what is it saying, Brien?” I asked, not a little jealously –okay, mostly disdainfully. I felt neglected.

He turned his head towards me, but slowly, like a child summoned from a sandbox, to indicate that he rejected my disdainity. “Just the usual.”

I smiled my patient smile. “You always say that, Brien.”

He, in turn, brought out his hard done by smile. “Well, what information do you expect from a tree waving in the wind? Sports?”

Brien doesn’t like sports, so I recognized this as a put-down. “Sorry, Bri, I didn’t mean to…”

A wry smile replaced the other one. “Yes, you did,” he interrupted before I could continue. He said it kindly, but there were accusatory undertones in his face.

Eye-contact suddenly laid bare his belief that I was mocking his fascination with Sheda again. I was, of course, but it occurred to me that this would be the ideal time to deny it. To practice my scales, in other words.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, so the secret to C major, is to opacify the view. I relaxed my face and stared back at him with what I hoped was the innocence of a two-year-old.

“Nope, too obvious,” he said, shaking his head. “Whenever you do that, I can tell.”

Damn. Brien is no push-over. So, I resorted to a G scale and shook my head as authoritatively as I could without actually laughing.

“You’re not very good at this kind of thing, are you?” he said with a twinkle in his eyes. Actually, it could have been the wind, but I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

I think I blushed, although it could have been the beer. “What are you saying, Brien?”

This time, I was sure the twinkle was endogenous. “Just that I think you need more practice.”

“Practice?” I tried for the innocent look again, but I got the feeling I was that same two-year-old playing Mister Dress Up this time.

He sat back in his chair and twinkled again. “You can’t fool a friend.”

“You mean lie?” I said, as I riffled through more scales in my head, unwilling to give up so easily.

His face became serious for a moment, as if the word itself deserved further examination. Then he shook his head, but more convincingly than I had. “Fooling’s what you do with friends… Otherwise you’re not friends, eh?”

You know, I think Brien gets more from that tree than he admits.


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