The Secret

Henry looked down at the body of Ms. Ainsworth.  “I thought you were too ornery to die,” he muttered. When they brought her in he half expected her to be clutching her ruler.  The ruler that swatted his hand when he was her student.  The ruler that, even after the days corporal punishment, continued its reign of terror as measurer of girls’ hem lines and preserver of chastity at the prom. “Twelve inches apart is sufficient for dancing!” she’d say, thrusting the ruler between clingy couples.

As Henry prepared to dress her, he thought about the woman.  Wayward baseballs were never retrieved from her yard.  She was the only one in town who didn’t decorate her house for Christmas.  She never handed out Halloween candy.  Her tongue was sharp, her neck stiff.  No one would mourn her.

The dress the Ladies Auxiliary had brought buttoned up the back.  He slipped it on her body and carefully turned her over.

A guffaw ruptured from Henry.  “Nobody is ever gonna believe this!” he roared.  The sour-faced, prudish Ms. Ainsworth had the words, “Hot Stuff,” surrounded by red flames tattoed on her backside.

Henry finished dressing her quickly, rehearsing his tale in his mind, and giggling uncontrollably.  He didn’t hear the door open.

“What’s so funny?” asked Lisa, the new cosmetologist, as Henry turned Ms. Ainsworth onto her back.   He started to tell her, but stopped abruptly when he saw his teacher’s stern face.  Her dignified, dead face.

“Nothing,” he mumbled.

The girl walked to his side. “Ooh, I hate doing these old ladies.  I never know what to do with their make-up.  Lipstick or natural, do you think?”

“Lipstick.  Red.” Henry answered.

“Red?  Are you sure?”


Lisa shrugged. “See, you never can tell with old ladies.”

Henry straightened Ms. Ainsworth’s collar.  “No, Lisa, you can’t.”

And he never would.


I wrote this post for the Write On Edge Red Writing Hood prompt. 

We’d like you to write a piece in which a tattoo figures prominently. Fiction or creative non-fiction. There is a lot to think about: why someone would get one, what they chose, when they got it, what message does the tattoo(s) send?

You will have 300 words with which to play.

Honestly, I wasn’t really “feeling” this prompt.  I did it anyway because I promised myself I’d do all the Write On Edge writing prompts in October.  It’s excellent practice, especially in the editing department.  The first draft was 400 words long.  It’s exactly 300 now.  So, regardless of the story’s quality, I got my writing lesson for the day.


29 thoughts on “The Secret

  1. Loved it! Not feeling particularly morbid or anything, but I can totally see myself as a (hopefully) old lady, and the people at the funeral home looking at my tattoo and thinking, “Seriously?” lol

    • I’m glad you liked it. I was thinking that it might be too morbid. I don’t know why I thought of a funeral home, but it might have something to do with all the Halloween movies I’ve been watching with the husband. I bet funeral home employees have seen a lot of crazy tattoos. 🙂

  2. I like this! I think it’s fitting that her stern look stops him from saying anything, just as though she had rapped his knuckles with her ruler.

    Also, I love that you did the prompt, even though it didn’t immediately speak to you. Those end up being some of my favorites.

  3. Awesome! I hope you liked it by the time you finished it. I do. Anyway, went on over to Red Writing Hood, and liked what I saw there. Pretty neat site, especially since I just got rid of most of my writing prompt books. (We are downsizing like crazy!) Now I won’t need any books; I’ll just use the prompts from their site!

    • I’m happy with it, especially considering I didn’t have a lot of time to write it. I’m happy to lead people to Write On Edge. It’s a great writing site and the people are encouraging and so talented.

  4. Well done, sister Crazy Chick, you inspire me! Always! Admire how you always make time to write no matter what is going on in your world. This is a good piece. You shouldn’t berate yourself, I like it very much.

    Just nominated you for A Lovely Blog Award, Erin, hope you enjoy!
    Kindest Regards,
    Janice (Aurora)

  5. Oh, I’d love to know what hijinks she got up to before something turned her sour…

    My only real critique would be this: I think it actually ends with the word “Absolutely.” The ending as written isn’t quite as strong or concise. You’ve brought us to the conclusion that we never really know, just with the story. You don’t need to tell us in the dialogue.

  6. Love the shock factor here! And such a great reminder that you really never know people’s stories- her’s might be an interesting one to flush out! 🙂

    • My friends and family have been unusually quiet about this post. I think they may be worried about me. I knew it would happen sooner or later. It took 9 months, but welcome to the weirdness that is my real mind. 😉

  7. This was great. Glad you did it even though you weren’t inspired. Hard for me to do that sometimes. I love writing prompts, so I’m totally going to bookmark Write on Edge. Thanks. I agree on the editing practice. I have done a few prompts lately that a set word count and had to cut words. Sometimes that takes me longer to do than it took me to write the piece. I think you did well getting it to exactly 300 words.

    • We’re reading Stephen King’s “On Writing” as a twitter book club discussion over at Write On Edge. He’s a big believer in cutting all unnecessary words. They’ve been forcing us to do just that. It’s extremely hard for me. I love words.

      • I haven’t read it, but it’s interesting to hear he advocates that considering how long and winding some of his stories are. Sometimes cutting is good for the benefit of the story, but if you cut something and feel like the story is missing something because of it, I would put it back in. I love words too. I think of cutting words not as trying to get down to a certain count but to get to the best words for the story. Sometimes 300 words is enough. Sometimes it takes 100,000 or more. Doesn’t really matter as long as all of them are the right words and serve a purpose.

        Oh, also you mentioned showing vs telling being a problem for you in another comment. Just a few minutes ago I read a blog post about showing vs telling with some great keywords to look for that clue you in that you’ve told something instead of shown it. The author gives several examples of work that tells, why the examples are not the best way to say it, and an edited versions that show instead of tell. I thought you might like it so here is the link to that:

        • Stephen King doesn’t have a problem with long books. He’s adamant about deleting unnecessary words. He explains it better. You should read “On Writing.” It is an excellent book and you don’t have to like King’s books to appreciate his experience and advice.

          • Well obviously he doesn’t since he writes them lol. Just thought it was an interesting mix. I might some day. I have only read Salem’s Lot and Four Past Midnight, which I recall liking at the time though it was years ago. I’ve only disliked the audio books my husband has played of his work, and that could mostly be due to someone reading it to me for hours.

  8. I really like this! I wonder if it might have been a little different if Henry didn’t actually know Ms. Ainsworth. I’d like to see him fall into the trap of “assuming” that she’s stereotypical – that would make the shock that much more of a reminder that “you never can tell”. Perhaps she could remind him of a few different older women in his life like a teacher, or a grandmother, and finding this helps him reassess what he’s assumed about them?

    Good stuff!

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