The Book of Lies

Inspired by a prompt from Lizzy Wilson

When she was very young, her parents gave her a diary and told her to keep her innermost thoughts inside.  She tried, but it didn’t interest her much.  But as her parents began to divorce, she noticed that they were telling her many lies, and she began to record them.  This was interesting and useful, and so the young girl began her lifelong habit of keeping leather bound diaries in which to record every lie anyone ever told her.

This seemed simple at first, but as she got older it required a great deal more consideration.  She eventually decided only to record lies that had been told to her directly and personally: the lies of commercials and politicians were too numerous to bother with, unless they had somehow reached her more deeply than such things do.  The appropriate response to people who lie constantly is not to record their every utterance, but to stop paying attention to the things they say.

Lies that the teller did not necessarily know were lies were more complicated.  Just because someone didn’t know it was a lie didn’t mean it wasn’t:  sometimes they should have known, like when her mother promised to send for her for Christmas, or when her closest friend in the 6th grade promised to be friends forever.  To wish when you claim to promise is, she decided, a lie worth recording.     

This would be one of the most valuable insights of her young life, as she grew older.

Lies of omission belonged in her book, she knew, but were hard to record accurately.  They are lies with impact, but no shape or form. 

Errors of fact that had been provided sincerely were not lies, she decided, while errors of fact that had hinted of self-interest were.  The more someone cares about the answer, she concluded, the more honest you should try to be about them – until past a certain point, carelessness became lies.

Indeed, as she grew older and came close to finishing her sixth diary, she decided that to be sufficiently careless with someone’s feelings always creates lies.  Truth requires sincerity, and sincerity requires at least some precision. 

But there were also, she came to realize, lies she treasured.  Lies that were sincere, and precise, and devoted … and simply not true. 

The time her high school debate teacher had told her that if she just applied herself a little harder she could be nationally ranked, had been a beautiful compliment, one she’d treasured, even if it had been a lie. 

The time her college roommate had held her, long into the night, whispering, “you ARE loveable.  Someone is out there for you.”  She had needed that, it might have saved her life, and she was always grateful for it, though it had been as profound a lie as any she had ever been told. 

Her mentor at work in her 20s, the man she’d admired more than anyone in the world, who’d sworn to her:  “I’m going to beat this,” six months before cancer had taken him. 

These lies she would devote whole pages to, drawing gentle abstract shapes around renditions in ink of the faces of those who had told them.  Her eyes would linger affectionately on these pages, when she reviewed her journals.  Sometimes her hands would stroke the paper.

As she grew older and wiser still, she began to see these lies as being both the most joyful and the saddest moments in her life, all at once.  She wondered whether, if she had been recording truths, she would have felt the same way about the best of those.

One day, after writing the most recent lies she had been told into her journal, and reviewing the journals of her youth, she saw that they were much the same.  That the lies she was being told today were repetitious, theme and variations, on the lies she had been told before. 

Astonished, she spent several days looking back through her bookshelves of lies, and saw that it was true.  No one had told her a truly new lie in years. 

Once she saw it, she felt it keenly – she had noticed the lack in her bones some time ago.  And she wondered if this was because there are only so many lies in the world, or if it was her life that had become repetitious and stagnant.

So she began looking for new lies in dark places where she would not have gone before.  In cemeteries and the back offices of flesh traders;  in the waiting rooms of fraudulent doctors and the woodland retreats of sharp cults;  in underground libraries where forbidden books were kept;  in dark caverns where celibate men slept on rough cots;  in the company of mercenaries marching across deserts in possession of stolen treasures. 

In all these places and more did she seek out new lies, and almost none did she find.

We truly do circle the same kind of experiences with one another, over and over again, she decided.  And closed the cover on her last diary. 

A few weeks later, meeting a casual friend at a café, she caught herself telling one of those repetitious lies.

It only occurred to her, then, to wonder just how many of the limited-yet-infinite lies in this world she herself told.  And she wondered how this had not occurred to her before.  It had seemed obvious, once long ago, that being wounded by lies would make her a more honest person – but now that she knew what the lies were, as she paid closer attention she saw that this was not so.  Neither her wounds nor her knowledge had made her any better at telling the truth or being kind. 

So she bought a new book, bound in soft cloth, in which to record every lie she told, and she worked as diligently as she could to keep its pages blank.  To live a life in which only the lies she treasured would ever pass her lips. 

This difficult work made her strange to herself, monkish and stark – and it was much harder, she realized, to be honest to herself than it was to others. But she found the discipline required to be rewarding, and after two years, a peace settled upon her, the likes of which she had never imagined.

Even then the beautiful lies, the ones she had most loved, never truly left.  The more truthful she became, the better at telling them she was.  The final set of diaries she kept recorded all the times she had gotten to tell these lies, still knowing, somehow, that she was being truthful.  All rights and wrongs emerging, at once, from these simple words.