The Year Of The Zinc Penny, by Rick DeMarinis – 1989 (Anne Bascove)

She understood me, though. 
Not my words but my acquiescence. 
I relaxed back into the pillow and stared at the white ceiling. 
She began to sing again as she dipped the washcloth into the pan of warm water. 
“When the lights go on again, all over the world,”
she sang, her voice plaintive and sad. 
Her melancholy tone made me think
that she had a boyfriend or husband overseas.
I imagined him an airman, a fighter pilot stationed in London. 
He flew P-51 Mustangs and had shot down twelve Messerschmitt Me-109s
before getting shot down himself. 
He was lying, helpless, in a hospital on the outskirts of London. 
He couldn’t remember his name of where he came from,
and no one had told him just yet that his legs had been amputated. 
He could remember his girlfriend or wife,
but only her pretty face and mournful singing voice,
not her name. 
“Jenny,” he’d cry out in his delirium. 
Then he’d sink back into his confused gloom. 
“No, not Jenny,” he’d mumble. 
(105)

I had discovered something about myself. 
I knew that I was now capable of mustering any necessary lie at will. 
I could say “Dad” and not mean it
and I could accept being called “son” by someone who did not mean it. 
It was like discovering an unsuspected talent. 
William and Betty didn’t have this talent,
and I was dimly aware that it was a deficiency that would cost them dearly. 
I was also dimly aware that if this talent could be used without shame,
its power would be awesome.

And dangerous. 
As dangerous as the one who used it as leukemia. 
Because necessary lies trick the liar himself. 
He wants to believe them. 
Then he does.

“Stay clear of it,” Aunt Ginger had said.
Her words repeated themselves in my mind, gathering meaning. 
(130-131)

– Rick DeMarinis –