The Awful Secret

A tiny knot of local would-be writers has been playing with the idea of strengthening our skills by marrying art with writing. The idea is to use a piece of art (painted by the husband of one of the women in the group) as an inspiration for writing. A trigger, if you will. The artist and his writer wife live next door to me. He is a prolific and highly talented artist, so there’s plenty of art from which to choose as the inspirational trigger. In preparation of the gathering (which took place yesterday), my neighbor suggested that she and I both pick a painting and write something, then share it with the group. I picked two. The first painting shows two wide-eyed boys, one whispering to the other, standing in front of a female, who could be an older girl or a young woman. Her hand is held up to just below her face. She seems to be either mulling something over or using her index finger in a physical way to say “hush.” I may not be describing that well; I hope I’ve painted the picture, as it were. The painting is entitled “The Awful Secret.” The other painting shows two very colorful but very frightening clowns, one of whom is baring sharp teeth behind what I read as an evil grin. The other clown suggests, to me, an expression of insanity. The artist calls this piece “Clownopin.”

For lack of anything better to post here today (due, in part, to an attitude that seems to be trying to mimic the drabness of the cold, grey day), I’ll post the outcome that emerged from my thoughts about “The Awful Secret.”

The Awful Secret

Sierra Bunkerhouse had no proof of her husband’s infidelity until she overheard Cyrus say to her son, Calvin, when he thought she was out of earshot, “I told you your father was foolin’ around with Kenny’s mother. Did you see him kiss her a few minutes ago? That weren’t no peck on the cheek.”

Cyrus was Calvin’s new friend, who had moved in only a month earlier, from down the block. Kenny was the boy next door, whose mother was Lynn. Sierra had been concerned that her husband, Mike, was being a little too friendly with Lynn. Now, though, she thought her suspicions were confirmed.

Sierra didn’t hear the remainder of the whispered conversation.

“You dimwit, that wasn’t Kenny’s mother, it was my mom. Kenny’s mother wasn’t even in the kitchen.”

“Ummm. Uhhh. Oh. Well, they look a lot alike and—”

—“You’re a dimwit. And you’re a blind dimwit.”

The intensity of Sierra’s anger at the challenge to her marriage filled her brain to the exclusion of every other emotion for the rest of the evening.  The bastard. I ought to divorce Mike and clean him out of every penny he has to his name. Or maybe I’ll let Gary kick Mike’s ass and then divorce Lynn.

The next morning, as she was rinsing breakfast dishes and angrily gazing out the kitchen window toward the house next door, Sierra saw Lynn’s husband, Gary, step out of his back yard and cross in front of his kitchen window toward the front of the house, carrying golf clubs.

A moment after Gary disappeared from view, Sierra heard Mike’s voice behind her. “Hon, I’m going next door to replace a washer in Gary and Lynn’s kitchen faucet.”

Sierra spun around, her eyes wide and her nostrils flared. “Why the hell can’t Gary fix the damned faucet?”

Mike’s eyes sprung open wide. His eyebrow snapped into an arch. “Where did that come from?”

“Let’s just say I’m a little pissed off about something.”

“What is it? Is it something I did?”

Sierra imagined that her hot cheeks must be glowing red. “Just go ahead! Go fix the bloody faucet,” she snarled.

Mike cocked his head and opened his mouth as if he were going to say something, but then seemed to change his mind. Finally, spoke. “Okay. When I get back, talk to me about what’s got you upset, okay?” Mike hesitated for a moment, then continued. “You know, Gary isn’t a handyman. I told him I’d do it for him.”

Sierra, still feeling the heat in her cheeks, turned back to the sink to silently converse with her husband. Sure ‘Gary’ asked you. Do you think I’m stupid? She pause for another moment, and then said,  “Yeah. I bet he can’t even see something’s broken right in front of him. Go ahead.”

Mike sighed. “Yeah, right. Okay. Back in a bit.”

Sierra stood staring blankly out the window. Her emotions bounced between anger and despondency, hurt and rage, and then settled into numbness. She watched as a silhouette moved back and forth behind the slats of Lynn’s kitchen miniblinds. I wonder what she’s doing …Probably putting up last night’s dishes,’ she thought, as she watched the repetitive motions behind the barely open mini-blinds. Then she saw another silhouette, a taller one, cross in front of the window. The second silhouette raised its arms and merged with the first one in what was unmistakably an embrace.

Sierra turned away from the window. How dare the bastard take her in his arms right in front of me! She strode toward the door, but stopped midway and turned around. She shuffled back to the kitchen table and sat down. For five minutes she sat, her anger brewing into a dark, blind rage. Sierra stood slowly and walked to the kitchen counter. She clenched her jaws and opened the knife drawer. She drew out the long slicing knife from its slot.


Sierra walked across the lawn to the neighbors’ house. The knife in her right hand, Sierra reached with her left hand and quietly turned the knob of Gary and Lynn’s front door. She crept inside and closed the door, taking care to avoid causing the latch-set to “click.” Once inside, she heard the low murmur of indistinct voices from the kitchen. With steely patience, and careful not to make a sound, she tiptoed to the dining area just around the corner from the kitchen. She stopped and strained to listen, when she heard Lynn giggle and say, “Don’t get fresh me with me. Kenny might see you and wonder what’s going on.”

Sierra’s deliberate quietude erupted into a banshee’s scream. “I’ll kill both of you!” She sprang around the corner, the knife raised high above her head.

Frightened screams filled her ears as the scene before her unfolded. Gary shrieked, his arms pulling Lynn close to him. His scream was loud, but Lynn’s howl almost matched its volume. Mike, half his body stuck beneath the sink, responded to the commotion by lifting his head, smashing it against the bottom of the cast iron vessel. Little Kenny, who had been sitting at the kitchen table on the far end of the room, sprang out of his seat as if he had been launched from a slingshot.

Sierra was stunned by what she saw in front of her. She looked at the knife in her hand, then at the frightened people in front of her, then back at her hand. She collapsed onto the floor, sobbing. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I…I…I…I… thought L..L..L..Lynn was having an affair with M..M..M..Mike. I was sure of it. I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’ll go now. I’m sorry. I’m so, so, sorry!” She turned and ran out of the house, sobbing hysterically.


Lynn turned and saw her son standing, eyes wide, at the end of the kitchen table. “Come here, Kenny. Everything’s going to be fine. Ms. Bunkerhouse just got confused. We’re all just fine. Don’t worry. Gary,” she said to her husband, “talk to Kenny. Make sure he’s okay.”

Gary put his arm around Kenny’s shoulder and led him toward the back door. “Let’s go outside and talk, son.”

Mike pulled himself out from beneath the sink and slowly rose to his feet. He rubbed the top of his head.

Lynn strained to see the growing knot on the top of his head. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just a bump. But I don’t know about Sierra. She was ready to kill us.”

Lynn nodded. “Uh huh. This little episode is another reason we have to do something about both of them, baby, or this could get ugly.” She put her arms around Mike’s waist, leaned into him, and kissed him on the mouth.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to The Awful Secret

  1. Thanks, Linda. I may include it in a collection one day.

  2. lindakblack says:

    You had me completely immersed until the very end. Vey good…excellente!! Astory for the books!

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