Fast Fiction: Horticulture Can be a Cruel Mistress

Hello everyone,

It’s time for another of my pre-scheduled blog posts of fast fiction from my monthly writers group’s warming up exercises. For more on the whole premise, check out this post. In the meantime, here’s a quick recap of what this is all about:

Rule #1: These pieces of fast fiction were generated from a prompt chosen at random during one of my monthly writers’ group meetings. I will label that prompt at the top and where I use it in the prose.

Rule #2: WordPress allows me a ‘click here to read the rest of the story’ break, and that will be used before the fast fiction begins in earnest so people browsing through this blog are not overwhelmed.

Rule #3: The prose of the fast fiction shall be transcribed from my handwriting accurately: Line breaks, grammar, punctuation, spelling, what-have-you. The point of showing a 10- or 15-minute first draft is saying what you tried to do in that time, so what does editing really get me? The very rare changes I really do deem necessary shall be noted with an asterisk and an apologetic explanation at the end.

Rule #4: After the fast fiction I will include a few sentences about my first thoughts of the prompt. These entries are less about the actual prose and more about the exercise as a whole. Post-gaming that exercise will be a big part of the end result.

Rule #5: I have all these posts set up to go out through Twitter. If I’m going to queue up twenty or so of them into the distant future, I will schedule them to go out at 3 am on a Sunday. I reserve the right to reschedule these posts based on other things that should take priority on this blog.

And that’s it. Here we go.


She does not answer. She looks at him with eyes that could be looking at an overgrown bush in the corner of a garden.

Horticulture can be a cruel mistress.

He knows a thing or two about cruel mistresses.

His current mistress is a horticulturalist, hence the beginning of this sad tale.

Not that having a mistress is a sad thing, you understand. His wife knows, and she made her peace with it long ago. Politicians and captains of industry tend to have mistresses. It’s part of the uniform, like wingtip shoes and a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. She entertains herself with lengthy trips abroad whenever he does not need her on a campaign trail or at some corporate event.

Her love life is none of his business.

Meanwhile, his current mistress is a horticulturalist, and a cruel one. She fancies herself the future Martha Stewart of landscaping. Her weekly television show on topiary is a rising star on the late-night Home and Garden Channel.

He admires her way with shears, and how her hair is always just so.

He does not admire her own infidelity, unfortunately.

When he considers sauce for the gander in an unfitting condiment for the goose. To his mind she is a kept woman, and that comes with some obligations.

“You’re a kept woman,” He tells her. “And that comes with some obligations!”

She does not answer. She looks at him with eyes that could be looking at an overgrown bush in the corner of the garden.

At last she says, “Whatever do you mean, Darling?” She says it in the same tone she uses when endorsing a hedge trimmer to camera that she would never use in the privacy of her own hedged-in backyard. A backyard he pays for!

“I know about Roger!” He says.

“Roger’s a dear friend,” She demurs, reaching out to brush away an invisible hair from his lapel.

“He’s more than that!” He insists.

“Well, yes. He’s my agent too,” She says.

“And more than that!” He says.

“You mean my business manager? Oh, Darling, we discussed this. You are too busy to worry about my finances beyond your contribution to my finances.”

“No, you know what he does that I don’t approve of?”

“Do I?” She tilts her perfectly coiffed head ever so slightly in a query.

“Yes, now admit to me you know!” He demands.

“Oh, Darling, is it such a big deal?”

“You said I was the only one!”

“But his is so much bigger than yours!”

“How could you say that!”

“It’s my job, Darling. Of course I have the dimensions down to the inch.”

“To the inch?”

“Yes, Darling.”

“He’s inches bigger?”

“He’s yards bigger, Darling. Square yards bigger,” She insists.

“Wait, what are you taking about?”

“He lets me landscape his yard, Darling. What are you talking about?”

Note: So the opening line of this came to me as soon as I heard the prompt. I laughed and knew I would do no better. When I began reading my exercise aloud to the group, I said, “Horticulture can be a cruel mistress–”

–And was greeted with a burst of laughter from one of my fellow writers, who exclaimed, “I fucking love you, Geoff!”

I was so pleased with that interruption I wrote it down, and now I get to share it here. Lovely.

Anyway, once I had committed to the main character having a mistress –and a mistress he’s going to apparently have a disagreement with– I felt a little trapped. I don’t like writing fights between characters who the reader/listener has no attachment to in a 10- or 15-minute first draft. I decided immediately to distance the man from his wife, and then also to distance the mistress from the man. Then I got caught up in some of the word play, and decided the whole thing should end with a misunderstanding and a dick joke.

Sometimes I love being a writer.

Aside from the opening line, I’m also rather proud of coming up with this off the top of my dome under a ticking clock:

When he considers sauce for the gander in an unfitting condiment for the goose. To his mind she is a kept woman, and that comes with some obligations.

“You’re a kept woman,” He tells her. “And that comes with some obligations!”

Just the delivery of that repetition to set up the prompt is so deliciously absurd, to my mind it tips the reader that we’re heading for a punchline at the end, something that had not been telegraphed earlier than this.

If I had to pick a thing I don’t like about this one, it’s that I have nowhere to go after the last line as written. This isn’t a story that can have a beginning, middle, and an end with character arcs and conflicts and people undergoing change. It’s all basically a farce with one abrupt conclusion. Still, it was funny. I’ve done worse things than come up with something genuinely funny in a first draft.



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