Utter Untruths, A Collection
Jemima James

 

Utter Untruths

Some people collect stamps or stones, butterflies, or frogs - paintings, postcards, silk scarves, gold rings. Nina (if that is her real name) collected lies. Nina uttered the most exquisite untruths, draped them around her, dropped them delicately after her, pegged them up like fresh laundry. Nina didn't just exaggerate, though this was one of her specialties. (She could summon six solemn wide-eyed children - plus a babe in arms - clutching spoons and cereal bowls as a hot air balloon landed in their garden at the mere mention of hot air.) Nina lied.

"Yes, I have three children," she told an interested man at a party, once (who wasn’t interested for long.) "Paris, London & Milan. They're named after where I met their fathers." The next person who asked discovered that she had not three, but five children. Paris, London and Milan, after where she had met their fathers; and twins called Harriet & Hester (Hattie and Hettie for short.) She conceived the pair of them in Wagga Wagga, she claimed, and thought it impractical to have one called Wagga and the other one Wagga. Cruel, also. And she hadn't liked the fathers anyway. When the number of children that belonged to her rose to seven: Paris, London & Milan after their respective fathers, Harriet & Hester in spite of theirs, and Basil & Rosemary because she'd suddenly taken a passionate interest in gardening, people would begin to ask casually, "How old are you, Dear...?"

"29" she would lie, with a little nod, and clear bright eyes, and all the guile of a 33 year old proclaiming the same thing. Then those bright eyes would watch with untold delight the mental calculations which figured that even if she had started as late as 23 she could conceivably (!) have 7 children, given that two of them were twins. And who was to say that she wasn't a teenage mother to start with?

"I was a teenage mother," she would confide matter-of-factly, at this point. "I was just 17 when I met Paris's father. In Paris." A dreamy smile. "And 17 and nine months when Paris was born..."

She would pause then and wait for the inevitable sums.

"Paris must be 12 years old, then," was the general conclusion.

"I think historians would disagree," Nina would say seriously, (though she would laugh all the way home about that one). "But yes, 12 last February. Milan is 10. London is 9. The twins" (very authentic touch – "the twins") "are 6. Rosemary is 4, and Basil has just turned 2."

"Rosemary is a nice name," most would say, and look for someone else to talk to.

And so the next unfortunate would be drawn towards her pretty laugh, her inviting smile, her large innocent eyes. "I hear you have 7 children," one man began, imagining it a safe way to open a conversation. "That must be quite a handful."

"No." Nina shook her head, and a small frown crossed her face.

"No? Not a handful?"

"No. No children. I can't bear children. They're disgusting. Sticky hands, whining voices, and if they're not crying, they're spreading peanut butter on their shoes. I would never have children. I think the world is overpopulated already - don't you?"

And the next fluttering moth, dazzled by the bright gems of sensibility that dropped from her deceiving lips proclaimed righteously, "Exactly. That's something I believe very strongly in. You must have read One at the Cost of Two by Jane Mulholland." Depending on her mood (and knowledge of the book in question) Nina usually answered a question like this with an airy, "Oh, no, I don't read books," or "Actually, I wrote that book."

When someone once commented on her wonderful clothes she smiled demurely and said Hetty’s & Hattie’s Barbie Dolls inspired her wardrobe. "Barbie has this incredible fashion sense," she declared admiringly. "She mixes and matches in ways I would never think of." Then Nina would straighten her Barbie Doll Inspired Outfit, pat her hair gently and say, "I have to go and meet Ken now," and disappear, in a dreamy, Barbie Doll fashion.

When an unusually handsome man introduced himself at a party as Gilbert Giblet she was fascinated. After he convinced her that his name really was, yes, like the inside of a chicken, she marvelled firstly over his impeccable bone structure, and secondly over a man who wouldn't change his name from Giblet. Particularly as he worked in a chicken shop. It got worse the more she thought about it. It sounded worse the more she said it. She rolled it around with her tongue. She could almost taste it. Giblet.

She was inspired. "My name is Anna May," she introduced herself prettily to a stranger, on the next occasion. "Anna May Gizzard." She dabbled with body parts for a while. Immogen Innards was amusing, Emmeline Intestine was extremely successful, but Evelyn Eviscera was too esoteric for all but the most scientific. She moved to larger things. "My name is Lydia Liver," she would say. "Like the organ." Or Pamela Pancreas. Harriet Heart. For a while she lamented the fact that she couldn't possibly convince anybody that she was Sydney Kidney, or Howell Bowel. But only for a short while. Claiming the arms of two perfect strangers at a party she introduced them to each other: "Syd, sweetie, meet Howell Bowel, Howie, Honey, meet Sydney Kidney." Plucking a drink from a passing waiter she left them to sort out their names and anatomy and introduced herself to the hostess: "Hallo, my name’s Lapis Lazuli, the Lovely Lap-Dancer. Where can I get changed into my costume?"

Sometimes she would go into a bar and impetuously order a bottle of expensive champagne, declaring loudly that she was celebrating. To the expected inquiry, she would say she had just finished her course. When asked what sort of course - Fashion? Art? Literature? Law? - she would, perhaps, choose Neurophysiology, or Robotics Engineering, or Dadaistic Manifestoes. But generally she would say seriously, "My antibiotics. Thank God I can finally drink again." Once, at the airport, she turned to the seven year old on the seat next to her and said, (to the astonishment of the child’s mother) "Now you will be all right on your own, Darling, won't you?" adding, (to the astonishment of the surrounding travellers and well-wishers) "You be careful driving that car home," then (to the astonishment of the child) swept it up with a hug and a kiss, dropped it, and sailed through the big yellow and black doors for Departing Passengers Only amidst a sibilance of shocked disapproval.

Nina took great delight in changing her occupation upon a whim or an attitude. To various people she was a bus driver ("Route 432, Circular Quay to Balmain, via Glebe Pt Road") a sewer of Body Bags, ("It's not that bad, really, it's just plastic, there are no bodies in them when I do it") a tattoo artist, ("I do get a bit tired of drawing naked women on men's awful bits, nobody really wants art"), A council worker ("I'm on the Roadkill Cleanup team, you wouldn't believe how far one little possum can spread-") A taxidermist ("The dogs and cats and mooses, I don't mind, but one woman brought me in her husband") a sculptor ("I make sculptures out of cauliflower. And broccoli occasionally") and the Managing Director of a Multinational Organisation, one of those elongated, convoluted, triple-barrel-named companies which perform vaguely important actions out of exceedingly expensive offices ("I think I'll take over Coca Cola tomorrow...")

Nina was holding court one evening, charming a circle of admirers with a short tale of several criminal offences and the ensuing court cases, painting a pretty and plausible picture of judges and juries, lawyers and lockups, bail and bonds. In the middle of a complex case her listeners were curious to find that she became distracted, and, at a crucial point: "And the foreman of the jury stood up..." faltered completely. Her pretty mouth opened slightly, she forgot who she was talking to, what she was talking about. They turned to see what had claimed her attention and the end of their story. Nina was listening intently to the conversation of an unusually handsome man with spectacular bone structure, just to the left of her, a conversation that involved pyramids and Nile journeys and desperate adventures in the darkest jungles of Africa. Her ears were twitching, her imagination racing, her mind was sifting, shifting, trying to think, trying to remember.

"I remember you," she said suddenly, with her captivating, party smile. "Gilbert Giblet, of the chicken shop!"

The supposed Gilbert Giblet smiled in a charming manner. "I wish I was," he said, "because you seem so pleased to see me. But my name is actually Drew Getwellagain-Soon. Dr Drew Getwellagain-Soon."

Nina never forgot a face or name - certainly not a face or name like Gilbert Giblet’s. "We met just two months ago, at the Roderickson's dinner party," she persisted.

