The Good Liar, p.14Catherine McKenzie
“So you’ve seen the picture,” I say. “I went to dinner with Teo last night, Henry.”
“Cassie told me.”
“You said nothing happened,” Cassie says.
“You kissed him.”
“I did. He kissed me, and I didn’t stop it.”
“I like Teo,” Henry says with a bit of defiance.
“We all like Teo,” I say. “But this isn’t about him. This is about us. And about what happened last night.”
“This is such bullshit.”
“Who was that guy outside, Mom?” Henry asks. “Was he the same guy who tried to get in the house?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Why did he do that? Why do they care?” Cassie asks.
“It’s because of that photograph. The one Teo took.”
“That’s right, Henry. The one Teo took. You know how much attention that photograph brought me. Us. People are interested in our family. I wish they weren’t, but they are.”
“It’s so stupid,” Cassie says. “Like we’re these celebrities because our dad died.”
“That’s exactly right.”
“Can’t you make them stop?”
“It’ll go away eventually—soon, probably, now that the memorial’s over.”
Cassie crosses her arms over her breasts. “How come you didn’t try? I mean, you, like, say you don’t like the attention, but you’re on all these committees, and you’re in that documentary, and if you wanted them to go away, why didn’t you just say no to all that stuff?”
Cassie’s words are crushing. She sounds exactly like my inner voice, the one I’ve only been able to respond to with because, because, because.
“I thought it was the best thing to do given the circumstances.”
“What circumstances, Mom? We’re not the only family who lost someone.”
“There are things . . . I was worried that if I didn’t go along, they might come looking.”
“Who might come looking? For what?”
“The press. Journalists.”
“Why? And who cares? You have the most boring life ever.”
I smile. “I wish I did. I wish there was nothing to find.”
“Do you do drugs, Mom?” Henry asks, looking serious, all those school assemblies having an impact.
“Mom doing drugs? That’s a laugh.”
Isn’t it funny, how little your kids know you? Not that I do drugs now, but back in the day, in college and the years after? For a while, Tom grew pot in his closet.
“No, Henry. It’s nothing like that.”
I look back and forth between my children. They have a view of me, of their father. It’s like that photograph Teo took—true enough but not the whole truth. And like my initial decision to keep all this hidden, the idea of telling them, of changing that image for good, seems like the wrong choice. But they’ve learned enough about life from another source, so I take a deep breath, and then I confess.
LIFE AS A HOUSE
“Did you see this?” Andrea asked, pushing her iPad under Kate’s nose later that morning as she was trying to cut up the twins’ bananas into even circles. It was cold out, closer to winter than fall, and there was frost on the windows.
“I’m not sure. What is it?”
“It’s about that woman. You know, the one they took that photo of? In Chicago? That blond one who looks a bit like the woman who dated Ellen. The one who went crazy?”
“Right. She was on Another World, the soap opera, wasn’t she?”
“I think so.”
“Can you believe it?”
“That Anne Heche went crazy?”
“No. About the Chicago woman . . . Cecily . . .”
“Yes, her. She was this picture-perfect widow, and now she’s all over the place, kissing some other guy.”
Kate put the knife down and scooped the banana circles into a bowl.
Kate watched Andrea. Her face was flushed as she stabbed at her iPad, scrolling from one news story to the next. She was dressed for a session with her trainer. A man who was good-looking enough to cause all kinds of trouble with the stay-at-home moms of Westmount. But Andrea seemed sexless, almost. Androgynous despite the long blond curls and fake semipermanent eyelashes.
“Who cares who she’s dating?” Kate asked. “Her husband’s been dead for a year.”
“It takes two years to mourn properly.”
“I had to read all this research once on the stages of grief. It takes two years to go through them.”
“Okay, but still—”
Willie and Steven tottered into the kitchen. Kate helped them into their seats and fastened them tight. She put the bowl of bananas in front of them, admonishing them to share. Steven reached into the bowl and took out three circles, placing them in front of his brother.
“These are yours.”
Willie gave him a thumbs-up.
“Just because she kissed a man doesn’t mean she’s through grieving,” Kate said, unsure of why she was arguing this point. “Besides, maybe it doesn’t take that long for everyone. Maybe it’s just an average? Or maybe he wasn’t a very good husband.”
Andrea’s head rose. “Do you know something I don’t?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, then. It isn’t right.”
“Why do you care?”
Kate immediately regretted her tone. But who was Andrea to judge? She didn’t know anything about grief. Sure, she had a husband who wasn’t around much. She was bored and wished she could go back to work without actually having to do so. But she didn’t know. She didn’t know how it cut you in half. How even when you were past it, you were never over it. You were always in it. Always.
“It’s just . . . wrong.”
