national anthology of the best
undergraduate writing 2010

No Truth in Beauty


Undergarments, Patrick Galluzzo

In the small town of Everett, Kansas, everyone is a liar. They didn’t begin their lives as liars, or learn to be liars from watching their brothers and sisters. The lying began when 15-year old Katy Stern told a particularly untrue story about Brian Finch to a group of rapt teenage girls. In the middle of the lie, Katy’s chest made an audible pop, and, with no apparent pain, a very well-developed set of breasts adorned her formerly waifish frame. The girls drew back in shock, not without envy.

Within the hour, the story was all over town. Doctors found nothing wrong with Katy, other than her reluctance to leave her room, where she was admiring her new form from all angles.

By the next day, there were two more cases. Ethel Birnbaugh, while gossiping at Sue’s Cut N’Curl, was flabbergasted when her nose ridge—from fifty-odd years of wearing glasses—smoothed out with an odd little buzz. And, after poker night with his friends, Fred Stymenson woke to find that the pelt of hair normally present on his back had mysteriously disappeared during the night.

Spontaneous beautification, as the townspeople called the phenomenon, was soon happening in every household. Nails bitten to the quick were made long, in an instant. A few women, sitting down on what sounded like whoopee cushions, stood up to find new curves where flat derrieres used to be. Some men began wearing tighter pants to showcase the enhancements they couldn’t quite advertise publicly.

The people didn’t take long to figure out that beautification immediately followed a lie. As a result, those who normally resisted the temptation to lie could now not control the impulse to improve their physical appearance. Reverend Showalter showed up in the pulpit one Sunday, sheepishly sporting a full head of white hair where an appalling comb-over once sat. Conversations became punctuated with expectant pauses—liars waiting to be beautified.

As the weeks wore on, however, there were rumbles of dissatisfaction. Some had been altered twice, while others had not been changed at all—no matter how often or how outrageously they lied. The modification that did occur could not be anticipated—Sharon Ambrose, with her lazy eye, lied and lied but only succeeded in eliminating nostril hair and a few varicose veins. Nor did the nature of the change relate to the lie that was told, as Angus Conway found out. After spinning a few tales about having won a Guinness World Record for number of freckles and secretly hoping that they would disappear, he instead found himself a full shoe size smaller.

A few unlucky folks were visited with the same change on more than one occasion—Katy, for instance, whose mother began researching plastic surgeons to reduce the size of her daughter’s now triple-E-sized breasts. Jealous girls who hadn’t yet been beautified were becoming cruel, taunting Katy with the name “Boobinocchio” as she teetered by them at school.

Some folks avoided telling lies. They avoided talking to anyone for fear of the tiny fibs that everyone tells from time to time causing disproportionate adjustments, like postal carrier Gloria Newberry’s habit of answering that she was fine to everyone’s howdy-dos. Gloria’s pretty red hair grew an angry four inches at nearly every mail stop, until she learned to wave or nod instead.

Visitors to town discovered beautification, with no help from the now taciturn townspeople. They filled the streets with idle chatter as they attempted to become beautiful liars. But even they soon realized the arbitrary nature of the transformations. Sam Hodges, owner of the town’s only hotel, reported incidents of a blind girl with disappearing acne, tall men with their legs stretched three inches overnight while their short friends got one-inch waist reductions, and a lady with one arm whose bowed back straightened in mid-step with a very loud crack. The wary townspeople scrutinized Sam as he spoke, watching for the telltale signs of exaggeration—but he now told only the truth.


Over time, they all grew to distrust the varying effect of their lies. They spoke to each other less and less. Nell’s Coffee Shop rustled with the sound of newspaper pages being turned, but the only voices were those of people placing their orders. Husbands and wives stopped saying, “I love you.” Children opted for spankings instead of blaming their siblings for things found broken. Girlfriends no longer asked each other if their clothing made them look fat.

Today in Everett, everyone is a liar, and no one speaks a word.