Mickey was talking, and when Mickey was talking, his hands spoke with him. They were childlike and stubby-fingered, so out of proportion to the dense fat of his forearms and the rest of his bulk they may as well have been the product of an amputation. In jerks and flutters they flew above the arcs of his speech, soaring on the volume of a voice that always bordered on too loud.

It was one of those Australian summers when the temperature had climbed to a hundred degrees by mid-morning Monday and wasn’t looking to break until Sunday afternoon, when the days were searing, dry and cruel. Radio warnings were being broadcast about leaving dogs and children in cars; on older roads cracks in the asphalt were seeping with black lines of melted tar. At eight on Saturday night the air outside in the quiet café courtyard was thick with heat, and still. The streets around us were quiet; anyone with sense had found respite in air-conditioned houses or movie theatres, at the beach or in swimming pools.

James poured Diet Coke over the last stubborn cubes of ice in my glass and I watched droplets of condensation run down the outside to soak into the rough wooden tabletop; Mickey, as always, drank coffee. I could feel the sweat underneath my arms and at my temples – I had already, and gratefully, taken off my shoes and socks to flex my feet and now I was gingerly resting my heels on the just-unpleasant, soaked-in warmth of the brickwork underfoot.

Despite the heat I was content. The sun had set and it was peaceful there, surrounded by the sweet scent of flowers in full bloom and the deep green of the garden, the night only just begun and in the company of friends.

I watched Mickey’s hands swoop through the air, clutching like soft-shelled crabs skewered through the middle. He was growing more and more animated as he reached the climax of his story – the appearance, at his ex-girlfriend’s gallery opening, of his ex’s new partner.

‘I looked him right in the eye,’ Mickey said, his hands sweeping out, dangerously close to his coffee cup, ‘and I didn’t say a word.’ His eyes bulged slightly under his thin ginger eyebrows as his right hand came up to his lips in a mimicry of motion. ‘I just took a drag on my cigarette, blew the smoke in his face, and then I put it out in his drink.’

James and I gave each other sidelong glances. I reached for my glass, hiding behind the nutrasweet taste and a crunching mouthful of melting ice cubes. James smiled thinly at Mickey and asked if we wanted to get something to eat.

Once again, Mickey had outdone himself.

*

Mickey’s two defining traits were an inability to get out of cars and an uneasy relationship with facts. He didn’t drive and showed no signs of wanting to learn, but in truth it was difficult to imagine him behind the wheel. Clumsiness informed his movements; after the inevitable and insisted-upon twenty minutes he would spend in conversation after a ride home, parked by the roadside, the front door to his apartment building only feet away from the passenger door, he would finally exit with loud sighs and bad grace, scuffing his feet on the wing of the car, heaving himself out with hands groping at the roof. It wasn’t just vehicles – he could be counted on to spill coffee over his shirt, to quite innocently look down to find himself somehow standing in ornamental flower beds, to misjudge the appropriate volume of speech in movie theatres at crucial points in films. And these habits, along his unswerving belief that if someone was to give him a lift it meant they were also content for him to sit in their car as long as he’d like at the end of it, could be easily, politely, overlooked.

More difficult was his habit of freely, casually inventing events as he needed to, something which became all the lonelier, and all the more impossible to ignore, in equal measure as time went by.

*

It’s hardly as if Mickey was alone in the practice. The first time I met my friend Harriet’s new boyfriend I was desperate to talk to him about whether he’d be suing the rockstar who had stolen his song. The new boyfriend played in a bottom-tier Melbourne garage rock band who’d been fortunate enough, and hard-working enough, to get a booking as a third or fourth support act for a touring US supergroup. You’ve heard of them; for two years they were exploding across old and new media on both sides of the Atlantic, their star has faded now but they still make headlines from time to time.

‘Supergroup Lead Singer is such an asshole,’ said Harriet, a month earlier, her mouth tight with conspiratorial anger and righteousness. ‘At one of the tour afterparties, he and New Boyfriend just hung out, all by themselves, and shut the door on all the groupies and all the drugs, and found a piano in this big mansion they were partying at, and they wrote a song together. And now Supergroup Lead Singer is releasing it as his single and New Boyfriend isn’t going to get anything.’

‘Jesus,’ I said. ‘That’s terrible.’ I was dismayed by the news – I’d liked Supergroup’s sound and thought well of them as people from what few interviews I’d read.

‘Yeah,’ said Harriet, nodding her head. Her phone silently vibrated on her living room coffee table and she snatched it up, urgently, her attention already fading away from me. ‘I guess it just goes to show what famous people are like.’ Her fingers raced over buttons, spelling out a text; her eyes were on her phone as she spoke.

