Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions, and won an AWP Intro Journals Award in nonfiction. Michele lives in Tucson and serves as assistant fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine.
Half of this story is true.
I drive to Wildwood with the shoebox strapped into the passenger seat of the Alfa Romeo. It’s all that’s left and I will throw it into the Atlantic Ocean after dark.
The other half can’t be true because I can’t bear it.
Bob Seger’s Night Moves. You play this same song over and over on the Alfa Romeo’s cassette deck. I yell at you for all of the rewindings. Can’t we play some Van Halen? Your dead-fish eyes do not blink; you play it again.
The true parts seem more and more like the not-true parts, the more that I tell them.
The police warn us to stay inside after dark. You open our screen door—A little breeze won’t kill us. I insist we keep it latched. You’re not scared of the hooded man. I’ve got you covered, you say, but then I wake up and your side of the bed is cold.
Truth is an ugly mirror.
You are into sex games. That’s normal, right? But all of the time? When I ask you about it, you call me a prude. That’s actually not true. You call me worse.
Sometimes lies tell on themselves without any help.
Your hands have cuts that you cannot explain. When you touch me, I can feel the tiny speed bumps of scabs on your fingers and palms.
Is a lie still a lie if it contains bookends of truth?
My favorite color is blue and so you grow delphiniums in pots on our three by five patio. You use a hunting knife to cut them into bouquets for me. I told you that the delphiniums smelled like summer, but actually they smelled like cat piss.
The not-true parts make for good alibis.
You’re such a big man; surely I would’ve heard you if you’d left our apartment.
Not-truths smell like Clorox bleach.
Yes, I am beginning to wonder if, if, if. But as soon as I do, my gut seizes and I see you in your church clothes, helping your mom get out of the Alfa Romeo, your arms linked in hers as you stop to make the sign of the cross, holy water dripping through your curls.
Tell the truth, the whole truth.
I do not show you the notes I’m keeping, but you find them. You ask me point blank, Do you really think I could do this? You are not blinking. I think fast. I’m writing a book—the Atlantic City Strangler. You burn my notes and tie me to the bed with our regular ropes, tighter though.
Nothing but the truth and a few non-truths.
You hang a rope over the hot water pipes in our living room. I cannot see this from our bed.
So help me, God.
You hang you. I will see this forever.
So help me, truth.
Sherry Gosling, Hannah Jones, Cindy Flannery, Cathy Moriarity, Kelly Flowers, Marsha Tomlin, Kimberly Daniels, Victoria Marshall. These are the names of your victims. They are true.
Some say I should add my name to the list, but that feels untrue.
They take everything from our apartment and label it as evidence. They take the Alfa Romeo.
Truth is a knot tied together with faithfulness, loyalty, fidelity.
When I get the Alfa Romeo back, it smells like a janitor’s wet dream. They left a cassette tape, loose change, sunglasses that you bought on the beach in Wildwood, a few photographs of us. Everything else is gone.
Truth also means accuracy. Correctness.
One Bob Seger Night Moves cassette tape in poor condition. Seventy-two cents. Knock-off Ray-Bans®, loose at both temples. Twenty-four photos in a flimsy plastic album from Fotomat of you and me in Wildwood last summer. You held me over top of spitting waves; you told me you were so happy you could die.
I choose to believe you were telling the truth.
They tell me it’s okay for me to go back to our apartment, but of course, I don’t go. I put the remnants of you into a shoebox except for the cassette tape. Side one, track two, is queued up. Night Moves. The Garden State Parkway is dotted with headlights. I push play. I don’t push play. The truth, in this case, doesn’t matter.