Exploring the art of prose


Nachlass by Melissa Bean

Melissa Bean’s short story “Nachlass” handles themes of inheritance and distance masterfully. The narrator, a writer, is the daughter of a Great Man of Letters and has inherited her father’s literary estate upon his death. “Writers writing about writing is the stuff of cliché at this point,” Bean writes in her author’s note. Indeed. But hear us out. “Nachless” has serious style, from the sentence structure to the form of the piece itself, complete with a brilliant flashback delivered in bullet point. The lake house where the narrator retreats to tread her father’s path is exemplary of setting as character, and the descriptions of place strengthen the narrator’s characterization (“The spiders that skitter and curl, their legs endlessly plucking and weaving overhead, are the children of the children of the children of the ones I killed underfoot the last time I was here.”). The Nachlass itself, the physicality of the literary estate in its journals and letters, and in the one final story the narrator must grapple with, becomes a powerful objective correlative for her familial trauma. And this story takes great care with the meaning of storytelling. Bean writes in the author’s note: “I realized that the story I was trying to tell wasn’t just about intergenerational trauma and fraught familial relationships, it was also about how family stories are crafted.” The emotional core here is raw and honest and compelling. A man fictionalizes and rewrites his own history, leaving his daughter with the aftermath, with a choice of whose truth to tell.  —CRAFT


When my father died, I expected I would receive the old station wagon, scratched up and 100,000 miles old. Or nothing. I really thought I would receive nothing. But what I got was a Nachlass. That is the word he pretentiously used in his will.

In German, it breaks down to Nach—after and lass—leaving. A literary estate. My mother, his wife, had been my father’s editor while he was alive, but somehow this fell on my shoulders now. (To which she said, “It’s your father, dear. I don’t know any more than you do.”)

My father used the same leather bound, unlined notebooks to write in his whole life. Everything from the five novels and three short story collections to the daily journal entries. To accommodate them, I’ve disassembled my coffee table and stacked the volumes from 1958 to 1976 in its place. The rest of the ’70s have taken the place of the ottoman.

They have taken over my basement apartment. Spare books lie at the foot of my bed. Boxes of loose paper, clipped and stapled, flock around the door frames. The stacks of deep brown leather, reminiscent of some smoky lounge of yesteryear, feel out of place in my eggshell white rental sprinkled with flat-packed furniture. Some morbid part of me wonders just how many animal carcasses were stripped bare in service of this particular obsession. As I move through my apartment, I consider how many cubic feet of air they have pushed out of my hole in the ground. When I drift to sleep covered in a thin layer of dust knocked free from the spines, I wonder if the journals are steadily suffocating me.

To make a long, drawn out story short—my father drank himself to death.

And really, “He drank himself to death” is an odd statement, narratively speaking. It implies it was the drinking that did it, directly, like a gun or a heart attack. But no, it’s a much more ambient thing. Yes, there was the drinking, but the dying was later, like an afterthought. Few people, I would assume, choose such a slow and arduous way to die. Rather, they are trying to do something else entirely and it creeps along behind them, silent like a shadow.

But this train of thought is unnecessary as no one but me would write “drank himself to death.” Everyone else has settled on “his unfortunate, untimely death” like it was an accident of some kind.

My father leaving his literary estate to me is especially surprising because in his life he’d said that, as a writer, I was rambling, avoidant, needlessly focused on everything aside from the central issue of the story. (To this my mother said, “Your writing has a tendency to be verbose. And maudlin. If you really wanted, you could build a portfolio that would get you somewhere.”) Yet it is me as opposed to my mother who was gifted with the materials. The will was cryptic: I trust you can finish what I could not. I didn’t know what he meant by that. Neither did the lawyers. My mother didn’t have any additional answers. After fifty years, she said she is “retiring from the whole thing,” leaving me to stack the early ’50s at the foot of my bed, their covers sun bleached from their spot on the western wall of his office.

And I planned to ignore this vague command and let the estate languish in my apartment, but my contact information must be spreading like a flu—publishers and publicists, professors and printers all suddenly know my unlisted number and want to discuss “preserving Leland Muir’s literary legacy.” His agent learned of my father’s unfinished stories and started emailing me, tastefully burying her requests for “anything usable sweetie. I know it must be difficult, but you know it’s what your father would have wanted” in her condolences. I realize while sorting dozens of emails into the spam folder that, until I do this, it will follow me forever.

But this is what I actually do:

I throw a sheet over the stack of journals that hold my father’s early adulthood and eat dinner off it. I iron my dresses on the journals of the Cold War, the steam warping the covers, the pages with each pass. People send me sympathy cards (We are truly sorry for your loss. The literary world will be missing a shining star in Leland Muir) and I place them over the Dream Team—the Olympic version in ’92 and the legal version in ’95. Most of them remain unopened.

I lay my father’s final unfinished story on the floor in the channels between Nixon and Clinton and stand over it. I trust you to finish what I could not.

The story: A headstrong and busy father, Robert, and his introverted daughter, Teresa, go to a lake for the summer. There, Robert learns the true rewards of family togetherness by teaching his daughter how to drive. Teresa builds a new appreciation for her father. Or that’s what it’s supposed to be. A portion of the middle is only outlines and rough sketches. The ending needs work. But still, enough to finish. In the outline he notes See: July 1–21 1999. Distal Lake.

I move the story around and around my home, looking at it in different lights, at different times of day, as if it would somehow change.

What is in the notes:

  • That I learned to drive at Distal Lake in July of ’99. My father was working on his third novel. The weather was beautiful. The water was refreshing. The fish, biting. Every afternoon, after he finished writing, he would take me out to practice my driving.

Sticking point—what isn’t in the notes:

  • The way that stress makes a cabin in the woods feel smaller. My steadily creeping around, trying to avoid him. The way wood groans and creaks as you move. Buyer’s discounts on Molsons from the liquor store. The circular imprints the cans leave on cardboard pallets.
  • Night driving lessons, my hands on ten and two, shoulders hunched toward the wheel. The sodium lamps around the lake shining orange. The tangled shadows of the trees.
  • My father’s voice from the passenger seat, thick with whiskey: “I needed this trip to write but you insisted on being here. It’s just selfish. You’re always selfish like this. You know what you are? You’re a worthless leech who no one will ever love. An opportunistic little moocher who can’t do anything for herself. No one will ever be able to stand you.” And the car slips in and out of the light. The stars overhead, a million layered on top of each other and so bright, so far away from the city.
    • He says, “You’re going to die alone. You know that right? You’re going to look up one day and no one will be there because you push everyone away. I don’t know how that happened. How I ended up with someone as cold as you. Absolutely ruthless. Everyone thinks you’re so sweet but look at you. You’d leave me for dead if you had the chance.”
      • For a moment, it feels like the whole world is asleep, that the only voice in the whole universe is his.
        • He says, “Everyone’s life would be better if you were just gone.”
          • The harshest part is not the words themselves but their ease. Not rage but disappointment, resignation. Like it’s been festering. Like this is finally it, in the middle of the woods, in the middle of the night, this is when you realize something eminently disappointing.
          • Because the words themselves are familiar at this point. But the tone, no. The fundamental disappointment.
  • Inertia—that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. That I did not stop the car. That I did not turn back. That I kept on the loop of Distal Lake. All 21.3 miles around.

Another sticking point—what could never be in the story:

  • How I call my mother over the years. Regularly. We speak about the small increments that literary success is measured in. We speak about the price of beets. The saturation of first-person, present-tense narratives in today’s literary scene. The warmth of every passing winter.
    • I miss you, See you soon, Love you too.
  • How I do not call my father. We speak on the phone incidentally throughout the years. We say our ‘hi, how are yous.’ We see each other on holidays. That balance somehow exists even though my parents live in the same house.
  • That I never tell anyone any of it. Not even my mother. Not really. Not ever. Because he is him. A great man. A great novelist. An award winner. An inspiration to a community with so few heroes. People pay me compliments by pointing out the many ways they see him in me.

I look at Teresa and Robert, at almost-me and my almost-father, practicing parallel parking and coming to an understanding of one another. I want to call him and ask if this is meant to be a joke. But of course, but of course.

“I’m having problems with this still.”

After days of crumpled papers and sentences struck through, I call my mother for help. I imagine her in the empty house, two sizes too big, my father’s house. He insisted on living in a place with reasonable prices and real seasons. Such desire pushed him further and further north throughout his life. Growing up, I thought we lived on the cold edge of the universe for a variety of reasons. Now, I imagine my mother rattling around the house like a seed in a gourd.

“Well,” she says, “how would you write this?”

Despite talking about writing frequently, I do not normally talk to her about my own. By some unspoken family agreement, her professional editorial opinions belonged to my father. Asking for such council now feels unusual. Perhaps it is for her as well; she doesn’t approach my request with the razor-sharp editorial eye that earned my father’s respect. She comes to me as my mother, soothing lilt to her voice. For a moment, I cannot tell if I resent such tender love.

I sit on the couch, put my feet up on the years of Michael Jackson’s heyday. I say, “That’s the problem. I would never write this.”

“Well, you’re essentially a ghost writer. It doesn’t matter if you would write this,” she says. “The original writer’s vision is key.”

Which is true, I realize. To do this, I have to think as my father would have.

I stand up and close the blinds, light still filters through. Sound seeps in through the windowpanes, noise from the hundreds of thousands of people scuttling over the pavement at all hours of the day and night. Horns honking. Pipes rattling. Wheels over grates. It filters through the sidewalks, through the foundations, to me.

In the draft, my father mentions the tranquil quiet of unspoiled nature.

I press the phone to my face. “Mom are you still there?” I say, “Hey, do you remember the lake house?”

I stop twice on my way up to the lake. Once, to get gas. Once, to seriously consider turning around. Because he would never know if I didn’t finish this story, or if I passed it on to one of his endlessly eager graduate students. Because it wouldn’t change things for me, not really. Because what’s the point of working for the approval of someone who is unable to provide it.

But that didn’t seem to stop me when he was alive. Honestly, if I had gotten over seeking his approval like I told myself I had, I probably wouldn’t have become the kind of person who makes a life picking apart words and sentences, pauses and paragraph breaks, searching for some hidden meaning. If it was really that easy to shift priorities, I wouldn’t be sitting in the parking lot of the highway rest stop in the first place. I would never consider pulling back out onto the interstate, driving through the night to catch, if only for a moment, the faint glimmer of some unfamiliar light on a familiar shore.

The town just south of the lake resembles a collection of worn toys pressed into grass. Antebellum style houses sit next to colonials on unmowed lawns. Unpainted ranch homes, in need of power washing. The Greyhound station, half boarded up. Atop the hill, St. Monica’s church, its spire visible from almost anywhere in the area. The dull backs of the stained-glass windows still catch the light. Next to Jesus on the cross, St. Monica, in white, hands folded, weeping. As I drive toward the cabin, I keep checking for it in the rearview.

Inside, I set down my bags. The dust reaching and lifting as I step through the house. The denim couch worn thinner and paler with other people’s stays. The spiders that skitter and curl, their legs endlessly plucking and weaving overhead, are the children of the children of the children of the ones I killed underfoot the last time I was here. I walk through the living room, through the kitchen, and onto the porch.

And the water in the lake is different—I know that evaporation and runoff have long ago taken any water I stepped in—but somehow it feels the same. I pull off my shoes and socks, step onto the edge. The murky water rises up through the sucking sand and over my toes, like it’s trying to pull me under.

I try to settle in. If I can embrace the quiet and get to work, I can get in and get out.

I am shuffling through his late ’90s journals, trying to find inspiration, when my mother calls me. “How is it going?” She sounds like she’s out. The chatter of others filters through. I hear laughter, the echo of her name, distorted by the phone.

I am happy to hear the sounds of liveliness, of enjoyment coming from her end of the line. I was worried that she would have a hard time moving on after my father’s death. My parents had been together since she was in her twenties and he was in his forties. My mother had never really been with anyone else, “not seriously anyway.” In his journals, my father described her as his sweet. The pages flutter in my fingers; she appears over and over. Marlena, my sweet. I never thought of either of them as particularly romantic or sentimental people. Now, ink smudging my fingertips, I wonder what part of him, what part of her, was hidden from my view. But there is no way to ask that.

On the phone, I say, “Slowly.”

The sound of other people grows quieter. Walking away? Closing a door? “Are you sure you’re up for this, dear? This would be a hard task for anyone.” There’s a long pause and she says, “Your father wouldn’t want you to lose sleep over this.”

I want to ask her what she thinks such a gift was meant to do if not rob me of sleep. Some small, dark part of me thinks that maybe he gave the estate to me so I would fail his final wishes. That it would prove to the world—to my mother, to everyone—that there was only one talent in our family.

But she doesn’t think that. Even now, I realize, through the veil of death, she is editing him, plucking the best possible version of his intentions from everything available. But the professional and personal aspects of their relationship have always been difficult to tease apart. Out of all the women in his life, in his notebooks—some cuter, some younger, some wealthier—she was the one he trusted to ‘meddle’ with his work (until now, I realize). I always figured that was why he proposed to her as opposed to anyone else. And perhaps that editorial keenness allowed her to love someone as odd, as rigid, as stubbornly flawed as he was; she was determined to dig for the most promising parts of him no matter what.

