The Truth Will Set You Free
A Short Story by Jim McCollum
Written using the suggestion "Epiphany"
Originally featured on 11-06-2007
As part of our series "Journey To A New Word"

“Your hand doesn’t close completely into a fist, due to an old injury, a reminder of your days as a high school pugilist far from this cocktail party, back behind the industrial plants and slaughter houses in your home country. Your suit is expensive, and the skin cream, cosmetic dentistry, and visits to the spa have turned you around. You clean up good.

“You’re smiling now, as you talk to Abby, holding the stem of your martini glass.

“‘What am I doing giving you advice on dealing with men?’ you say, ‘as if I’m some paragon of virtue.’ You turn to the whole bar, yelling into the crushing watery sound of voices and music, ‘I’m an asshole.’ You turn back to Abby, ‘See? I admit it, I’m a terminal bachelor, and I can’t commit.’ To the bar, ‘I’m everything that’s wrong with men.’

“‘Stop it!’ she says, grabbing your arm, and pulling your cupped hand away from your mouth.

“‘See, Abby, I admit it,’ you say, ‘I’m not the person you’d want to ask for advice on what your boyfriend is thinking. I’m the last person any woman should ask, let alone go home with me.’

“But of course that’s exactly what you hope is going to happen here. She’s holding her hand up to her mouth, daintily hiding her teeth as she laughs. Jesus Christ, you could really love this one if you weren’t playing this elaborate reverse-psychology game on yourself. You're handsome, there’s no question about that. What do they say? Tall? Check. Dark? Check (the self-tanning cream takes care of that.) Maybe you should say it again? Maybe tell her you really are afraid you’re a terminal bachelor, a burgeoning alcoholic, but stay jovial and smile. You’re committed to this life of illusion.

“It isn’t too much later. If someone asked about Abby you would say, ‘Who?’ but you would have some memory of her. You’re walking home from work, carrying your leather briefcase, and loosening your tie. You look tired. You stop at a hotel bar with dark wood tables and burnished bronze throughout. You have a double scotch on the rocks and smoke a European cigarette; the height of sophistication. No one bothers you, not the bartender, not any of the other patrons. They buy your routine. It’s an immensely pleasurable feeling to fool the world, to be in control. You finish your drink and snub out your cigarette. You make your way to the warehouse.

“Commitment is your fatal flaw, or rather, the inability to commit. If you could have devoted yourself to your illusion, masking your poor upbringing and insecurities you could have been successful in anything you attempted. If you could have committed to a girl like Abby, you could have found happiness. The trouble is that you always wanted to be found out. You weren’t satisfied with the illusion, you wanted people to love you for the ‘real’ you. The real you is someone despicable, someone no one could love, just based on what’s available in the public record. Everyone would know the truth if they could see past the illusion, and they knew your birth-name. The record books don’t play around with assault. You know this though, and so you plant hints, which can only be interpreted as a wish—perhaps known only sub-consciously—a wish to be discovered.

“That’s why you go into that abandoned warehouse on 216th avenue every other Thursday night. A place the ‘character’ you play in life would never go. Why would a successful attorney go to such a run-down, molded-out, roach-ridden lot? That’s the question that must be answered.”

Simon paused. He sweated from his brow, and his hands waved in front of him as he talked. He took a step back from the mirror, hanging on a rotting beam of wood inside a an old warehouse. Boxes lay all around him containing childhood artifacts, family heirlooms, and the name-change documents, saying that Michael William Patterson was not born with that name.

“You want to be discovered?”

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