Legal Theft Project: Stories We Tell

My grandfather lied to my grandmother, so I guess it runs in the family. My grandfather’s lies are infamous; I read about them, I’ve heard songs about them. They pretty much never get his name right, but he seems to like it that way. My mother says the day he stops lying will be the day she worries about him. As it is, he tells the best stories and I never have to worry about them being true.

My name’s Sophia – it means wisdom in the Greek. I think my mother hoped it would be prophetic. My father joked that I would fall in love with a man named Mal and have a befittingly tragic end. He joked a lot, did my father. At least, I think he did.

We were drinking champagne and losing our shirts to Dyado (that’s Bulgarian for grandfather – a trademark of one of my favorite lies) and the champagne must have gone to my head because I asked Mom about Dad. The champagne buzz kept the sudden soft stillness from being awkward or ominous to me.

“Sophia,” Mom sighed, placing the King of Spades, Queen of Diamonds, and Ace of Hearts on the felted table with the precision of a neurosurgeon. “Of course I miss your father. We all do. But that ship is gone where we cannot sail.”

I felt the tears well in my eyes but it felt good, so I let them come. “I wish I could remember what happened… wish I could remember him better.” Mom’s hand was white around her champagne flute. Dyado eyed me in that sideways way that makes me think of a hovering magpie. “What is it, Dyado?” Had my nose gotten all red and he didn’t want to tell me I looked like a tomato?

“You don’t remember your father, Sophia?” Dyado’s voice was as gentle as his fingers when picking up a stunned bird. He bet. My mother raised.

“Not really, I mean, I remember blond hair, blue eyes, and a bright smile. A laugh.” My glass was empty again. I poured myself more champagne as I matched the bet. “But it’s like looking through mirrored glass with the silvering all scraped and scratched. I never get to see all of it and some of it is me looking back at me and some of it I see through… and there’s fire and the sound of the sea.”

Dyado’s eyes, green today I noted, were rapt on my face. I blinked. “That didn’t make sense did it?” My laugh didn’t sound right, all burbly and thick. I sipped more champagne.

Chips slid into the pot as Dyado matched Mom’s raise. His green eyes turned to Mom, mildly quizzical. “When did you do it, Helen?” His intent posture asked, What have you done?

“Grief is a funny thing, Dad. I’m sure Sophia will work through it eventually.” My mom replied, cool and calm as water and silk. She played the turn, the Ten of Hearts. I waited for Dyado to bet, only he didn’t, just looked at my mom. His eyes as unblinking as an adder’s.

“Good try,” he said at last. “But you can’t fool me, Helen.”

“It was worth a shot,” she said with a tip of her head, my mom’s glorious golden hair spilling down around her shoulders. I wound a finger in my own gold hair. I mean, neither of us had hair like spun gold, it was more like mead on a summer night.

“I did learn from the best after all,” Mom finished and raised her eyes to Dyado’s. She discarded in preparation for dealing the river. Dyado got still, taller, and the shadows around him grew thick and hard to breathe. I felt floaty and light like I was on the sea and floating away on waves and waves of bubbly.

Dyado’s voice sounded like smoke over that water. “It was you. Everyone wondered and it was you all along.”

“You’re hardly in a position to throw stones, Father.” Mom dealt the river, the Jack of Hearts.

I checked. The floating feeling had risen to my throat; I don’t think it was the champagne. Dyado tossed half his chips into the pot. Mom watched his face, but Dyado wasn’t playing anymore and his face was smooth as a stone in the bottom of a river bed.

Mom matched him anyway. My stomach lurched and I folded. We used to play poker with my father when he was alive. He was never very good. He always laughed when Mom took the hand and smiled when Dyado won.

Mom matched Dyado’s bid.

Dyado put his cards down. “King and Queen of Hearts, Royal Flush.” There wasn’t a trace of triumph in his voice. My family squared off as if for a duel and in my mind’s eye I saw my father’s pyre ship wreathed in golden flames.

Mom glared, folded her hand, and pushed Dyado the pot.

I saw those same golden flames in my mother’s eyes then and through the mirror of memory, I saw her hand holding a match. The match that lit the ship that sent father to sea, a match that lit my bedside candle when the sun had set and still I cried, the match that lit a lantern the night my father died.

My mind rebelled, awash in flames. Nothing that happened before or after was an accident and they could see that knowledge in my face, in my hands, and in my name. There is no pain like being wise in a family of liars. I left my chips on the table and ignored the weight of their eyes as I turned my back on them and stumbled into the embrace of the night.


The first line of this piece was Legally Thieved by The Babbling Buzzard for her fiction yesterday. To learn more about the Legal Theft Project, go check out the Thief Lord’s post on Apprentice, Never Master.


In curiosity, what do you think happened in this story? What is all that annoying subtext about? I would love to hear the theories in the comments.


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