Yay, I wrote another short story like I promised I would in my post cleaning up around here!
And fairly quickly… go me!
So, I took a random writing prompt from that old book I got a while back, 642 Things to Write About!
You know, that old book…
And, anyway, here’s the prompt I picked up on this time!
Approach a stranger, introduce yourself, and ask him or her to tell you something he or she has never told anyone else. Record your findings.
I used that prompt, stuck to it pretty well (I think), and churned out a much longer story than I originally anticipated I would!
Really, though, it’s kind of a lengthy one (but not too bad, don’t worry!)… and, well, since it is, I should probably just cut right to it!
Take a shot before you hear this secret
by Kari Lynn M.
You won’t believe what this woman told me this morning.
Now, this was for work, mind you. I’m just about the damn near best journalist in sleepy old Frankport, and there’s nobody more fit than myself for the job of interviewing the city’s average citizens for the “We the Common Folk” post in the Sunday newspaper. I mean, the people here love me, they really do, and most of them would tell me anything. More than they’d even tell their spouses or their nannies or their mistresses. And, let me tell you- I’ve heard it all. From “I’m thinking about divorcing my wife so I can move to L.A. and stalk Julia Roberts” to “when I was in seventh grade, I threw my own underwear in the backseat of my dad’s car, told my stepmom that her she must have left her laptop back there, and then denied the panties were mine when she found them so she would leave and move out for good”.
But, I’m not sure that anything I’ve heard could amount to what I was told today.
This week’s assignment was to find out why we, as average citizens of Ernest County, actually keep the secrets we do. Which ones can we share with others? Which ones are too personal for telling? What differentiates the pieces of information kept in the two categories from each other? To find the answer to this question, then, I decided to do what I pretty much usually do: approach strangers, ask them if they would like to share a secret with me, and, most importantly, tell them I work for the city paper, so they’re sure to tell me every juicy tidbit they’ve got.
Now, first I interviewed a father and his young son, who was about the age of eight or so, outside of the local grocery store, and no secrets were revealed to me by the parent, but the boy was sure to tell me of the time he took his younger sister’s Barbie and gave its hair a good swirly in the toilet. Right in front of his dad, too! Though… his father did seem to get quite a kick out of it and didn’t really care too much about the action itself.
Next, I talked to a woman of about the same age as the father inside that same store, and she decided to reveal to me that she once stole a stick of lipstick from a Sephora in Milwaukee, though she claimed she felt no remorse for her action because the makeup was “rediculously overpriced” and she felt she deserved a free reward after waiting tables every night for two weeks straight.
Fair enough, I suppose.
After that, I headed over to the local DQ and decided to ask for some secrets from some folks in exchange for a free ice cream cone. I figured it was a good incentive, and I do believe it payed off fairly well.
I learned from one man that he secretly wished the town’s mayor would go to hell, from another that he still loved his ex-girlfriend from his middle school days, and from a different woman that she once gave her three year old son a shot of whiskey when it was four a.m. and he still refused to go to bed.
And then I thought I had heard enough to make a quick case on the topic in the paper, but I’ve leaned something from doing this over the years: always, always, always get more than you really need.
So, I approached this elderly woman outside of the shop, who was sitting at a table in the breezy weather all alone. No one else around, just her and her brownie blizzard under the clouds as a handful of SUVs sped down Main Street beside us.
“Hello ma’am, I’m a reporter from the Frankport Features and-” I had begun, though she decided to cut me off before I could finish my beginning spiel.
“I know who you are,” she proclaimed, holding one hand up in a stop gesture. “You might as well sit down ’til you get what you want.”
I studied her for a short moment as she shoved her red spoon into her mouth, her eyes now down at the table.
“Well, alright,” I muttered out, now taking a seat across from her and placing my opened notepad on the tabletop in between us.
“Now,” the woman went on, glancing back up at me. “What do you want, son?”
I gave a gaze at her pale, wrinkling features another short moment before responding.
