Exploring the art of prose


The Bodies by Andrew Potter

Title card shows a cluster of cacti against a background of gray sky; title card for the new short story, "The Bodies," by Andrew Potter.

The art of crafting a relationship narrative is a delicate one. The writing almost requires a scalpel, rather than a pen. And, much like a relationship itself, it requires a brutal, meticulous brand of honesty. But, most of all, it requires an even elixir of mindfulness and creativity. Andrew Potter’s “The Bodies” is emblematic of just that caliber of crafting. “The story demanded simplicity,” Potter writes in his author’s note. “Any initial overwriting felt contrived. The harder I tried to make the surreal real, the less believable it seemed. Like the characters, I had to relinquish control and let the story tell itself.”

Surrender is as key to craft as it is to a relationship. And Potter surrenders completely: His story doesn’t hesitate, it jumps right into its conflict and the inciting incident shortly after. With some verisimilar exactitude, Potter’s use of dialogue captures perfectly the kind of passive aggressiveness that often latches onto a long-term relationship. It’s no surprise that, given the quality of the dialogue, Potter cites the late Cormac McCarthy as his inspiration. What we get is a story that opens into a relationship at its wit’s end. Alex and Sara must change or lose what they’ve cultivated over the years. As a result, they’ve hired a therapist, Dr. Yamatani, whose conclusion can be summed up as follows: if there’s any hope at saving this relationship, Alex and Sara must first “unravel.”

Try as the two characters might, Alex and Sara do not “unravel.” They remain stuck in that tense, liminal space before what we expect to be the relationship’s denouement. Instead, something else happens. An unexpected outside force appears: inanimate body doubles of the couple. It’s an incredible dip from the unflinching real to the surreal on Potter’s part. In his author’s note, he remembers asking questions to himself: “What would you do if the impossible was really happening? If your mortality was right in front of you, visceral and fleshy?”

The process of writing itself is a difficult one. A writer must see the page with fresh eyes. They must write from a place that’s far away from the “real” while still owning its relativity and inescapability. A place on the outskirts of what one perceives as possible. A place that, in its own right, is surreal. “The Bodies” is a masterclass in what happens when a writer creates from that very place. On the outskirts. At the surrender.  —CRAFT


Our therapist made us go camping. Her suggestion was to sleep outdoors for three nights and then get a hotel room. She said camping would force us to rely on each other for comfort, and the hotel stay would be like a collective reward. Sure, we thought. We would have tried anything.

We camped at Red Rock so we could hang out in Vegas after. There were gorgeous sandstone cliffs, high desert vistas, wildflowers. We saw a fox, two bighorn sheep. And then there were the nightly arguments on whose gas from the dehydrated food was more noxious. The unzipping of the tent for fresh air and the zipping to keep the bugs out. And then the unzipping to get the bugs out that had gotten in. And me drinking too much tequila the second night and watching the Lakers game in this old guy Barry’s trailer, while, apparently, Sara was being charmed by a twenty-two-year-old park employee beneath a cotton candy sunset.

“He was almost attractive enough,” she said.

“For what?” I asked.

“For me to oblige him.”



“Oh, sure. In the tent?”

“He said he had a cabin.”

“He lives in a forest service cabin. He doesn’t have one.”

“Well…he almost had me in the cabin he doesn’t have.”

“Can you stop?”

“Can you?”

Dr. Yamatani, our therapist, said we needed to unravel. Let it fall apart, she told us. She said we were holding it together and couples could do that for a long time, especially with strong friend groups. It was true. Alone, the undertones were of annoyance. The other, for each of us, was lingering.

Nothing had changed after camping. In the least, we’d shared suffering that was not caused directly by the other person and were back on the same team.

On the drive into Vegas, Sara scrambled to find deals at one of the casinos. She refuses to book hotels early, says you save money on the last-minute sites.

“What happens when they realize everyone’s waiting until the day of?” I asked her.

“Who realizes?”

“The big money people.”

“That won’t happen.”

“How do you know?”

“Because they know people aren’t brave.”

