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"Fraud" by Clyde Liffey

I sit at my desk, a nice one – yellow wood, not in the best condition but well-made – and think, “I’m a fraud.” This has nothing to do with passing bad checks, lying on my resume, etc. though I’m not above, and may have performed, any of those things. It’s more essential, to say it’s more essential is to appropriate – what? – more dignity, grandeur even to my craven endeavors. “No!” I want to shout, “I’m a fraud pure and simple.”

But I can’t shout, the kids might hear. They’re out of the house now, back-to-school shopping with their mother. “Well,” the wife said at breakfast, “do you have office work again this weekend?”

I mumbled something, the kids laughed, one spilled jelly on her shirt. “I’ll get it,” I half-rose but of course, the wife beat me to it.

These anecdotes, always distorted, the lies I tell to gain the freedom to confront. I mean to confront the world, to get at its essentials by understanding its particulars, but always something keeps me back. This isn’t Eddington’s desk nor Husserl’s that I’m sitting at, it’s something we picked up at a tag sale along with its matching chair. The project, the only one worth executing, is to face the world, that is, whatever is before my eyes, honestly, without abstractions, to see

But always I back away.

It’s not as if I don’t have the time. I can make the time. Driving to work, working, driving back, spending so-called quality time – it’s all there.

It’s more there – here – on Saturdays. On the Sabbath, the daylight witching hour, we confront

Outside my window, over the lid of my trusty, deceptive laptop: the outside of the sill, paint peeling off it, beyond that the man-made natural world: lawns, hedges, not topiary, the neighbor mowing his lawn, a nuthatch singing on a nearby bough, that’s not a nuthatch, it’s a titmouse, a nuthatch is something that

I digress.

Of course. I digress, anything to avoid

The neighbor, parading back and forth behind his gas-powered mower, paunch hanging over belt, no cigar, he gave those up, looks my way, notices me, doesn’t let on that he sees. I should go out, my grass needs cutting, I should let it go, turn it to hay, this town was a meadow once, has it in its name, Menacing Meadow, that’s not the name of course, the menace is invented, part of my deception, I should go out, we’ll talk about the big game, last night’s, today’s, tomorrow’s, there’s always something on. The games aren’t an evasion, they’re part of being human, the Aztecs, for example

Because those others lived in the distant past, I consign them to the state of nature, as if I don’t live in a state of nature, however denatured.

And my purpose

I look at my computer, notice I’m signed in to my work account, then I didn’t lie, I do have work to do, I even have an email I could read. My cursor hovers over it, I click, get up from my desk, refresh my coffee, venture out.

“Sure is a scorcher,” the neighbor says, wiping his protruding brow, it parallels his stomach though it’s harder, stop seeing correspondences, I tell myself, see the particular, that’s where

“Sure is,” I say, reviving the flagging conversation.

Grass covers my sandals. The neighbor glances at my feet as if to accuse.

“I’ll mow my lawn tomorrow”, I say, “I have office work today. Sunday’s my chore day.” I don’t want the neighborhood association – what association? – running us out of town for improper home maintenance.

“It’s going to rain tomorrow,” he says. Ah the charming simplicity of these suburban folk, so sure of what can’t be known for certain!

“I’ll take my chances,” I say sauntering off. A few blocks later I’m in a street, I locked the house with something on my key fob, unless I pressed it wrong, not sure if I should go back and check, I know how this ends, that’s part of my scam, how does that fit in?

Something’s sniffing at my toes, I made it to the curb somehow.

“Why hello, I haven’t seen you in a while,” the old woman says looking up at me. We’re both on the sidewalk now, it’s not that I’m tall, she’s short, the archetypal little old lady, it hasn’t been that long, I saw her last weekend.

“I’ve been working,” I say as if to put her in her place, the retiree, she worked all her life, unpaid unsung work tending to her husband, a stalled locomotive, dead now, raising kids, occasional grandkids, now her dog, a toy version of some pedigree, I know the breed, I forget which, can’t ask her, she told me months ago, she’ll think I wasn’t listening, I wasn’t.

“And how are things at?”

I can’t believe she knows the name of my firm, we were just acquired a few months ago, I don’t recall telling her, it’s not the sort of thing that makes the papers. “Oh you know,” I say, reaching down to pet her pooch. It snarls at me.

“Alfreda!” she snaps. “Well, we’d best be going. Alfreda wants her din-din.” She pats my stomach with her free hand, ambles off. As she goes, I see the clear plastic bag holding Alfreda’s poop that she carries in lieu of a purse.

I go too, angry at myself for this diversion. Head down I notice my fly is open. I can’t zip it up, the neighbors will think I’m doing something obscene, one of the perils of the meadows. I untuck my shirt, it covers half the offending gap, nothing to see here, ladies, keep it moving as the cops say. Instead of observing the well or ill-trimmed lawns about me, I ruminate upon my encounter with my lady friend: was that a twinkle in her eye? Was it because of my unzipped fly? I wonder about her platonic, lascivious, materteral interest in me, I should be observing nature, nature isn’t natural here, even the hawks are shaped by people, people are natural, nothing to confront, too much to confront, focus: focus is always focus on

I make it home, the driveway half empty, I’ve the house to myself, no telling how long. I skirt the fridge, no I drink juice straight out of the bottle, cover my tracks that way, I have to keep my belly taut as I can manage for the ladies. I sit at the laptop just as the car pulls in, I refresh the screen, “Don’t bother Daddy, he’s working!” my wife says, she opens the door a crack, I press a key, I was timed off my account, no telling what the wife sees, the kids rush through the crack, I stand, they embrace my midsection, my fly’s closed now, the youngest looks up, “Look what I got!” she says waving something before my eyes, and I’m there for her though absent.


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