I’d forgotten, somehow, that Harriet was fond of stories that couldn’t be proven, that somehow purported to make her and those around her fascinating and popular. And maybe she didn’t remember she’d told me that story – lies are more easily forgotten, after all – until I asked New Boyfriend, when I eventually met him, if there’d been any progress on reclaiming the rights to his stolen work, in the process rehashing what Harriet had said.

‘What?’ New Boyfriend asked, truly nonplussed. He was wearing gold-rimmed glasses and a polo shirt; he couldn’t have looked any less a rock star if he tried. ‘No, we never hung out with those guys. The drummer said hey to us once or twice but that was it; we were kept totally segregated from them.’

‘Oh,’ I said, confused. ‘But Harriet told me…’

‘No,’ said Harriet, too quickly, and broke off. She stared at the table in front of her, silently, and a horrified embarrassment washed over us. New Boyfriend changed the subject, and I followed suit, neither one of us miserly enough to draw the smallness of her deceit out into the open air.

*

And so Mickey was not unique, but he was in a league of his own. While originally we’d been fascinated by the stories of his remarkable exploits, as soon as the first one of his accounts became suspicious, the remainder, and those that followed, quickly fell apart with even a fraction of scrutiny applied. It became blindingly, painfully obvious that these re-tellings depended on certain factors – that none of us, or anyone we knew, should be around as these events unfolded, that no one ever ask what the consequences were, or what happened next, and that, most importantly, they leave Mickey looking heroic, rebellious, praiseworthy, or cool.

The interrupted attempted mugging of a stranger, where Mickey threw himself into the fray, fighting off two men and terrifying a third into submission, in an act of heroism that surprisingly, never saw any hint of a police follow-up.

The afternoon where Mickey, facing dismissal for turning up to work an hour late for the third time in a month, was taken aside by Mitsubishi’s Head of Pacific Sales (who for no apparent reason happened to be in the building at the time) and told: Michael, you have more potential than anyone I’ve seen in twenty years; that’s why you get bored making follow-up calls so easily.

The sex. The incredible, never-ending avalanche of sex, that saw Mickey disappearing into bedrooms, into public gardens, into shopping mall toilets with women of all ages, all backgrounds, and all nationalities, all of them beautiful, all of them sophisticated and worldly-wise… and all of them seduced in an instant and vanished just as quickly.

Once the curtain had been lifted there was no going back, and we saw these productions for what they were – episodes in a life Mickey wished we believed he led, probably a life he himself wished he led. Maybe we did him a disservice by never calling him out on the lie. It would have been as simple as asking: ‘What happened next?’

That was always the part of the story he hadn’t considered. Mickey’s constructions ended as soon as his starring role had been played out – the cigarette landed in the drink and cut, roll credits, applause.

*

Maybe, if we’d spoken, some dam in him could have been broken; I don’t know and I can’t say. What I know is that we recognised the desperation in Mickey, the constant need to be reassured and attended to, the sadness of a life in which a fiction seemed more likeable, more acceptable, more appealing to people than a truth, and it stayed us from ever saying a word.

And then, finally, Mickey crossed the line. As he was balancing the incredible fiction he was constructing at his work about needing to take care of his dying mother, a story that bought him forgiveness for a month’s worth of offenses, a story that only came to light through separate channels later, Mickey had a falling out with Konrad.

Konrad was German, a friend we’d made at an open-air philosophy lecture. He was our age, and friendly, as many of the German travelers I’ve met have been. He already had his own circle in Melbourne, but spent more and more time with us as time went on; meeting us for drinks on weekends, for lunch in the city on days when work allowed, riding with us to house parties in the noisy inner-Eastern suburbs of the city, where post-grads in woollen scarves, with spiky hair and shelves full of Simone de Beauvoir, unfailingly offered him joints and sat down next to him, laughing and moving closer with every hour that went by.

What they fell out about, to this day, I don’t know.

Mickey insisted we cut our ties with Konrad; not, he assured us, because the two of them were arguing, but rather, because he, Mickey, had just recently discovered Konrad had confessed to a string of sexual assaults in Germany that had never been reported. Because Konrad was stalking Mickey’s sister, and Mickey had never told us until now. Because Konrad spoke about us behind our backs, because Konrad was a liar, because Konrad was our enemy and Mickey was our friend.

He told us these things around James’s table late one night, after making a panicked afternoon call to me, demanding to know if I’d spoken to Konrad that day. I’d picked Mickey up after work and driven him to James’s place, where, with his pale hands grabbing one cigarette after another from my pack on the table, Mickey laughed and waved away our concerns, telling us to just trust him, the stress he’d claimed earlier suddenly forgotten.

