by Susan Zueger

I knew a grand liar, a beauty of a deceiver, a Gemini, sign of the pathological spinner of yarns.  She’d festoon her neck with marble-sized pearls and gumball-colored baubles.  Her wardrobe was thrift-store chic, shop-lifted Macy’s, great-aunt Viola’s.  Every boy loved her.  She ratted her blond hair, smoked menthols, and her laugh was a rasp I tried to mimic but never perfected.
We all wanted to be her, especially after she played May in Fool for Love.  The campus flocked to its two-week run, mostly because her costume was a lacy black bra and matching panties.  I remember her chain-smoking anxiety.   It’s normal, we said. But her nerves weren’t due to opening night.  Her father, a cattle farmer from up north, sat in the audience.  He watched from the second row with his arms crossed the entire show.  Afterward, he walked straight out, leaving her mother standing there fanning herself with the program.
Sometimes we’d head to the music department late at night to play piano.  My repertoire consisted of bits of old recital pieces: Fur Elise, Edelweiss.  We strummed Neil Young on a six-string. Camille sang a song she said she’d composed for her brother, looked at the keys, said he’d killed himself.  How awful we cried. Please sing it again for us, for him.  Please, please.
We’d invade her off-campus apartment while she was at rehearsal.   Ashtrays overflowed with butts, with melted candles. A stick of incense glowed on a wood tray. Half-drunk Diet Cokes statued every table next to the unmade futon. In the corner, a mirror balanced on top of old suitcases, a makeshift shrine to Madonna – the popstar, not the Virgin.  We’d shimmy ourselves into her tiny dresses, apply her blue eyeshadow, adorn ourselves with her dangling earrings.  We’d clothe her mannequin to look like Garbo, like Marilyn, like Audrey, and we’d dance on her secondhand furniture until she returned bearing Marlboros and cheap 3.2 beer.
Once when she was away, we played some mystery album on her ancient turntable.  We didn’t expect to hear the familiar melody from the rehearsal room.  We looked at each other.  She’d lied. Had she lied about her brother too?
Not that we didn’t have our own secrets. It was 1986: the Reagan era, the rebirth of middle-class values.  Silence was our lie.  We’d learned to hide parts of ourselves behind heavy chainmail.  Each link, each ring kept us safe from the angry hordes, the damning inquisition, a world not ready for the real us.
We never asked her why.  We didn’t want to know.  Her lies were brilliant. They confused the greedy onlookers, made them hungry for more.  She was as close to celebrity as this small land-grant college town on the prairie had to offer.  We had no desire to give up the little shine her shadow allowed us.
Eventually we grew weary.  All the racing through red lights, the eight-leggedness of her adventures, the fickleness of her promises.  We couldn’t keep up with how deftly she escaped herself.  We were too exhausted keeping our own selves tucked and tidy.  We were liars too, and as all liars do when they recognize the truth in another, we separated paths. The truth was we didn’t understand that depth of dishonesty.
But boy was she fun while she lasted.

Susan Zueger lives on the windy plains of South Dakota.  When she isn’t avoiding dust storms and tumbling tumbleweeds, she inspires her middle school students to love poetry as much as she does. She has vowed to never set foot in Las Vegas or Aberdeen, SD.

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