We ended up at the Luxor in a room with two queen beds. It was cheaper, she said. We cleaned up. Sara spent almost an hour deciding where to eat. I watched basketball. Dr. Yamatani called. Sara talked to her, made it all sound better than it was.

“Wow. She really cares,” she said when she got off.

First, we went to the hotel bar. Then we walked to the Baccarat. Then we had all-you-can-eat sushi and went back to the Baccarat for a nightcap that, for me, turned into three. We did what we usually did back when we drank together. We talked about how most people suck. On the walk back guys were handing out cards with pictures of escorts and phone numbers. I took one, and then another. Two blocks later I had a deck.

“Pick a card, any card,” I said, flaring them. “Who’s the lucky lady we’ll take back to the room?”

She didn’t find it amusing. “Why not a lucky guy?”

“Because I secretly know you’re into girls.”

“And not guys?”

“Not this one, apparently.”

She scoffed. Sidewalks aren’t sidewalks in Vegas. It’s the side of the road with a K-Rail protecting you from traffic.

“Here,” she said, ripping a card from my hand. “Let’s.”

She started to dial.

“Okay, it was a joke. I do not want an escort.”

She held the phone to her ear.

“Sara, what the hell?”

I reached for the phone. She pulled away. I reached again and she dropped it. An incident.

“Fuck you,” she said, checking the screen for cracks.

We were standing still. The phone was fine. People were walking by.

“It was a joke,” I said while searching my over-pocketed jacket for the half-smoked single cigarette I bought for a quarter from the antique machine at the bar.

She walked, faster than before. I caught up.

“What if I really want an escort?” she said.

“Trust me,” I told her, still unable to find the cigarette. “That is not what you want.”

“Like you would know,” she said under her breath.


“What I want.”

“One-eyed what?” I said.

She stopped and turned to me. I thought we were at a crosswalk, kept searching for the cigarette, smelling pockets, lifting my arms, forgetting which pockets I’d checked, shoving fingers deep into the false pocket bottoms of vintage jackets that eat thin things.

“Like you would know,” she said, a quiver in her voice.

I looked up. We were not at a crosswalk.

“Like you would know what I want.”

We said nothing on the walk back to the Luxor. I was sobered up enough not to try. I thought about getting a drink at the bar, laying my head in the guillotine and sparing the last words. I stopped as Sara walked ahead over the marble floor toward the elevator. The bartender—Javi, I think—looked back at me like he knew our whole story, shook his head while he shook a cocktail.

In the room, lights from the strip were shining between the curtains. I tried to close them but something was wrong. A hitch. I pulled, twisted the lever. The gap remained. Because the window is slanted, I thought. These are specially designed curtains and we are in a glass pyramid. A sleeve of light remained on the bed closest to the window. There would be no resigning to darkness.

I lay down in the other bed. Sara took another shower. Or, the shower was running, and she was in the bathroom for a while. AMC was showing Pretty Woman, around when he offers her the apartment and she declines. My eyes were closing involuntarily. Sara came out and stood in front of the TV, hands doing things with her hair. She’s better than me, I thought. She turned. I closed my eyes. I heard a sigh. The bed moved as she slid in beside me. Our legs touched and she didn’t immediately adjust. Her hand, briefly, maybe, stroked my back.

I’d gotten up to pee. The moon had made the room brighter. Based on when we left the hotel after what would transpire, I think it was around 3 a.m. It wasn’t until I’d lain down that I saw the people in the bed beside us.

I have hypnopompic hallucinations, so I wasn’t alarmed. I dream a lot. Remember them, that is. If a dream is particularly vivid my visual field will remain fluid upon waking. Moving shadows, objects taking other forms—that kind of thing. I’d grown accustomed to it. So, I saw these two oblong lumps with their bare feet sticking out from the bottom of the covers and I turned my head on the pillow and stared at them, waiting for them to dissolve.

They did not dissolve.

There were people in the bed beside us.

I underwent a temporary trauma-induced paralysis. I wanted to wake Sara. I didn’t want to wake Sara. I thought of wielding the bottle of wine, of physical violence, of self-defense. I thought of calling the police. And then I realized these two people had drunkenly stumbled into the wrong room. Simple. Maybe our door had been cracked. Maybe the concierge had given them the wrong key. I could move again.

