Find more of my work at


Receive notifications when this site is updated:

Subscribe by e‑mail.

Subscribe by RSS.

List of categories

50/50 Exercise #4: Telling a Secret

By the time I got to Angie’s neighborhood, the ambulance and the highway patrol cars were gone. I tried to find any sign of an accident, a mark on the pavement or something out of place. But what she’d said on the phone hadn’t been too clear on details, so I wasn’t even sure if I was searching in the right spot. There, in front of the Diamond Shamrock, where the road makes a lazy s—were those skid marks on the wet asphalt? Had that light pole always tilted a little to the right? I think maybe it had.

I’d driven to her house a thousand times, but not usually in the early hours of the morning, not usually after being woken up from a hangover sleep by a hysterical phone call. And not very often in the dark, in the rain, wearing glasses instead of contact lenses. Anyway, why would I have bothered to pay attention to this piece of road? It was unremarkable in every way, except that it’s just before the right turn into my ex-girlfriend’s subdivision.

When she opened the door, she held it together for a moment. Then she saw the look on my face as I took in her wet hair, her soggy clothes, and the tear-streaked mascara on her cheeks and forehead, and she fell apart. “Oh baby! Thank God you’re here. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do….” She pressed her face against my chest and shook with cold and panic.

I gathered her into my arms and pulled her inside the house. Whatever had happened, there was no reason to share it with her neighbors. I led her to the couch. I thought for a split second about how we’d grappled on this couch right before she threw me out the last time. But there was no time to enjoy the irony. I needed to get a better idea of what she’d done—or what she thought she’d done.

It took me the better part of an hour to get the story out of her. Every time I thought the sobbing was over, I’d ask a question that was too matter-of-fact, sounded too much like an off-duty reserve deputy sheriff, and she’d go to pieces again.

Author’s note: The assignment today was “think of a secret you have kept.” Max had us do an exercise very much like this one in the Spectrum Center “Secrets and Lies” workshop. On that occasion, I wrote a true story about a fairly harmless secret I kept for one of my sisters.

This time, I decided to play with a fiction based on a true story I was once told by a friend, who reported it as being about the cousin of a friend of a friend…. (Is this an urban legend? You tell me.)

The lead character in that story was driving home late one night, slightly more under-the-influence than was her habit. Moments from her own driveway, she sideswiped something large in the road. In a panic, she sped away from the scene. She drove around back streets for a while, and then made her way home by an alternate route. Then she left her car and walked back toward the scene of the accident. She was too fearful to get close enough to find out whom (or what) she’d hit, but she could see the flashing lights of several police cars and an ambulance. She slinked home and spent the whole night waiting for someone to come arrest her, but no one ever did. The next day, she searched the newspaper for a report of the accident, but she never found out anything about it.

I’m writing from the perspective of her unsympathetic ex-boyfriend who isn’t entirely sure that she didn’t imagine the whole event.

This story has been expanded into a second draft.

2 comments to 50/50 Exercise #4: Telling a Secret

  • Gayle, the cheerleader

    I keep going away frustrated, because you awaken my reader’s bug and then don’t finish the story! I think you do an excellent job with opening sentences, by the way. I once heard (or read?) someone describe the opening sentence as something that should make the reader feel like they walked in on the middle of a movie. It should immediately capture their interest and desire to know more details to catch up on the story. Yours does this admirably well. I was caught and got to the end wanting to know the “full story”. Well done!

    These are questions or comments I thought as I read.
    1) Why does she have mascara on her forehead?
    2) Why does she call her ex “oh baby”?
    3) Her comments upon opening the door don’t ring true, but I can’t tell you why. I guess maybe they are too controlled for a hysterical person.
    4) I know you said you were writing from the perspective of a skeptical, unsympathetic ex, but so far he seems sympathetic to me. Maybe if the story went on, his skepticism and lack of sympathy would be more apparent, but so far he seems kind and sympathetic to me. I mean, he showed up when she called, for one.
    5) “And not very often in the dark…” Somehow this sentence broke into my reading, and confused me. I had to read it again to catch its meaning.

    This would be an excellent short story – you definitely left me wanting more. You really are good at this, you know.

    Hugs, G.

  • efg


    Thanks for the great comments and questions.

    I know I answered some of your questions in person on Wednesday, but I thought I’d repeat the answers here for my other loyal readers. 🙂

    1) I was visualizing Angie as having rubbed her eyes so much and so vigorously that the mascara was smeared everywhere. On a future draft, I’ll see if I can find a better way to make that visible to the reader.

    2) She calls the narrator “baby” because that was their usual term of endearment, and I want to convey that they’re not quite over yet. (I hope that will become clearer as the story unfolds.)

    3) Yeah, the dialog needs work! It’s the hardest thing to write, I think.

    4) I’ll try to turn up the volume on his lack of sympathy. I think that would also get clearer as the story goes on.

    5) At some point early in the writing, the first sentence of the second paragraph ended at “early hours of the morning,” so “And not very often in the dark” followed pretty logically. Then I expanded on the first sentence without editing the second one. Mea culpa! I will fix this problem if I ever get back to this story.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for you support and encouragement!

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting