I’m writing a series of novels: the Seeking Scylla series. Some characters dance on the edges of the narratives. Some never make it in. In Beyond Scylla blogs, I share stories and vignettes about these characters.

Sometimes we place our pain on the page in plain sight. Raw, honest, fresh wound. But sometimes the pain is too fresh, too raw, or too attached to the stories of others, and the most honest thing we can do is lie, the one true thing we can do is write a story. I believe fiction carries more truth than nonfiction, because in it, we can place our unprotected hearts.

One True Thing

I just want one true thing.

Hearing the words steal across her lips in a whisper, Pilarna knows they are shy of true. I have many true things. She corrects her quiet supplication: I want no untrue things.

Pilarna yanks out her sloppy bun, aware of Carlina’s scowls from the next table, like her mom would have done. She can hear her mom’s voice—another life, another time—admonishing, “Don’t fuss with your hair at the table!”

Mom was true.

Even the indiscretions of Pilarna’s dad didn’t unsettle her mom’s true. Steadfast, integral, true.

That’s what I want. Just true. All true. True to the core.

Kip was true; Pilarna’s sure he was. Character to the core. True. Just. Loyal. Pilarna allowed herself to relax in that trust, in that knowing.

Why did you lie, Kip?

You didn’t have to, why did you even bring it up?

Although, untrue by omission is also untrue.

Pilarna lifts her head to look around the dining hall, mostly empty now. Carlina collects her things to leave and shoots one more burst of disapproval towards Pilarna. Pilarna returns it with a smile and pulls her hair back into a bun before raising her arms into a long stretch.

Pilarna is grateful for the Center, thankful that Kip made arrangements for their passage into the Center. She and their two younger children are safe inside these walls. Food, shelter, security. Safe from the National Republic Alliance, safe from people like her father. But there is uncertainty.

And now there’s a crack in Kip. You cracked when we need you most!

Pilarna slams her hand on the table, rattling the plate, heavy with food she hardly touched.

“You never lie,” Pilarna rehearses the conversation in her head. “I’m not accusing you, Kip, but why? I’ve always trusted you, why would you need to lie now? About that?”

Kip never lies. Pilarna wears—wore!—that notion like a piece of jewelry. Bright joy. Healing crystal. He’s true. He’s good.

Are you?

He’ll come through the gate of the Center soon, here for a mere twenty-eight hours. How can I darken those hours with this? But how can I let it go?

Pilarna knows the words will race across her tongue before she can busy her lips with a kiss, because these thoughts are hungrier than her longings. “Why did you tell me that’s the last time you saw her when it wasn’t?”

What is he hiding?

Lies change people. Gateways into darkness. Pilarna remembers the last time she saw her father. Puffed up with lies he held as truths, emptied of integrity, driven by selfishness and fear. Traitor.

Don’t you know lies change you?, speaking to herself this time, remembering where Kip goes. The other side. Visualizing what Kip does beyond the gate, beyond the security of the Center.

Is the job infecting him? The double life, double crossing, double agent?

Kip knew the risk. Pilarna knew the risk. But it was worth the chance, the remote maybe I can rescue her. They both knew one slip and Kip would be toast, but not without hours or days of extractions.

Maybe the job, the people he works with, maybe they’ve cracked his character. Or maybe the lie is a lie. Maybe he had to?

Pilarna buries her forehead in her palms.

I just want one sure thing.

But the only thing Pilarna knows for sure in this moment is that there is a crack, and the lie that oozes from that crack sticks to everything, even the things she knew were true.

And if I confront him, will that widen the crack? Will he invent a new lie? Create more fiction?

Pilarna makes up her mind—I won’t bring it up—, bolts from her chair, and carries her dishes to the kitchen station.

I won’t bring it up, and it will be a lie. Not asking is a lie, my first lie to Kip.


©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2022.