“Hey,” I whispered, leaning up on an elbow. “Hey.”

They didn’t move.

I thought I could wake them without waking Sara. I slid out of the covers, gently. She moaned and rolled over, faced the wall. Perfect, I thought. The handler of things will handle it.

I stood there, didn’t want to startle them. The light between the curtains was enough to study the feet. Seemed like a man and woman. I’d touch him, lightly, wake him. Where to touch? I didn’t know. The longer I stood there, waking up, the more ominous it seemed. The way the covers were pulled over their heads, both of them sleeping on their backs, both of them—

Shoulder, I thought. I’ll touch the man’s shoulder. I stood between the beds, extended my hand.

“Mmmm.” Sara rolled over, stretched a hand toward me. “What are you doing?”

Her eyelids peeled into a squint.

“Shhh,” I said. “Shhh.”

I watched her, calculating. She looked at me, at the people in the bed.

“You did get an escort?”

“No, no,” I said. “Quiet…. They—”

“Two? Two!” She got up, discarded the sheets like a veil. “You don’t think, do you? You just do dumb shit.”

She was coming at me.

“I’m done with you.” She shoved me and yanked the covers off the other bed.

No words were exchanged while we tried to comprehend what we were seeing. Sara’s hand was over her mouth. They were dummies, but real-looking, lifelike but drab with dark veins, deadlike. Dead dummies. Dead-looking dummies that looked exactly like us.

Two weeks prior to the bodies showing up, we’d driven to Ventura for Sara’s grandmother’s funeral. Her death had not been pleasant. She was healthy, thriving. She’d been backpacking in Northern India with her boyfriend, and, reluctant to wait and allow a herd of cattle to pass, she’d gone on the outside and either tripped or was kicked off the trail and fell to her death. A long fall. First over steep terrain where she’d flipped and rolled and bounced, unable to stop herself. And then over a vertical cliff about two hundred feet into a rocky riverbed.

Apparently, some locals saw her fall and carried her body out to the closest village. Authorities couldn’t get there for a couple of days so they performed some kind of ceremony. Lots of smoke and chanting, her boyfriend told us. It took a while to get her body back to the States. Over a week. Whatever they’d done to preserve the body—not enough. Sara’s mom insisted on seeing it. The coroner objected. She went anyway, and Sara went, too. They both puked. It was a sad thing, grief interrupted like that. It’s why Sara reacted the way she did to the bodies.

First, she slapped me.

“What the fuck kind of joke is this?”

She tried to slap me again, two hands windmilling. I blocked her, hands over my head. “I woke up and they were here,” I told her. “Where would I get something like this?”

“Hit me!” she said, moving toward me. “Hit me in the face. I’m dreaming.”

The look in her eyes when she said it, teeth clenched. I raised a hand.

“Do it!”

I couldn’t. I pinched her on the arm. Hard, but not as hard as I could. She didn’t grimace, just groaned behind a straight face like a mad cat.

We looked at the bodies again.

“There is an explanation,” I said. “A prank, something.” She walked to the bathroom. I followed. “What are you doing?”

She pulled back the shower curtain. “Get in.”


“One of us is dreaming.”


“Get the fuck in here with me!”

I did. She didn’t hesitate, yanked on the handle. The water was freezing and we stood breathless and shocked and awake. When she’d turned it off, as tends to happen in the shower, it came to me.

“Dr. Yamatani,” I said, both of us dripping. “She’s into weird…tactics. Remember when she had us talk about each other ‘after the fact’? Imagining the other being ‘gone’? Remember? The phone call!” I touched her arm, squeezed. “You told her on the phone we were here.”

Sara broke. She leaned into me and cried. “Why would she do that?” she sobbed. “They look too real.”

I told her she didn’t have to look at them again. It was all too soon and Dr. Yamatani probably didn’t know about her grandma, or had forgotten.

“She’s human,” I said. “She made a mistake.”