We asked Mickey how he knew any of the things he was saying; we asked him to prove them. We asked  if he knew the seriousness of the allegations he was making, and we asked why the only action he was taking was to speak to us, now.

Mickey didn’t want to hear about making statements to the police. He didn’t want to hear about talking to Konrad, or clarifying facts; he just became angrier and angrier the more we suggested acting on the things he’d said, and started to demand we tell other people the things he’d told us. Finally, he was yelling; his face contorting with the force of his emotion. His hands flailed crazily in the air, free from any grace or intent; his skin flooded with bright pink and red from the base of his neck to the carroty-orange of his hair.

When it became obvious we would need more than his word to crucify Konrad in the court of public opinion, Mickey fell silent. For twenty minutes he sat and sulked, tense and uncommunicative, and then I drove him home. James, looking sleepy and unconvinced, bid us goodnight at the front door with the promise of following through on any action that needed to be taken; I looked at him and knew he was thinking, as I was thinking, that Mickey had graduated from the harmless to the unforgivable.

In the ride home, with the stereo down low, I rolled down my window so I could smoke one of the few cigarettes Mickey had left me with. My headlights searched out across the darkened road in front of me; it was late, and I was tired. It had been raining, and the damp clean smell of rain on tarmac came up from off the road as we sped by.

Mickey, beside me, began to grumble about loyalty. He sat there, arms folded sullenly across his chest, his gut tight under a t-shirt and his skin pale in the darkness, and reached for another one of my cigarettes.

I turned into his street and we pulled in to the kerb and sat, quietly, the embers on our cigarettes silently firing red and yellow. A long shadow, from a branch ahead, lay over Mickey’s face. I turned to look at him and blinked, surprised by just how clearly the weak glow from the cigarette illuminated his face as he breathed it in, hard.

Mickey started to repeat himself, a long refrain about loyalty, about gratitude, about the sins of Konrad and the need for us to distance us from him, to let everyone know how terrible he was.

I lost my temper and regained it in the instant it took me to flatly tell him to get out of the car. Jerkily, he opened the door, pushed himself out, and slammed it closed again behind him.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

54 responses to “Tell Me Lies”

  1. I think we’ve all known a Mikey, but what a terrifically specific portrayal of this one.

    You’re deliberately not-naming the supergroup, yes? I’m so curious now!

    Timely, too. Truth is such a slippery beast. Or, as Pilate said, “Que veritas.” Well. However a Roman would have said “What is truth?”

    Years ago, I joined Nerve.com to meet new people, and one of their questions was about lies. It might have asked what the worst lie I’d ever told was. Something like that. I answered that I saved my lies for my stories, because then they become the truth, which was probably about as big a whopper as could be but I was told it sounded good.

    The first point of the Scout law is “A scout is trustworthy,” but being trustworthy and telling the truth seem separate beasts.

    Anyway, nice piece.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Thanks, Will!

      Yeah, they are going unmentioned for a couple of reason, primarily because I think it may be important to leave exact identities obscured here.

      It’s true (heh); we all have our own truths. Unfortunately, we all have our own bullshit, as well.

      I used to lie in primary school about movies I hadn’t seen – I, like Mickey, just wanted people to think I was cool. I didn’t really have the foresight to think of how ridiculously easy it would be for my stories to come undone.

      ‘Hey! John McClane didn’t turn into a car in the final act! You lied to us!’

  2. zoe bee says:

    I hate Mickey’s. I know I should feel some empathy for them, but I can’t be fucking bothered.

    I’m glad you weeded him out of your friend garden. You know I often think you need to take some weed killer to that overgrown patch of lawn anyway! heh… but that’s what makes you nicer than me.

    Great writing, Smithson. I felt inspired to write today by reading it. THANK YOU. xxx

    • Simon Smithson says:

      It’s such a strange place to be in. On the one hand, you want to call them out as a liar, because, really, it’s a pretty weak thing to do to anyone, but especially to a friend. On the other hand, there’s part of you that’s there thinking Jesus, you poor bastard. You’ve been crushed enough. I don’t want to be the one that crushes you any further.

      Ugh. People. Complicatin’ up my day.

      Looking back, it was a very good weed to remove. You’d be proud of me, there’s like three people I don’t talk to anymore!

      Thanks for the kind words, ZB. That will be twenty dollars, please. And you’re welcome! xxxx

  3. Joe Daly says:

    As Will notes, we’ve all known a Mickey, and the way you’ve drawn him here is brilliant- the bravado, the sublime exaggerations and the need to feel interesting. The classic case of the “People Pleaser.” Or as I was discussing with a friend yesterday, an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.

