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tearing the rag off the bush again
Lie About PDF E-mail

When the boy was born, they said that something was wrong with his heart, but after the operation, he came out all stiff and twisted. His left leg no longer bent at the knee so that when he walked, he had to drag it behind him the way a child does a toy. And his right arm which was now rotated and pulled up at the shoulder, looked like a tangled marionette’s, and the permanently cupped hand which ought to face backward faced forward.

Despite his deformity, he was the son of well-to-do parents and he hardly knew any affliction and was looked after quite well until after his mother died in childbirth when he was five.

After that, he was taunted mercilessly by his sisters who called him Lie About or Gimpy. They begrudged him his food which they felt would be better off given to the poor and they tried to ingratiate themselves with their father in the hope of outwitting Lie About so that he would not receive his share of the inheritance. These were the kind of sisters who made sure everything was divided absolutely evenly, down to the blades of grass in the backyard.

Their father was susceptible to this and after a short time, gave Lie About just enough to keep him from starving.

Lie About’s face grew gaunt and his eyes were dark and wide as a doe’s. Despite these injustices, he remained unperturbed which vexed his sisters no end. He was always willing to help with the chores around the house, and he actually did more than his sisters. He dragged his one leg behind him as he hauled the laundry bag from room to room collecting their soiled underpants, their tights; he mended the holes in their stockings; he bent his twisted body under the bed to fetch out their sling backs and slippers and the earrings that they had dropped or kicked under. Naturally, this infuriated his sisters even more who began making him the butt of cruel jokes. They convinced him to dress up in tutus and sometimes see-through ballet skirts and told him to pirouette like a danseur. Of course, the tutus showed off the Gothic splendor of his deformed leg even more and his hideous attempts at dancing made his deformity appear even more grotesque. And this made his sisters laugh so hard that they sometimes wet their pants.

Gradually, they got him so well trained that you could do just about anything to him and he wouldn’t complain.

Details of what was taking place in the house soon spread from door to door and pretty soon the house was full of children. Sometimes, they would torment Lie About in the dark. They would throw water at him while he was in bed or pop balloons in his ears while he was resting, knowing that even if he could make his limbs work fast enough to throw off the bed covers and jump out of bed quickly, he would not be able to catch them when they ran down the stairs. From behind a dresser or from the bottom of the stairs, they would hear him struggling to unsnarl himself from the blankets and then they would laugh and clap with glee as they heard the hideous thump drag thump drag of his step across the cold wooden floor. Sometimes, when they crept up after midnight and dropped handfuls of spiders onto his pillow, he would grab the stick he kept propped against the side of the bed and flail at them randomly in the dark.

On nights when they were able to put a plastic bag over his head, they got him to scream in terror as he gasped for air and clawed the plastic away from his face.

When they grew weary of these pranks, they started tripping him and then they would laugh at his futile attempts to avoid them and at his inability to stop himself from falling once he had started to stumble.

Finally, the girls all left home and the father, having divided his wealth equally among them, forced Lie About to go out and beg. After a week during which Lie About collected only forty-nine dollars, his father locked the door and told him never to come back.

Lie About walked into the night. Shades of darkness threw uneven shadows across the sidewalk and up the sides and backs of the houses and the garages. Frosty stars twinkled in the black sky above. Finally, Lie About made his way into town and spent the night propped up in the door well of a small bookstore.

In the morning, the owner of the bookstore took pity on him and offered him a cup of coffee and a hard roll if he would sweep the sidewalk in front of his shop.

After a few days, other merchants heard about this and pretty soon Lie About was eating three meals a day plus coffee. The bookseller’s wife gave him one of those picturesque brooms used by street sweepers in Paris and he managed to hold it by sticking it through the spiral of his right arm. Then he would drag his left leg behind him and sweep the rubbish toward the curb where he made neat pyramidal piles for the DPW trucks to collect in the morning.

