Excerpt from Feral by Deena Metzger
Do You Ever Lie?
The woman settled back again against the tree but more carefully this time. Careful, that is, about what was in her mind. And this led her to wonder what in fact was in her mind. Was there anything in her mind that belonged to her? Or was everything in her mind something she had gathered or been given by others? Was there anything in her mind about the girl and what they were doing there together that was her own thought? Was her mind her own or did it belong to others?
It was a May afternoon. She was sitting under a tree. The girl had clearly decided there was nothing better to do. At this point, she almost faltered again by thinking of how the girl had brought her to this extremity. For it was extremity. Sitting in the damp of someone else’s piss was not extremity; she’d suffered many inconveniences and discomforts for others’ sakes over the years. But sitting at the base of a tree with no intention of doing anything else, this was for her an extremity.
And what was in her mind that was her own? That she wanted the girl to come down. To come down to her. To come down to her for her sake. For her own sake. She wanted the girl to come down for her own sake because she wanted to be with the girl. Yes, the girl had appeared at the right time. She had come exactly at the time the woman was considering becoming an animal.
“That’s better,” the girl said.
“How do you know? Why do you presume to know what I’m thinking?” the woman shouted into the leaves with as much wonder as irritation.
“I don’t know exactly what you’re thinking, only if you’re thinking about me, about yourself or about something else. Sometimes I know more, sometimes I know the shape of your thinking. You were thinking about you. You were thinking about changing shapes. You were thinking about being a shapeshifter.” The girl’s tone had shifted to the murmur of kindly musing. Revealing herself as she was considering the woman. For the briefest moment, the woman could see the girl clearly. Girl, leaves, branches, sky, clouds were all distinct. The girl was not deliberately obfuscating the situation.
“You want to be someone else. You want to be like me.”
Was this indeed true? Had the woman dared such a thought? Was she,
herself, considering that such activities might be for her?
The girl laughed. “I just made that up. I don’t ever really know what you’re thinking.”
“I think you do know what I’m thinking.”
“I don’t know a lot about thinking. It shifts too fast. Thinking doesn’t have any substance to it. Do you know what I mean?”
“Do you ever lie?” The woman believed that the girl would answer this
question truthfully and she thought she needed to know the answer.
What did the girl mean by such a no? The girl’s answer implied that the question was unthinkable but not on moral grounds. To lie would be, the woman assumed the girl meant, unnatural, but the girl would not use such categories. The woman did use such categories and was constantly
concerned with trying to discern the natural from the unnatural.
“You are going to give me a headache if you keep thinking so much. Your thoughts are like splatter shots, you follow one line and then you have to follow another. It’s so arbitrary. You’ve got a brain,” the girl said, “like a Jackson Pollack painting.”
Then the woman remembered that among other things, the girl was a
painter. And wasn’t really a girl, only appeared so. Because of the delicacy
of her bones and the openness of her face, her innocence. But she was far
from innocent. Because she couldn’t dissemble. Wouldn’t dissemble. She
appeared like a child because of her honesty. “I mean I don’t ever really
know for sure, what you are thinking.”
The woman could not discern whether the girl didn’t have the capacity to decipher her thoughts or whether her thoughts were confused and so were indecipherable.
“What I am thinking or what anyone is thinking?” the woman asked.
“What you are thinking.”
“But I need to know just this,” the woman tried to cajole a truthful answer, “would you ever say anything that was not true?”
“Do you mean like rabbits or doves making distress sounds away from their nests in order to distract the crows? That’s not lying.”
“What is it?”
“It’s what they do. What small animals do.”
She was, herself, very much a small animal, in that moment.
“What’s a lie, then? Is a lie doing what you don’t do? Are you a … ?” the woman didn’t know what word to follow with. “Are you someone who lies or someone who doesn’t lie? And if you’re someone who lies, is it lying
when you lie?”
“Do you think I would lie to you?”
The girl had nailed her. She didn’t want to know if the girl lied, she didn’t so much want to know the girl’s nature, she wanted to know if the girl would lie to her. She wanted to know if they were having a relationship. If the girl cared that she, that she in particular, was sitting under the sycamore, waiting.
“Yes, of course I think that.” Now the girl was forcing her to be truthful.
“Am I right?”
“I don’t lie.”
“I never have to.”
“Are you lying? The question was a triumph, but the woman couldn’t maintain it and found herself asking immediately, “Would you like some juice? Or cookies?”
The girl did not answer and her silence was inevitable. It wasn’t like the woman to resort to such pat maternal questions. The woman no longer knew whether the words that came out of her mouth were the result of her will or whether she had become some puppet, some marionette operated by a master puppeteer from a remote distance. How like the girl it would be to put words in her mouth and then jeer at them or take umbrage and retreat.
“Aren’t you ready to come down?”
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