Have you ever?

‘Have you ever—told a Lie?’ Samantha’s voice plugged the circle like a damper stuffed into a saxophone. The girls swivelled from Leah to survey the new speaker. Samantha’s question had had its desired effect; the circle was once again hers. But Samantha’s own eyes were fixed soundly on Leah, the menace in her smirk like the tip of knife between shoulder blades. Leah stayed silent. Samantha had meant for that too. The other girls continued to stare, their itching impatience now scratched by Samantha’s interjection. The lick of her ‘L’ still wet on their lobes, the shrillness of her vowel still sharp in their ears, Leah’s shy dithering now forgotten. Katie was the first to break the silence. ‘Told a Lie?!’ She gawped, ‘I’ve never!’ A pause and then ‘Have you, Ky?’ Kylie shook her head. Their two frowning faces mirrored each other for a moment before swinging back around to face Samantha. Her full, crescent lips sucked lightly on the rim of her bottle, drinking in their attention. Slowly, deliberately, she up-tipped her hand, forcing the liquid to creep up the neck, enjoying the chink of her teeth on the glass and the amplified fizz as the foam resettled. Kylie’s eyes slipped to the floor, but all thoughts of the game lay scattered like the circle of cards in the centre. Opposite, Katie was equally stunned. Her eyes kept flicking to the glow of the blinker pulsing above the shutters, its sharp red vigilance dulled by the polythene sheet that Samantha had stolen and they’d fixed over the lens. Stealing was one thing. Stealing was forgivable. But this… She looked back at Katie and together their lips slowly curled. None of them ever had, now Samantha had to tell her full story; that was the rule of their game. Kylie glanced up again but the pulse remained constant. Their gathering still secret, they wouldn’t be overheard. And yet, Samantha leaned in a little closer. They mirrored her, eager for the details, when another voice uttered, ‘I have.’ A grey, inked-message burned beneath a sleeve at the memory. ‘What?’ Leah nodded. Her letters on her wrist flared again. ‘You’ve told a Lie?’ Katie’s wide eyes turned orbicular, the casual tone of her dismissal exposing how often they snubbed Leah when she wasn’t there. Leah felt a pang; though she knew it already, the brash reminder stung. But the slight disappeared like a paper cut beneath the acid of Samantha’s disdain. She glared at her challenger, unblinking, her slick, glossy mane framing her face like bars of a prison cell, crooked and bent. Leah was forced to look away. She stared down at the floor as though littered with the words she’d just spilled and rubbed her wrist against her thigh, relieving the itch on the inside of her sleeve. She prayed the other girls wouldn’t notice—they might mistake it for an attempt to conceal the real agony they’d be warned of but could only imagine; when the inked letters burned on the wrist of a Liar, a reminder of the value of honesty. They might think her confession was a Lie in itself and that would be worse than the truth. The truth that she shouldn’t have spoken. She wished that she hadn’t. But in Samantha’s dark eyes, Leah had glimpsed something glistening in the depth and had bitten down, hard. The surgical glint of a hook. She could taste the oily mass in the back of her throat. Steel tugged at her tongue. ‘Only once,’ murmured Leah, ‘but I have.’ Kylie’s wine glass was suspended mid-air, collecting their thoughts, the eddying questions. The glass slipped a little in her fingers. ‘Wow,’ she managed, awestruck. Gently, Leah slid her arm further inside her sleeve until only the very tips of the letters were visible. Though the ink looked no different and still felt cool to the touch, Leah felt sure that Samantha would find a way to make the others see a change, even when it wasn’t there. Leah didn’t want to tempt her. ‘Wow,’ agreed Kylie, ‘like—When?’ ‘Not recently! I was little.’ ‘How little?’ She probed, ‘—like, a baby?’ ‘No—not a baby—I could walk and stuff, and do things…’ ‘So you could talk then?’ ‘Yeah. Well, enough that I could know what I was saying… what I was doing,’ she added. Katie’s face had been inching unconsciously closer. Leah’s eyes kept flicking to the cluster of lashes she’d neglected to blacken. But if Katie noticed her staring, it was clear she didn’t care. ‘Woah,’ she uttered. Then shifting even nearer, hissed, ‘So, was it, like, a big one?’ ‘No.’ She must be careful how she played it. ‘…and was it like… hard?—I mean, obviously it was hard—like difficult, to do, but I’ve always wondered about afterwards…?’ Leah thought about it. ‘Yeah. I guess so. A little.’ Katie sat back, reflecting. But when her thoughts finally settled, shrieked; ‘But I would never have thought that you…!’ ‘Me neither!’ added Kylie. ‘Well, it’s not like it’s something I shout about.’ The four girls glanced at the shutters, the red light still flickering like a sleep-deprived eye lid, unseeing but daring them to test its alertness. ‘No, of course, but you’d think there’d be signs or something, wouldn’t you?’ ‘How do you mean?’ But Leah understood; the years she’d spent terrified her crime like a cancer might appear on her skin. ‘Well—sort of ways of knowing, of telling, if someone’s a… you know…’ ‘…’ ‘… a Liar.’ Samantha’s voice cut through the lull like a fire cracker. If they’d forgotten she was there, they’d pay for the error. ‘A Liar’ she repeated. ‘Like me?’ Katie was mute. This time, it was Kylie who broke the silence. ‘No—o. No. I didn’t mean it like that! We don’t mean that we’ve always thought you that you were… one—but it’s just when you asked it, Sam, like, I wasn’t … surprised? Maybe like I’d already guessed that you… had. Not that you’re anything else bad, or anything. It’s just—like, you’re confident and stuff…?’ Katie was nodding earnestly, ‘I’ve heard you need to be really confident to do it right.’ ‘Yeah, exactly,’ said Kylie, ‘And you’re never shy or anything.’ The three of them turned towards Leah, who recoiled instinctively at the attention. She hated that none of them needed to voice what even she had been wondering. She tried to answer anyway. ‘Well, it wasn’t really a question of how, at the time. I just kind of… did. I had to.’ Katie sprayed a mouthful of foam across the circle. ‘Had to?’ she shrieked. ‘What does that mean?’ ‘It’s strange to explain.’ ‘Why? You can tell us.’ ‘You can,’ nodded Kylie, encouraging. She shifted a hand towards Leah’s knee but then, hovering for a moment, seized a bottle cap instead. She passed it between her fingers. Circling the inside with her thumbnail, she scratched the soft plastic, waiting. Leah could see they were itching to know, but knew they wouldn’t rush her. They were afraid to find out; Leah felt a tiny flush of pride. But knowing from experience that it was too good to last, began slowly. ‘It’s just that I…’ ‘She’s not going to tell us,’ snapped Samantha. ‘She never does.’ It was more of a command than a prediction. The violence in her words made the other three jerk; Kylie dropped the bottle cap and scrambled to retrieve it, as though a child caught with something she knew she shouldn’t have. She plucked it from besides Katie’s foot, where it landed, and the girls’ eyes followed it into her palm. They stared, unseeing as she pressed the ridged metal lightly into her skin to make an imprint. No one dared look Samantha in the face. ‘Anyway, she’s told us already. She was little and just said that she’d done something she hadn’t. Don’t both shit your pants; that’s barely even one.’ Katie and Kylie stayed silenced. But Leah, for once, couldn’t make herself stop. ‘No. That wasn’t it.’ She said calmly. ‘It was something I did that I said I didn’t do. But I did it,’ she added. Furious at being undermined twice in one evening, Samantha snatched the wine from Leah’s lap and glugged clumsily, staring cross-eyed at the liquid as it vanished. When she’d finished she slammed the glass down again, defiantly. A stray bead of wetness spotted her chin. ‘Whose turn is it?’ No one offered. Samantha wiped her lips dry on her the back of her wrist, flashing her letters. They were confidently grey against the cream of her skin. ‘Okay then, I’ll go again,’ she spat. ‘Have-you-everr… What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?’ She glared around the circle, lingering on Katie, daring her to point out the breach in the rules. She rounded on Kylie. ‘If you’re too good to Lie, then second best—the worst thing you’ve done?’ she repeated. Kylie’s breathing dropped lower. ‘Fine,’ snapped Samantha. ‘Well there’s no point asking her. She’s already told us,’ she flicked a hand towards Leah. ‘Go on then, Leah, say it—say the word. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?’ ‘I once told a Lie,’ Leah breathed softly, ‘a lie about killing my brother.’

Lucy Hamilton