Short Story: Truth or Dare
“Whatever happens, always tell the truth.”
The girls didn’t know when was the first time they heard the mother say this. The earliest they recalled was when they were three and six. However, growing up hearing this, they never told a lie, especially to her because she wasn’t just teaching, she was a good role model. She wasn’t biologically a mother to the older one. She was a close family friend, but the kid’s heart saw her as a mother because she never treated her any differently than her own daughter. She taught her what’s in your heart is more important than what’s in your blood, so she was always the mother in her childhood memories. And the kid always saw herself being a daughter in the mother’s heart. Because she said so. And she wouldn’t say it if she didn’t mean it, right?
The mother lived opposite from the girl’s house. She would often run across still wearing her pink barbie slippers and stay there. It was one of those nights, the mother came home later than the two little girls expected. The younger one who couldn’t sleep without her mother’s goodnight kiss was like a miniature interrogator, “Where were you?” she asked. The sternness in her voice would both scare you and make you laugh simultaneously. The mother would turn into a naughty little boy. She liked to act like that. Or was it the kids that liked seeing that face of hers? In a childish voice, she would say, “I have a confession to make”. You wouldn’t be able to make out which one was the mother and which one was the daughter if the little girl wasn’t wearing a diaper. “I went shopping without you”. Reproachful screams rose from the apartment. They weren’t old enough to appreciate her honesty. Or was it because they considered it normal?
When the kids grew up to be seven and ten, she was teaching them how to play ‘Truth or Dare’. The elder one heard the kids at school playing it but didn’t know what to do with it. Every question was just boring. “Mum, what would you not dare to do?” the little one asked her mother, as the greatest and most reliable source. “The most naked we are is when we are doing the things we do alone, and that is when we are the most vulnerable.” She read a lot of books. She was full of wisdom and stories, and she knew which words to use for the kids. These words were as if she was speaking to herself, or maybe it was for the kids to question when they grow up. Perhaps she knew they would remember her every word growing up because her words were words to their hearts. She took the girls to her bedroom, revealed brushes, lipsticks, mascaras and all the other stuff the kids couldn’t name individually but called ‘make-up stuff’ from the top drawer of her vanity table. She applied them all to her face one by one, didn’t even look at their direction the whole time, didn’t speak a word until she was done. That was the day the kids learned she would always abstain from putting on her make-up in front of others. Was she afraid of people catching a glimpse of her real self as she painted a new self? Or was it just a distraction from what really terrified her?
When the kids were ten and thirteen, the mother took the older one shopping. They bought her first heels. They weren’t expensive, but they looked fancy, they were lamé and were sparkly. She felt like a princess. But that was the mother’s speciality, she made her feel like the most precious person in the whole wide world. She and her sister, they were born into this world to make a change. But why weren’t they buying her younger sister heels? She didn’t even like heels as much as her sister did. “Because she is crazy about them and she has more than a 10-year-old should have.” That was comically true. But why wasn’t she with them? “Because no one is able to stop her from buying stuff.” That was also true, the girl thought. “I feel bad that we told her that I was going to the doctor’s,” she said, expecting the mother to say they did something bad and they would confess, apologise. “Little lies are necessary in life” was the answer, as she and her friend driving the car smiled at her through the rear-view mirror, smirked even. That day was the first time the girl saw something other than affection in her eyes. They left everything she bought in the car and brought in the purchases after the girls went to bed. She never got to show her sister what she bought that day. Would it upset her sister too much to know? Was it really necessary to lie?
When they were thirteen and sixteen, the older girl found a letter in her room. One the mother wrote when she was in primary school. When they were learning how to write letters, she became her pen friend. The girl remembered writing about the weird characteristics of her teachers at her new school and in the letter, the mother describes herself as a response.
“Sometimes a naughty boy, sometimes a rebel, sometimes a grumpy grandmother, sometimes a princess.”
The mother used to be an actress before the birth of her child, so the girl always assumed she was just describing the roles she played to entertain them, metaphors to her different moods perhaps. The girls never saw her act on anything official, but she told them about her days as an actress; the plays and tv shows she was in. But why wasn’t there any records or photos? It was funny to the girls of technology age how the mother didn’t exist on the internet. “My father gets angry” she would say with a hint of the childish tone in her voice. It was like they were growing up, but the mother was staying the same. Before the girls were able to question the fact that the grandfather was dead, she started telling them about how in France she had an elocutionist. They knew she spoke French very well, but this was the first time they ever heard about her going to France. When did she go? She told them she was the daughter of a prince. No matter how old they were, the girls still enjoyed her sudden breaks into characters, although it meant no certain answers to questions, they would forget about the questions, anyway.
In the same letter, the mother also said that she had a lot to tell the girl once she hit eighteen. The girl heard this a lot afterwards, every time she asked a question, and she waited patiently until that day came. She wasn’t there. What were all the things she collected over the years to tell her but never did? Yes, the woman wasn’t her mother, and she didn’t have to be there, and she always knew that, but she never felt it until that day. She wasn’t there to tell her, but her own mum said things, maybe not the things the woman would say, but the things she should have said. But the things the girl perhaps would never want to hear. Things. Words. Words that make and break worlds. Hearts.
No one knew who she was. She never broke out of character. She was always someone else, and while the girls thought it was a game, she never told anyone what was an act and what wasn’t.
She wanted her mother to be joking, but she wasn’t. She wanted to be in a nightmare, but she wasn’t. She woke up, but not from a nightmare but of a beautiful dream. That was the day she grew up.
The other girl, now sixteen, is still that woman’s daughter, but was she still the other girl’s little sister? Probably not. But she is still living in the shadow of lies. The older girl keeps one more secret for the woman she saw as a mother once, the woman she will never see again. What’s left in the mind’s eye is better not altered. Would it upset her too much to know? Was it necessary to lie?
We all have that one person who we’d trust with our lives, maybe we shouldn’t. Those questions I kept asking, do you want the answers? Yes, so do I. You’ll never know them because I’ll never know. If this was just a work of my mind, I would know the answers, but I don’t.
Now I’m just sitting by the threshold, looking at the door across, feeling an urge to run towards but I don’t have my pink slippers anymore and behind that door is empty and unfamiliar. “I love the truthfulness in your eyes. How easy you reflect your emotions in your eyes.” says the letter in my hand, I picked up in hopes of answers only to have more questions. Why did she like that? Was it because her own eyes were full of lies? Or was it because they seemed easy to break? Maybe that’s why hearts aren’t allowed to choose mothers the way they choose lovers and friends because mothers raise you to be who you are. So who am I if all I grew up with was just an illusion?
© photo from Unsplash
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