A Million Little Lies by Bette Lee Crosby

Suzanna

Sun Grove, Florida





IN THE WEEKS FOLLOWING HER mama’s death, ten-year-old Suzanna Duff learned to lie as convincingly as any con man who’d ever walked the earth. When neighbors came with cakes, fruit baskets, and casseroles, she smiled politely and said she and her daddy were doing just fine. Never once did she mention that on the few nights when he did manage to make it home, he came in rip-roaring drunk and in a thunderous mood.

To Suzanna her lie was not a deception but a necessary altering of the truth; a way to shade the ugliness of her life and make it appear somewhat normal. She was following in her mama’s footsteps, smoothing the road she had to travel, avoiding questions or confrontation.

They were tiny little lies that seemed harmless, rather like a game of Let’s Pretend or Charades. She signed her daddy’s name on her report cards, told tales of a vacation that never took place, and boasted of a kindly grandmother who didn’t exist. But as time passed the lies grew larger, more substantial and solid. They built one upon another like the stones of a pyramid until they reached the pinnacle and left her with nowhere to go.

Now she fears it would be impossible to undo what has been done. Every waking moment her conscience urges her to tell the truth and be done with it. Do it for Annie, the small voice whispers, but Suzanna is wary of the consequences so she turns on the radio and sings along to silence the thought.

She knows the truth will cause a great deal of unhappiness and hurt those she loves. That’s something she won’t do, so she builds lie upon lie, pretending to be someone else, answering to a name that’s not hers, and constantly looking over her shoulder. She dreads the day when the truth comes knocking at the door, and it will. She’s almost certain of it.

It seems ironic that after so many years, the situation she now finds herself in began not with an outright lie but a mere slip of the tongue, a simple omission of truth.





Suzanna Duff

May 1960, Sun Grove, Florida





THE SKY WAS STILL DARK when Suzanna Duff eased herself from beneath the weight of Earl’s arm and inched her way to the far side of the bed. Hesitating a moment, she listened for the sound of sleep to return. He wheezed, gave a groan, then turned on his side and went back to snoring. Believing it safe enough to make her move, she climbed from the bed and silently crossed the room.

His pants were tossed over the chair, the same as always. She cradled the belt buckle so it wouldn’t fall to the floor or clank against the wood of the chair, slid her hand into the pocket, and pulled out a folded wad of bills. Not stopping long enough to count how much he had this time, she tiptoed from the room and made her way down the hall to where Annie was sleeping.

Suzanna kneeled beside the bed and pulled out the things she’d stashed there a day earlier: sandals, a pair of jeans, a tee shirt, and the old brown suitcase that had once belonged to her mama. She dressed quickly, slid the folded bills into the pocket of her jeans, then leaned over the child and whispered, “Wake up, baby, we’ve got to go.”

Annie was seven but smarter than most. She’d already learned that when her mama held a finger to her lips, there was a need for silence. She sat up, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and in a hopeful voice asked, “Can Bobo come too?”

Eyeing the stuffed dog the child held in her arms, Suzanna gave a reluctant nod.

“Okay, but if you bring Bobo, you’ve got to promise to carry him yourself.”

Annie grinned, showing the spot where her front teeth were missing. “I promise.”

It was almost three miles to the highway and there was a possibility she would have to carry Annie part of the way, so Suzanna took nothing she didn’t absolutely need. It meant leaving behind the photo album she cherished, the milk pitcher that belonged to a grandma she’d never met, and most of their clothes, but it was a choice she’d made; not an easy choice, but one she was determined to stick to. Suzanna knew that somewhere out there was the life she was supposed to live but it wasn’t here, and it sure as hell wasn’t with Earl Fagan.

——————

ROUTE 70 WAS A NARROW road frequented mostly by grove trucks hauling oranges or cattle off to market. One lane ran west, the other east, and on any given day you could stand there for twenty minutes with nothing but overloaded citrus haulers passing you by splatting grapefruits along the road. Suzanna hoped that would not be the case this morning. In fact, she was counting on it. Before noon, before Earl woke and discovered them missing, they had to be long gone from Sun Grove. East or west made no difference; they’d go whichever way a driver was headed, then head north once they were safely away from Earl.