Floyd Monroe was down there at Pinkie’s last night, lording over the place even though he was drunk on credit. Stool came free on my left and nary a second later he was in my ear. ‘Tessa,’ he says, breath like something’s underside. ‘Tessa.’ I swiveled round and showed him my face.
Floyd said he’s heard about my trouble. Said he wanted to help me out. He said something I didn’t understand. He said there was poetry in a white lie. And then he offered me a tip, holding up three crooked fingers. I listened hard. He said, ‘So you know, there’s a few ways to tell if a man’s lying.’
The bar bustled. Budweiser six ways to Sunday. That sound you get on a good break shot. I drink nothing but beer because I fear getting drunk.
‘First way is the eyes.’ His voice crackled. Like an Army radio. ‘Some folks say they look up. And to the right. But truth is the eyes are sadder when they’re lying.'
Floyd went on, but I could barely hear him for all the ruckus of the jukebox. And I was distracted. All I was thinking about were them eyes of Terrance. As unbending as something manmade.
Floyd has flawless teeth because they’re dentures. He smiled in a way I would call wistful. I smiled too. And then I didn’t because I caught on that he was pitying me.
‘Second way is the voice. Man’s voice is always liable to be deep. But listen to a lie. It’s light. Sing-song.’ The sound of a man calling your name. Done a million ways. Plaintive on the first date. Familiar on the third. Marriage comes and it grows tired, your name as a sagging balloon.
‘A man who’s lying’s got ants in his pants. Jittery. Scratching itches that ain’t there. That’s the third way you can tell.’
Terrance had been a bundle of contempt. Like his whole body was a balled up fist. This made our time together a war. And instead of tiring of its violence, I was grateful for its reprieves. He had been my best customer. My problem was in forgetting that he was only that.
Pinkie shook the closing bell and the bar got rushed by everybody who didn’t need another drink. I put my head in my hands. Floyd went quiet. His head dipped like an elk’s. He put his small, brown hand on my thigh. He moved towards me to speak. But after all that Floyd ain’t have a damn thing to say.
(Conrad Ashley Persons, co-founder of Arkstone Publishing, has been published in the short story anthology Richmond Noir, blogged for The New York Times, and reported for the Guardian. He lives in London.)