Lie Like a Dog

The damn phone was ringing again. Sometimes Fallon wished he didn’t have a phone; he wouldn’t have to decide whether to answer it then. It depended on who it was, whether or not he answered it, but this time he knew who it was. He let the phone ring while he put ice in his drink.

The answering machine cut into the line on the fourth ring. “Hello caller,” the message droned, “this is Fallon. Leave a message and I’ll call you back.” Dial tone, so he checked the caller ID and shook his head.

Before he had time to settle down on the couch and take a taste of his soda, the phone rang. Fallon tensed, making the motions of getting up, but waited, instead, for the answering machine to answer for him. It was probably only Lynne again anyway. Ever since he and his wife had separated, Lynne wouldn’t quit calling. It was his own fault, he knew. After Nikki left, Fallon had allowed Lynne to ease the rancor of his loneliness. It didn’t help that Lynne was having troubles in her own marriage. Now she held on to the affection Fallon had showed her. She called him in the middle of the night when her husband was asleep, and knocked on his door unannounced when she was supposed to be out grocery shopping.

Fallon dragged himself off the couch and crossed the room when he heard the machine beep to see if Lynne would leave a message this time, but the call was from his wife. “Are you there?” she said. “I’m bringing Jessie over. Pick up the phone if you’re there. I’m calling your cell.”

“Hi, Nikki,” Fallon picked up the phone and answered.

“Are you screening your calls?” his wife asked.

“No, I’ve just got the ringer on the phone turned down,” he lied, “so you can’t hear until the machine comes on.”

“Well what time do you want me to come over?” Nikki asked. Her voice was vibrant even in such mundane conversation.

“Whenever you’re ready,” Fallon answered. “Do you want me to order pizza or something so we can eat when you get here?” he asked.

“Are you still trying to fatten me up?” Nikki said playfully. She was five foot ten, superbly proportioned with long blond hair and Mad Men curves, but still never spent a waking moment without worrying about what she saw in the mirror. Apparently it wasn’t the same thing Fallon saw. “Besides, I can’t. My first history homework is due tomorrow. I was going to go to the library to work on it and I want to go work out, too.”

“Okay,” Fallon said. He hadn’t really expected she would stay. He tried not to see some sort of gesture or symbolism in everything she said, but it was hard. He was always careful of what he said or did because he didn’t want to give her a false impression. He expected her to do the same, but he knew she didn’t. “I’ll be here all afternoon,” he said.

Nikki opened the door to Fallon’s apartment about an hour later without knocking. Jessie preceded her mother into the room. Jessie’s baby pictures looked just like Fallon’s, but every time he saw her now she looked more and more like her mother, except for the straight, black hair.

Fallon was stretched out on the couch watching television. He looked like a slide-rule “suit” from the fifties with his close-cropped hair and dark, horn-rimmed glasses with half wire frames. Only the baggy basketball shorts and Nike t-shirt betrayed a modern era.

“Daddy!” Jessie squealed when she saw him on the couch. Her smile was a sparkling star. Fallon smiled, too, and held out his arms. Her hug had all the purity of a two-and-a-half-year-old’s love. “I want to hold you, Daddy,” she said, and Fallon sat her on his lap.

“Well it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to go to the library,” Nikki started as she closed the door behind her and headed for the kitchen. “The library at Quad-C isn’t open. Can you believe that?”

Fallon didn’t say anything. He wondered what she expected at six o’clock on a Sunday evening in the middle of the summer. But Nikki always had to be doing something, like going to the library when she could study at home, working out, going out to eat or to the mall, anything. Even the whole going back to college thing was just something for her to be doing.

“Do you have anything to drink?” she asked with the refrigerator door open. “Anything diet,” she corrected herself.

“Juice,” Jessie said as she watched Nikki rummage through the refrigerator.

Fallon got up to get Jessie some juice and his daughter ran in front of him in anticipation.

“Do you want me to order pizza, and you can do your homework here?” he asked Nikki again when he got to the kitchen.

“I’ve got to work out,” she said.

“I’ve got a coupon for two medium two-topping pizzas for ten bucks,” Fallon tried to entice her. “Half price.”

“I can’t eat pizza,” Nikki protested, but then she hedged. “Do you know who Confucius was?” she asked.

“Confucius say,” Fallon answered in his best oriental accent, “pizza good for figure, Grasshopper.”

