When the woman cutting my hair says she remembers me from my last appointment my heart sinks. What did I say? How did I gloss over any potential awkwardness and along what unlikely road did that take us?
I never used to see the appeal of lying: too much stuff to remember; too much stupidity to feel if found out. Then again, blatantly obvious lies were fun. In my early days as a librarian, when asked what I did as a job I’d occasionally venture, stunt pilot. Not so much a lie as a signal that says, let’s not have a boring conversation.
In the first couple of years of widowhood I was matter-of-fact. If an enquiry about my husband arose and I couldn’t answer without addressing the fact that he had died, then plain speaking me simply stated the facts and continued. But I couldn’t help noticing that the continuing bit wasn’t always as easy for the other person.
Sometime in year three I got bored of the explaining and the awkwardness and the general downer that life had forced me to build into every encounter. Also, he wasn’t interested in being dead and I’m not interested in being tragic so why present ourselves as such? So I started trying some evasion and when that didn’t work I tried… well, just making stuff up.
And it all sounds harmless enough until you meet someone who’ll take what you say and run with it. Hairdressers must have a special module in this as part of their training.
Just turn the conversation back round, you say. Ask about them. Hairdressers deflect such moves like pros.
“How was your holiday?” she asks, brightly. In our previous conversation I must’ve avoided saying “No, I’m not going anywhere… Why? Because I’ve no one to go with,” by inventing some vaguely distant something. But what? I can’t exactly ask where I might’ve said I was going. And surely I’d remember if I’d specified a place. Maybe.
One solution to being in this situation would be to never visit the same shop or group of people twice. But I’d never be able to keep track of that.
My memory is like my string shopping bag: more void than vessel. It does hold things and it even expands to take in more but so much just falls through. Small talk with someone I don’t expect to see again: gone without trace.
I need one story that I always go to and that has some detail memorable enough to stick with me.
I’m considering Denmark. For a few years my parents took us on holiday there every summer and later, briefly, I had a boyfriend from Copenhagen. I like Denmark and if pushed, I know details about things Danish. Are you going anywhere nice on your holidays? Denmark. What does your husband do? He works in Denmark. Do you live alone? No but my husband spends a lot of time in Denmark.
I can see how this could sound delusional if overheard by anyone who actually knows me but I’d immediately confess if challenged. Surely everyone – okay probably not the Danes but some people – would appreciate that I’m doing them a favour by swapping “died” for being “in Denmark”. Or word would get round that I’m a crazy lady with Scandinavian fantasies and the small talk would dry up. Either way it would get me off the hook until I can think of a better idea.
Image by iStock.com / mheim3011
First published in issue 12 of Widows and Widowers magazine