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Exercise Wednesday: Tell Me Lies, Tell Me Sweet Little Lies

May 2, 2012

Everybody lies. That’s one of the major premises behind House, which is about to pass the ways of all TV shows except 60 Minutes. One of my problems in my work is that my characters are entirely too honest. There’s not enough subterfuge. They may be evil pains in the butt, but they’ll tell you where they’re going to put the knife before plunging it into your back.

Lies can create all kinds of delicious complexity to your story. And not all lies are evil. Imagine a parent telling his kids about Santa, then killing a home intruder on Christmas Eve. (My dad killed Santa Claus!)

Imagine saying that your significant other makes a pretty damned good meatloaf, only to have that meatloaf show up when company arrives. The road to sleeping on the couch is paved with good intentions.

So today’s writing exercise is to conceive a lie–a brilliant beneficial lie. And then have it all go south. But with good intentions.

And let me tell you in advance, that whatever you write will be the best writing from a prompt ever. Really. I mean it. I honestly, honestly mean it.

Time limit: 20 minutes

One Comment
  1. Chris Hamilton permalink
    May 2, 2012 6:10 am

    It started out as the best kind of lie. And it ended up okay.

    “Does this dress make me look fat?” Catherine was standing in front of the mirror, wearing a black dress with conservative neckline. It clung in all the right places.

    “No, darling. The fat makes you look fat.”

    She laughed and adjusted the dress so it made no visible difference, but it made her look happy, so what the hell?

    “I still don’t see why you’re wearing a sexy black dress to a job interview.”

    “You think it’s sexy?”

    There were a million answers–many of the would allow me to tell the truth, but at a risk. Total honesty isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

    “Not overly so.” I said, standing behind the counter where her kitchen opens into the breakfast nook–a place she put bookcases rather than stools and never once ate breakfast, to the best of my knowledge.

    The mirrors on the wall made the place look better, which was good, she said, now that she was selling it. Boise, Idaho called. It was a smaller market than Tampa, with a smaller paycheck. But it was a place she figured she could go without having to worry about some schmuck trying to make his bones by going after a successful set of morning hosts.

    “I’m gonna miss working with you,” she said.

    “You don’t have the job yet.”

    She looked in the mirror again and scrunched her face. Scrunching her face has always made Catherine simply adorable. It was one of her sexiest things, in large part because she had no clue it made her sexy. When I was married, I pushed those thoughts away. Now I allowed them to linger in that place between my mind and mouth, knowing they’d never finish the journey.

    “I think this dress is fine.” She nodded to punctuate the statement. “I think it’s all fine.”

    That was a lie we’d been telling ourselves since we’d gotten dumped from the place where we’d ruled the ratings roost for sixteen years. Some guy named Chad replaced us.

    Chad. Replaced us. Acerbic, witty, and knowledgeable. Replace by Chad. Not that we’re bitter about it or anything.

    “Gotta go.” She blew me a kiss as she hustled out the door, careful not to make eye contact on the way.

    She was even more careful when she came back four hours later.

    “I got it.”

    I’d finished packing the last of the dishes in the kitchen and was drinking the last beer out of the fridge. In between, I’d worked out with the dumbbells in the fitness center I’d never use again. I don’t have dumbbells at home, and sliding the weights on and off takes a lot more time.

    I said nothing. She caught my eyes and then looked away as she hustled into her bedroom. I taped the box of dishes shut. It was the last box to pack. The movers would come in the morning. She’d spend the next couple nights in my spare room before leaving. She’d been pretty sure about the Boise job.

    I set the tape gun down on the counter. My wife Wendy had put her champagne glass on the same spot in a previous lifetime. Before the cancer came, and then came back. She’d denied it its prize by ending things herself. My wife gone. Now my best friend moving a continent away.

    Son of a bitch.

    “Can you help me with this zipper?”

    It’s a classic come-on line. Or the line of a wife who doesn’t feel like fiddling with her zipper, but doesn’t want anything else to happen.

    “You can’t undo a zipper?”

    “It’s stuck. You think I’d ask if I could get it?”

    I entered her empty bedroom. Catherine’s room often looked like my son’s had when he was fourteen, except the piles of dirty clothes had bras and panties, rather than baseball pants and athletic cups. It was immaculate now.

    She held her hair up and bent her head down. I could kiss her neck and she’d probably be okay with it. Instead, I set to work on the zipper. It really was stuck, but not horribly so. When I slid it down, I saw a broad expanse of uninterrupted back and swallowed hard.


    I let go of the zipper, but didn’t move.

    She turned. Put a finger to my cheek. It came away wet.

    When Wendy had died, I didn’t cry for a long time. Since the dam had broken, I’d made up for it.

    “You’re making this really hard.”

    I said nothing.

    “Come with me. I can get you on the same show. It’ll be just the same as here.”

    I shook my head. “Here’s over, Cath. It’s done.”

    Her eyes got glassy. “This really sucks.”

    I nodded. She looked up at me, her dress undone, but defying gravity. Her eyes were–I don’t know–big and vulnerable. Maybe mirroring the ache that seemed to radiate from mine. Or maybe I’m projecting. The moment hung in the air like a great mist.

    Then it seemed to pass. She turned from me.

    “He wants me to start Monday, so I need to start driving tonight.”

    “You could fly.”

    She turned back to me. “I could. But…this is…I feel like this is a funeral, like Wendy’s funeral never ended. I can’t wallow in the end of what we are, Jim. If we’re done, I need to move on.”

    I closed my eyes and took a breath. Ten minutes later, she left me and all her stuff in her apartment and got in her car to go to Boise. All because of the dress.

    Maybe the lie wasn’t about the dress. Maybe it wasn’t to her at all. Maybe I’d lied to myself.

    Now all that was left, was her stuff. And me.


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