“Well, I’m doing an article on why people keep secrets this week. You… have any secrets you’d like to share with me? It’s anonymous, of course, unless-”
“Not really,” she stopped me in my tracks, once again, and swallowed another scoop of cream.
“Well,” I began once more as I commenced myself to stand. “Thank you for-”
Though, again, she cut my words short.
“It’s a secret you want, though?” she questioned, staring down at the little blue and red cup in front of her. “What kind?”
I hovered my hands above the tabletop for a second, and then lowered myself back into my seat.
“The kind you’ve never told anyone before,” I answered.
The woman raised her eyebrows and began to stir her ice cream.
“Well, well,” she said. “You are a nosy one…”
I smiled a little, though she wasn’t looking at me.
“Just my job, ma’am.”
After I had spoken, the woman placed her hands in her lap, under the table, and flickered her eyes up at me.
“You want my secret?” she asked. “My best kept secret, huh?”
I silently nodded.
“Well,” she went on, looking towards the road momentarily. “I’ll tell ‘ya my best secret…” She paused and turned back to me. “I used to be married to the most handsome, kindest man on the block. He’d tell me every morning how much he loved my looks, how beautiful I looked to him. All the other ladies ’round were absolutely jealous of my luck, that I had landed him. Envious, even, I’d say…” She stopped to place her hands atop the table. “And boy, I loved him completely.” She paused, again, as she folded her arms on top of one another. “But that was in our twenties, mind you… early twenties. And people do change, don’t they?”
I raised my brows at her and gave a quick nod.
“And, well… that man changed after he got a hold of the drink,” she continued. “And, oh…” She twisted her head to the side and scrunched up her nose. “Boy… did that ever change him.”
She turned her gaze back to center and wrapped her hands around her ice cream cup.
“He turned reckless, he did,” she proclaimed. “Always staying out late with the boys… gambling when he could… and he lost his job on top of it all.” She looked down at her ice cream, and then back up at me. “He worked the days at the factory. Times got tough, he started drinking, and then he got let go.” She looked downwards once more. “I think he started ’cause he knew it was coming… but then, after that, it just got worse and worse.” She shook her head. “We lost the house; we lost each other…” She closed her eyes. “We had to move into the shack down the street with the other couples feeling the times.” She opened her eyes and glanced at me. “We were lucky to find a home like that… but, we were still homeless.” She took a visibly deep breath. “He kept drinking, though, using up all the cash we still had left. And then he wasn’t the same…” She pursed her lips. “Every morning, he’d wake up and look at me… disgusted. He’d say, ‘We wouldn’t even be here if I’d have never married you. I’d have all my own money and no woman to try and please all these years.’ …as if it made a difference.” She shook her head, again. “But then, you know what happened? Not too much later, he got a job bartending at the place he already hung around at every night.” She smirked a tad at me. “And then things got a little better.”
She resituated herself in her seat, folded her hands on the table once more, and took another cleansing breath before going on.
“We got a new apartment on the other side of town, could actually afford to feed our own two mouths, and I started my own small sewing business from home, since I had no kids to clean up after. Well, other than him.”
We both let out a short-lived laugh.
“Oh,” she sighed. “I really did want a baby, though, but we couldn’t have any. He couldn’t have any. By the time we were in our thirties, though, the fact didn’t bother me as much.” She stared at the tabletop in front of me for a moment. “Course, though, I do believe it was for the best… Working at a bar certainly didn’t ease his drinking habits any… and his attitude seemed to get even nastier with time.” She pierced her eyes up at mine. “He started having yelling fits, coming home at three in the morning, waking me up from shouting… saying I was taking all his money for my sewing, or buying things for myself, and that it was me who wasn’t giving him any children… things like that.” She shook her head and looked away. “And then, one late night, I stayed up, in the living room, waiting for when he’d come home. And when he did…” She raised her eyebrows. “Well, I told him what’s what. And then…” She looked directly back at my expression. “He hit me… and then I slapped him. And he pushed me back… And he hit me again… and again… and again… and then I got away.” She looked down and paused for a quiet moment. “And I locked myself in the bathroom. He kept pounding on the door, screaming… but not for long. He eventually passed out on the couch, so I packed up a bag, took the keys to his truck, and took off to my sister’s house two states over.” She paused for another second, and then glanced up at me for yet another. “I filed for divorce. An uncommon thing for a woman in my age to have done, but I did.” She reached up to scratch her eyebrow as she continued. “I only saw him one time after that- when he finally came to sign the papers. I had called him so many times to come and sign, and I told him he’d get his truck back only once he did. But every call ended in his screaming, calling me names and filthy things no woman should ever have to hear… But, after months and months, he finally came to his senses and agreed.” She tilted her head to the side a little. “And when I saw him, he didn’t speak a word. I had my brother in law with me, and he just gave us both a look, and then he signed. That was it.”
