Today was Sunday, and for Arthur, Sunday was fun day.
Arthur liked to trick. Ever since he was a tot, he created elaborate tales of daring adventures and tragic mishaps to tell his gullible classmates. And the more they believed, the more fanciful the stories became. In kindergarten, he was the big shot on the playground, the kid who’d claimed to have won three national PB&J sandwich-eating competitions while still maintaining a slim enough figure to model children’s clothing on the side.
Arthur meant no harm, he just liked to have a little fun. But that’s not how his classmates saw it. As he and his peers travelled through school together over the next 12 years, Arthur’s popularity turned into infamy. He noticed his reputation going downhill around fourth grade when he started weaving medieval characters into his stories. Once dragon rides to school became a regular thing, kids became skeptical.
In junior high, Arthur’s novelty was wearing thin and by his high school graduation there wasn’t a soul at John C. Fremont High who’d believe anything that came out of his mouth.
Arthur was more than ready for college to be a fresh start. There’d be thousands to deceive! Over the summer he’d assembled an improved repertoire for his new audience, one that wasn’t too over the top but was still sure to make him highly revered on campus.
Arthur’s freshman year was successful. Everyone knew his name and girls giggled when he passed by. No one suspected that his black belt in karate was a sham nor that his affinity for oil painting was a lie. Compared to his five year-old self, collegiate Arthur was a storytelling novice, but he knew he couldn’t embellish too much or he’d again be dismissed as a fraud. Still, sometimes he got restless having to restrain his imagination.
But that’s what Sundays were for.
Each Sunday, Arthur would wander off campus in search of strangers he could fool. Unlike his friends at school, he’d never see these people again and could invent and imagine his wildest stories without the risk of a tarnished reputation.
The location varied week to week – sometimes he’d sit in a café or browse a bookshop – and on this particular Sunday, Arthur was on his way to a local antique store.
He browsed for a while, not in search of anything in particular, not except gullible people of course. The store was quiet save for two lonely shoppers. He ambled over to a shelf of bookends and as he was reaching to peek at a price tag, he heard a crash that sounded like it came from the opposite side of the shelf. Arthur abandoned the bookends and slipped around the corner to see what had made the ruckus.
What he saw was a girl hovered over shards of porcelain. She looked to be about his age, but she was petite, with tiny hands, a short torso, and little feet. If it weren’t for her long blonde locks that bounced a bit when she turned to see Arthur approaching her, he could’ve mistaken her for one of the china figurines sitting on the adjacent shelf.
“Uh oh, can I help you with that?” asked Arthur.
“Oh no no, it’s fine,” she replied. For such a tiny body, her voice was strong and loud. Her lips were thin and they sort of curled upwards at the corners so that even at rest she looked to be smiling. Arthur also noticed her green eyes, which were large compared to the other more delicate features of her face. They were clear too, so clear in fact he could see in them a reflection of his square shaped, broad-nosed face. He could make out his unruly head of hair too, which he probably should have combed this morning.
“Are you sure because…” Arthur paused.
He almost launched into a tale about how she wouldn’t be the first girl he’d helped in a sticky situation. Why just last year he’d been surfing off the coast of Northern California when—no, he had to stop himself. Something about this damsel in distress made him hesitant to lie to her, maybe her tiny figure, maybe the fact that she looked disheveled and upset. Whatever the reason, Arthur resolved not to trick her. He’d just help her out. “…because you look a little frazzled.”
She shrugged. “Eh, I just got a little too excited about this tea set I guess. It’s alright. I just…” She looked down and twiddled her fingers anxiously.
“Well it’s just that my parents own this place, and I spend a lot of time here you know. And I’ve always been kinda clumsy so this isn’t the first time I’ve caused trouble around here.”
“Oh really? Family business eh? You know my old man has a—” His father did not own an almond farm and Arthur hadn’t spent his summers toiling in the sun tending to the family’s acres of nuts. Arthur composed himself and continued, “well he has a friend who’s friend’s friend’s niece works for her family’s business.” He figured there must be at least some truth in there somewhere.
“Yeah…” Arthur could’ve stuck with the almond farm and the girl wouldn’t have heard a word because she was now eyeing the cashier who was headed their way. He must’ve heard the crash after all. “Oh boy, here comes my dad now.”
“Oh, that’s your dad?” Arthur asked. The man was tall and lanky, so she definitely had not inherited height from her paternal side. But he did look old enough to be a father. He wore glasses and he walked at a steady pace, but Arthur couldn’t yet make out his face as he was still across the room.
