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Nolo Contendere

Story by Sean Oakley (Read author interview) December 15, 2003

There are so many things I could tell you. One story, perhaps – but within that story so many choices, such a legion of particulars that I could bend and shape to my purposes. E Unum Pluribus.

I could, for example, show you just an image of reality, like the shadows of flames on the cave wall – the idea of the thing without the thing’s sharp edges. Or I could offer you every unvarnished fact, each one a hair ripped from my scalp, till I was left cowed before you, bald and bloodied and shamed.

I could, if I wanted, lie.

I could tell you that she came to me, found me in a moment of weakness, unprepared and undefended. That she batted her eyes, took my hand, and led me astray. I could maintain that I found no pleasure in it – that even as my body acquiesced my conscience rebelled at the impropriety.

Parts of that might even be true. And perhaps I could, if I were eloquent enough and shed a tear of contrition, convince you of it.

But to what end? After all, the play’s the thing – not the memory of it, and if I’m damned anyway then is there anything at all left at stake?

No, I must do better.

So instead, I could tell you of her beauty and her youth. I could describe girlish pink lipstick and improbably short skirts and Nabokovian glances. I could admit to guiltily anticipated pep rallies in all their sartorial, sweatered splendor. I could tell you, in sensual detail, about bubble gum popping and sloe-eyes and sweet, intoxicating perfume.

I might argue that I couldn’t help but notice, that it was only natural – that I wasn’t alone in noticing – claims that would be both true and irrelevant.

If I didn’t fear it would shock you too much, I could acknowledge carrying these images around with me, in a pocket, say, and when alone, reveling in them.

And at this point in the telling I might wonder, perhaps out loud, if by indulging in harmless fantasy I had already gone too far. Whether these wanton reveries had set me on an irremediable path, its primroses thorny and its terminus foregone. I would likely answer my own question in the negative – appeal to the vagaries of fate would provide a convenient defense, but it’s a double-edged sword, denying forgiveness as surely as it deflects responsibility.

So if the goal is truth, as I’m nearly certain it is, then I could tell you about a crisp fall night, about a chance meeting, and how I offered a ride, and that it was accepted.

I could tell you about a tentative kiss, resisted just long enough to fool no one, least of all myself.

I could, if I were a better man, take the rap and tell you that I was the initiator. But a lie, even in the service of chivalry, is still a lie.

I could tell you of the candy taste of her mouth and her easy confidence.

I could describe a callused middle-aged hand exploring with wonder and gratitude the smooth contours of a firm breast, a yielding thigh.

I could tell you that I thought I might love her, and fantastically, even this would be true.

I could tell you all these things.

And then, finally, I could provide for you an ending. A tale of charges and counter-charges, of averred innocence, of irrefutable evidence, of tearful pleas for forgiveness in private and earnest appeals for understanding in public. That would be a good ending. You would like it.

Or, I could, in one final, futile attempt at redemption, tell you of a man who wakes, sometimes, from troubled sleep, and watching his wife breathe beside him, tells himself stories.

About the Author

Sean Oakley lives in Wheaton, Illinois with his wife and three children. Between bursts of dubious literary inspiration he spends his time trying to figure out what to do about the stray cats that have inexplicably taken up residence in his basement.

This story appeared in Issue Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Two

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