Daily Archives: June 28, 2016

Tuesday: Exercises in Writing #4


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The exercise today comes from What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.

Begin a story with this line: Where were you last night?

“Where were you last night?”

She let the question hang in the air. She watched him tense at the sound of her voice, at the realization that she was awake, and that he would not make it out the door for work without having this conversation. He blinked once, slowly, and lifted his gaze from the cup of coffee sitting in front of him.

She intended to wait. She wanted to watch him try to figure out what she knew and what she didn’t. She wanted to see him squirm as he scrambled for an acceptable  answer. She would count the lies as they were told, and reject, one-by-one, his responses. She had rehearsed this encounter, through the long night ever since the ringing telephone woke her. She had refined her lines as she wrote out her frustration in her journal. She practiced, in her head,  as she sat in the dark until night gave way to morning and his car finally pulled into the driveway. She went over it again as she lay pretending to sleep, as he showered and changed into work clothes. She would be in control; he would grovel and squirm.

She listened to him moving through the house and around the kitchen. He was packing a lunch. She heard the gurgle that signaled the coffee had finished brewing. The cupboard door was opened, then closed. Then the refrigerator door. First milk in his cup, she knew, then he’d pour the hot coffee in after it. Then he’d sit. Had he slept at all last night? Not in this house. When she knew he was seated, she got out of bed and went to the kitchen.

“Where were you last night?”

The words came out deliberately, just as she’d planned. She saw him tense, before raising his gaze to meet hers. She intended to wait, in control. It lasted only a moment before her tears came. And the voice – her own voice – was no longer the practiced, modulated tones she had planned, but shrill. The anticipated lies were cut off before they started.

“Don’t lie! Don’t you lie to me! Don’t you try to tell me you were at Tom’s! Tom called for you! At midnight! I called your sister! I talked to Ken! You never even went to the bowling alley! Where were you last night?”

Suddenly, as his eyes  met hers, she knew the answer.

And she wished she had never asked the question.