Thursday
Aug042016

Shepherd

Glen Pourciau


 

Apart from what I'd said to our acquaintance and apart from what I said about it to Shepherd, it bothered me that Shepherd assumed I was lying when I denied what I'd said and it bothered me that he was implicitly lying to me by pretending to believe me. Where did he get off presuming to hold the moral high ground while lying to me for lying to him? Should I feel ashamed for lying as he luxuriated in his low opinion of me? I could see that he wanted me to know he knew I was lying, despite his silent pretense of believing me, and was looking to me for tacit acknowledgment that I knew he knew. He sneered slightly, just enough to make me notice. I asked Shepherd why he'd asked what I'd said if he had no intention of believing me, but he refused to reply. He didn't want to come out and say he'd taken pleasure in listening to me lie, in verifying I lacked the courage to admit what I'd said to our acquaintance about him. Shepherd wanted to tell himself he should feel no obligation to tell the truth to a liar. I believe he preferred silence to avoid saying something that would provoke an escalation in tension between us. It would never have occurred to Shepherd, his imperial highness, that I had similar reasons for lying to him. Shepherd didn't want any part of an angry conflict, all he wanted to do was sneer. He liked sitting in the observation chair in his head, looking down from his lofty perch on the world sprawling and scrambling beneath him. At that point I decided I wouldn't sit still for Shepherd's attitude or his bullshit. I told him I wasn't the one who'd made the statements he thought I'd lied about. Our acquaintance had made them, though I'd sort of agreed with what he'd said, and now he didn't want to own up to it and had deflected the words from his mouth by claiming I'd said them. Shepherd immediately discounted my story, asking me why our acquaintance would deflect words Shepherd would never have heard. I answered that he might have feared I'd go to Shepherd and repeat them, and he wanted to tell his version before I told mine. Or it could have been because I'd slept with his girlfriend, though this was the first time I'd had any reason to think he might have been aware of it. Perhaps he wanted to get even by turning people against me, I suggested to Shepherd. All this was a lie, and in fact I wasn't sure if our acquaintance still had a girlfriend. Shepherd kept sneering to himself, and I wondered if he was thinking of sharing the story with our acquaintance for a laugh. I told Shepherd he could check it out if he wanted to, but I didn't see why our acquaintance would choose to embarrass himself with a confession, especially since he could imagine what his girlfriend might have said to me about him, which I in turn could have recounted to Shepherd. Easier for him to attribute the whole story to me, I went on, and implicitly deny that his girlfriend and I had ever spoken. Shepherd told me not to worry, that he saw no reason to ask anyone about it, implying that I should be the one to worry and not our acquaintance. I imagined him going home and pouring himself drink after drink and laughing his ass off at me. But would he show me his true face? No, not Shepherd. He didn't play it that way. He wanted to humiliate me into silence by simply letting on that he knew every word I said was a lie, to revel in his superiority until I lowered my head and skulked off to my hidey-hole. I couldn't accept letting Shepherd maneuver me into some humiliating retreat. I offered to drive him over to our acquaintance's house so we could find out together what he'd fess up to, and if Shepherd agreed to my dare I didn't mind standing right up and calling our acquaintance a liar. Why should I care about this acquaintance when he'd repeated what I'd said about Shepherd? I had no friendship with him and only spoke to him in a glancing way, though we'd known each other for years. Shepherd said he didn't think we needed to drive to our acquaintance's house, and I asked him what he meant by that, thinking his comment suggested that he could tell I'd been lying without having to prove it through a ridiculous confrontation. I replied that it surprised me he'd back down when he was so sure he was right about everything. What was he afraid of? I asked him. Shepherd said it wouldn't be right to involve our acquaintance's girlfriend in the discussion. She could be at home or she could find out we'd dropped by and mentioned her name in an unflattering way. Still, he avoided directly accusing me of lying to him, though his meaning was clear enough. I told him that his real reason for refusing to drive to our acquaintance's was that he didn't want to lower himself to participate in what he presumed to know was a narrative I'd fabricated. He thought his way of seeing things was superior to mine, I accused him, and since we began talking his whole surreptitious purpose had been to lower my standing and raise his. Did he ever consider the cynicism of such an approach? Why ask people questions when you don't intend to believe them? I asked Shepherd again, my