The townspeople were so interested in the uncomplaining way that Lie About went about his work that they took to dropping garbage near his feet to see what he would do. They would ball up paper napkins between their moist hands or squash Coke cans with their heels and then they would drop them near him as they passed by. Then, when they were ten or twelve paces beyond him, they would turn and watch Lie About as he swept the garbage they had left him into a pile at the curb. His diligence became the subject of much of the town’s conversation: no matter how small, Lie About would spot whatever refuse had been dropped or left behind and sweep it from the sidewalk. To see what would happen, sometimes, especially on warm spring days when the daffodils brought people out, some lobbed garbage underhand like softballs into the far corners of door wells. And then they would watch as Lie About dragged his stiff leg and broom to the door and pried the refuse out from the well with the stick end of his broom the way you might work a bit of food out from between your teeth with your tongue. Every once in awhile, people tried tossing garbage a few inches into the street. Apparently oblivious to the traffic streaming by, Lie About would bend his crippled body over from the curb and use his good hand to form the third leg of a tripod which supported his weight while he leaned forward and swept the garbage toward the curb with his broom.

Every once in awhile, especially on Saturdays when there was not much to do, the people in town liked to play a joke on Lie About. They’d rear their arms back as if to throw something and, while pointing down the length of the sidewalk, they’d shout, “Over there, Lie About! Over there! Fetch!” Then they’d pretend to throw a coffee cup or juice box into the distance while Lie About struggled to shift his head in the direction they had indicated fast enough to track the hurled missile. After searching the area they had pointed to, he would turn back and gaze at them dolefully while they pointed, shouting repeatedly, “Over there!  It’s over there!  Now go! Fetch!”

It was not long before people began dropping garbage deliberately at Lie About’s feet. They’d walk up to him while he was resting on one of the benches that lined the main street in town and say, “Good morning, Lie About” and then they would drop a piece of orange peel or a newspaper right where he sat. They would step back a few inches and watch with satisfaction while Lie About bent forward and picked up the rubbish.

But one morning, Lie About was found sitting on his bench, on the main street, looking out vacantly.

The first man to spot him stood no more than two inches in front of him and, after wiping the crumbs from his mouth with a square paper napkin, he balled it up and dropped it right at Lie About’s feet. But it was as if Lie About didn’t see it at all. He just looked out beyond the man absently, without blinking. Occasionally, during the day, he got up and, in a lackadaisical way, fetched a piece of garbage from a door well or from under a bench, but most of the time he just sat on his bench without moving, gazing blankly ahead of him. Once in awhile, he shifted his position on the bench but his whole body appeared to have grown stiff and he seemed to have trouble uncrossing his ankles which were knotted together under the bench. After a few half-hearted efforts, he would sink back into his customary twisted position and stare blankly before him, the whole of his crippled body apparently turned inward.

Upon realizing that there was something wrong with Lie About, the townspeople began taunting him. “Over there!” they’d shout after throwing rubbish across the width of the sidewalk. As if he were hard of hearing or deaf, they’d repeat the words slowly, mouthing them in an exaggerated way. “Over there!” Once or twice, Lie About unknotted his legs and pushed his warped body up off of the bench, but after making a few torpid moves across the sidewalk, he always returned apparently unable to galvanize much energy or propel himself toward the target.

As the days passed, on the rare occasion when Lie About did get up to fetch a piece of garbage, he would often stumble and trip over his own feet. When that happened, some of the townspeople walked around him. Others watched from across the street or from inside their offices or from the front of the bookstore as he struggled to untangle his feet and push himself up.

One day, while dragging his leg to fetch a freshly thrown apple core, Lie About tripped over his broom and fell and his legs and arm got caught up with the broom stick. He lay on his side and he didn’t get up all day, even though people dropped bits of garbage and refuse right in front of his face. One man even came out of his office and dumped the entire contents of his waste basket on top of Lie About’s head. But still Lie About didn’t move.

And this is the story of how Lie About died.

A few days after this happened, while leaning out to pick up a napkin that had blown into the street, a garbage truck backed up onto Lie About and then ran back and forth over him until he was as flat and stiff as a pancake.

And that’s where my tale ends. What more could be said? What more could one ask?

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