“What’s Daddy doin’?” Jessie asked with a laugh at the Jerry Lewis’ Japanese face Fallon made.

“Daddy’s being silly,” Nikki said. “Well maybe you know who some of these people are. At least we can look them up, I guess” she gave in. “Let me go to the car and get my cards.”

She left and came back a couple of minutes later with her school books and a question, “Doesn’t your old boss drive a silver Ford?” Fallon nodded even though his heart had stopped. “I think I saw her parked out in the parking lot.”

“Lynne?” Fallon feigned nonchalance, but even he knew the look he gave Nikki was shaky. “She doesn’t even live in Plano. She’s in Grapevine or Arlington or somewhere.”

“Look,” Nikki said, and went to show Fallon Lynne’s car. “Are you having an affair with your old boss?” Nikki said in a teasing voice as Fallon came to the window.

A sarcastic, “Right,” was all Fallon could manage as Nikki pulled apart two of the mini-blind’s slats to show him the car.

“It’s not there anymore,” Nikki said.

“Are you sure it was her?” Fallon asked, seeing his chance to downplay the situation.

“Pretty sure,” Nikki answered and looked out the window again. “Do you know any of these people?” she asked, handing Fallon a stack of index cards out of one of her books.

Fallon looked through the stack of cards. About half of the names were familiar. “I know some of them,” he told Nikki, “the rest we can look up online.”

“Dr. Wright said we couldn’t just use Wikipedia, we have to have some other source, too.” Nikki said. “That’s why I wanted to go to the library.”

“We can look them up in the encyclopedia,” Fallon said, glancing out the window again as he handed the cards back to Nikki. He knew the danger was still out there, but surely Lynne had seen Nikki, too.

“I forgot you had that encyclopedia,” Nikki said as she followed his glance. “Do you see her?” she asked.

“No,” Fallon said, but his nerves jumped as he heard someone walking through the breezeway outside, sure it was Lynne coming to knock on the door. “Maybe she came to meet John. Him and Lance were supposed to come over here earlier.”

“Why would she want to see John?” Nikki questioned.

“I don’t know, but John said she called him and came over to his house the other night,” Fallon explained.

“That’s weird,” was all Nikki said as she sat down at the desk in the corner next to the window. The encyclopedia ran across the back between two globe bookends, behind the computer.

“Give me the first name and I’ll look it up,” Fallon said. He had just found Confucius when the phone rang. Fallon had four rings to decide. After the first ring he decided to let the answering machine answer, but what if Lynne didn’t hang up this time and left a message instead? He didn’t want Nikki to hear that message.

“I thought you said the ringer was off,” Nikki said.

“I turned it back on after you called,” Fallon said, setting down volume 7, COLO-DECI, of the encyclopedia on the desk next to Nikki. “I thought you might call again to tell me you were on your way.”

“Answer it Daddy,” Jessie said. Fallon picked up the phone after the third ring.

It was Lynne. “Is Nikki still there?” she asked.

“Yeah, sure,” Fallon answered cryptically. His voice was flat, full of a suppressed emotion that forced him to talk in almost a monotone.

“How long is she going to be there?” Lynne asked. Her voice didn’t suppress any of her emotion, it spilled out with every word she uttered. “I want to see you.”

“Nikki’s over. I’m helping her with some homework,” was Fallon’s answer. He could tell Nikki was listening to what he said as she transferred the facts of Confucius’ life to the index card.

“So I guess I should say goodbye.” Lynne said.

“That’s fine,” Fallon answered and hung up the phone.

“Who was that?” Nikki asked before the phone was nestled back in the receiver.

“Lance,” Fallon answered. He had anticipated the question. “He said some chick called his house for John and that John left, so they’re not coming over.”

“I bet it was Lynne,” Nikki surmised.

“That’s weird, isn’t it?” Fallon said. “Lance said he might come over later,” he continued as he went to where Nikki was sitting. He reached over her shoulder for the volume with the name of the next person on her index cards.

“What kind of pizza do you want?” he asked. “I thought I’d get one with sausage and mushroom and one with pepperoni and extra cheese.”

“That’s the kind I like,” Nikki said, taking the book from Fallon’s hand.

“Pizza,” Jessie said with her broadest of smiles.

© 2012 Wasted Space Publishing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *