Mars or Bust!
Chapter 1: Johnny Liar

Copyright© 2021 by GT Dodge

My hand still hurts. After all these years, he can’t touch my hand without it hurts.

That night?

I heard him whisper, “Mars or Bust, Linc? Go figure.” It set me crying all over again.

Just like I was hearing those words for the first time. Except that night I understood them for the first time.

He patted my hand, I jerked it away.

‘Mars Or Bust!’ If I heard that even once I heard it a thousand times.

But I never really heard it. MARS OR BUST! was just a bumper sticker. Johnny’s first big seller, ever. Since Linc went off, I hadn’t got my alimony in over a year, so I heard the cash register and not the words. I remember the words sank in a little at first, when Johnny bragged how he had turned a profit, made his website pay off.

I asked him,” ‘Mars Or Bust!’ Who wants that on their car? Why would anyone even - “ He never lets me finish.

“Well, Sharmaine,” he began to lie - I can always tell when he’s going to lie. He starts off slow with a “Now,” or a “Well,” and his voice drops down so it sounds like he’s letting you in on a secret, then he lies and lies and lies. Somewhere in there, he’ll reach out and touch you on the arm or the hand.

He was always a great one for patting my hand.

And no matter what, he’ll slip in a surprise, that’s part of his technique, the hook. Like that first time: “Well, Sharmaine,” his voice urgent but suddenly quieter, “To tell you the truth, I don’t know.”

Well, that shook me, for one to hear him tell me the truth and for two, to hear him say “I don’t know”. Johnny knows everything. Ask him! He’ll tell you. Or he’ll lie. Johnny likes to lie. Lies come easy to him. He can spout lies, argue them in circles or fake a quotation or even make up facts as he needs them or he’ll (he does this better than anyone) change the subject before you ever even smell something fishy: the whole pathological ball of wax. Moreover, after he’s told a whopper just for fun, he gets the biggest kick out of seeing me suddenly jump when I figure out -

“I can’t believe I even listen to you! The moon can’t be round like a coin, it’s got to be round like an orange or it couldn’t change shape the way it does.

“No matter where you get the money, or how much technology you buy with it, there’s no way you are going to turn the moon sideways and paint it like a billboard.”

Listen to him lie! First he muddies the water with irrelevant facts: “Not paint! Projectors! From satellites! Thousands of miles out.”

Next, he props up his idea with something that was never even true, “Now, Sharmaine, that’s why they call them the quarters of the moon! First quarter, third quarter. Like the coin.”

Just to shut him up, I picked up an orange and flung it at him. Well, I tossed it up and caught it again. He flinched.

I turned off the light switch and pointed my cell phone’s flashlight at the orange held out at arm’s length.

“Step to the side, walk around me, Johnny Liar,” I said. “Stop there! That’s the first quarter.

Step again, keep stepping! Stop! That’s the full ... the full orange!

“Step again, that’s the last quarter.”

My light was almost in his eyes, except that the orange blocked it some, “New Moon. Right there.”

In the dark he couldn’t see me blush but I was remembering how Nancy Adams showed me that same flashlight trick in Girl Scouts, eighteen, no, twelve years ago. And, me, I never understood what she was showing me until I showed it to Johnny that night.

“Johnny Liar! You just made up that whole ‘Turn the Moon into a Billboard’ story to make me look dumb.”

“Now, Sharmaine,” he said, his voice quiet in the darkness, “Maybe I just made up that story to make you so mad that you’d think it through and explain it to me right.

“See? Maybe ... maybe I did it to prove to you that I don’t think you’re dumb at all.

“Or maybe,” – his voice extra quiet, the hook, here it comes, -

“Maybe I just wanted to get you alone in the dark.”

Men! One thing they really want and they want to get it with lies!

Or maybe ... maybe ... as I found out later, he was just changing the subject so he wouldn’t have to tell me that MARS OR BUST! was Linc’s new slogan, that Linc was raising money big time for a private venture rocket-ship to Mars, that Linc was raking in some bucks.

Johnny Liar!

The only thing he believes in is his bumper sticker.


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