The Fabulator

Whether it’s normal for children to lie is debatable. Most people believe the myth of the Innocent Child. Like the Noble Savage, the Innocent Child is not inclined to evil, but learns from his environment. He is a Blank Slate, upon which the truth shall be written.

But children don’t perceive reality as adults do. They believe in monsters in the closet, serpents under the bed, and fairies that leave quarters under the pillows of those who lose teeth. They don’t believe that the earth is a round ball flying through space, or that the past and the future are separate things.

Dax was a born liar. It troubled his mother that such a small boy could tell such convincing lies. She was relieved when he was diagnosed with epilepsy; it gave her something else to worry about. But he was not so different from other children. The line between what really happened and what might have happened was never very clear in his mind. He believed his lies.

A while ago he ran into the word ‘confabulation.’ Confabulators invent  stories to fill the gaps in reality. They see inconsistencies and straighten them out. Many call these stories ‘false memories’ and consider them a sign of mental defect or disease.

Children confabulate naturally. At some point, they begin to understand what is real and what is not, and begin to tattle on other children who tell lies. Their own lies become more cunning.

Dax was not a tattle-tale. His mother wouldn’t let him play sports, and he didn’t like games, so he didn’t have much to do with other children. Besides, he couldn’t seem to stay in one place; the reality line kept moving. In a magazine he saw a puzzle: Can You Spot the Differences?  Every day was like that. Spotting the differences was easy; what he could never figure out was, ‘Which is the real picture?’

At his grandmother’s house he found an antique machine. It was of cast iron, painted black, with elegant clawed feet supporting it. His mother said it was just an old sewing machine, but he knew that it was really a story machine. The treadle moved when he rocked it back and forth, making the wheel turn, taking him into some different story. He drew pictures of those stories, detailed maps with tiny people moving along roads that lead into strange, new lands.

Dax never outgrew his confabulations. At some point his mother gave up, bought him a notebook, and said, “Write it down.” Once a liar, he is now just a writer.


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