Andrea was clearly daring Kate to defy her. To give her an excuse to direct her anger somewhere. Kate turned away and went to the coffee machine. Maybe she needed to switch out Andrea’s coffee for decaf.
Kate’s own grief had hit her for real when she woke twenty-four hours after crashing out in her seedy hotel room, not sure where she was. Not sure who she was. Lying in a lumpy bed in clothes she’d worn for too long in a city where she knew no one after having run away from her life (her kids!)—that wasn’t like her. The her she’d worked hard to become. She’d spent twenty years as one kind of person. Someone who did what was expected. Who showed up. Who had nothing mysterious about her. A good-enough mother. A good-enough wife and friend. And now she was another kind of person. A sneak. A thief. Someone who lied and deceived.
She’d risen and pulled back the curtain. It was dark outside. The dirt-smudged window revealed only the broken bricks of the building next door. She craned her neck. The sky was black. The cheap clock radio on the rickety table next to the bed said it was five o’clock. It must be the morning, which meant she’d slept through an entire day.
Another day gone. Another day done.
She’d relieved her too-full bladder in the dingy bathroom down the hall. If there was anyone else staying in this place, she neither saw nor heard any sign of them. Back in her room, she ate some of the food she’d purchased at the corner store, then turned on the small TV that hung from the wall. Left over from the early nineties, it reminded her of her first television, its screen smaller than the computer screen at the office that was no more. Bulky in the back to account for the nodes or tubes or . . . Oh, who cared. It was a television. But easier to think about than what she’d left behind.
A few clicks of the dial brought her to CTV News Channel, a Canadian equivalent of CNN, but with a drier, newsier approach that she’d come to characterize later as Canadian. They were just as interested in the explosion as America was, but there was a certain remove.
The funerals were starting that day. Or maybe they’d been going on for days, and she’d missed them. If past was prologue, she knew they wouldn’t cover all of them. Only those of the people who’d become famous in their deaths. The public would feel invested for a time, as if it were their own loss. When everyone was buried, they’d move on to other things. The coverage would slow. The ticker would fill with other headlines. The only people who’d remember her would be those who knew her best.
Her children. They’d remember. And though they’d receded on her journey, they were front and center now. But no, they never went away. Not from the moment they’d been born. Even though she’d never felt as attached as she thought she would. As she thought she should. She loved her children. She was proud and happy and scared and nervous for them. Wanted the best for them, wanted their happiness. But she’d felt, for a long time, maybe from the beginning, as if she wasn’t the person who was best equipped to give them that. It was hard to describe it other than that maybe it resembled the feeling you had when you gave a child up for adoption.
That they’d be better off without her.
Kate had pulled the picture from the pouch of the sweatshirt she still hadn’t changed out of. A great weight was tugging at her chest. Trying to pull her back to what she’d fled. But she was on a path she couldn’t turn back from. She did her best to push those feelings down. To concentrate on the television screen and its inferior picture quality. It worked after a while. When she returned from the quick shower she took under a lukewarm spray, she’d developed a morbid curiosity about whether her own funeral would rate a televised appearance.
She’d watched three before a familiar church appeared. Gray stone, a high steeple, a few brilliant maples surrounding it. It was the church she spent every Sunday in, bored, because that’s what they did on Sundays. It’s what they’d always done on Sundays. From time immemorial. That’s what her husband always said, anyway. And then he’d laugh because everything was funny to him, even the mundane things, and JJ would shush him because JJ was the serious one of the bunch.
Kate felt sick at the thought of Em and JJ being in church without her. Even if this funeral wasn’t hers, this was where it would take place. And they’d probably be attending other funerals there, too. The dead they knew who worked in the building. Tom Grayson and Margo, his assistant. Or were they too young for that? Kate didn’t know. Another thing to add to her list of motherhood failures. A long, long list.
Tom was dead. Kate had trouble absorbing that information. Because there was something about Tom. He’d seemed invincible, somehow. But as she watched the screen, she didn’t have any choice but to accept it. There was Cecily, dressed in black, holding Cassie’s and Henry’s hands as they left a limousine and climbed the steps together.
And that’s when she’d felt it for the first time. That wrench in her works. Watching a scene from her own life on a crappy television. There but not. Knowing she could never go back, no matter what happened.
“Did you hear what I said?” Andrea asked.
Andrea looked exasperated. “The boys were asking for milk.”
“Oh, sorry. Daydreaming.”
Andrea frowned. Once again, Kate could read the thoughts in her head. Something was off. Kate was becoming . . . unreliable.
Kate took the milk from the fridge and filled the boys’ cups. Because Andrea was watching, she added milk to the food diary next to the fridge, where she still had to record how often they pooped and peed each day as if they were babies.