"I'm afraid that's impossible," said Dr. Getwellagain-Soon. "I've been in Africa, helping the Africans get well again. I was in Botswana two months ago, suffering from cerebral malaria complicated by hepatitis. Unless the Roderickson's Dinner Party was in Botswana. Was the Roderickson's Dinner party in Botswana?"

"No of course not," said Nina crossly.

"Titania-Ophelia," said one of her abandoned listeners (Nina, tired of intestines had been amusing herself with Shakespeare) "I thought you were in gaol, two months ago."

"No," said Nina. "I was never in gaol. I don't know what you're talking about." She turned back to Dr Getwellagain-Soon. "Now Doctor, tell me about Africa," she said, taking his arm, fastening enthralled eyes upon him. "Do they have lots of women doctors there? And tell me some really awful diseases…"

*

If you were ever to ask Mr and Mrs Getwellagain-Soon where they met, they would probably say Cambodia, or Tashkent, or Madagascar, where they also spent most of their honeymoon fighting crocodiles and giant pythons and piranhas, or several nasty diseases (typhoid, cholera, diphtheria) complicated by several other, equally nasty diseases (tuberculosis, dengue fever, and dysentery.)

If, however, you were to ask Mr & Mrs Giblet, the chances are you would hear that their eyes met over a kilo of chicken thigh fillets.

And Mr & Mrs Shakespeare? Ask any one of their 17 children - Henry, Kate, Antony or Beatrice, the twins, Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra, Hamlet, Ophelia, Titania, Cordelia, Cressida, Silvia, Titus, Portia, Prospero or Othello.

Each one will tell you something different.

 

 

Ushered Out

My short, brilliant career in the theatre started with the first performance of Anatilov's The Cow and ended with its 48th. The show itself ran for another 12 performances, but my services were no longer required. Or, to be completely honest, I was hauled out by my ear, stripped of my torch and programmes and told never to show my face again. Which is a shame. I was looking forward to 42nd Street, which was next on the bill: I had planned to practise my tap dancing skills.

My first night was idyllic. I had learned all the seat numbers. I had practised my Usher’s smile: I could flick my torch on in .5 of a second, I could switch it off in .2. I tripped tickets with finesse, sold programmes with flair. I opened the theatre doors so silently I could have been an undertaker. I held latecomers out until the cue so sternly I could have been security. I sent non ticket holders scuttling back to their dressing tables and had a wonderful time. My ears were still ringing from the trill of the theatre bells and my heart was still singing from the thrill of competently seating 400 patrons. When I finally sat down I was ready to be mesmerised by the show.

I was impressed by the first 5 minutes where nobody said a thing. It is amazing how much can be conveyed through sheer atmosphere and silence. After 35 minutes, however, of sheer atmosphere and silence, I became a bit worried. There is only so much powerful drama that can be conveyed with no words and only minimal movement and I think Anatilov (or the director) overstepped this by about 29 minutes, because those in the audience who hadn't fallen asleep were getting shifty.

They sat up (and woke up) for the rest of the performance, though. So much passion! So much raw human emotion! It was shocking to watch. Love and hatred are such immense forces: when you add all the afflicting emotions like grief, anger, frustration, remorse, sorrow, jealousy and bitterness, well, you have a powerful piece of drama. After 10 minutes of Anatilov's The Cow Act 2, I felt as though I had been wallowing in a slough of suffering for a week, and I surfaced, 45 minutes later, stupefied. All that heady passion made me a bit uncomfortable, especially as there were another 59 performances of Anatilov's The Cow to run. I stood at the door in a daze. My goodbyes were automatic. With growing panic (and some mathematical genius) my mind produced some alarming figures: 59 performances x 35 minutes of excruciating silence equalled 2065 minutes or, in a more manageable form, 34 hours and 25 minutes. 59 performances x 55 minutes of nerve wrenching trauma equalled 3245 minutes or, in a more horrifying form, 54 hours and 5 minutes. Total: 88 hours and 30 minutes.

And that wasn't counting Interval.

