This story evolved through rhythm—of sense, not sound, through syncopating literal and allusive:
We got a room in the CNN Center hotel and woke to the morning news.
I found myself writing a narrator who doesn’t withhold so much as she stylizes, merging her wit at the time of events with her aplomb recounting them:
Bobby, our head of sales, had hired two twenty-year olds to smile in front of our booth. Deirdre and Evelyn, from Yorba Linda. Bobby gave them brochures to offer to people who say, sure, they’ll take a brochure. Afterward we told Evelyn’s brochures by their creases. She held the same smile no matter who leered or ignored her. We threw out Deirdre’s brochures, too. Bobby said what mattered were my numbers. I’d had the best numbers three years running. I always felt he meant they weren’t enough. Deirdre wondered how to break into sales. Selling what, I said. What d’ya got, she said. I said stay in school. Sooner or later it’s best to be honest. The trick is knowing when.
Some narrators unintentionally reveal more than they intend to, more than they realize they reveal. I see this narrator so secure in style that in her way she opens up:
Here is something about me: I thought I might not pass a supermarket before the hotel, so I pulled into a convenience mart that couldn’t possibly have what I wanted.
Is she confiding, confessing that this is the sort of thing she does or did? Or declaring herself wise to plans that go nowhere, and that she won’t choose poorly again? I don’t recall whether, in writing and editing the passage, I’d determined. I was sure of the phrasing she would use to contain what she chose, or couldn’t help, to reveal.
Story excerpts lightly edited, 2016.
Photos and composite: Sarah Malone