Fathom Mag
De Profundis

The Liar

A short story

Published on:
November 7, 2016
Read time:
4 min.
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The father had been invited to dinner by a new couple in town, so he took along his wife and young son. He didn’t want to be rude, living in such a small town as he was, so he obliged. “Tom!” the husband said as he opened the door. “Come on in. How are you? It’s good to see you. Janice is in the kitchen. Come inside, come, come.” The father shook his hand and smiled and greeted him politely, and after him his wife and young son. Gerard, the husband, said how are you it’s good to see you to them both. They replied good how are you it’s good to see you.

On the table there lay chicken breasts, asparagus, mashed potatoes—steam rising from them all—and glasses of sweet tea, surrounded by six chairs. One was empty. It was a fine home, very lovely, small, but lovely. The chicken was cut, the accourtrements served, and the tea was half gone. The boy stirred the asparagus and chopped it up a bit to make it look like he ate some.

Janice leaned into the table and asked, “How do you like the asparagus? We have olive oil and salt if you need it.”

“Oh no,” Tom said, “this is great. You’ve done a wonderful job on this meal.” Faye, his wife, agreed and Janice smiled and said thank you that’s kind of you.

In the middle of conversation Gerard said rather loudly, “So, Tom, tell me. What will you be preaching on this Sunday?” Janice said something like oh yes good question.

“I’m going to preach on a passage in 2 Kings, when Jehu strikes down the prophets of Baal.”

“Why that one?” Janice said.

“So, that passage is an example of God’s people tolerating something they shouldn’t, and I just think it’s a good message for the church to hear—like a wake up call to reassess their lives, what’s good and what’s bad, you know.”

“Well, we could all use some more of that, right?” Gerard said. He laughed. “I know I could use some more mashed potatoes. Faye, could you pass me that bowl? Thank you.”

After dinner the couples lingered near the door saying their goodbyes. The boy pulled his father’s pant leg and searched for the car. “It’s very good to see you again, Tom.”

“Likewise, likewise. We should have dinner again sometime, if our wives can stand it!” They all laughed. “Maybe we can do lunch sometime.”

“I’d like that,” Gerard said. Then the wives said they should go shopping sometime and the husbands agreed, and the couples parted ways.

When Tom and his family got back into the car, he reached over to buckle in his seatbelt and said to Faye, “I’ll tell you. They are sweet as pie, but Janice cannot cook to save her life.”

“They’re young, Tom. I couldn’t cook when I was her age.”

“Yeah,” he said, and shifted to reverse and looked over his shoulder.

Then the boy in the backseat said, “Dad, you said you liked it.” The father’s neck muscles tightened a bit and his cheeks slid over his mashed teeth. He turned to Faye for help.

“No, no. I was only being polite. I mean, it was fine—right, honey? It was okay.” Faye agreed and consoled her son.

That Sunday after the service people were milling outside the sanctuary and slowly smalltalk-shuffling their way out the door, stopping by Tom to say what a lovely sermon he had given I learned something new and so on. Tom thanked them. One woman hugging a Bible stopped in front of him and his son. The boy was eating leftover bread from the Lord’s table.

“Pastor,” she said lightly, “I couldn’t help but notice in your sermon that Jehu lied to those prophets in order to get rid of them.”

The boy swallowed real hard and said loudly, “He was being polite!”

The father smiled at his son and asked her, “What do you mean?”

“Well,” she leaned in a bit, “could I lie to my daughter about where I’m going, say I’m taking her to breakfast next Sunday but then come here to church? She doesn’t like church, but I agree, she needs to reassess that value, you know what I mean?”

Tom squeezed his lips together and his forehead tightened. “You know,” he said, “Aquinas and Martin Luther both thought that God could deceive for some greater good, like how Christ was veiled in the flesh to conceal his deity from the devil so that he would kill him. They talked about it like it was a fish hook or a divine mousetrap of some sort.”

The woman smiled and said that’s what she’ll do, but Tom cautioned her to be gentle, maybe, and tell her, “‘Oh, I meant after church we’ll go get some food.’ Perhaps that would be a way around it.”

The two grinned and said that would be fine. She left saying she’ll see him next week and so on. Tom waited for the church to almost clear out before walking to the car with Faye and their son.

Some years had passed and Tom had taken ill. Esophageal cancer they called it. The doctors said there wouldn’t be much pain, of course. His son was studying communications in college and was back home for a long weekend. He had taken many trips home since his dad had been sick. This weekend it was getting worse. His son had to fix the sheets and fluff his pillows constantly.

“Son,” Tom finally said once.

“Yeah, dad.”

“I’m afraid to die.” His son looked up from his book. “I know I’m not supposed to be. A man of God shouldn’t be and it isn’t right I know, but I’m just afraid.”

“It’s okay, dad. It’s not right. I’m afraid too, of yours and mine.”

The father paused and looked down the bed and shook his feet to make sure he hadn’t died yet. “You know, the apostle wrote once that death is swallowed up in victory: ‘O death, where is your victory, where is your sting?’ I’m feeling it now, that sting.”

His son’s eyebrows swung together like fists and he said, “He was only being polite.”

Brandon Giella
Brandon is the content editor for Fathom, serving as its copy editor. He also serves as a content developer for The Starr Conspiracy, a full-service digital agency in Fort Worth, TX. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Cover image by Raphael Schaller.

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