I do not expect an ordinary person to understand an Usher's plight. The fact that an usher is paid just to sit back and watch an expensive performance is very disconcerting. It is not even as if they are getting a lesser show, the way a waiter has to eat leftovers for his evening meal, or a newsagent can only read magazines with the covers cut off. But an usher will understand me when I say that something had to be done. It was all right for the actors: they were having a ball. And it was all right for the audience, because they could leave whenever they wanted. In my little book of Usher's Guidelines, however, amongst all the crying babies, video camera users, photograph takers, mobile phone talkers, food smugglers and drink sneakers, there was one very strict rule which stated that we could not leave the performance. (Usher's guidelines: "You must not leave the performance unless required by a patron, a supervisor, or an emergency.")

One hour and thirty minutes of Anatilov's The Cow was considered a cultural event. 88 hours and 30 minutes of Anatilov's The Cow was an emergency as far as I could see. In fact 88 hours and 30 minutes of Anatilov's The Cow could be classified as torture and in that first performance I realised that if I didn't do something to take my mind off those dreadful emotions on stage that I would probably (like six of the seven characters in Anatilov's The Cow) go completely mad.

As it happens, it took only 47 and a half performances, or 64 hours and 15 minutes. But I'll start at the beginning, shall I?

During the first six performances I recited John Donne and Shakespeare to myself. Perched on my special Usher's chair with my torch clasped between my hot palms I would whisper the sibilant phrases to myself, revelling in their beauty and inspirational fervour. My favourites were the tormented religious ones, and the Saint Crispian’s Speech from Henry IV, but I could turn my tongue to anything at will, and sometimes I would play a dozen characters in one act. I mixed and matched very cleverly too: Hamlet chatting with King Lear, Othello going quite mad with jealousy over Bottom, Juliet eloping with Antony and spectacular arguments between Portia and Goneril.

After six performances, however, I found that even one line of Shakespeare or Donne would conjure up a sombre dark stage, indescribable emotions, and a black and white cow. Even now, every time I hear The Apparition, a stodgy feeling of trapped terror settles in the pit of my stomach. No apparition could be as horrid as the one that will always haunt me: Anatilov's The Cow.

In Performance No. 8: I tripped up a woman in Aisle C (Usher's Manual: "Basically you are here to ensure nobody injures themselves") and was so horrified by the incident that I sat through the entire performance too upset to think about Anatilov's The Cow. The supervisor was very sweet about it, he said it happened all the time.

Performance No. 9: I decided that music would be my saviour from Anatilov's The Cow and conducted Beethoven's 9th symphony in my head.

Performance No. 10: Conducted Brahm's Concerto No. 2 in Bb, performing the part of the piano on seats MM39-MM42 until the occupants of seats MM39-MM42 began to complain.

Performance No. 11: Sang La Traviata from beginning to end, and resolved that if I died, it would be from consumption.

Performance No 12: Patrons began complaining about the singing in the back rows. I hoped they would die of consumption. I was bored rigid. There was nothing for me to do. I couldn't read a book (Usher's Manual: "Ushers must not use torch to read during performance.") I couldn't write a letter, I couldn't listen to music, I couldn't make music, I couldn't even think properly without Anatilov's The Cow intruding.

Performance No. 13: I started talking to myself just so that I wouldn't have to listen to that turgid emotion on stage, but unfortunately I became completely unstuck when I started a debate on the Abortion Issue. It remains a very delicate subject with me. I'm still not talking to myself until I apologise.

Performance 14: I tripped up another lady, this time in Row H. The supervisor was very nice about it, possibly because I was in a hysteric state and some of the audience thought the show had already started. He said it happened all the time, and that someone had done exactly the same last week, only the woman in that instant had broken an arm, and as far as he could see, all I'd done was shaken this one up a bit. When I pointed out that I was the same person and that there had been an awful lot of blood this time, he was still very nice about it. I have an idea that he is on medication of some sort, because he took 3 pills as he was going, and didn't seem at all unhappy.

