Truth

By E. K. Zoole

'The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.' - George Orwell


"The arrow was supposed to hit the apple. I showed the book to the clerk at the information desk. He didn't know what I was talking about."

"Hmm. Go on."

"So then I explained to him that William Tell shoots the apple off of his son's head, he has this back-and-forth with the mayor, gets arrested, escapes, leads the revolution, and voila, Switzerland is born. He does not split his son's skull open with the arrow and then stab himself with it in remorse!"

"And how did the clerk respond?"

"He looked at me like I was nuts!"

"I see," said the therapist, eyes carefully not on his client's. It would have been unprofessional to look as if he agreed. "And what happened after that?"

"He just sat there, staring at me. I showed him the illustrations, too. Disgusting! I mean, not only was the story completely inconsistent with the William Tell legend, it was hardly appropriate to have in the children's section of the library, don't you think?"

The therapist raised his eyes from his notepad, peering over sceptical spectacles, as if surely his new client had more to say.

She did. "Then he says 'I'm not sure I understand your objections, madam. This book is endorsed by the National Council for Truth in Education, and carries the Certificate of Historical Authenticity.' Then he turns the book over and shows me this copper seal on the cover, like a Newbery Award winner, that says 'TRUTH' on it, in big, raised letters."

The therapist noted the name 'Newbery Award' under the heading of Delusions. "And how did that make you feel?"

"Feel? Well, confused, of course. I mean, the 'The National Council for Truth in Education'? I'm an educator, and I've never heard of them!"

"An educator," the therapist said, looking up. "What is your subject?"

"History - I teach in a Gifted program for underprivileged kids," she said. "I wanted to find something that would give them an example of how a culture's legends and mythology can sometimes be taken for truth, when repeated often enough. So I said 'What is a 'Certificate of Historical Authenticity'? Who would 'certify' crap like this? Is this some kind of joke?'"

"For a book to earn a C.H.A. is hardly a joke, now, is it?" The therapist adjusted his glasses. "Truth is a very serious thing."

"Of course it is! Scholars have known for years that William Tell didn't actually exist! It's like the whole Washington chopping down the cherry tree thing - it never actually happened!"

"Who?"

"That is exactly what the library clerk said!" the woman announced triumphantly. "Crazy, right?"

"What was that name?"

"Washington. George Washington," she repeated when the therapist rumpled his brow. "The first President?"

"Of what?"

The client put her face in her hands, breathing deeply. "Of the United States of America," she said, slowly and distinctly.

"The United States of America," the therapist repeated, just as slowly and distinctly.

"Yes. Then the clerk looks at me like I'm a complete idiot, and he swings this kind of lazy susan with a computer terminal around to my side of the desk, and says 'Show me'. Except it didn't say 'InfoCheck' on the screen, like all the other library terminals do - it didn't even say 'Samsung' on the frame. It said 'TRUTH', in these weird, old-fashioned letters, just like the seal."

"Like this," said the therapist, turning what looked like an early 20th century typewriter with a gilt frame sticking out the top towards her.

The woman stared. "Yes," she said at last. "Like that."

"Go ahead - enter those words you mentioned."

The client typed in a query: United States of America. The screen flickered green and gold, then displayed the words 'NO LISTINGS'.

She typed again: USA. "No Listings," she murmured, backspacing. "That's exactly what it did in the library."

Next she entered George Washington, then Thomas Jefferson, then Abigail Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King...

The therapist let her type. "There are no listings for any of those names," he said after a while. He said it with the kind of gentle sadness with which one imparts bad news, a loss, a death.

"I know." The woman stared at the screen with troubled eyes. "But that wasn't the oddest thing - I mean, this is all odd, but - when I looked back at the clerk, he was different. And - and the book was different, too."

"The book?"

"Yeah. The title had changed." She held out her hands, as if she were still holding the thick, dog-eared volume bound in faded green linen. "I know that I handed him 'The Children's Book of Legends That Shaped The World'. But the book he was holding - with a cover that looked just the same - was something called 'The Children's Book of Truth And Consequences'."

"That's a very popular title." The therapist resumed furiously scratching away with his quill.

"Is it?" the woman answered listlessly. "Even the desk was different."

"The desk?" he asked, without looking up.

The woman sat back in the armchair, leaning her tousled head against the padded wing as if she was suddenly tired. "The desk had been one of those formica-topped office things - kind of cheap and ugly, but built to last forever. Now, it was - well, it was wood. Polished wood, really beautiful and shiny, like something you'd see in an antique shop."

"That must have been disconcerting. Tell me more about that."

"About the desk?" the woman shrugged. "It was actually the clerk that freaked me out the most - the powdered wig and the glasses, you know?"

"The glasses?" He looked up.

"Yeah. The glasses. Like yours, but bigger, made of shiny polished wood like the desk, and with that little blinking red light in the center, like a webcam. Like - like yours," she repeated, her voice gone dull.

"What did you do then?" the therapist asked.

