"As promised, this week's exercise is a dialogue one, again lifted from John Gardner:
Write a dialogue in which each of the two characters has a secret. Do not reveal the secret but make the reader intuit it. For example the dialogue might be between a husband who has just lost his job and hasn’t worked up the courage to tell his wife, and his wife, who has a lover in the bedroom. Purpose: to give two characters individual ways of speaking, and to make dialogue crackle with feelings not expressed."
I discovered that I really like writing dialogue! That's a new thing for me. I've always felt much safer with descriptions. Anyway, I am somewhat dissatisfied with the end product. It actually kept me up all last night because I kept worrying that it wasn't believable because 1) wouldn't Sue tell her sister that her husband has pancreatic cancer? and 2) a blue bra is way, way too obvious. Then I rationalized that Sue was in shock + didn't have time to process the information + suspecting that her sister hooked up with her husband would cause her to hold back some information. Also because some families operate that way. And the earring-in-the-couch is too cliche.
The phone rang and little Jimmy picked it up. “Hello?”
“Hi Jimmy. Is your mom home?”
“Hi Aunt Peggy,” said Jimmy. “Hold on a sec.” He turned away from the phone. “Moooommm! Phone! It’s Aunt Peggy!”
Sue picked up the phone. “Hey Peg. Did you get the message about Ma’s present?”
“Yeah, I signed the card from both of us,” said Peggy.
“Oh, ok, good. While you’re on the phone – I wanted to tell you that Mike and I decided to take Emily out of the after-school program. Sorry to mess up the carpool schedule but we figured it’s a good opportunity for them to spend more time together.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Peggy. “That’s fine. You aren’t even scheduled to take over til next month. So Mike’s no longer working late?”
“Yeah, he rearranged his schedule to spend more time with the kids… and me.”
“That’s great!” said Peggy. “So he’s finally taking Dr. MacPherson’s advice to heart?”
“Yeah, you know how he is. She was saying that he couldn’t expect to work on us without juggling his work schedule and he kept saying no no no, it’s impossible to work fewer hours… well, his health scare knocked some sense into him.”
“Blessing in disguise, huh,” said Peggy. “So what was it after all?”
“Oh, it was a… a pinched nerve, just like we thought,” said Sue, a little too quickly. “The doctors told him to take it easy.”
“That’s such a relief! I was so worried!” Peggy paused. “Hmm, you better tell Ma, then.”
“What do you mean?” asked Sue.
“She called me last night at 10 pm-“
“Again? I thought the director was finally going to take the phone out of her room-”
“-Crying and saying that Mike has cancer…?”
“Oh. My. God. You know how she is. She thinks everyone has cancer.”
“Yeah, but she said you told her that.”
“She said that you said that Mike has pancreatic cancer.”
“What the heck? Where did she get that idea from?” Sue sounded like she was on the verge of tears.
“I don’t know-“
“You know what, last week when I was there, you know Mr. Rogers, the crazy guy in 302? Mr. Rogers was talking to us about his son who had pancreatic cancer. Couldn’t get away from him for an hour! That’s probably where she got the idea from.” Sue was slightly out of breath.
“We need to tell the director to keep Mr. Rogers away from her!”
“He can’t keep Mr. Rogers away from her if she’s always sitting in the TV room,” said Peggy. “It’s the common area.”
“I don’t care,” Sue said. “He’s a crazy old coot.”
“He’s a nice old man. He’s harmless.”
Sue grunted. “Oh, I wanted to ask if you and Scott can watch Jimmy next Thursday night? Mike and I scheduled in a date night.”
“Um, sure, let me check – ok, yeah, I think we’ll be free.”
“Ok, great! Thanks. Let me pencil that in.” Sue paused, almost casually. “By the way, you left a bra behind last time you were here. Jimmy found it near the couch.”
“What? Are you sure it was mine?" Peggy asked.
"Definitely yours, it was the blue one that you bought when we went to Macy's last month."
“Oh, I’m so sorry!" Peggy laughed. "Thanks. It must have fallen out of my gym bag.”
Sue sounded slightly relieved. “Oh, you’re doing yoga again? I thought you hated the new instructor.”
“Yeahhhh. I do hate the new instructor. But it’s good for me.”
“Ok,” said Sue. “So when did you start doing yoga again?”
“Um, last Thursday.”
“Oh. Did you go to class last Thursday?”
“Mmmm hmmm,” said Peggy.
“Which one? The late one?”
“The late one? I think so.”
“Oh, that’s weird,” said Sue. “I didn’t see you there.”
“Oh. Actually, I think I went to the earlier one.”
Both sisters paused.
Sue said quietly, “Let me know the next time you go, Pegs, we can go together."
“Ok. Hey, Pegs, I gotta run. Talk to you later?”
Peggy's secret: she hooked up with Mike. Sue's secret: Mike has pancreatic cancer.