    I wonder if his pouting at the end was perhaps fueled by the realization that all along, he was not being taken seriously by his mates. Do you think that it dawned on him, when you guys requested harder evidence, that all along he was viewed as an entertaining but unbelievable fabricator?

    You tell the shit out of a story and this was pimptastic. The weariness of suffering a constant braggart is something we’ve all experienced, and you’ve captured it here and turned it into a bitchin’ little story that’s easy to relate to and ultimately pretty sad.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I think it was coming straight from a place of feeling inferior; however, I’m not sure it dawned on him that he wasn’t quite the persuasive story-teller he wanted us to think it was. I got a couple of emails from him after Konradgate – weird, strange emails in which he described himself as a kind of patient village saint, never breathing a word of complaint while never failing to bend over backwards to help anyone and everyone for a ten mile radius.

      People, man. Freakin’ crazy.

      Thanks, amigo! Thank God the Mickeys of the deck are being shuffled out, leaving space for the Pimp of Hearts, the Joe Daly card that outranks two Jokers and four Aces.

  4. jmblaine says:

    Here you are
    asking for lies
    & Joe Daly says
    “You tell the shit
    out of a story.”
    which is too true.

    Here’s a lie for you:
    This was dull & un-nuanced
    with no eye for detail.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Dull and un-nuanced?! But I-

      Oh, I see what you did there!

      Thanks, JMB. Did you read Gina Frangello’s My Sister’s Continent? I’ve found it really inspirational to me in terms of writing in depth, along with a couple of other texts, written and no (oh, Orson Welles!).

      Thanks for the kind words, amigo. They go a long way towards making my day.

  5. dwoz says:

    I’m afraid that a slippery slope is never in the cards for one such as Mickey. It’s ALWAYS a sheer cliff, with jagged rocks below.

    And, they’re never pushed, they always jump all by themselves.

    Which brings me to “Mickey’s Law”:

    NEVER kill off your mother in a lie for work. Second-tier relatives like aunts or grandmothers are entirely credible as life-influences, and actually perform better as situational bereavements.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Man, I couldn’t believe that shit when I heard it. Or rather, I could, and that’s what made it all the worse.

      Not only was it a giant fuck you to anyone who may have actually, you know, been concerned about their employee and/or co-worker dealing with a dying parent, but also to anyone who was actually in that awful position.

      I think it was one of those cases where a lie was so big it was actually easier to swallow than a smaller one, because, after all, who would possibly tell a lie so grandiose?

      Thanks for reading!

  6. Jessica Blau says:

    Yes, we all have known Mickey’s. What a great character, though–a compelling guy to read about!

    • Simon Smithson says:

      He could actually be a really charismatic guy in a lot of ways; I think that’s why it was so easy to be sucked in originally. He told stories with such verve and conviction that you kind of wanted to believe them.

      Oh, Mickey. You silly, sad person.

  7. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    This has to be a statistical anomaly, but I’ve only heard tell of these Mickeys. No such person–to my knowledge or awareness–has ever been within my circle, peripherally or not. Really, this suggests I don’t get out enough….

    In the big picture, it was probably beneficial for you to kick him to the curb. And that whole bit about Konrad. Classic projection, eh?

    Wonderful pacing and detail, Mr. Simon. Bravo.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I’ve only run across a couple that I know of, but I guess you need to know people with some depth before you realise that’s how they operate.

      Before I wrote this I asked a couple of people if they were familiar with the phenomenon, and apparently it’s surprisingly common. People just like to tell lies, I guess.

      I’ve looked back on the incident a few times now, and honestly, I think my life is the better of for him not being in it. I hope he’s OK, and doing well, and happy in whatever way makes him most happy, but… yeah. At a distance.

      I have no doubt that whatever was going on between him and Konrad was fuelled by an interpersonal issue. Classic projection, yes.

      Thanks, Miss Ronyln! I love to hear such things from you.

  8. Dana says:

    I’m so glad my Mickey is no longer in my life. Honestly, he was EXHAUSTING. It’s funny just how much he had in common with your Mickey, down to his wildly gesticulating stubby fingers. You’ve captured him well, with his over loud boasts and his inability to stop talking. Well done, sir! Also, I guess Kings of Leon.

    I note that you’ve tagged this Fiction and Truth. What up with that Mr. Smithson?

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Oh, man. The non-stop talking. There’s something about it that gets so overwhelming so quickly.

      Oh, the wildly gesticulating stubby fingers? For realz? Huh. Small world!

      Nope! Not Kings of Leon. I’ll never tell, Dana!

      I tagged this Fiction and Truth when I realised that perhaps I was being a little unfair, as someone who sometimes writes fiction, castigating someone else for a history of lying. Then I figured no, screw it, there’s a difference. This is why people went after Frey.

  9. Zara Potts says:

    There’s so many tiers of lying.

    The really big, bad liars who fuck your life up with their lying shit.

    The liars who lie to get what they want.

    The liars who lie to make themselves more popular.

    The liars who lie to not hurt other peoples’ feelings.

    The exaggerators.

    The white liars who tell harmless fibs.

    I think everyone lies. Not all the time, not to the extent of Mickey, but I think we all do it to some extent. I try hard not to think of myself as a liar -more someone who omits things for the sake of sparing feelings. Is that the same thing? Probably.

    When I was much younger I was certainly prone to exaggeration and I think we all do that in order to make ourselves seem more interesting, more worldly, more experienced -it took time for me to realise that the truth is always much more interesting than a fib and even when you do fib for supposed good reasons, you always get found out.

    I find Mickey and Harriet sad. It’s a little bit tragic that they obviously felt so shit about themselves that they had to make up stories. It’s so obvious and painful to see. I just want to shake them and say; “You are OKAY as you are! People will like you without the lies! Just be yourself and you will be a whole lot more popular and fun.”

    BUT… the piece! This was fantastic, brew. As Miss Ronlyn said – wonderful pacing and detail. I love these pieces from you where the descriptions are so vivid and the movement of the story is seamless and fluid.

    Really, really well done.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I don’t think I know anyone who can put their hand up and say they’ve never, ever told a lie. I know I certainly can’t. There’s just a time and place when it goes from being excusable to inexcusable, from quirky or funny to really annoying.

      God, it was horrible that moment with Harriet. It was just so embarrassing. The obviousness of her lie, the clumsiness of it, and the awareness that washed over all of us… uck. No good. I’m so glad I’m not there, right now.

      And that’s just it – you get to the point where you want to say to people that it’s OK if they’re not leaping out of bed every morning into a pile of gold and record contracts, strapping on their jetpack and flying to MI5 to spend another day fighting supervillains and sleeping with hot Russian counterintelligence agents.

      I mean, that would be sweet. But it isn’t necessary.

      Thanks, brew! Much appreciated.

  10. Jude says:

    What a great portrayal of this man who lies or does he…? Exaggeration is one thing – and he seemed to do that very well until his lies started to become slanderous. Still, I couldn’t shake the sympathy I had for Mickey and continued to feel that way, even to the last act of him slamming the car door. Poor Mickey. So insecure and so desperate…

    Very impressed with the amount of detail, building up this character in such a way that he became very real. Great piece of writing.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      We had the conversation about whether or not Mickey was telling the truth a number of times – about how stupid we’d feel if it turned out he was actually being completely honest and we were just, you know. Dicks.

      However, more and more evidence came to light, more and more frequently, as our social group expanded, and we heard the truth of things from other parties.

      Thanks, Jude! I was getting pretty sleep towards the end of writing it, so I was worried it was getting sloppy.

  11. Irene Zion says:

    Simon,

    You did a wonderful job writing this story.
    I think your stories are just getting better and better.

    I don’t think I have ever known a Mickey, either,
    but I’m a pushover for a good story,
    so I don’t actually know.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Thanks Irene!

      I’ve found some writings and films that have been really inspiring to me, recently, I think it’s been a great help to read strong pieces and take lessons from them.

      Thanks for the kind words. I’ve only known a couple of Mickeys, but now they stick out like sore thumbs. At the hint of a story like ‘So, I was surfing my Formula One over a volcano the other day…’ I start to doubt.

  12. Gloria says:

    Simon, there are some truly great lines in this piece.

    …to flex my feet and now I was gingerly resting my heels on the just-unpleasant, soaked-in warmth of the brickwork underfoot.

    …neither one of us miserly enough to draw the smallness of her deceit out into the open air. (I especially like this one because I’ve never understood those people – the Caller-outers – who can’t just leave well enough alone. Not all the time, of course, but some people take grotesque delight in making other people feel small for no reason other than to make them feel big. I especially love that you use the word “miserly.”

    I love this piece, Simon. It’s my second favorite.

    And, yes, we’ve all known a Mickey. Somehow, they manage to infiltrate the inner circle anyhow.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I still can’t believe the time-suspension of that moment when the other shoe fell… squarely on Harriet’s face.

      Poor girl. Poor, silly girl.

      Thanks! The word ‘miserly’ kind of popped up and suited my purposes perfectly, and I love it when that happens.

      And thanks for the praise and the second-favouritism, high praise indeed for a Thursday morning.

      Mickeys. Those guys. Goddamnit.

      • Gloria says:

        My first favorite, of course, is the accident one.

        I know I get a little twitchy-eyed when people ask me this, but are you working on a novel?

