Ring of Deception
by Gary Glauber
"So, all of it was just a lie?"
"Not all, no. You're over-reacting."
"Am I? How can I trust a man who lies? It negates the very foundation of a loving relationship."
He thought back to when things were simpler, long before this had spiraled out of control. It had started as a gentle fib, no more than a distillate of near-truths and harmless fabrications, a simple gold band around a finger.
"I did it for you," he said, believing it so.
"For me?" She shook her head, clucking her tongue in seeming disapproval. "I don't know Bill, I don't see how."
He wondered if one could even explain what once had seemed a brilliant tactical maneuver. Then again, maybe he was the one over-reacting. Perhaps she didn't know anything and this was a bluff. He had to employ tact here; speak gingerly yet engagingly.
"I guess it was for me as well. How did you figure it out?"
She took a sip of her coffee and slowly crossed her legs. She seemed to relish this newfound position of power.
"Happenstance," she said. "A bit of luck. I was out getting milk."
He could see her wheels turning as though debating whether to tell him.
"And there she was."
"Your alleged wife. I recognized her from the pictures."
He looked at the sun reflecting off the glass of the 10 x 12 portrait framed in tasteful cherry wood. He didn't need to see what his mind already had memorized, three smiling faces comprising the perfect family, expertly placed on the accent table next to the sectional sofa.
"Cindy was there?"
"I saw her over in the express lane and of course I was curious. Such a handsome woman."
"She is, of a certain type, yes."
"When she opened her purse for the credit card she dropped her keys." She took another sip for dramatic emphasis. "The first thing I noticed was this beautiful rose tattoo on her lower back."
"Oh?" He wanted to hear all she had to tell before he considered serving up further apologies.
"It surprised me. I never pictured her as having a tattoo, even such a tasteful delicate one. Of course I don't really know her. Just the fiction of what I've imagined combined with everything you've told me."
"I haven't told you much."
"No, you've been reluctant to speak of her."
"My focus has been on you, Christie."
She shook her head; she was in no mood for sweet talk. "Remember how we met?"
"Ironically, it was at the supermarket, right? I let you in ahead of me." He remembered first seeing her in the produce section, noticing her attractiveness and long legs, but not having the bravery to speak to her then.
"You always were a gentleman. I liked that about you. But now I find out everything has been one giant lie."
"Tell me...that first time, did you notice my wedding band?"
"Of course. When you see a good-looking guy, it's natural to check."
"I think you were relieved to see it there."
"A validation I was someone worth having. Obviously at least one woman had committed to that idea."
"That's what you think I thought?"
"Well, did you?"
"It may have crossed my mind. Fleetingly."
"But I could see from the items in your basket you were living alone."
"Always the detective. It was that obvious?"
"Guess I still wanted to know more. And now I do."
"At first, it wasn't much of a lie."
"A lie is a lie. I was right behind her. I could see into her wallet, she left it open on the counter."
So that was how she knew. He wondered if there was more, if they had spoken.
"The name on her driver's license said Jamie Vander Wooten."
For a brief second, Bill considered telling her that Jamie was Cindy's identical twin sister. But he knew the time for ludicrous tales was over.
"It got out of hand, I admit it."
"And this woman's voice was sort of high-pitched, nothing like that breathy woman on your answering machine. Who was she? And who's the kid? I've got more questions than I can even voice."
"I thought you preferred me as an almost married guy. These were all friends and people from work. The voice on the answering machine is Thelma, the company receptionist. The kid is Jamie's ten-year-old nephew."
"Didn't you think I was bound to find out?"
"I knew at some point it had to end. Though I wish it didn't have to. My emotions, my feelings, none of them are lies."
"Maybe it doesn't have to end."
"You'd forgive me?"
"I want to understand why first, and then we'll see about forgiveness."
"I still care for you. I just thought there was no way someone like you would be interested in someone like me."
"Without you having been married?"
"Yes, a man my age, never married...well, that can read "loser" to some. And so I asked some of the women at work. They told me to start wearing a gold band and I guess it just escalated from there. I didn't think you'd believe me without the rest of the story."
"So you really did it for me?"
"In a sick sort of way, yes. I was convinced it was the only way I could attract a smart, attractive career-oriented woman like you."
Christie took her cup and saucer over to the sink. "You're not a loser. Still, I wish you'd been honest with me."
"The marriage stuff was the only lie. A big one, I know, and a complicated ruse that kept getting more and more complex. I'm sorry for all of it."
"And you assure me everything else is on the level?"
"You've got a suspicious nature, you know."
"Can you blame me?"
"I guess not."
"Hold up your right hand and solemnly swear."
He did. "Aside from the marriage thing, I've been totally truthful."
"On your life?"
"Cross my heart and hope to die."
"Okay, come here." They hugged for a few seconds before she pronounced him: "Forgiven."
"So you'll stay the night?"
"No, have to be at work early tomorrow. But I can stay a few hours yet."
"To the bedroom?" He was surprised how well she was taking it. Curiously, her mood had changed rather abruptly.
"Absolutely!" She led the way, already unbuttoning her blouse. "So you've never been married?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"I really believed you were. It'll take some time to think of you as a bachelor."
"It's still me and I can prove it."
He leaned over her now naked body and offered his proof. She grabbed hold and over the course of the next forty minutes or so allowed for all manner of necessary certification. Exhausted and spent, they sat back against pillows in silent thought.
"How was that?" he asked, breaking the silence.
"Your marriage status does not affect your performance," she said, smiling.
Grateful, he grabbed her hand and kissed her long graceful fingers, first noticing the pale ring of skin at the bottom of her fourth finger that didn't match her tan.
About the author:
When not writing fiction, Gary Glauber is a music journalist for PopMatters and Fufkin. His stories have appeared in Word Riot, Eyeshot, The Fossil Record, Smokelong Quarterly, Megaera, Cenotaph and Ululation. Upcoming stories are scheduled to appear in 42opus, Mocha Memoirs and Insolent Rudder. He may or may not be working on an eventual novel, but his love of short fiction continues unabated.