Little White Lies

Photo by bongkarn thanyakij on Pexels.com

Craig suppressed a gag as Martha set the plate of broccoli casserole, her “specialty,” in front of him. “I made your favorite,” she smiled. “And there’s plenty more in the kitchen.”

“You shouldn’t have,” he said, subtly leaning to the side so as to avoid the hot aroma wafting up.

“It’s no trouble,” she replied, settling into the seat across from him. “I’ll never forget how you told me you loved it the first time I made it for you, all those years ago. I admit I just want to hear you compliment my cooking.” She giggled, then dug her fork into her own plateful.

Craig silently regretted telling that old lie, then shoveled a bite into his mouth. Before he had even swallowed the slimy, overly-salted lump of limp broccoli and rubbery mushrooms, she asked, “And how is it tonight?”

Craig smiled at his wife. “It’s delicious as always, dear,” he said, and immediately the glob inside his mouth disappeared.

Craig looked down at his lap. Had the food somehow fallen from his mouth? But there was nothing in his napkin, and there was nothing on his plate, either. He looked across the table. Martha’s dish was empty, as well.

“Martha…?” At a loss for words, Craig could only manage to gesture at his plate.

“You want more already?” Martha said, rising from her seat. “I’ll get it for you.”

Before he could protest, Martha had returned from the kitchen, holding an empty casserole dish. She stood to his side and scooped two heaps of nothing onto his plate. “There. That should do you!” She placed the dish in the center of the table before walking back around to her chair.

Craig gingerly poked the center of his plate. His fingernail tapped against the ceramic. It wasn’t even hot. He looked up and watched, dumbfounded, as Martha stabbed at nothing, gently blew on it, and then placed it in her mouth.

She ate two more bites of air before she noticed he was watching. “Everything ok, dear?”

Craig blinked and swallowed. “I…I guess I’m just…full.”

Martha shrugged. “Shame. Well, no worries. I’ll wrap it up and put it in the fridge. You can eat it tomorrow.”

He stood and pushed the plate away from him. “I’m actually not feeling well. I think I’ll go lie down on the couch for a bit.”

“Oh, no! Well, here, I’ll join you.”

As he tucked his knees to his chest, Martha placed a palm on his forehead and frowned. “Do I have a fever?” he asked.

“No, the opposite, actually. Let me get you a blanket.” She rummaged around in the linen closet and retrieved an old gray and white blanket. “Here’s a good one!” She gave it a deep sniff and smiled. “My mother made this. Did you know that?”

As he accepted it from her, he mumbled, “Hm? Oh, yeah, I think I remember.” The blanket vanished.

Martha made tucking gestures around his shoulders. “Crotched it for me when I was in college. Had it for nearly 25 years now, but it’s almost never cold enough to use it anymore. I’m surprised you remember it at all.” She stepped back to admire her work. “There now. You’ll be warm again in no time.”

Craig lifted his arm and ran it down his chest and stomach, but he didn’t feel anything except his own sweater. The blanket he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen before wasn’t there.

Martha gently touched his cheek. “You look pale. I’ll go make you some tea, ok? It’ll settle your stomach.”

Craig nodded weakly and closed his eyes. He felt her get up and leave. He was trembling now. What was happening? How could things just disappear? Was Martha playing a trick on him? How could she see things that he couldn’t? Was he going blind?

His eyes snapped open as someone unlocked the front door and entered the living room. He sat up and squinted. “Maggie? Is that you?”

She laughed. “It’s me, Dad. Don’t you recognize me?” She sat down on the couch beside him.

“What are you doing home?” he said. “And what the hell did you do to your hair?”

“I decided to skip my classes today so I could come spend the weekend with you and Mom.” She rubbed the blue fuzz that covered her skull. “Come on, Daddy. Don’t be mad. I just wanted to try something different.”

Craig had always loved Maggie’s long blonde hair. How he and Martha, who both had mousy brown hair, had produced a daughter with such beautiful golden tresses, he wasn’t sure, but he had always thought his little girl was the prettiest in all the world.

Now, though, he wasn’t so sure. “Aw, Maggie, you know how much I always loved your hair.”

Maggie’s smiled faltered just a tad. “It’s just hair, Daddy. It grows back. Don’t be mad. You…you still think I’m pretty, don’t you?”

“Of course I—” Craig caught himself just in time.

First the casserole. Then the blanket.

What would happen if he told a lie, even the tiniest white lie, about his daughter?

He took a deep breath and chose his next words carefully. “No, Maggie, I don’t.” Maggie’s crestfallen face was too much. But at least she was still there. He reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. “But don’t let my opinion bother you. After all, it’s your hair. And besides, you’re my daughter and—”

Maggie disappeared.