Colleen, you have the Com! How did you settle on the title Letters and Lies?
If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
If a lie is told for a good cause, is it wrong?
If the tree creates sound waves, would the lie create moral waves?
We hope not if we’re the liar or the one lied to or about. But we hope so if we’re the fly on the wall and eager for a good story at someone else’s expense. Everyone loves a red face when it’s not their own. Some, because they like to judge. And others as a reference for those past and future moments when deception would seem kinder than walking away with a regretful, “If only I would have thought of that sooner.”
Refusing to write nonfiction where I air my own dirty laundry, I wrote “Letters and Lies” instead, the antics of a historical fictional character, Louise Archer, who supplies those of us in the second category above with a plethora of reasons to toss honor aside and lie. I smiled at my own temptations as I wrote her, and I hope you smile at yourself as you read the following paraphrased excerpts of incidents Louise deemed justifiable for bending the truth.
- Your parents expect more of you: Mama’s hands cupped my shoulders. She pinned me in a spotlight of such admiration I knew I’d made the right choice—stick with my lie.
- Your parents believe your future is rosy: Mama admired me once again. “My little Louise, here you are, all grown up and on your way to Kansas to become Mrs. Jim Baylis.” Jim’s last-minute telegram burned within my glove—Don’t come. I can’t marry you.
- You ensnare yourself by your own foolishness: Jim Baylis had truly penned everything I’d ever wanted in a husband, months of letters I’d foolishly carted from family to friend to blather every word like a desperate spinster. Drat.
- Legal constraints lock you in: My father had so trusted and anticipated my marriage to Jim, he had built it into his will before he passed.
- Your way is the best way: Neither Mama nor I would be happy if the ruse I’d devised to get me to Jim without him or anyone else knowing I was Louise Archer, jilted spinster, didn’t work. I gripped my bag with a train ticket under the assumed name of the widowed Mrs. Penelope Strong.
- There is no time for the truth: “I’ll wire you in two weeks, Mama.” I’d allowed myself that much time to find Jim, fix whatever had gone wrong, and arrange our wedding before Mama ever knew the truth. “Oh, no need to wire me, dear,” Mama enthused. “I’m coming early to help you prepare everything.”
- The first lie doesn’t work so you tell another: This man didn’t do what I’d intended every person to do in the face of a widow—stammer, shy away, and leave me as a poor grieving soul be. “I’m on my way to Larned, Kansas, to finish my late husband’s business.” I further spouted the name of some little dot on the map that had caught my eye as I’d plotted my way to Jim, a town I had no intention of getting off at or staying in.
- The truth comes with a cost: I could confess that I’d lied and stay on the train and travel red-faced all the way to Dodge City to Jim…who might hear what I’d done and be glad he refused to marry me.
- Ill planned deception is risky: “I’m Mrs. Penelope Strong,” I said to the couple at Larned’s train station. “I’m here on behalf of my late husband…” I stopped. My fictitious husband needed a first name. Drat. Living husbands had better be a lot less trouble than dead ones.
- The law is sniffing around: “I presume these are your late husband’s business partners.” The marshal stepped forward, a lawman far too close to the near fraud I contemplated.
- When a challenge to your lie calls for embellishment: “I need proof you’re who you say you are,” Mr. Brandt blustered. “And I consider my late husband’s money plenty of proof of who I am and why I’m here,” I blustered back. “Unless Larned happens to be a town frequently victimized by widows who try to lend aid to struggling businesses.”
- Someone’s got a gun: A flash of silver caught my eye, a gleam from the butt of a pistol his apron hitched over. I saw my body dragged out the door and left where no one would care. Jim would never know I’d come for him but been killed at gunpoint before I got there.
Louise Archer boards a westbound train in St. Louis to find the Kansas homesteader who wooed and proposed to her by correspondence, then jilted her by telegram – Don’t come, I can’t marry you. Giving a false name to hide her humiliation, her lie backfires when a marshal interferes and offers her his seat.
Marshal Everett McCloud intends to verify the woman coming to marry his homesteading friend is suitable. At the St. Louis train station, his plan detours when he offers his seat to a captivating woman whose name thankfully isn’t Louise Archer.
Everett’s plans thwart hers, until he begins to resemble the man she came west to find, and she the woman meant to marry his friend.
“He wrote and changed your plans? Why didn’t you tell me? You know I love hearing his letters.”
Everyone loved hearing his letters. Or at least they’d pretended to. I glanced at my friends, especially the one who’d first suggested I correspond with her husband’s homesteading friend in Kansas who was ready to look for a wife. She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief while she flicked the fingers of her other hand in a weak wave. I dredged my soul in search of a smile. The man she’d introduced me to truly had penned everything I’d ever wanted in a husband, months of letters which convinced Mama Jim was my open door. Letters I’d foolishly carted from family to friend to blather every word like a desperate spinster. Drat.
“He didn’t send his change of plans in a letter, Mama. He sent them in a telegram.” Don’t come, I can’t marry you. The only words I never shared.
“Well I imagine your Jim has a surprise for you and didn’t have time to send a letter before you left for Crooked Creek. How thoughtful to wire you instead.”
Thoughtful…I felt poisoned and Mama would too if she ever found out Jim had shut my open door. Which she wouldn’t, since as soon as I got out there and found him, I’d wedge it back open again.
For a limited time, “Letters and Lies” is 99 cents on the following sites:
Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/3aXuMCl
Born and raised in the Midwest, Colleen studied and worked in science, using that career to travel and explore other parts of the country. An avid fan of literature, both reading and writing, she loves tales involving moral dilemmas and the choices people come up against. A lover of the outdoors as well as a comfy living room, Colleen is always searching inside and out for the next good story.
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