Nothing But the Truth
by Steve Schlich

Ricky Jackson had a problem. A major problem. He had a job to do but no time to do it. His TV show came on in just ten minutes.

He looked around his room. What a mess! His pajamas were strewn across the unmade bed, his dirty socks scattered all over the floor. A traffic jam of model cars and track lay in the corner.

Yuck! Picking it up would take almost an hour. A long one. And homework blew another hour. But Man of Action lasted just one hour. The clock ticked away. Nine minutes... Ricky breathed in and out twice and started downstairs. It was now or never.

Man of Action was on from 7 to 8 only. No other time. But homework and room cleaning could be done whenever you wanted to do them. They didn't have to be done between 7 and 8 o'clock! It was simple. Why didn't his parents understand? Why did they make him fib to them?

"Time for my show," he said in the living room.

His mother looked from her book to the clock. "Pretty soon. Did you finish your homework?"


She caught his eyes and he looked away. Fibbing never made him feel very good, kind of dark and sad, but it could get him what he wanted. Sometimes.

He looked back at her and she asked, "Cleaned your room, too?"

"Yup." Eyes away again. She was on to him.

"You've told me that before when it wasn't true, Ricky."

He squirmed as if he was under a hot lamp. "It's true, it is!" His stomach jumped with fear, and...something else. It wasn't just a mumbled fib any more, it was a direct lie.

"Let's go look," his mother was saying. She took his hand gently and led him up the stairs. "I haven't seen your room clean in two weeks. This will be a pleasure." She smiled at him.

Ricky's stomach did flop-flops. Upstairs! They were going up there to a dirty room and no homework. Man of Action wouldn't be on TV tonight, not for him. Maybe not for a long time. He closed his eyes at the top of the stairs and waited for the fireworks.

"Ooo," cried his mother. "It's beautiful! Everything put away, all so clean. How did you do it so quietly?"

Ricky opened his eyes and blinked. Was this the right room? No dirty socks on the floor. Not one. My room? Yes, it was his room. His model cars still lay in the corner, but they were stacked neatly in their box. His pajamas were folded and under the pillow. His bed was made.

How could everything look so right and still be so wrong? This room had to be his, except that it couldn't be!

His mother thumbed through a stack of papers on his desk. "And you did all your homework. Ricky, I'm proud of you."

Ricky grabbed the pages of homework. They were his assignments all right, his handwriting. But he hadn't done that work! Who? How?

"Your show's on, Ricky. Let's go watch."

He went downstairs in a fog. He stared at the TV with glassy eyes as his mother tuned in the show. Man of Action had just started. Two sleek cars squealed tires and chased each other through the streets of some bustling city. Ricky scarcely noticed.

The image of his room cleaning itself was stronger than any on the TV screen. In his mind, the model cars and track hopped into their box in the corner; the dirty socks crept to the laundry bag on the closet door. His pajamas folded themselves and slipped ghostlike beneath his pillow.

And his homework—his pencil flew across the page doing Algebra and English exercises, but his hand wasn't guiding it. He wasn't even there!

Wow! Was it possible? He had told an outright lie to his mother, that his homework was done, and suddenly it was true. He lied about his room and it cleaned itself. It sure looked like he had done all the work, but he hadn't. Not any of it.

Man of Action ended, but Ricky didn't move. He was still in a daze. What had happened? Was it good? Part of his mind yelled YES! but another part was afraid, cold as a popsickle.

His mother pointed him toward the bathroom. He wandered in and did his toilet stuff, some of it. He forgot all about washing his hands and brushing his teeth. He leaned on the sink and got lost in the mirror, thinking about, well, everything and nothing.

In the hallway, his mother kissed his cheek. "Hands washed and teeth brushed?"

"Sure," he lied without even thinking about it.

She turned over his hands and smiled. "Clean as a whistle! You must have used soap this time."

Ricky came to and stared at his hands. His mouth dropped open, and he realized that his tongue tasted like toothpaste. Clean teeth just like his clean hands, all scrubbed and squeaky, as if he'd spent ten minutes doing it instead of doing nothing at all.

Yikes! Cleaning his room and doing his homework by remote had been okay, but his hands and his teeth were attached to him! This was too close, too spooky!

"Mom, I didn't wash my hands or clean my room. I didn't do my homework. Somebody else did!"

She looked puzzled. "He must have been a close friend of yours. It looks just like your work."

"It is my work, but I didn't do it!"

She smiled and kissed him again. "Don't worry. You didn't ruin your image. See, you forgot to comb your hair." Her fingers pulled at the snarls and smoothed them.

Ricky almost lied again and said that yes, he had combed his hair, but he didn't want to scare his mother...or himself.

Next morning, he made his bed and folded his pajamas before breakfast. He read the biology assignment and worked on math problems during study hall. And he washed his hands before supper.

He knew that he could throw the pajamas on the floor and fool around in study hall, and the work would still get done if he lied about it to his mother. All it took was a lie. But he would feel empty and miserable again, like last night.

Tonight, he felt great.

"I did everything myself today," he announced at the dinner table.

"How else would you do it, but in person?"

Ricky grinned and told one last lie: "There's no other way."

And after that, there wasn't.

copyright (c) 1995 by Steve Schlich