By Laura Roddy
“White lies turn to black ones you know.”
This is what Eric Naught’s grandmother told him when he was five. It was the weekend in June he and Leslie stayed with her while his parents had taken a cottage in the country somewhere near Dorset. She had caught him eating some of her steamed pudding from the pantry. When she questioned him about it, he had told her it was his little sister, Leslie, who had eaten it. Despite the fact his teeth were full of currants and he had no appetite for his dinner of lamb stew, he thought it would be better to hide the truth. Later that same rainy summer day he declared that he saw a bunny-faced cat hop down the street his Nan lived on.
“I swear! He had floppy ears and everything, Nan.”
“Stop your nonsense. Remember what I told you about lying?”
“But it’s the truth.” Eric was sure he had seen this floppy-eared cat creature in the dullness of day.
“Perhaps it was a trick of light then, or a flicker of your eye. An overactive imagination.”
Eric wasn’t sure what the animal was; but even for a five year old, he knew it wasn’t natural for a rabbit-cat to exist. Cats were cats and rabbits, rabbits. It was as simple as that. Each categorized, stereotyped, as simple as black or white.
After the summer, when Eric returned to school, his teacher flashed about the classrooms asking what people had done for their summer holidays. Bill Worthington had gone camping and captured a frog, which he named Frank and brought home in his backpack. Julie Hill had spent the summer with her dad in France. The stories wore on as Eric wore tired. Finally the teacher hopped on him.
“And Eric, how did you spend your summer?”
“I did lots of different things miss.”
“Would you like to tell us one special thing?”
“Well, Miss, I went to my Nan’s for a bit. She lives somewhere far away from here. And I saw a cat-rabbit.”
The children laughed.
“Silly, there’s no such thing as a cat rabbit,” Julie Hill screeched. “There is. I saw it. It was a ginger cat with grey floppy ears and a rabbit nose. It bounced down my Nan’s street. It was the coolest thing ever.” As Eric spoke he remembered the words his granny had told him in her home about white lies turning to black ones and halted. He was just about to tell his classmates that he had spoken to the rabbit-cat, befriended him. How the cat had told him that all cats aren’t the same. Some of them were more different than others. But he stopped himself and listened to the laughter from the children around him and the hardened face of his school teacher, Ms. Cantina.
“That’s it, Eric Naught, twenty lines for homework tonight.”
It seemed that Eric Naught just had an adventurous mind; perhaps more so than the average child, and one which his parents certainly couldn’t decipher. When he was seven there was a period where he was unable to fall asleep because he felt his bedroom was inhabited by pixies that would steal his toys, and tousle his hair. Every early morning was spent nestled in between mother and father in their king-sized bed.
“There is no such thing as pixies, Eric. They’re fake ─ they don’t exist.”
“But every time you say that you kill one.”
“No, that’s fairies, dear. Fairies are good,” his mother told him. “Perhaps it’s fairies that are keeping an eye on you, waiting for a tooth to fall out so they can build a new home.”
Three days following this conversation, Eric’s parents came home one evening to see that Eric had wrapped Leslie up in a skipping rope and tied her to the kitchen chair.
“Why did you do that to your little sister?” his father roared.
“It was the pixies. I told you they exist and they’re bad. Bad. Bad.”
“It was you, you little liar.”
Why would his father not believe him? All he had done was taken the rope from the garage when they asked him ever so kindly but they were the ones that had wrapped it around her.
Eric’s father filled the bath with water that night and dunked Eric’s head into it.
“Never tell lies again Eric. Never.”
Eric just about heard him as the water filled his nostrils and the cold made his brain burn. It filled inside him, a coldness so sharp. Between breaths of water and his head being shaken back and forth by his father’s firm grip, he promised he wouldn’t lie ever again. But the truth was that Eric couldn’t tell what a lie was and what it wasn’t. He had seen the pixies wrap his sister in a skipping rope, and he was positive about the rabbit-cat bounding past in grandmother’s home.
It seemed Eric Naught’s lies became truths and his truths lies, until he couldn’t differentiate reality from make-believe. Problems arose, when he would wake from a dream, and wonder if that unicorn and giant castle in the sky really did exist; or if the old bent woman in the supermarket the day before who had given him an apple was a fantasy. His confusion carried with him through his childhood, to adolescence.
In his early teens Naught was popular amongst his peers. The brave kid, who would stand up to the teacher’s and spout stories he’d found underneath a stone on his journey to school that morning. His brain so different to others, he became an enigma, unfathomable. He attracted a fan base. Julie Hill fell in love with him from afar and Ben Worthington wished to be his best friend. His sleek black hair and contrasting pale face added to his appeal. Towards his later teens this mysterious essence, was one that his friends found scary. While they had moved on from idle thoughts, no longer wishing to be a vampire like Edward Cullen, he was left behind, swimming in his own sublimity.
Eric Naught couldn’t continue his life being berated by people who saw black as black and white as grey, nor they him. Thus his adulthood was spent by his solitary self. He struggled to structure his life within the social restraints that coiled themselves around his neck. Time was unfathomable, that people could divide a moment, a ray of light, a sunset into a minute or hour of a little tick skipping around a circle. He struggled to find a job. He would show up for interviews in a purple suit with a red tie, because he thought the guy in the Ribena ad, was really a model for Tommy Hilfiger. When he was twenty-five he applied for a job as a librarian’s assistant. On the application form it asked his name. He had a panic attack as he couldn’t remember if his first name was Robocop or Eric. He rang his mother, screaming down the phone at her “What’s my name on my birthcert? What is it really? …Honestly? Okay I need a copy.”
Lists, titled “The Truth” and “The Untruth” lined his bedroom walls. So he knew for sure when he was eight he had gone to Lapland with his parents to see Santa Claus. Beside it was photographic evidence of his eight-year old self sitting on the big man’s knee. But on his list of “The Untruth” it explained that when he was ten he had discovered Santa Claus didn’t exist when he found his parents putting his presents under the tree on Christmas Eve, while his little sister and he (supposedly) were sleeping. Beside it he had a diary page. Evidence. This confused Eric all the more.
“They call this logic?”
When Eric was thirty he applied for a job as a child storyteller. He was hired by a company that visited schools and held different workshops for the pupils. His job as head storyteller was to make up fictional stories to tell the children. It was the first job that Eric enjoyed, his first time to succeed at something in life. Storytelling was his forte, he had done it all his life; these fictional stories he was asked to make up on the spot were what he had always been instructed not to do. It came naturally to him. What he saw between his very eyes, he told the children. On his very first day he relayed the story of the rabbit-cat to the room of four-year olds. They opened their ears and hearts to him and for once let him in. Describing the cat’s floppy ears, his body so cat-like but the bounce in his step, they listened. His rabbit nose ─ its feline back. Fascinated by him, the young children sat before him. Eric continued to tell how he had befriended the rabbit-cat and asked him his name.
“I’m called Scruffy’, it said. And I am kinda confused?”
“Well, why would you be confused, Scruffy?”
“Because no one believes I exist.”
“Oh no, why not?” I asked him.
“Because they can’t see me. But you can.”
“Isn’t that just unbelievable, kids?”
When Eric finished his story, all the kids began to cheer, circling around him and cheering “scruffy, scruffy”. Then he took up his coat, got ready to go; as he did he said: “And if any of you see him, today, on your walk home. Or tomorrow in your back garden as you’re helping your dad water the flowers, please say hi. Tell him I was asking for him.”