The lying started quite by accident. Your mother turned up one morning, in tears. She had her night gown on under her coat. Over tea, it emerged that she was several thousands pounds in debt, due to lonely nights engaged in online gambling, while your father snoozed frumpily in front of Norwegian crime thrillers. The gambling wasn’t the real issue, she said. She was so bored she could scream. Should she leave? She couldn’t leave. Oh god, he’d go mad if he found out. She howled in the kitchen. I knew it would break your heart, so I paid off her debt and now I ring her regularly, sometimes daily. She’s still unhappy with your father. She thinks she may be in love with the G.P. I listen to her, and keep her secrets. She says it helps to have someone to talk to.
When you discovered my savings were gone, I lied. I had to. What the hell have you got yourself into, you shouted. Eight bloody grand! What is it? Drugs? Is that it? Yes, I said, in desperation. Yes, I’m so sorry. I spent it all on drugs. I buy it in little bags, take it down by the river, heat it up on sheets of foil and suck the creamy smoke down with only tramps for company. It fills me with a nauseous bliss. I’ll stop, I promise. Jesus, Kim, you said. I hardly know you.
Then there was the time I was woken by a sound in the hall outside our room. You were snoring away, oblivious, so I went to investigate. There was a boy, no more than fifteen, trembling on the stair with a knife. He lunged at me, and we grappled there in the dark, until at last I pulled the knife away and let him sob. Blood dripped from a cut on my brow. He took your wallet from his pocket and offered it up, suddenly weak with failure. I walked with him out in the city streets for hours, hearing his story, and then bought him breakfast in a tiny café as the sun rose. He said he would refrain from further burglary, though of course I can’t be sure he has. As he walked away in his filthy jeans, I regarded the childish looseness in his gait and the curls at his neck, and then he was gone.
I crept back into the house, exhausted and bruised, and found you prim with disapproval by the toaster. You’d better have a good explanation for this, you said. What the hell have you been doing – is that a love bite? Jesus, Kim. I can’t take it anymore, I really can’t. Yes, I said. Yes, a love bite. I got a late night call from an old lover, and I went to him in his little flat with sloping attic walls, and we writhed all night with the urgency of people trying to remember how it felt to be young. He bit me and beat me and I loved every minute of it. It made me feel alive. It was a one-off. Honestly. It’ll never happen again.
That was years ago now. I see you looking at me sometimes and I know you still think of it. Why haven’t you had any kiddies, my mother asks, and I always think of your eyes that morning, the sunken disgust that settled in their centres and never really went away.
And then, last week, I was leaving the house to meet you at the airport, when I saw a crumpled angel lying naked against the garden fence, the bones in its wings craning in strange directions like a broken umbrella. Its face was waxy, and damp with sweat. I dragged it into the house and dribbled water between its lips until the eyes opened. They were yellow like a cat’s. We looked at each other with a mutual, but kindly, incomprehension. Its lips were dry and pale, and a gentle warmth came from it as its skin slowly pinkened and its wings unfurled. I saw pain in its face, and love, and for some reason I was crying. While I was upstairs, fetching a blanket, it disappeared. After that, I needed to sit down for a while until the earth stopped shifting its dimensions beneath my feet. A sickness of joy had infected me, inside my blood.
By the time I finally reached you, you were furious. Where the hell had I been? Why hadn’t I phoned you? Had I been with someone else again? Is that what this was? I looked at your hands rummaging crossly with passports and papers, and found myself saying yes. Yes. I was at a party all night, I haven’t slept in my own bed for days, I’ve been meeting strangers in parks, and today I awoke in a bed full of men dressed in women’s clothes. A boy half my age with a genital piercing has asked me to go with him in his van and tour the festivals this summer, and in the heat of the moment I’m afraid I said yes. I fucked him in our bed. I paid him for it. I should probably get tested now. I think I might be pregnant. Don’t look at me like that, darling. I know it was wrong. I’ll be better now, I promise. Everything will be different now. No word of a lie.