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Yes and no.

          I’ve got an anthology of short pieces that is, unknowing, about to go in for a major overhaul. I’ll tell it we’re going out to the country so it can chase rabbits, and then, when its head is out the window, its feet up on the handrest, tongue flapping in the wind…

          But enough of this unpleasantness.

          I have a non-fic idea that I’m currently looking at turning into a more web-oriented project. But shhh! The antpeople have spies everywhere!

  13. J.E. Fishman says:

    Well done, Simon. This reminds me somehow of a bit of Kurt Vonnegut wisdom. He observed that we evolved telling stories and a consequence of this is that we expect drama in our lives. When we don’t get enough of it, we introduce it. That is, we make it up. That doesn’t excuse Mickey, but it might explain him.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I think part of that may also have been the case. Who doesn’t want to live an exciting, inspiring life where things happen, where stories make sense and start and end neatly, leaving room for the next one?

      Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work like that, most of the time.

      Thanks, Mr. Fishman.

  14. You know, I’ve sort of decided at my aged perch of wisdom that these fascinating, exasperating, obviously-damaged types who are just too themselves to gild their faults as successfully as the rest of us, actually make life a lot more interesting. The facility for social presentation is sometimes a far more damaging trait that cannot be discerned until you’ve already signed the contract or slid on the diamond. Your average Mickey might wheedle into your graces, but at least you’re aware of every clumsy inch you give. And every grouping needs That Lovably Flawed member as a touchstone, gripe aggregator, and esteem reflector to function effectively.

    But that’s what I think now. Back when I too was attending de Beauvoir parties, I resented the fuck out of them.

    Liked this. A. Lot.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      When I was in high school our science teacher explained the role of a sacrificial zinc block on ships – rust would attack the block (much tastier) rather than the hull, protecting the hull of the ship and everything contained within.

      Sometimes… sometimes there’s a guy like that who keeps the group from fracturing.

      I think Mickey would still be around now if he hadn’t just crossed that one line. But, unfortunately…

      Thanks, Sean. Means a lot to hear it from the author of DC Metro.

  15. Why, here you are, Smithson! I’ve missed you. You are wicked good at setting and atmosphere and all the subtle tensions therein. And, oh, how I’ve known my share of Mickeys. One in particular had fabricated an entire alternate life for herself, a husband, even, curiously from another country and always, upon his visits, someone we all seemed to miss running into by mere seconds. “Oh, I’m so sad you didn’t get to meet him! He *just* left.” There were even several “pregnancies” and the eventual “miscarriages.” Yeah, I have stories. Crazy stories. Sad, pitiful stories. But your Mickey is something else. And so well drawn here. Right down to his nervy gestures. Well done!

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Why thank you, ma’am!

      I keep talking about my inspirations on this piece – a really big turning point for me came from watching Citizen Kane recently. Not that I’m a Welles, but I watched it thinking Man, this guy’s in complete control of everything here. He knows what he wants to say and he’s taking the time to make it perfect.

      I like trying to keep that in mind.

      Oh, I know! A million things going on – with any luck, some of them will soon show some fruition and afford me more time for TNB reading and writing.

      Wow! A whole fake person? That’s the next level.

      The original title for this piece was going to be ‘She Goes to a Different School’ 🙂

      The piece kind of fell into place when I remembered the tinyness of Mickey’s hands. It was one of those personal quirks that, once noticed, you can’t un-notice. Especially as he used to use them to talk with so much.

  16. D.R. Haney says:

    I like what Sean says. I think pathological liars make life more interesting — as long as you’re not close to them. A good friend of mine was badly burned in a relationship with a girl who had him believing all sorts of incredible lies, including that she was dying of cancer. She told me the same stories, and like an idiot, I believed her. I should immediately have seen through the lies, and that my friend didn’t bothers him to this day. I think. He quickly changes the subject whenever his ex is mentioned.

    And then, of course, there are those who distort the mundane as they try to build themselves into legends — a run-of-the-mill mugging becomes a lethal shootout; a harmless snake in the yard becomes a cobra escaped from the zoo — and while at first such liars are amusing, particularly when they don’t realize how transparent they are, they soon outgrow their welcome. Still, I rarely call them out, if only because the embarrassment they presumably would feel would cause me to feel embarrassed on their behalf. I just nod and let them say whatever they want to say. I hope it makes them feel big to think they’ve fooled me and anybody else who remains mum.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      But really, why wouldn’t you believe her? Can you possibly imagine a situation where the following takes place:

      Gus: Um… bad news.

      Jim: What, Gus? What’s the bad news?

      Gus: I… Jesus, I just got the news. I… I have cancer.

      Jim: Pffft. Bullshit.