I kept quiet as she took a deep breath, again, and reorganized her thoughts.
“And I never did remarry,” she declared. “I started my own sewing shop, though, alongside my sister… and we both still run it today. And it’s been thirty…” Her face suddenly lit up in emphasis. “Thirty years since I left that man… and I’m glad I did.” She stopped for a longer moment and tapped on the side of the red spoon in her cup. “But, now, here’s where it gets interesting…” She took another breath and smiled a tad at me. “I got a little something in the mail about four months ago… a wedding invite. A wedding invite… for my ex-husband’s wedding. Now…” She paused to give the slightest chuckle. “My ex-husband will be seventy-three years old as of the twenty-fifth of this month… and in the picture on the front page of that invite, his fiancée certainly did not look as if she were in her seventies… or sixties, or fifties, or even forties.” She raised a brow. “She was pretty, blonde… and very young.” She looked down. “And, let me tell you, I believe his age shows fairly well… so, it was a very odd-looking photograph of the two… her kissing his cheek… his hands on her waist…” She titled her head and wrinkled her nose, then glanced up at me. “I would show you the picture, but I no longer have it. Would you like to know what I did with it?”
“Yes, please,” I said.
She smiled back.
“Well,” she went on. “That man was a dirty old rat, right?”
I nodded a little.
“Well, here’s what I did with that invite…” she explained. “I keep a couple of mouse traps in my kitchen cupboards, and about this time every year, I start baking quite often for the local shelters… and the mice always come running into the old house. I catch a good handful in the traps every month or so… but, instead of throwing them out the first few times, I tossed them into a little box. Just a few of them, little nasty dead things…” She scrunched up her face momentarily. “And, after I had about three of them in the box… I tossed the wedding invite on top of them. And then I closed it, threw a shipping label on it, and sent it off to their RSPV address.”
I dropped my jaw at her.
“You didn’t…” I mumbled.
“Oh, yes I did,” she said. “But, that’s not all…” She straightened her back and relaxed her expression. “Last month was the actual wedding. Now… wouldn’t you say something about the whole deal smelled a little fishy?”
“Oh, boy,” I chuckled out.
“Well,” she smiled and went on. “I went down to the store and bought myself a nice juicy catfish, and I put that in a box. And… wouldn’t you also say the whole situation seems a tad… crappy?”
I laughed out and glanced down at the table.
“So…” she continued, a smirk-esque smile plastered across her lips the entire time. “I have an old fat cat named Cookie, and I sometimes take my time before I thoroughly clean his litterbox. And so… when I did, I just decided to dump everything in it into the box as well.” I glanced away from her for a second, and then returned my eyes to witness her flash an ear to ear grin. “And then I closed it all up and taped a note on top that said… something like, ‘Enjoy your toddler wife and stinky life, you rat bastard.’ And then I put all of that into another box… and then I wrapped it all up and sent a good friend to deliver the gift the day of the wedding.”
“Oh my God,” I muttered, shaking my head with a smile back at her.
She let out a satisfied giggle, as did I.
“Now, son,” she started once more, raising an eyebrow at me. “I do believe you wanted a juicy secret?”
I reached forward and snatched up my notepad from the tabletop.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Thank you.”
A salty old woman, as the kids would say…
But, that’s all for now. Let me know what you thought/ think and if you enjoy me reviving my short story posts!