"I - I asked him what those were - his glasses. I said 'You weren't wearing those a minute ago'. So he says 'Yes, I was, I always wear my glasses. That's the law, madam. But I see that you are not wearing yours, which may account for this little misunderstanding. May I help you find them, dear?' and he gets this snide, nasty look on his face, like I've really pissed him off."

"Well, my dear, perhaps you had," the therapist suggested, with the slow patience reserved for the very young or the imbecilic.

"Oh, for fuck's sake," the client blurted, anger bringing her back to life. "I do not wear glasses, there is no law saying I have to wear them, and I am NOT his - or yours, or anybody else's - 'dear'!"

"Ah - it angered you, to feel patronized."

"You're damn right it did!"

"Anger is a tool of the devil," the therapist said with calm detachment. "It is a dangerous emotion, rightly reserved for those of our leaders most skilled in it's use. Unless I am much mistaken," he added, adjusting his own glasses on his high-bridged nose, "neither educators nor their students are equipped to handle emotions of that kind."

"Are you serious?"

"Young woman," he leaned forward, speaking urgently, "do you understand that you were in very grave danger of possession at the time of your arrest? That the consequence of possession, had you not been quickly and safely apprehended, would have been either exorcism or execution? That it is only the privilege accorded by the relationship of client and therapist that keeps you safe from such a consequence, even now?"

The woman visibly deflated, collapsing against the chair back, staring at him with round, brown eyes that reflected the light from the flickering table lamp.

For several minutes, neither spoke. "We've been sitting in silence for a while," the therapist said at last. "I wonder why that is?"

"I - I - " she swallowed. "I don't know what to say."

"Hmmm. Perhaps that is best," he nodded sagely. "You were over-wrought, I think. Women are prone to delusions when their passions are engaged, and I can see that you feel passionately about the subject of truth."

"About - truth. Yes," she murmured, still staring. "Yes, I - am - I feel - passionately..."

Carefully, she sat upright, fingertips pressed lightly together. "Thank you, Doctor," she said, with an attempt at a brightened tone. "You are right - I must have been working too hard. Yes, that's it. Truly, I just needed a rest, that's all. I must have imagined all - all of - all of those..."

"Those...?"

"Those things I saw. The book, the desk, the - the glasses."

"Those delusions." The therapist looked pointedly at her over the rim, over the blinking red light, speaking the unspeakable with his eyes. "And you are better now," he stated.

Was there the slightest hint of pleading in his voice? Had she imagined the warning there?

"Sure. Of course." the woman cleared her throat. "Whatever you want me to say - I mean - yes, I am better now. I'm fine. I'm ready to go home."

He sighed, closing his eyes. Too quickly, he thought. He could never get away with giving the same hint twice. "Unfortunately, madam, you will be required to remain in custody until you have completed the full course of therapy."

He pulled the gold tassel of the bell cord behind his desk.

"Yes, Doctor?" the tinny voice responded through the flared speaking trumpet.

"We're finished now. Please escort the client to the Exorcism Department for - "

"No!"

" - for completion of - "

"No - no - no you can't do this to me!"

The woman shot out of her chair, knocking the trumpet off the desk with one swipe of her hand. "I am a citizen!" she cried, ripping the terminal from the desk mounting and throwing it against the wall. "I am a citizen of the United States of America! I have rights!" she screamed as the door burst open. "'We hold these truths to be self-evident!'"

"Block the door - she'll run - "

"Get her feet - she's kicking - "

"'It is error alone that needs the support of government - truth can stand by itself'!"

"Carefully - carefully - she's got anger issues - "

"This side, Doc, move away - "

"Get the gurney in here - "

"'There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily'!"

"Don't hurt her, please! She is a woman, after all, and - "

"We know how to treat a woman like this," said one orderly through clenched teeth, pinning the struggling client to the desk with his body weight while the other re-applied the shackles and hood removed for the therapy session.

"'I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word'!"

"Ready? Got her?"

"Yep - one, two, three, lift!"

"'Truth is powerful, and it prevails'!"

It took no more than seconds to secure her to the gurney. It took much longer for the sound of her frantic cries to fade as they wheeled out of the office and down the corridor.

"The truth! The truth! 'The truth will set you free!'"

The therapist stared at the ruin of his office, standing unmoving as the maids entered and, with brisk efficiency, swept up all evidence of rebellion.

"Will that be all, Doctor Emmett?" asked the last as she dropped a curtsy at the door.

"Yes. Cancel my last appointment, Vera. I'm feeling a bit overwrought, myself. I believe I will take a tonic and retire for the evening."

"You'll feel better in the morning, sir."

"Of course, my dear, of course."


Author's Note on quotes:

'We hold these truths...' - Thomas Jefferson

'It is error alone that needs the support of government...' - Thomas Jefferson

'There is but one straight course...' - George Washington

'I believe that unarmed truth...' - Martin Luther King

'Truth is powerful...' - Sojourner Truth

'The truth will set you free' - Jesus