Performance No. 15: Tried to translate Anatilov's The Cow as it was spoken into French. I was quite pleased with myself, because there were very few words that I couldn't manage.

Performance No. 16: Tried to translate Anatilov's The Cow as it was spoken into German. As my sole grasp of the German Language reaches to Ja, Nein, and Sprechen si Deutsch? it wasn't much of an exercise.

Performance No. 17: Tried to translate Anatilov's The Cow into Greek. I only know two Greek sentences. One is "The postman is dead." The other - "The cows are coming home," and they both appear in Anatilov's The Cow. What do you know!

Performance No. 18: I knew every word to Anatilov's The Cow. I knew it in French. I knew it (as far as my language limitations would allow) in German. I knew it in Greek. Began to think about killing myself.

Performance No. 19: Devised 12 methods of killing myself during a performance of Anatilov's The Cow.

Performance No. 20: Modified the 12 methods of killing myself to methods of killing the audience of Anatilov’s The Cow.

Performance No. 21: Adapted the 12 methods of killing myself and killing the audience to methods of murdering the leading actress on stage without anybody noticing during a performance of Anatilov’s The Cow.

Performance No. 22: Decided that Anatilov's The Cow was producing bad karma and that I should find a way to relax

Performance No’s: 23

                                 &

                                 24: I took up Yoga classes and sat in a state of complete mind/body relaxation for two performances. I actually looked forward to going to work.

Performance No. 25: I reached such a complete state of mind/body relaxation that I fell off my chair. Why do usher’s chairs not have arm-rests?

Performance No. 26: I reached such a complete state of mind/body relaxation that I fell off my chair again. This time it was in the first scene and I woke a few people up. I went to see my yoga guru to see if there was an inner control I could utilise to stop myself from falling off my chair when I reached the sublime point of repose. He informed me that what I was actually doing was falling asleep, and that I couldn't even master a delicate art like yoga, let alone the Israel Army technique of sleeping ramrod. Besides which, in my little book of Usher's Guidelines there is a strict rule against sleeping during a performance. (Usher's Manual: "You must not sleep during a performance.") He suggested that I might benefit more from aerobics than yoga, but I couldn't see that working.

Performance No. 27: Aerobics was definitely not a good idea.

Performance No. 28: Decided to find a quieter, more thought provoking form of entertainment. Listed in alphabetical order the number of men I had kissed. The list was astounding. I was ashamed of myself. I didn't dare list those I have slept with.

Performance No. 29: I did. I was disgusted.

Performance No. 30

                               31

                              &

                              32: Worried and waited for the results of a number of medical tests. Horrible, horrible visions, a hundred times worse than Anatilov's The Cow danced before my eyes. I couldn't believe my irresponsible behaviour.

Performance No. 33: All tests Negative!! Celebrated with a bottle of champagne and the very handsome usher from Door 7. Went back to his place after the show.

Performance No. 34: Discovered that the very handsome usher has a fiancee. Devised 63 plans for revenge..

Performance No. 35: Bored with revenge. Tripped a lady over just for fun

Performance No. 36: Practised my morse code with the torch against the back of the seat where nobody except another usher could see. He was a boy scout, and learned it at camp. Unfortunately S.O.S is my best combination, so a lot of his philosophical musings went over my head (or into the back of seat MM43) but he promised to teach me morse code properly.

Performance No. 37: I practised several swear words in morse code against one of the supporting actors who doesn’t seem to do very much except stand around. Judging from the reaction, a lot of people understand morse code.

Performance No. 38: I showed everybody to their seats with my torch stuck under my chin so that I looked like a pig-nosed ghoul and spent the rest of the performance laughing to myself about it. I thought they should be prepared for the horror show ahead

Performance No. 39: Discovered that if I whisked my torch around the theatre, nobody knew what it was, but it annoyed the hell out of everybody. Tried it 22 times. Some of the audience thought that aliens had arrived. The lead actress lost her lines six times and was not impressed.

