Writing Alternative Endings – Here Come the Maples

Have you ever thought about writing an alternative ending to a story you’ve just read?

It’s not something that occurs to me that often, but when I did my MA in creative writing a few years ago,we were set the task of writing alternatives for the end of ‘Here Come the Maples’, a short story by John Updike.

I’m a fan of his writing and once set the task, I enjoyed writing two short alternatives.  One would effectively finish the story about 75% way through Updike’s full version, while the second gave an alternative twist to the full length tale.

It turned out I was the only one in my class to complete the exercise; but I think about it occasionally when I’m stuck with the question of what should happen next.  I know there could be a number of options.  It could finish earlier than I had originally planned, or it could twist away from its expected course right at the end.

I wasn’t trying to imitate Updike’s style, but some of it did rub off, just a tiny bit.

For those of you not familiar with the short story, the Maples, Joan and Richard, a married couple, are driving on their way to the Court House to get divorced.  Richard recalls significant moments in his life with his wife, the early excitement followed by the dull ordinariness of life together.  The story was written in, and set in the 1960s, at a time when suburban married life was the antithesis of the apparently rebellious spirit of the times.


Thanks for doing this,’ she said of the ride, adding ‘I guess.’

They sat side by side in the car in silence, not looking at each other.

‘Why are we doing this?’ she asked quietly.

‘This?’ he said.

‘Divorce.  Undoing.  Stopping. This.’ She waved her hands encompassing the dashboard nearly touching his hands where they gripped the steering wheel too tightly.

‘It’s what we agreed.  As soon as the no fault rules were introduced.  We agreed,’ he paused,’ didn’t we?’

‘Yes, but it’s not too late to change our minds.’  They were silent again, both watching the car in front.    ‘I remember sitting in the bath on the day we got married talking to Mary.  I’d woken up that morning not sure I wanted to go through with it.  And she said ‘it’s not too late to change your mind’, and we laughed at the thought of all the fuss there would be.  And the more we tried to stop laughing the worse it got.’

He could see his knuckles glow white.

‘But you hadn’t changed your mind, really, had you?’

‘Only for a moment,’ she said smiling at his profile.

‘And today?’ he asked.

‘Only for a moment.’


When they arrived at the courthouse Richards’s lawyer asked him for a word in private.

‘When did you get the copy of your marriage license?’

‘Last week. At the same time I swore the affidavit.  At City Hall.’

‘Well, there’s a problem with it.’

Richard felt a surge of what might have been relief.  ‘What kind of problem?  The woman there with the red hair copied it out of the ledger very carefully.  Very neat I thought.’

‘It’s not the copy.  It’s the original license that’s the problem. It seems not to have been properly witnessed at the time,’ the lawyer sighed as if at Richard’s careless oversight.’

‘The woman at City Hall didn’t say anything about that.’

‘She may not know it was necessary in 1954.  The rules changed in 1965.  She probably doesn’t get much call for copies for marriages 20 years ago.’

‘So what does this mean?’ Richard asked.

‘We need to check.  Problems with paperwork make judges nervous.  It may stop the proceedings today.’

‘Does it mean we weren’t properly married?’  Richard hadn’t noticed Joan walk up to his elbow.  ‘Imagine that.’  And she burst into that bright laughter that Richard had never been able to resist.

He smiled at his lawyer.   ‘We were a bit late and disorganised on the day.  Was it all a mistake?  he asked.

‘No nothing like that.  It just means we will need to get a couple more affidavits.  From you, and someone who was there, to confirm they witnessed it.’

Richard thought back to the photographs of them grouped together on the sidewalk.  It hadn’t been a big party.  His and Joan’s parents were all dead; the roommate, photographer, had drifted off years ago and Richard no longer even exchanged Christmas cards with him.  Joan’s cousin, perhaps, but she’d been in Mexico for the last ten years.

‘That could take us some time,’ he said.  ‘Can’t we try to bluff it out today?’

‘But if we didn’t have the right paperwork to begin with, do we need anything done today?’  Joan was enjoying this.

Richard too was excited at the thought that there had been something somehow illegal or illicit in their union, unsanctified by the correct number of signatures.  Finally it was no longer ordinary and run of the mill.

‘Maybe we should think about this again’ he said taking Joan’s arm and walking back with her down the steps and to the car.

Leave a comment


  1. margaret nickels

     /  June 10, 2011

    Makes me think of that wonderful Priestley play : When we are Married !

  2. Rowena,

    Much preferred your ending. More romantic, quirkier and original.



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