STORY – To Tell the Truth, Pt. 2

Note: No-Draft Theater is an exercise in improvisational fiction. I intend to write short pieces of fiction only one-to-three posts long, no outlining or other preparation, with each post around a thousand words. These pieces of fiction will only go through the most cursory editing. 

<Continued from Part One>

“Well, then, what do you really do, Dad?”

He smiled wanly. “I am a Liar, Susana.”

I had no idea what to say. What was he lying about? “You mean you don’t work for the Governor-General.”

He smiled… paternally, I guess. He’s my father after all. “No, I am a counselor for the GG. That’s true. It’s just… well… it’s an odd position.”

“What do you do, then?”

“I, um…” He pause. “Let me see… okay, I think I know how to put this.

“A long time ago, someone discovered something about power. It’s never good for anyone to be obeyed too often. A leader becomes, well, sloppy. They expect everyone to agree with them, and anyone who doesn’t gets shunted. They choose whatever they want to believe in, stick with that view, and make mistakes; sometimes very terrible mistakes. Something had to be done.

“So they invented the Liar.”

“You’re a liar?” I asked.

“Not the way you’re saying. I am a Liar. It’s a titled position within the council.”

“What do you do?”

Dad laughed. “I tell the truth.”

However confused I must have looked on the outside was nothing compared to the inside. “Dad, you’re talking nonsense.”

He smiled. “I’m going to bore you with history now.”

I sighed testily. “Do you have to?”

He nodded. “In ancient times, I mean very ancient times, there was a class of people called ‘the comedians.'”

“What were they?”

Well,” he paused. I could tell he was looking for the right words. “They were, I guess, ‘aesthetical designers’ but with words. Their job was to talk to crowds of people.”

This was the oddest thing I’d heard for a while. “What, like haranguing them or something political?”

“Well, no.” Dad said. “They told jokes.”

“So people would gather in a crowd and listen to one person tell jokes?”

“They were paid to tell jokes.”

“Wait, wait, wait… people paid this person to tell jokes, which is something that people do all the time for free?”

“Yes.”

I shook my head. “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Dad laughed. “No one has ever accused the ancients of being bright, that’s certain. But there’s more to it.”

“Oh?”

“Their real function was to tell the truth. Sometimes, the truth can be terrible.”

“That’s stupid,” I protested. “Truth is, well, truth. People should be glad of correction so they can have better data.”

Dad sighed. “That’s the mathematician in you talking. But this is beyond mathematics. People sometimes react strongly when they are contradicted, especially about the things most important to them. Like beliefs.”

“So these ‘comedians’ would make fun of people?”

Dad smiled. “No, they would tell the truth. At least so far as they saw it.

“You see, telling the truth is a tricky thing. Sometimes it’s very uncomfortable for the listener to hear something that totally goes against what they think is true. They freeze up… make bad decisions or rail against new data. They’ll reject what they don’t like and harden their minds against it.

“A comedian was in a special position. They could tell the truth, but couch it in a joke. People could accept it, then. If they disagreed, they could say that it was all a joke so there was no need to be offended. Yet a little kernel of truth would be planted in their minds, waiting to grow. They could ruminate on it later without offense. They might not find the joke funny at first, but there was a good chance later that they’d see the point.”

I sat back. I hadn’t thought about how delicate people can be. “But what if the joke wasn’t funny?”

“Yes, that was the problem,” Dad said. “It was a delicate balance, trying to couch the truth in a joke, especially since humor has always been subjunctive. It was a good idea with a flawed delivery system. It’s why comedy only very slowly changed things.”

“So what does that have to do with you being a Lair?”

“It’s a title given to me. I can tell the truth to the GG with no fear of reprisals. It’s something that no one else can do. You see, it’s like the comedians. I can be discounted if everyone disagrees with what I say. I’m just a ‘Liar.’ But I still get to say the truth. It’s my duty to say the truth, even though I am called a Liar for it.

“But being discounted means that I can say these things. My power isn’t in my proximity to the GG, although I have that. I control no departments. I have no followers. I don’t have a power base. All I have is my title… a title no one else wants to have because it robs them of power and dignity. But I have the one power no one else has: I can say what’s on my mind.”

“Why so secretive about this, Dad? Why not just tell me this sooner?”

Dad sighed. “Because it’s a difficult concept to grasp for one so young. Because you’re a child, you can say almost anything you want because people can discount what you say. After all, you’re so young. It’s like being a Liar.

“But when your studies end and you are cultivated for whatever service you join, you’ll find yourself constrained on what you can or cannot say. There’s no law against it, but still there will be powerful people who only hear what they want to hear, and until you get powerful you will have to keep those thoughts to yourself. It’s not like mathematics or philosophy, where you argue concepts and are grateful for correction. People are more complicated than either of those subjects.”

I sat back, swirling these thoughts in my head. It was so paradoxical to me.

“At some point, Susana,” he said, “You’ll probably hear me referred to as a Liar. It is a unique position to be in. It’s both very positive and very negative. It’s not a title I would have chosen, anyway. I like to think of myself as a ‘Cassandra.'”

“A what?”

Dad chuckled. “Well, again, it’s an ancient times artifact. There was a story, who knows where from, about a woman named Cassandra with a peculiar fate. She was fated to always be one-hundred percent accurate on every prediction she ever made and yet was fated to always be disbelieved no matter how accurate her track record was. That’s my job. I predict problems and blind spots accurately.

“But no matter how accurate my track record is… and it is very accurate… I’ll always be the council’s Liar.There is every chance in the world that one day one of your friends will come up to you and say ‘I heard your Dad is a Liar.’ Now you know what that really means.”

I sighed. “Isn’t that terrible for you? I mean, if everyone discounted everything I said, I would scream.”

“No, it’s not bad, Susana,” he said. “It’s a rare and honorable position to be in, but tough. You have to have a strong sense of self, but little ego. It’s a balance, but one I am very adept at. I get to speak my mind at all times in the council, which again no one else can do. I am free from machinations. I get to do my job without ducking my head. I am probably the happiest member of the council because I am the only one who is free.

“Mind you, I still must do it with respect. I can’t blurt out during council meetings, ‘that’s not true. You’re all stupid!’ You will be amazed at how seriously people take their dignity. It helps me immeasurably to be nice.

“So do you understand, Susana?”

I smiled slightly. “No.”

Dad laughed. “Good! That’s to be expected. Like I said, what I do is tricky and important. Did I at least answer your questions, even if the answers seemed contradictory?”

“I guess so.”

“You can ask me any questions as they come to you. And you can ask your Mere. After all, she knowingly and willingly married a Liar.”

“So why did she send me to you?”

“Probably because she felt it best that we have this conversation first. She was right about that. So are you finished with your studies for today? Did you want to go to the park or anything?”

“No,” I said. “I have a little bit left. I’m supposed to meet my group after lunch.”

He nodded. “This didn’t take long. If you want to rush out to join them, I’ll understand.”

I smiled. “Thanks, Dad.” I got up, kissed him on the cheek, and rushed out.

I knew that when my friends ask me what my Dad does, I would have no idea what to tell them. I guess it was enough that day that Dad was important, but more so that he was a good man.