tone more demanding this time. He did not answer my question, and if he had I probably wouldn't have believed him, but he tilted his head up and said: Okay, let's go over there. You can follow me. I suspected Shepherd suspected that I'd chicken out, but I didn't. I had only a vague sense of where our acquaintance lived so I raised no objection to following him, and we started off to our cars. Shepherd must have relished the thought of exposing me as a liar, and he must have calculated that no harm would be done to anyone except me. He knew the acquaintance better than I did and may even have considered him to be a friend, and he may therefore have known his girlfriend well enough to guess that she'd have nothing to do with me. I fumed at Shepherd as I drove, and I imagined him imagining that he might finally crack on our acquaintance's front porch and laugh himself into a frenzy. I was relieved to see no cars parked in front of the house when we arrived, and I hoped that no one would be at home. Shepherd hopped out of his car and bounded up to the front door. I walked at a normal pace, and the moment I set foot on the small porch he rang the bell. He stared into my eyes, judging me, waiting for me to flee the scene, too chastened to ever show my face again. The girlfriend answered and greeted Shepherd, who stood only a couple of feet from the door. He asked if our acquaintance was at home and she said he wasn't. She then looked at me more closely and flinched, the sight of me coming as a shock, her eyes returning to Shepherd, her mouth opening as if to speak but not finding any words. Do you know this man? Shepherd asked. Not for a while, but I do know him, she admitted. She asked Shepherd why he'd come. Did he want to make trouble? She didn't appreciate being confronted and she didn't see what anyone could gain by dragging me in front of her face. Shepherd appeared at a loss without his condescension to protect him. He apologized to her and said he'd made a mistake. He didn't know that she knew me, though I'd told him she did. He'd thought I'd lied and he wanted to settle the matter, clear her name. So now my name is not cleared, is that what you're saying? she asked Shepherd. I liked her and wondered why I'd ever let her go. We'd only been together one time for a few hours, but I thought I could be excused for letting myself get carried away with Shepherd's defeat. I could stand on the porch quietly and claim that my hands were clean, while Shepherd couldn't possibly dig himself out of his hole. She berated him for using her as a test subject in his improvised lie-detector test. Why didn't you call first, she asked, because it would be more dramatic this way? Shepherd took a jittery step away from her, stumbling on the welcome mat, and swore never to mention our visit to anyone. He knows, she replied, pointing in my direction, and they both looked at me as if I were no one to be trusted. Did they have to make me squirm just because they were? I held up my hands and then put my forefinger straight up against my lips, a signal recognized by everyone. I wouldn't talk. Yet, they didn't seem satisfied. Both of them were on the defensive, and I could see it and smell it on them. Shepherd must have feared I'd take pleasure in getting even with him by spreading the story around. I couldn't think at the moment who I'd tell it to, but if provoked I could consider the possibilities, including online options. On the other hand I had nothing against her particularly, except that she kept staring at me with contempt. As she saw it, I'd blabbed about her without any reason to, and I couldn't explain that I'd done so without knowing she was the one I was blabbing about. Determined to stay silent and thereby maintain some distance from a situation embarrassing to both of them, I vigorously shook my head and bowed to her. She thanked me, at least seeming to accept my unstated promise. I walked away then, hoping Shepherd would chase after me and do some groveling, and even though he didn't, he was stuck with the girlfriend, repeating an abject apology that would be unlikely to reduce her disdain for him. I left Shepherd to wonder how much of what I'd said could be true and whether he should question our acquaintance about who'd said what and whether the girlfriend would reveal to our acquaintance that Shepherd had appeared with a man from a one-night misstep she'd rather forget. And the idea angrily crept up on me that I needn't keep my promise not to speak, not after all Shepherd had put me through, and that neither of them should expect me to withhold my version of the story when they'd probably be telling their own versions to justify themselves. I couldn't remember what had happened between the girlfriend and me, but whatever it was she'd tell it in a way that would put her in the most favorable light. It made no sense for me to trust two people who saw themselves as above me, to put myself at a disadvantage by remaining silent. I couldn't ignore or forget the way Shepherd had looked down at me. Consequences had roots, and it wasn't my problem if they failed to understand that.