Saturday, October 14, 2006

The art of lying…or Now I lay me down to sleep



It’s bedtime. I take a break from correcting tests in my study to help put the kids down. This night Beth has Colm and I have Tess. We get in bed and as is her custom Tess asks if she can lie on my chest.

“Can I lay on your stomach?”

“Yes.” I decide to run a bit of English usage by her just to see if she’s receptive “…but you can’t lay on my stomach; you can lie on my stomach.”

Tess lifts her head. This is news to her.

“What?”

“You don’t say ‘lay’. You say ‘lie’.”

“You not supposed to lie.” It is an assertion that we both know has originated from my own mouth. She looks at me and waits for an explanation.

“It’s okay if you lie on my stomach. It’s what you’re doing right now. It’s okay.”

“If you lie…” Here she pauses as if to organize her thoughts. When she does this, it usually signals a rather complex discourse is to follow. She grabs a breath and continues…”Colm, one day, he said he wasn’t going to go upstairs and I went with him and he took your red pen and he did and he wrote something it was not his paper and I told him but it was very bad and then he came down and he said he wasn’t going to go up there.”

“Did Colm go up there today?”

“He said he wasn’t going to.”

“But he did?”

Tess nods. I think about the test papers up on my desk in the study. I’ve been laboring over them for the past couple of days, trying out my new red ink pen. I have to fight an urge to go up then and there and see what it is that my son has done. Tess is looking at me, waiting.

I’m not sure about what motivates Tess in these moments…it could be free association, it could be more…self-serving?...I know, however, that she is telling me the truth, which is to say she is faithfully reporting an event that transpired today. Colm meanwhile has been acting on an urge lately to experiment with a verbal proposition (usually couched in the negative, “I’m not going to …”) by then doing the opposite, all the while keeping one sly eye on us to observe our reactions. He finds it immensely entertaining.

Meanwhile Tess is still waiting for me respond.

“I see. Well, lay your head down close your eyes…”

“Can I lie on your stomach?”

I think to myself what a minefield language can be and how nimble she is…good thing for her, though maybe not for Colm.

“Yes.”

Later, after Tess has fallen asleep I go upstairs. Anxiously I survey the desktop and then I see one test paper off to the side. It is covered in jagged red ink lines and irregular, broken shapes. Colm’s handiwork. I’m relieved to see that he has at least had the consideration to mark the reverse side of the student’s test paper.

He said he wasn’t going to do it. Then he did it. He lied. That’s how Tess sees it.

Colm sees it differently, I’m sure. I imagine that he’s fascinated by the whole notion of saying one thing and doing the opposite. Does the sky fall down in thunder on your head? Or do words and acts only know one another coincidentally?

Now he’s lying asleep in bed. He has no idea he’s been given up by his sister. For all he knows, this is the way words and the world works. I’ll lay odds that tomorrow, when asked, he’ll be vague (lie?) about having done this deed…if Tess is present, she’ll be sure to refresh his memory and set the record straight. I probably won’t ask him though…best to let some lies lie where they are.

K

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