“Wow,” Andrea said. She was back to flicking through her iPad, her manicured fingers clicking against the glass.
“Cecily lost both her husband and her best friend in the tragedy.”
“Yeah. And here’s something funny. Her best friend’s name was Kaitlyn. Just like you.”
TJ: When did you start speaking to Ted Borenstein?
FM: Is that a problem?
TJ: Do you remember the agreement we signed before we started filming?
FM: The thing that was a zillion pages?
TJ: That’s right. Lawyers. But, ah, as I explained to you at the time, it means you agreed to speak to me exclusively.
FM: I know I can’t do another film or anything, but this is just a magazine profile. I mean, it might be a profile. I haven’t decided yet.
TJ: What do you mean?
FM: I’ve talked to the guy—Ted—but it’s been off the record, you know? So he can’t use anything I say. That’s how it works, isn’t it? I have to give the go-ahead?
TJ: That’s technically true, but . . . What sorts of things has he been asking you about?
FM: Sort of the same stuff you’ve been asking.
TJ: Has he mentioned anyone else he’s been talking to?
FM: No . . . I mean, he’s talking to Mr. Ring, of course, Joshua, and he asked me one time for my sister’s phone number, but neither of them has anything to do with this.
TJ: Are you still in touch with your sister?
FM: Not . . . Not so much.
TJ: Have you spoken to her since you reconnected with your mother?
FM: Not really.
TJ: Does that mean no?
FM: Why are you cross-examining me?
TJ: I didn’t think I was.
FM: “Does that mean no?” That’s so totally from The Good Wife or whatever. You sound like a lawyer, not a filmmaker.
TJ: [Laughter] My parents would be so happy to hear that.
FM: They didn’t want you to be a filmmaker?
FM: But you’ve had so much success.
TJ: That’s kind of you to say.
FM: But it’s true! I mean, you get to do something amazing. Like that documentary you did about The Tragically Hip . . . And now with him dying and everything . . .
TJ: You know The Hip?
TJ: Do you have some connection to Canada?
FM: Well, Kaitlyn’s from there originally.
TJ: True, but . . . When did you learn that?
FM: She told me.
TJ: So you didn’t know before you met her?
TJ: So that’s not why you know about The Hip . . .
FM: There you go again.
FM: You’re doing that lawyer thingy again. I’m telling you. Just show this tape to your parents, and they’ll be super-proud of you.
TJ: Maybe I will. But you never answered my question.
FM: The Hip? My sister got into them in her first year of college. She was playing them when she was home for Christmas. Over and over . . . It grew on me. How did you know about them?
TJ: There were some Canadians in my film school class. And then later, a friend of a friend introduced me.
FM: It must’ve been cool to be out on the road with them.
TJ: It was. So your sister, Sherrie, introduced you to the band?
TJ: But you haven’t been speaking?
FM: Not for a while.
TJ: Why not?
FM: I don’t want to talk about it.
TJ: How come?
FM: None of your business. Besides, like I told Ted, it’s not what this film’s about, is it?
Though I made a confession of sorts, I didn’t tell the kids everything. Cassie and Henry didn’t need to know that their father cheated on me or how I found out. Telling them that we’d had some serious problems before he died was enough. And if I’m being honest—ha!—I’ve told so many lies about that time it’s affected my memory.
Did I actually, for instance, spend the whole trip
I think I did, but there was a riot in my mind that night. I searched for the words again and again to bring it up and couldn’t get them past the lump in my throat. I caught him looking at me closely time and again, wondering, perhaps, whether I was going to say something. Convincing himself that I must’ve missed it, that he must’ve managed to escape detection. And when I asked him why he was staring at me, he simply said, “You.”
“Yes, you. My wife. My amazing wife.”
We were full of sushi and sake, and the lace on the dress I was wearing was itchy. Tom, on the other hand, looked completely comfortable in a checked chambray shirt and a newer pair of khakis he’d picked out, uncharacteristically, for himself. It was a nice night, though, to be in Central Park, a soft spring night, where the smells of the city were hidden by the scent of new grass and perennials.
“You’re drunk,” I said.
“That may be. Yes, I think that’s true.”
“You’re talking funny.”
He tipped his head back, looking, I knew, for the constellations to steady himself. It was something he’d done since college. He told me once that if he could find Cassiopeia, he knew he’d remember what he’d done the next day. But it was New York, no stars visible, and I was the one hoping neither of us would remember that night.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking for your star.”
“Yeah. I . . .” He patted himself down, looking for something. He found it in his left pants pocket, a folded-up piece of bond paper. “Here. Sorry, I meant to wrap this, but the day got away from me.”
The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes