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 withholds by stylizing, 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 whether she was leered at or ignored. We threw out Deirdre’s brochures, too. Bobby said what mattered were my numbers. I’d had the best 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.
She’s so at home in her verbal style that she reveals details that stray into it:
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 deficient judgment, or declaring herself wise, 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