“Look,” She turned to face Arthur now. “He’s already fed up with me. I took the car this weekend when I wasn’t supposed to and anyway, would you do me a favor?”
“Uh, why not. What is it?”
“Could you just pretend that you did it? I’ll tell him we’re good friends and he’ll be okay with it as long it’s not my fault, I promise. Would you do that for me?”
It must’ve been the fear in her voice or those big green eyes because Arthur didn’t hesitate to agree to the plan. “Yeah, sure. I’ve got your back, no problem,” he replied with a wink. Come to think of it, this was his time to shine. After all, his Sunday wasn’t a fun day until he’d had his fill of trickery. The wheels started turning and as her father neared, Arthur began to weave a tale.
She beamed and breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks a ton.”
When her dad arrived at the scene of the crime, he adjusted his thin-rimmed spectacles and his eyebrows rose at the broken tea set. “Oh my, what’s happened here?” he asked.
Arthur chimed in, “Ah, sir I’m so sorry about this.” He gestured forlornly at the mess. “You see I stumbled upon this place this morning when I was out and about. Speaking of which, it’s a beautiful day out there! It might be a little nippy but that blue sky just sorta says, ‘Hey! It’s gonna be a good day!’ don’t you think?”
The man was not amused. His brows were now furrowed and he crossed his arms slowly, waiting for an explanation for his broken porcelain.
Arthur took no notice of the man’s disapproval and launched into the rising action of his fabricated tale. “Well anyway I came in here looking for a present for my grandma – she turns 90 this Thursday, bless her soul – and I came across this tea set.” He pointed to the shards. Then he grinned at the man and continued, “If there’s one thing my granny likes it’s her Earl Grey, so I thought why not get her something nice this year, you know? Really treat her to something special. So I was holding the handle of the teapot about to pick it up when out of the corner of my eye I see a skin-colored blur pass by just outside the window. Naturally, I turned to see what it was and what do I spy but a brigade of guys, all naked except for leather chaps and cowboy hats! You must not have seen them but boy was that a surprise! It’s not everyday you see naked fellows walking around this town. And yet there they were just strolling along without a care in a world, hootin’ and hollerin’ all the way down the street. Imagine if Granny had seen that! So of course when I saw all that I had a little bit of a shock and I must have turned around so fast that the teapot knocked down all it’s matching cups and saucers and, well, I’ve always been known for my butterfingers so that darn pot just sort of slipped out of my grip and now here we are.”
Arthur took a breath, shrugged, then rested his left hand on his hip and scratched the top of his head with the other. Then he turned to the man with a sigh and said, “Again, I’m really sorry. I actually just ran into your daughter here … ”
He pointed to his left when he realized there was no one beside him. His head darted to the right then left again. Where had she gone? She was here just a minute ago. Arthur scanned the entire shop until his eyes met the cashier’s.
“Boy, I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I don’t have a daughter.”
“But that girl that was just with me … she said you …” Arthur looked quizzically at the bespectacled man, waiting for an explanation.
“I also don’t have time to listen to you ramble on about your fetish for naked men in leather. In this shop you break it, you buy it. And that there tea set is going to cost you $110.”
Arthur’s mouth had formed a perfect circle. He couldn’t believe it. He’d been swindled! A fellow trickster had tricked the master of trickery!
“That sly dog,” he muttered, still reeling from the old man’s words.
“Look, pal. I don’t have all day. I’ve gotta clean this up, so let’s go get the money dealt with and you can be on your way.” He motioned to the cash register.
Arthur followed dazedly behind him until they reached the counter. He didn’t snap out of his stupor until he heard the ching! of the register.
The cashier reminded him, “That’ll be one-ten.”
A hundred and ten dollars! He didn’t have that kind of money to drop, especially not on a tea set and definitely not on one that he didn’t break.
“Please, sir it’s not my … I didn’t …” But he knew it was no use. The man was peeved enough as it was and Arthur was still too flabbergasted to formulate another story.
“Sorry buddy, it’s store policy.”
Arthur heaved a deep sigh, and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. He drew out his credit card and with his eyes gave the man one final plea for mercy. It was a futile attempt. The cashier stared him down and tapped his fingers on the countertop until Arthur swiped his card.
Receipt in hand, Arthur plodded out the door and winced at the sun’s blinding rays. He stood at the curb of the nearby intersection waiting for the green light when he spotted something curious across the street. He couldn’t be certain but he swore he saw a pair of big green eyes blink at him through the window of the café across the way. It was but five seconds before a passing bus obstructed his vision, and when it had driven away, the eyes were gone.