The Lies You Tell

April 27, 2008
"Sometimes the lies you tell are less frightening than the loneliness you might feel if you stopped telling them."

- Brocke Clark
Sleet pelted the plate glass windows, a thick blanket of black ice covering the runway. All flights were cancelled and many people crammed into the tightly packed bar, hoping to take the sting out of spending the night in a crowded airport. The bartender filled a mug with ale and placed it in front of Glen Matthews, a tall, graying man in a pinstripe gray suit. Glen nodded in response and went back to studying the people around him.

A pregnant woman sat at the end of the bar, smoking a cigarette and taking small sips of brandy. Her belly was partially hidden by the bar. She dug through her purse for cash, removing a crisp twenty and pushing it towards the bartender. People stared as she made her way towards the restroom, mindful of the wet floor sign to her left. The bartender shook his head, aggravated, and turned to look at Glen.

“I asked her – No! I begged her to order something, anything, but alcohol. She wouldn’t listen, though, man. She said she was fine, that the baby would be fine. I even offered her a Coke on the house, but she wouldn’t budge.” The bartender vented, hands shaking with anger and a small wrinkle creasing his eyebrows. Glen frowned, disinterestedly, and sipped his beer.
A homeless man sat crouched in a dusty corner, shuffling a dog-eared deck of cards. His tattered flannel shirt was stained with dirt and an aged fedora was pulled tight over his ears. Setting the cards aside, he reached out and pulled a small duffel bag towards him. Using the duffel as a pillow, he stretched out, the deck of cards clutched between his grimy hands.

Glen finished his beer and took a seat in an orange plastic chair. He leaned back and dozed off, his feet propped on his briefcase and his trench coat pulled up to his chest. He woke hours later to someone tapping his arm.

“Hey, man, wake up. It’s me – Henry.” It was the homeless man, poking his elbow and staring into his eyes.

“So? Do I know you?” Glen asks, annoyed by the abrupt awakening. The homeless guy smelled like discarded sushi and his flannel was stained with something green and disconcerting. Glen rubbed sleep from his eyes and took a closer look at the man. Henry was short, gray was peppered into his goatee, and he walked with a slight limp. He still had the worn deck of Bicycle cards in his hand, subconsciously shuffling them back and forth.

“What do you mean do you know me? Of course you do! It’s Henry Patterson from Flint, Michigan.” Henry’s eyes were wide and slightly bloodshot from lack of sleep. He looked a bit hurt that Glen had absolutely no idea who he is.

Glen decided to play along, feeling slightly bad for him and deciding it would make an interesting story to tell his buddies in Boston, “Yeah, sure I remember. Sorry, Henry, you caught me a bit off guard. How are you, man?”

Henry’s eyes brightened and he motioned towards their surroundings, “What can I say, Larry? It’s not much, but it’s home.”

‘Larry’ looked around, apparently not seeing how a crowded airport filled with squalling babies, overworked employees, and half-crazed businessmen could be considered “home”.

“You know how the government is, though, Larry,” Henry said, taking a seat in the orange chair next him, “they use you, abuse you, and then send you home with nothing waiting for you.” His knees popped when he sat, making him cringe with discomfort.

“What do you mean?” Glen asked, confused. What was he going on about?

“Well, after ‘Nam they sent me home, disabled and mad as hell. I couldn’t go back to work at the construction site, because my leg ached whenever I moved around too much. I guess I’m just lucky I don’t have PTSD or something,” Henry laughed, bitterly.

“But, I want to hear about you, Lar. What’s been happening since you were discharged? I know we promised to keep in touch, buddy, but s*** happens, ya know?”

Glen was starting to feel a bit ashamed of lying, but decided it would be a bad idea to stop now. He felt a surge of pity for this stranger and a bit of doubt about himself. How was it possible for this man to be so sure of who he was? And who was the real Larry? A war buddy, perhaps? That’s how Henry spoke of him – like someone who had been through hell and back with him and lived to talk about it. Glen realized that hell wasn’t over for this guy. Henry had been living in a separate sort of hell since he’d gotten home. It would never be over for him. Glen suddenly felt horrible for taking advantage of him.

Glen hopped out of the plastic chair as if he’d been shot, every intention of making his way out of the airport, away from this man he didn’t know. A man he felt infinite sympathy towards. Henry looked over at him, puzzled by his outburst.

“What’s wrong, Larry?” he asked, a beset look of worry engraved into his features. Glen stopped and took a deep breath, wanting desperately to come clean to this man, but finding veracity a hard concept to master.

“Nothing, I’m fine. Just got a bit restless, but I’m okay. Thanks,” Glen thought he was getting rather good at being a liar. He also reckoned this might be why his wife had left him. Realizing his lie had gotten out of hand, he decided to make an escape.
“You know, it was nice seeing you again, Henry, but I really need to be going home,” Glen explained. Grabbing his briefcase, he slung his coat over his shoulder.
Henry looked at him curiously, “Weren’t you flying somewhere, Lar?”
“Yes, well, I can always reschedule. It doesn’t look like this weather will be changing anytime soon, anyway,” Glen answered. The prospect of going home to his empty, loveless apartment was unappealing, but he’d rather face his desolate home than spend the night fabricating tales for a miserable homeless man.
Henry looked at him, dejectedly. The cards reappeared and he shuffled them back and forth. Glen wondered absently if it was a subconscious habit.
“Alright, well, be careful, Larry,” he warned, moving the cards back to his pocket, he pulled the fedora off and scratched his unwashed hair. Small, white flakes fell to his shoulders, but Glen wasn’t paying attention to that. He noticed how Henry’s almost happy appearance seemed to shift, making him seem colder, somehow. Lonelier, Glen realized.
Taking his seat again, he turned and looked at Henry for a moment, before asking, “Why don’t we play cards before I go?”
Henry’s smile returned. He shoved the fedora onto his head and rambled off different types of card games, “You were always good at Texas Hold ‘Em, but I’ll tell you, I’ve gotten better over the years, Lar. Remember that time you beat me so bad, you had to loan me money to pay for that hooker in Bangkok?” Henry laughed, loudly, and Glen joined in, the weight of his guilt somewhat lifted.
The rest of the night was spent playing various games, the men ignoring those around them in order to concentrate soundly. When the sun began to rise and Henry’s noisy snores rose above the din of the bustling airport, Glen felt his guilt dissipate fully.

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