The Dictionary of Youthful Lies

by William Dean

Time is not a line dribbled from a pen, but an endless circle; gathering up past and present tense and rolling them together, like Sisyphus, into tomorrow.. Pick up a childhood’s broken toy today and be conjoined into yesteryear’s youthful lies...

“What do you call this?” asks the father, his voice in that flat medium range between a shout and a bite.

The son has his answer ready. He has practiced it, memorized it as if from a book he will one day write to astound the world.

I call this living. I call this natural living. I call this the positive way of things, the way I have discovered when I shivered in fright that you and all the yous standing behind and before and around you would vanish, would leave me, would abandon me. Me, a child of five years with no strength, no wisdom. Me, a child with nothing but heart and longing and fear. I discovered my own way because you wouldn’t show me another. I call this the way I must survive. This is the son’s answer, yet he stands silently looking at the floor.

“I asked you a question,” the father says with a shake of his fist.

I am a prisoner, the son thinks. I am Cervantes and Casanova and De Sade, locked away because I think of things and the things grow into stories and the stories are not about me but are only about me. I am jailed up in gray blankets that smell of old blacks and old whites that have faded. I look out through the bars of this cell, this small cell in which I pace to and fro and back again as I walk the whole world over and measure its grayness with my eyes. I look out through this tiny window though I cannot even crawl and must fly, like a miniature sparrow whose wings hurt him like wounds.

I am forced to answer you, because you are the warden, the jailer, the interrogator, the liberator if you choose, but you do not choose. So I am meek, shy, a little coquettish, teasing myself with freedoms you don’t want me to have, don’t expect me to suspect.

“Nothing,” says the son.

The father starts to grab his son’s shoulder and shake him, but stops just short of the reach. Perhaps it is too far. Perhaps the touch would be too much. “Clean it up. Now,” says the father.

But these are the pebbles that will assemble into my grave marker, the son tells himself. These messy, strewn sheets of scribbles are my testimonies, my poems, my desperate revelations of the prisoner I have been made into. Here, look, a quatrain perfect in its rhythms, startling in its confessions. Have you no eyes in your heart to see what is written? Is the jailer so terrifyingly locked away that flights and crimes and self-permissions have lost their meaning? Here, look. I have assembled from the floating gray motes in this small cell the soar of an eagle, the roar of lion, the bleat of victim and the raucous skirl of enemies pared down into a mere four lines.

There beneath your footstep, half-hidden by your massive shoe, is a sonnet that would make Shakespeare sing with a modern voice and Erasmus wink back his tears and shout his faith renewed. Over there, by the door, when you walked in you trod across the pages of an escape whose maelstrom terrors and proud reluctance could be glory read aloud to a million hungry spirits.

The father bends stiffly and grabs up a piece of paper. His face grows redder, eyes smaller. “You used my paper!” he shouts. “You stole this from my desk, didn’t you?” He rears back a slap but does not fire it to the target. In place of that violence, he turns this way and that, a snatching dancer who wads each sheet of paper into a crackling fist in his fists. The floor is sheared, the fleece of its loose pages cut off to the bare and flat linoleum plain of before. The world of its words made trash.

The father leaves the cell cleansed, the prisoner standing alone, still looking at the floor between his small feet. You can’t stop me, he tells himself, meaning the father.

As if he heard, the father stops, his hard eyes over the ridge of his shoulder. As if he heard, his lips slip back from his clenched teeth. As if he were deaf, he turns again and leaves, closes the door, the cell door, the prison gate, the escape route to the world.

To the closed door, the son murmurs, “Nothing.” He stretches out his short arms and spins. “Nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing.” Yet in his small mind, he sits himself down at a desk and writes in carefully printed letters: e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

“What were you thinking just now?” the lover asks, as if you could answer in a sentence the whole of your life up to that moment and beyond.


©2002 by William Dean

William Dean writes erotica under his own name and pen name Count of Shadows, including monthly columns, and is the Associate Editor of Clean Sheets Magazine.

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