      Gus: Ha! OK, OK, you got me. Let’s get sodas!

      (Gus and Jim high-five in mid-air and some Asia plays)

      Some lies are so big you just believe them, because, after all, who would make up such a giant falsehood? They’d have to be some kind of asshole.

      The embarassment you mention was exactly the case with Harriet. She wanted to build herself and her man into a legend, forgetting that such a thing was all too ready to collapse in itself. Honestly, I was so embarrassed for her.

      Did you ever read the James Herriott stories about working as a vet in Yorkshire? There’s a story about an old guy who tells stories to everyone who’ll listen about how he was friends with everyone on the English cricket team (presumably, an even bigger deal back then that it may be now) which, fortunately, has a happy ending.

    • dwoz says:

      Agree.

      However, I think you’re neglecting one category…the pathological TINY LIES person. That’s maybe worse. Or different. Or something.

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Wait, this appears to have nested funny. Was this to anyone in particular?

        • D.R. Haney says:

          To me, I think.

          Tiny lies are harder to catch, and if “tiny” means “white,” I try to bear in mind what someone — I think it was Brando — once said about white lies, that they’re a “social lubricant.” But when you’re very close to someone, the expectation is that there aren’t going to be any more white lies, that you’re always going to get it straight, and it’s disconcerting when you discover otherwise. You feel manipulated, and the friendship, or romance or what have you, feels cheapened.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Oh, and no, I haven’t read James Herriott. I know he used to sell quite a few books. Possibly he still does. Did he write something called “All Creatures Great and Small,” or something like that? I could Google and pretend that I knew the name of one of his books all along, but that would be, you know, lying.

        • I got into an argument that went on for a good 12 hours about this once; far longer than the situation really called for, but there wasn’t going to be any backing down on either side. It depends on the white lie, I think – but in this specific case, the person I was arguing with said that opinions should never be glossed over or left unspoken – for instance, if you see someone you know and think they have a terrible haircut, you should tell them. The getting of this person’s goat in particular was due to what she saw as the falseness of the phrase ‘You look good,’ – ie, saying that to someone who you haven’t seen for a while as a matter of course.

          I’m all for that if someone asks your opinion, and they have a terrible haircut, well, yes, then it may be time to let them know. But the tiny white lies we may tell – ‘Sounds interesting!’ ‘That’s great!’ do speak to a greater truth – that we care about the people we’re talking to and want them to feel good about themselves. And as to haircuts, it’s all opinion, anyway.

          So yes, I think it depends on the magnitude. ‘Of course I’ll respect you in the morning’ springs to mind.

          Herriott passed away some years back, and I doubt he’ll ever be up alongside Wolfe or Mailer as the great scribes of the human experience, but his work had a sweetness and a fondness for people, landscapes, and animals (in particular) that was very worthwhile. He did indeed write All Creatures Great and Small; it was the first in his series about his experiences as a young vet in Yorkshire.

          Of course, as is to be expected, he did have to confront a lot of illness and death – not every story can end happily in such circumstances – and one of his pieces was the first piece of writing I ever encountered which brought tears to my eyes; the sadness and pathos of it was just incredible.

          On a lighter note, one of my favourite things about his writing was how content Herriott was to journal the occasions when he looked like a total ass, which happened with particular frequency when the girl he had fallen for was nearby (I can sympathise). In one, she and her rich and handsome beau of the time walked by Herriott’s judging post at a county fair – right as Herriott was fending off a half dozen irate contestant owners in a dog show with a pony measuring stick.

        • dwoz says:

          I am most definitely not talking about the white lies that are like social grace cream cheese spread on a cracker…there’s never any good reason to say “your child is shockingly ugly and will be mocked by it’s peers when it gets older” instead of “what a darling she is!” Or answering “actually, I have haemhorroids and am taking antibiotics for the clap” instead of “yes, I’m doing well, and you?”

          Herriot was a good writer. You’e right, he’s not going to be lauded as the next Lord Byron. His work is as much folklorist as memoirist. A great deal can be taken from how a person treats their animals, and he does a nice job of it.

        • ““actually, I have haemhorroids and am taking antibiotics for the clap”

          Ah, the fateful Letterman/Margaret Thatcher interview…

  17. The way you describe the summery place at which you are hanging out really made me want to be there. I love hot, sweaty evenings outside. Until I started to read more about Mickey, that is. Then I didn’t want to be there at all. He sounds intolerable. And this is a gloriously sarcastic way to describe a liar: “an uneasy relationship with facts.” I love that a little.

