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.