Performance No. 40 : Abandoned the torch as it was getting too risky. Practised tying glucose snakes into knots with my tongue. After six packets of sodden, gooey snakes I biliously conceded defeat and decided it was a party trick I would never master. Who would you show it to, anyway?

Performance No. 41: Discovered that a stiff Gin & Tonic makes Anatilov's The Cow go much faster.

Performance No. 42: I rediscovered the age old art of rolling Jaffas down the aisle. I modified it a bit - the carpet made things a bit difficult, so I had to do a low sort of underarm.

Performance No. 43: 3 stiff Gin & Tonics made Anatilov's The Cow almost bearable.

Performance No. 44: I practised my pinball / netball / golf / pool skills by aiming Jaffas at people's handbags.

Performance No. 45: 6 stiff Gin & Tonics made Anatilov's The Cow almost interesting. Aimed for down the shirt collar.

Performance No. 46: 9 stiff Gin & Tonics shed a completely new light on Anatilov's The Cow. I understood it completely. The Gin played havoc with my motor skills, though - handbags and shirt collars were a little bit difficult to negotiate, so I just threw Jaffas at the back of people's heads.

Performance No. 47: 12 stiff Gin & Tonics. Fell off my chair again. Sure beats yoga. Luckily my boy scout found me before the house supervisor did.

 

Performance No. 48: 16 stiff Gin & Tonics. The curtain was rising. I couldn't bear it. 16 stiff Gin & Tonics made Anatilov's The Cow the most excruciating experience I had ever encountered. I thought that if I had to listen to them pace around that square box in caged animal-like circles, if I had to endure that horrendous, stultifying, penetrating silence, if I had listen to those desperate actors intone their dreadful lines once more I would throw up.

I did throw up. I felt much better. The sixteen Gins had subsided a bit in my stomach, but Anatilov's The Cow was beginning to go round and round in my head. The silence was horrifying. The theatre was spinning. The second scene began.

"Revenge!" shouted the protagonist.

With my torchlight I spotted my handsome usher, and my soliloquy began:

"No!" I shouted. "Vengeance is mine!"

This had been my favourite of the 63 plans for revenge. This wasn't revenge though, you understand. This was the unravelling of a brilliant mind. 47 and a half performances of Anatilov's The Cow and 16 Gin & Tonics had taken their toll. Like six of the seven characters in Anatilov's The Cow I had gone completely - though temporarily - mad.

I started with Romans 12:19, surged through a few of the direr methods of revenge, and then randomly selected some of the uglier methods of suicide. Death, grief, lust, love, some Shakespeare - Hamlet, A Winter's Tale, The Tempest, Othello and Romeo and Juliet, if I remember correctly - a bit of Donne, threw in my German and Greek and even sang a few bars from La Traviata as well. I thought I was spectacular, though my tongue was having trouble keeping up. Throughout the performance I threw copious amounts of Jaffas and began hiccupping only in the last few lines. I finished with "On the Day of St Crispian" to the rising of houselights, and I am pleased to say that I received a standing ovation and more applause than Anatilov's The Cow ever had. My final bow was ruined, however, by my house supervisor who ushered me out. Or removed me. (Usher's manual: "If a patron becomes loud and uncontrollable, inform your supervisor who will remove the offender.) I think he forgot his medication that evening.

 

So. My first performance at the Regal Theatre closed with thunderous applause and usher disgrace. They have rung down the curtain. I have hung up my usher's cloak. I have abandoned culture now - a sorry victim of Anatilov's The Cow

But all is not lost. You will be pleased to know that I start a new job on Saturday night. I have entered the hallowed realms of the Hospitality Industry. I have never done any waitressing before, but it doesn't look too difficult. And it has to be much much more fun than watching 48 performances of Anatilov's The Cow. My first night is a conference dinner: The World President’s Organisation.

Very Very V I P.

I can't wait.

 

 

Copyright 1999 Jemima James
Published on the World Wide Web by "www.storymania.com"