Instead of saying any of that I say, “Mom, I’ve just gotten started…”

“How about you stay here for a while? I hate that cabin anyway. Dreadful place. The spiders. I can’t imagine it’s gotten any better.” She huffs out a breath. “He always had secret pretensions of Thoreau.”

And I wonder if she has taken to the loneliness in their marital home like I have taken to it here. I wonder if she has taken to the silence. I wonder if it’s eerie up there, like there is something lurking just out of sight. But I can’t bear to hear her suggest that I come to visit. Because, I realize, I can’t bear to turn her down. I don’t want to be there again. I don’t want to sleep surrounded by the rest of his things or sleep surrounded by the empty spaces they left. So, I say, “No, it’s fine. I just need to dedicate myself to this.”

So, I decide to dedicate myself to this.

The silence seems to follow me. When I was child, visiting here from the suburbs, it didn’t bother me as much. I didn’t notice it. I would run through the woods and throw sticks in the forest. My mother trailed behind me. My father holed up in the third bedroom turned into an office.

Now, alone, I notice the silence punctuated with birdcalls. Chirps and shrills and whoops and then nothing. I mean to write. I pull out my computer, place his draft next to it. I mean to.

I waste two days like this. No matter what progress I almost make, there are sticking points. For example: In the story, Teresa—me, almost-me—scratches up the side of the station wagon in the parking lot of St. Monica’s church. The smell of my childhood summers, of stagnant water and leaves, hangs in the air. She is repentant. Endlessly so.

Robert—Father, almost-father—is full of anger and then is overcome by understanding, forgiveness. Sun catches the stained glass windows and they glint like jewels. St. Monica watches.

This is half true, give or take a bit.

I did scratch the station wagon. But it was the parking lot of the Council Rock School, two miles away. It was K turns, not parallel parking. The ability to turn and return from whence you came seamlessly.

He did forgive me. Mostly. He crouched by the door, running his finger along the scratches. He wouldn’t move so I couldn’t get out of the driver’s seat. I looked straight ahead toward the spire of St. Monica’s. The image of the dull, stained glass backs of her tears was stuck in my mind. I gripped the wheel and tried to count each glass panel that made up her habit, her hands, from memory. He looked up towards the sky, squinted. He raised himself slowly. His left knee, not bad, not yet. He said, “Don’t fuck it up again” and rounded the car, got in. I put the car in reverse, turned the wheel all the way to the right, lifted my foot off the brake.

I spend the morning trying to think of Teresa and Robert not as my father and me, but as two entirely different people with two entirely different lives. Then I end up in the chair on the shore instead, watching boats amble along the water. The trees around the lake are like capillaries freed from skin and reaching toward the sky. The water is opaque with silt and muck, with decay. It reflects the steady path of clouds overhead.

A boater lolling by the shore sees me and calls out, “Why not go for a dip? It’s supposed to be in the eighties today!”

I shield my eyes, shake my head. I never liked to swim in the lake. Watch it, stand in it, sure. But swim, no. For the overwhelming fear that something would be lurking beneath, just out of sight. Dad would say “the worst things out here are zebra mussels or carp, get in.”

As a child I could not shake my tendency towards the irrational—imagining the hand beneath the surface waiting to pull me under, always waiting. Now, I sit on the porch and watch fishermen scrape mussels off anchors and the bottoms of rowboats, peel them off fishing lines. I watch these invasive species, unwanted but thriving, choking the life out of all other things. Now, still, shielding my eyes against the glimmering water, I have that same fear but with something else skulking underneath.

I realize that maybe I’ve been focusing on the wrong part of all this: what should or should not be, as opposed to what is or is not. An anchor is pulled out from the water, bumpy with striped shells, the metal lost beneath.

I peel off my shoes, stick them under the chair, and wade in, clothes and all. The algae curls around my ankles and toes. The fins of fish glance off my shins. The boater gives me a thumbs up. I give him a half smile and slip underwater. What is the worst that can be down here?

I move my things from the room I’ve always stayed in to the one he used. It overlooks the lake. At night, it is like a spot blotted out of existence, so dark. My old room overlooked the trees, the tangle of branches, the gray roofs of homes, the steeple of St. Monica’s. The lights would rise on and then click off steadily in the night. I push the desk in the office into the corner until it looks at two tracts of faded wallpaper.

My father detailed in one of the journals that his routine was truly the key to his success. Like a marathon runner or an opera singer, no one gets great on half effort. I always figured his routine was a form of fundamental anal retentiveness, but there’s no harm in trying.

I wake up at eight a.m., look at the wall until one p.m. I do not go do other things. I have paper in front of me. I stored my laptop; he handwrote diligently throughout his life. (On one of those endless parallel parking practices around the lake, my knuckles white at ten and two, he said, “I didn’t learn to type for years. I just dated women who knew how.”) I write anything. Anything at all. Phone numbers of places I know. Synopses of movies I’ve seen. I swim for forty-five minutes each afternoon. I swim through the fear and the murk and the algae, through the fins of other creatures and their gaping mouths. I dry off. I edit what I wrote for the day. I drink whiskey.

It’s just me and the insects that creep through the cabinets, the car, this half ghost town, all this water. Nothing to distract me. I can do routine.

My mother calls and asks what I am doing. She says, “I haven’t talked to you in a while, how are you?”

It takes me a moment to find my voice. My mouth, filmy with last night’s drinking. I say, “I am sunning on the lake.” I say, “I’m taking your advice and I am relaxing.” She asks again if I want to come home. I can imagine the words I’m worried about you hovering in the back of her throat, but she doesn’t say them.

A memory floats to the surface of my mind: my mother sitting on the edge of my childhood bed, pushing my hair out of my face. She had asked me if everything was okay at school. “You seem a bit down, sweetie.” She lowered her head a little bit, so we could be face to face.

The only thing my father trusted me with while he was alive was the secret of his disdain for me. I—we both—held onto that secret like something precious. I told her then I was fine, don’t worry about me, I’m fine. She let it go eventually, but her eyes stayed narrowed. I imagine that same look on her face now.

I used to wish that I would grow up to look like her. But with each passing year, we look less and less alike. At the funeral, standing next to his memorial picture, I was told I had my father’s inscrutable face. “There’s no question about whose daughter you are,” they said. “There never was.”

Now, over the phone, I tell her that I’m okay, don’t bother me. I say, “Don’t bother me.” I click the phone off; place it on the slats of the floor. I expect her to call me back, but the phone stays silent where it’s perched on the floor. She must have decades of experience with sudden dial tones. I imagine that she chalks this up to the vicissitudes of art or what have you.

The fan buzzes overhead.

My hair is wet and smells faintly of the lake. I cannot wash the smell out. I have given up trying. My fingers, pruned, fog the phone’s screen where they are pressed to it.

Soon, I will begin revising for the day.

Please, I say, don’t bother me.

It’s not like I didn’t cry when I found out he had died.

And I found out he had died, as in, learned after the fact. As in, I was not there. I was in the city. I knew he was sick and I called Mom, offered her my support. I’ll take shifts at the hospital. I’ll water the plants. I’ll something. She said, “I can handle this. Stay there.” She passed the phone to Dad who said, “It’s not a big deal, just stay put.”

I shed my tears, went back home, attended the funeral, collected all those books and boxes and redecorated my apartment with them. But now, facing this curling wallpaper, I cry. In this cabin. In the dead of night, I cry. For the man I didn’t have a chance to know. For the man that might have only existed in his own dreams. For his vision of a relationship salvaged, no matter how impossible, selfish, and overly optimistic that vision was. For all the selfish, optimistic wishes I never let myself have.

If I believed in ghosts, I would swear I could feel his hand on my shoulder. Comforting or malevolent, I’m not sure. Perhaps that is the point, that I will never get to be sure of his intentions.

I look out the window, and the lake looks like a hole in the world, straight to nowhere. I put on my jacket and shoes, make my way downstairs.

I do the night drive again, around the lake, all 21.3 miles. I do it in silence and imagine him there. Stern and straightbacked like he would have been then. Not soft and sallow and gray as he steadily became. I imagine that we switched places. That I was him, hurtling toward a deadline. Hurtling toward old age and toward death and toward obscurity. And there was me, holding him back. I feel the whiskey in me, the rock of it in my veins like a tide.

I imagine I was him sitting in the passenger seat, waiting for the inspiration and the big break. I imagine that I wasn’t anywhere. I drive like that. Forty miles an hour because that’s how I did it the first time, nervous in the dark. Of raccoons, of playing children, of deer, of ruining the car, of dying. But all that fear doesn’t matter now. I just focus on the ride, the feeling of gliding toward oblivion.

The next morning, I write. And the next and the next. I weave the selfish dream. That I am Teresa and he is Robert. That the lake is in full summer bloom. That we reconcile. That we understand each other. That Saint Monica weeps tears of joy for both of us.

St. Monica, I learned years ago, is the patron saint of disappointing children, among other things. Does that mean the ones who disappoint children invoke her name, or do those children who are disappointments themselves?

I send it to my mother in an email. She immediately replies: are you coming home? Which home she does not specify. Regardless, the answer is no. I am going to stay here. At least until the season is out. And then I do not know.

I buy two more bottles of whiskey. Buy two proper bathing suits. Fog-proof goggles. A swim cap, to reduce drag.

I swim out as far as I can each morning. I watch the wake boarders flip off the glittering surface. The fishermen try for something that isn’t carp. I watch them fail. I get good. I learn to bury the fear of the darkness beneath, I push it down.

My mother calls me about the story. She tells me it is beautiful. She tells me that the publisher will be so pleased, the agent will be so pleased. She tells me I should consider taking on some of his other unfinished work, since I’m already up here. She sounds happy in a way I realize I haven’t heard in some time. And for a moment I am happy. I wish I didn’t answer her call, that she’d spoken to my voice mail, that I could pull this moment out of time and play it again later.

I say thank you. She tells me that I’m really onto something here. I say thank you again. Soon, I will hang up and the curve of the road will continue, the lake just outside the driver’s door, each light like a jewel, the darkness overhead. But for now, I savor her voice, like it’s the only one in the universe. “It’s perfect,” she says. “Like he was still here,” she says. “Like he spoke right through you.”


MELISSA BEAN received her MFA from New York University and is currently working toward a PhD at Fordham University. She has been the Assistant Fiction Editor and Awards Editor at the Washington Square Review. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, The Gallatin Review, and Scissors and Spackle among other places. She lives in New York with her fiancé and two dogs. Her website is melissabeanwriting.com.


Featured image by Will Zhang courtesy of Unsplash


Author’s Note

Writers writing about writing is the stuff of cliché at this point. In my defense, I had tried and failed to write this story in a couple different ways first. A previous version of this story centered around a mother-daughter road trip to visit the father in rehab. The heart of the story—the bit that came to me first and animated the rest of the piece—was the moment where the daughter lies to her mother. The mother is optimistic that this stint in rehab will produce a substantive positive change in their family dynamic. The daughter cannot bear to break her mother’s heart by disagreeing. Another version of the story changed the road trip to a friendly sports betting pool. The family dynamic was much the same: an optimistic mother, a toxic father-daughter relationship that went unacknowledged. Eventually the story comes to a head in a similar way: the main character chooses to lie about the irreparable damage done by the father-daughter relationship to spare the mother. I ended up shelving both versions after I had run out of ideas. I hate to say I do this quite a bit.

I was able to turn a corner when I realized that the story I was trying to tell wasn’t just about intergenerational trauma and fraught familial relationships, it was also about how family stories are crafted. In all families, I imagine, there is a story that gets passed along not because it is the truth, but because it is the most idealized version that survived. I realized that the preservation of a particular family narrative was integral to those previous drafts, but I had a hard time bringing that into focus. Around that time, I overheard a story about someone being left the literary estate of a friend who had succumbed to an illness. The person mentioned how going through and editing the remaining work was its own kind of trauma on top of the death itself. “How do you speak for someone else in this way?” they asked. “Especially when there is so much you still want to hear from them.”

Morbid as it was, that helped this click for me. I was able to go back and rewrite the story. By making the story about a literal story, I was able to more deeply explore the act and implications of telling (or not telling) a story. I was also able to bring in elements of public vs. private family narratives. By making her father dead as opposed to alive, whether or not the daughter’s experience is told is now entirely left up to her. This change also gave me a little more leeway to play around with form a bit. I still had to figure out how to balance tension and conflict in such an internal story, but realizing this aspect of the story made the subsequent revisions much easier.


MELISSA BEAN received her MFA from New York University and is currently working toward a PhD at Fordham University. She has been the Assistant Fiction Editor and Awards Editor at the Washington Square Review. Her work has appeared in Literary Orphans, The Gallatin Review, and Scissors and Spackle among other places. She lives in New York with her fiancé and two dogs. Her website is melissabeanwriting.com.