In which we hear about pies and lies
The Taste of Lies Part I
She tasted lies young. Much younger than most other children of the town, who were strategically warned by mothers and nursemaids that if you lied, a four-headed serpent with teeth as long as your arm would bite your tongue clear off. And you would also be sent to bed without supper.
Guppy had no mother, no nursemaid, went to bed without supper more often than not, and never encountered a four headed serpent.
What she did encounter was taste.
The first time had been after she swiped a particularly fine looking meat pie left cooling in the baker’s window. Belly full of evidence, she had widened her eyes in panic at the baker’s wife and hurriedly denied any knowledge whatsoever of meat pies in general, let alone this specific pie (it had been remarkably buttery and crumbly, with a firm meaty middle, riddled with chunks of apple).
At her bumbled denial, Guppy’s mouth had flooded with eye-drenching sourness, a taste that seemed to be dissolving her teeth as well as her tongue.
She’d managed a wavery smile convincing enough to send the baker’s wife off after another target, before sticking her mouth under a spigot and scrabbling at her tongue with dirty fingers. The taste of pie was long gone.
In a land where lying was accompanied by such unpleasant consequences, most everyday folk stuck to the truth, or at least as near the truth as would mitigate the risk of tongue scorch and public shaming. Guppy, however, began to try lie after lie, exploring the flavours and learning to tolerate the taste until she could keep all trace of the terrible mouth experiences from her face.
She discovered that white lies tasted bitter-sweet, less dreadful than bold-faced lies, but still with a lingering edge of after taste. Lies of exaggeration bubbled with rotten fumes akin to the smells from a dung heap. Lies of fabrication, including tales told to entertain, would result in an explosion of salt, as though your tongue were caked in crystals.
She got away with it all too, until she encountered the boy.
He had been visiting the market for a week now. He looked about six or seven, with a painfully thin face that often had tear tracks streaking through the dirt. Guppy had watched him clumsily swipe food from several of the stalls, and was pleased to see that the stallholders who noticed his thefts kept quiet, eyes sympathetically watching his frail frame.
Then the boy stole from the wrong stall. The baker’s wife set to screeching as soon as she saw her missing loaf, drawing the swift attention of a town guard, who hared after the boy and had him pulled up by the collar in a few strides.
The boy had had the sense to ditch the bread as soon as the woman had started her howls, but the baker’s wife pointed one plump finger directly at Guppy, who had unfortunately been front and centre for the entire debacle. There was no time to dart elsewhere.
The guard turned to her, the boy gasping in his grip.
‘Girl. Did you see this boy take bread from the woman’s stall?’
Guppy gulped. She could lie, but it was fairly clear that the boy was the culprit and she didn’t want it revealed that she could speak untruths. But if she told the truth, the boy was probably headed for a life of slavery. The boy’s eyes were huge in his haggard face, beseeching her with silent pleas.
‘I saw him.’
Guppy looked down, unable to meet his gaze. And as the guard whirled away with the boy in hand, she felt a curious burning begin in her mouth. Within moments, her tongue seemed to catch alight, scorching the roof of her mouth into blisters, and forcing a whimper to escape her well-trained lips.
Later, as she lay with a rag dipped in cool water inside her mouth, she thought that this must be the taste of betrayal. The result of speaking what you know is wrong in your heart, no matter the technical truth.
The boy’s eyes continued to haunt her.
Swollen-tongue be damned. He wasn’t going to disappear on her watch.