My Boyfriend Tells The Most Beautiful Lies

"So Gentle You Don't Feel It," a short story by Nancy Ludmerer

two taxidermy deer heads

My Boyfriend Tells The Most Beautiful Lies

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So Gentle You Don’t Feel It        

The boarding school in Surrey where Luke taught science gave him the worst bullies to tame. I guess they figured his height (6’4”) gave him authority, while his gentle demeanor proved a bloke could be manly without being mean. Luke had the befuddled aura of an absent-minded professor but his grip could crush you and he was fierce on the squash court. They said he could separate two tussling sixth-formers with one hand behind his back. Where did that rumor start?

The school knew nothing of Luke’s deception. We weren’t married, which would have disqualified us from a campus apartment. When I worried he’d lose his job if they found out, he shrugged. “There’s no one to tell on us.  Besides, we’re as good as married.” He leaned over, kissed my forehead, tousled my hair. We’d been together three years. My friends in the solicitor’s office where I worked knew our status but were too preoccupied with babies and nappies to care. They weren’t likely to visit, much less out us.

The school authorities hadn’t learned to read Luke the way I had. When we first met, I thought Luke was unattached but soon realized my belief arose not from anything he said but from my own ill-founded expectations. By the time we arrived in Surrey, we had already put that past behind us. We’d sit in the empty dining hall after the boarders were in bed and he would tell some story designed to make me laugh, trying to quell my fears about the future. The dining hall resembled a medieval Great Hall, but the trappings were fake. The grandfather clock hadn’t worked in decades, and the stuffed head of a deer that hung above it had eyes of glass. Luke despised blood sport and often bemoaned the death of that poor stag. 

One fine spring night, I intercepted Luke returning near midnight with Anne, the pretty music teacher. He carried a blanket. Their faces were flushed, eyes bright. She murmured goodnight and scurried off. “Wait till you hear what happened,” he said. “You won’t believe it.” He drew me into the dining hall. “Let’s sit at the High Table,” he said, and snuggled next to me on a massive throne-like chair at its head.  

Luke said he’d taken ten boys on a biology field trip that afternoon, to an area where trees were dying from Dutch elm disease. “One young sapling, fifteen feet high, was thriving, bucking the odds. Two boys took their penknives and stripped its bark off. I caught them red-handed.” His voice cracked. “I was furious. They took something living and destroyed it, senselessly.”  

He gripped my hand. I imagined I could feel his heart beating. My own pounded painfully.

“On the walk back,” he continued, “the smallest boy, Peter, asked, ‘Sir, would it help if we brought a blanket and covered the tree?’ He was practically crying. I said ‘Perhaps’ and left it at that. Then when I was doing evening rounds Peter wasn’t in his bed, and his blanket was gone. I went looking; Anne came, too. We found him, sent him home. Here’s his blanket.”

He draped the blanket around my shoulders like a shawl. It was dark green and rough and smelled of boy. Didn’t a story delivered in such even, careful, hushed tones have to be true? Except his eyes kept flitting away from mine to that ancient clock, its hands perpetually at midnight; to the antlers; to the dark sorrowful eyes of that deer.  

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