Economical with a lie: the author prefers to save her big lies for her fiction writing. Photo: Stocksy
Long before I was married, I worked for a television production company in London. The managing editor, Harry, was tall and charming in a pale and witty, British kind of a way. Looking back now, he had always been a dreadful flirt, but that was no excuse.
On the night of my farewell party, we all smashed plates across the floor at a Greek restaurant in Soho, drank too much and did cartwheels across the room. At 3am everyone had left except Harry. We stood in the street looking for a taxi. It started to rain. Red and white lights blurred around us. All of a sudden we were kissing. Neither of us mentioned his wife.
The next morning, my good friend called and said, "You kissed Harry!"
My response was automatic. "No, I didn't."
"Alex, I saw you."
My body went hot and then cold. My tongue went dry. My pulse raced. Oh my god, we'd been caught. Not knowing what else to say, I hung up on her. I was shaking. Guilt and panic surged. My hangover raged. I drank some water and told myself to calm down.
A rock had planted itself in my stomach. This was not good. Excuses ran through my head: it wasn't my fault; I'm single; I'm not hurting anyone ... But no matter how I tried to turn it over, there was no getting out of it – no amount of back-pedalling, self-protecting, escape-route planning would save me.
I felt deeply ashamed on several levels. I was a terrible person – not only had I kissed a married man, I had lied to my good friend who, until now, had respected and trusted me. Worse, I was left with a deep sense of disappointment: how could I have been so stupid? And why had I lied about it?
Okay, it's not the most terrible act, but it's not something I'm proud of. Even today, the incident still haunts me - less for the act, which was a drunken and youthful misdemeanour - but more for the lie to my friend.
Up until that moment, I admit that I enjoyed stretching the truth as much as the next person: "Yeah, I've read most of the Top 100 list of best books ever – even James Joyce's Ulysses." "I'm a true blonde." "I've never had a filling." "You look great in that." "Yes, I want this job more than anything in the world." "It's not you, it's me ..." Little white lies were okay, weren't they?
But this wasn't a little white lie. They say your true character is revealed in a stressful situation. Did my lie mean that I was a weak and cowardly person? And was this the real me – a liar?
I remember the first time I fibbed. I was four. My friend had a wonderful collection of porcelain frogs. I wanted one of those frogs very badly, so I asked my mother if I could have one, but she said no. I pleaded with her, but the answer was still no. So I took one and hid it in my pocket.
I was unusually quiet all the way home in the car. At bath time I panicked: where could I hide my precious frog? The bath quickly filled up. It was time to take my clothes off. So I hid my frog in the corner of the hallway. It wasn't behind anything, just in a vague shadow. Of course my mother found the frog immediately and said, "Did you take this from Marnie?"
"Are you lying to me?"
"No," I paused, "she gave it to me."
I held my breath, waiting for a scolding. I closed my eyes and waited. But nothing happened. I opened my eyes. My mother said "Okay", and continued with my bath. Was that it? Had I really gotten away with it? The feeling was thrilling.
When I was 14, I had a boyfriend. We used to spend hours talking on the phone. One day, he asked me to come over and stay the night. I knew my mother would never let me. So I packed my bag, had my false alibi prepared, and tried to ignore this sinking feeling.
I lingered at the door. "Okay, so, bye then." Mum hugged me.
"Okay, I'm going now," I hesitated. "Remember, I'm at Annie Simon's tonight."
Mum frowned. "What's wrong?"
I started to feel hot. "Nothing." My voice was suddenly an octave higher.
"You're not really going to Annie's are you?" She knew! I burst into tears and threw myself into her arms. Relief flooded into me; I felt free. I did not want to lie to my mother and could not live with the guilt of lying – it was far too stressful.
Lying is defined as a deliberate, conscious decision to deceive. So am I a liar? Yes – on occasion. That is the truth. But I try to tell the truth as much as I can and save the really big bad lies for my fiction.
When I recalled the incident of the frog to my mother, she laughed and said, "I didn't believe you at all. You've forgotten. I found the frog and you were sent to your room." As for the kissing Harry incident, after rudely hanging up on my friend, I immediately rang her back. "I'm sorry," I said, "I should never have lied to you. We did so much more than that."
Alexandra Cameron's debut novel, Rachael's Gift, is published by Picador Australia.