    I don’t understand adults who have the opportunity to learn to drive and don’t take it. It seems like it might be a helpful skill to have under one’s belt in case of emergency. I dated a Brit once who refused to learn, despite having been in L.A. for ten years, far, far away from the Tube in London. It completely emasculated him in my eyes, having to drive him everywhere like a child.

    “…his skin flooded with bright pink and red from the base of his neck to the carroty-orange of his hair”

    This perplexes me and impresses me most about Mickey. As a natural redhead, I am all too familiar with the pink and red flush you describe, but it has kept me honest my entire life. I am physically incapable of lying. Under emotional duress, I blush like a monkey’s ass. When forced to give oral presentations in front of the class at school, I might have been used to guide ships in from a stormy sea, or to land planes on dark nights. Glowing red. So humiliating. Mickey’s control of this telltale ginger quality as he lied is impressive to me. He probably started to truly believe the untruths he told after awhile.

    I wonder if Konrad called Mickey out on his lies, or threatened to expose him as a liar. Maybe that was what caused Mickey to try to rally everyone against Konrad? Now I really want to know what happened. You have to call Konrad, Simon! You must! (:

    Great writing, my friend. xoxo.

    • Unfortunately, they changed the courtyard of that place. It used to be these tiny little tables in little groves of ferns and trees; in order to fit more people in, they concreted everything over and made it all square and hard.

      Of course, that also got rid of the rats that lived in the shrubbery, so, fair play, I guess.

      Honestly, I can’t imagine not being able to drive. So much of the world revolves around it now – when we have teleporters, sure, screw it, but until then…

      Mickey was a great liar. He wa so exuberant about his untruths, so happy about them when he told about his awesomeness that it really seemed natural. He brought it, yo.

      The big part of the story I’ve left out is the weird relationship between Konrad and Mickey. There was a third part involved, Mickey’s offsider, and the three formed a kind of weird, co-dependent-yet-back-stabby relationship. Konrad and Mickey haven’t spoken in years as far as I know – and the last I heard of Mickey, he was still in exactly the same place, spinning untruths to impress the people he saw. The last I heard of someone bumping into him, apparently it took him the space of three seconds to say: ‘Yeah, I’m house-sitting this mansion. And banging the maid.’

      Thanks, Tawni. Much appreciated oxoxox

  18. Your description of the Australian heat is making my face sweat. Cheers. Anyway, it’s meant to get up to 90 here tomorrow and it’s only freakin’ April. I guess I’ll be prepared with my already sweaty face…

    Oh, you should live-link your new website in the bio box at the bottom of your post. It helps with traffic and Google rankings.

  19. angela says:

    simon, i really enjoyed this. you’re so good at creating vivid characters in just a line of dialogue and a couple of characteristics. not an easy feat. well done.

    • Angela, coming from someone who creates streets full of life and rooms full of unspoken thoughts with such deftness, this is high praise. Thank you; it’s appreciated. And I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  20. Jstar says:

    This is a great first piece Simon.

    Its so great to see new fiction writing by men who remain sensitive and nuanced to the way we think in these times of immediate gratification with the internet and youtubes. We all have a “Mikey” in our lives.

    Was his cheating on you the only reason you broke up with him?

  21. Thanks Jstar! It isn’t, however, my first piece: http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/author/ssmithson/

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the speed of culture these days. I’m not sure it’s entirely a good thing – or entirely a bad thing. Surely it’s important to think on some things, at least?

    And Mickey wasn’t my partner, or anything along the lines of intimacy – he was a friend.

    • Jstar says:

      Oh I’m sorry I have put my foot in my mouth its just that with all the macho men, smouldering sexuality and heat I had it picked as a first year queer studies piece. I feel totally silly now that I hear it isn’t. It’s still very good! Have you ever thought of writing about a break up from the female perspective?

      And I might be alone in thinking this but I think friendships can still be very intimate.

  22. Luke Kelly-Clyne says:

    “Mickey’s two defining traits were an inability to get out of cars and an uneasy relationship with facts. He didn’t drive and showed no signs of wanting to learn, but in truth it was difficult to imagine him behind the wheel. Clumsiness informed his movements; after the inevitable and insisted-upon twenty minutes he would spend in conversation after a ride home, parked by the roadside, the front door to his apartment building only feet away from the passenger door, he would finally exit with loud sighs and bad grace, scuffing his feet on the wing of the car, heaving himself out with hands groping at the roof.”

    Your descriptions are incredible. After reading over lines and lines of over- written recreations of my own life events, I have tremendous respect for your ability. Nice piece.

    • Damn, thanks man. I was personally pretty pleased with how it turned out, but believe me, there’s plenty of woeful material skulking around on my hard drive. I haven’t had the chance to yet; I’m catching up on my reading now – so please, allow me to welcome you to TNB.

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