We dried off and Sara packed up the bathroom and I went back in for the suitcases. I tried not to, but couldn’t help admiring how realistic the dummies were; same underwear we had on, mine with the same neck scar. I ran a fingertip down the bottom of its foot, expecting it to flinch.

When I had the bags packed and we’d both changed, I told Sara to wait outside.

“I should take a picture,” I said. “In case we need proof.”

She grabbed my arm. “We’re leaving. Now.”

We talked about telling the concierge, but didn’t want to get Dr. Yamatani, or whoever she’d hired, in trouble. Maybe it had worked on couples before, seeing each other dead. We didn’t know.

We were back in Silver Lake by 9 a.m. Sara went straight into the bedroom, lay down on her back with her eyes open.

“Are you going to call her?” she yelled out.

“Dr. Yamatani?”

“That bitch.”

“Hey,” I said, leaning against the door frame. “I’m sure her intentions were…I don’t know. She probably saw a study, or something. I’m calling the hotel.”

I dialed. I told them our room number. I said someone had played a prank on us and they could throw the dummies, mannequins—I don’t know what I called them, but I didn’t say bodies—away. A few hours later I got a call saying they’d found nothing of the sort in the room.

It was a Sunday. Sara had fallen asleep so I made the call to Dr. Yamatani. I used the crisis line. It seemed warranted.

“Very funny,” I said.

“So you had a nice weekend?” she replied. There was a lot of noise around her—yelling, or chanting.

“With a, uh, distasteful surprise at the end.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t act surprised, Dr. Yamatani.”

“I’m not surprised. I’m sorry to hear it.”

“What did you think would happen?”

“Well, getaways of this sort are often cathartic for couples. I’m sorry it wasn’t.”

“Cathartic. Right. I’m talking specifically about the hotel room.”

There was a pause. She told someone she’d be right back.

“If something went wrong,” she whispered, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Doctor, please. The dummies. You were the only person who knew we were at the Luxor.”

Another pause. Held breath, perhaps. An exhale.

“Alex,” she said. “Your sexual endeavors are a personal matter, but I suppose it is good to hear that—”

“Oh, come on,” I interrupted. “You know what you did.”

“Alex, you’re the ones who chose Vegas. If you got into some kind of trouble and are trying to blame me for recommending the trip, it is not going to work.”

“That’s not what’s happening. We simply want to know—”

“Alex, Alex. You do not seem to be in a crisis.”

“Not exactly. No.”

“Okay, Alex. I’m hanging up the phone.”


“I’m at my daughter’s soccer game, Alex.”

“Okay. Good luck…to her.”

“Hanging up now, Alex.”


Sara used to be a yoga teacher. My ex-girlfriend took me to my first class. I got a ten-class punch pass to impress her and then we broke up. I sold it on craigslist, only to find out it was nontransferable. I went back a month later and realized I liked it. So I went back again, and again, and you might think I kept going because of Sara, but learning more about my body made me feel better. And yes, I found Sara attractive and smart and her voice nourishing and I thought about her outside of class and probably more than once ashamedly masturbated and fantasized about her. I’ve told her this. I thought her mystical confidence meant she had to be with someone—anyone she wanted.

A few months later I was a regular in her class with a membership to the studio. We ran into each other at a bar around then. I saw her and didn’t even think about approaching. It felt like seeing your hot teacher at the grocery store in middle school—an extremely powerful woman who somehow has to know you’ve masturbated to her. I cowered behind a column, sat hunched, leaned over and looked at her, watched her have a conversation with a guy in a Lacoste shirt. Between glances I took my drink on and off the coaster, made wet rings and wiped them up with an ever-dampening napkin, read the advertisement on the coaster, tried to memorize a phone number meant for memorization and couldn’t, and at some point I looked back and she was alone and caught me looking and smiled. I looked down, away. She walked over, tapped me on the shoulder. I flipped my head around—terror in my eyes, she said—and she sat beside me. Turns out you learn a lot about a person watching them struggle with their body like a wet knot. Turns out she was single.

The weekend after the bodies showed up, having not discussed the incident after a day or so of venting about Dr. Yamatani—we still thought it was her—Sara laid out her yoga mat in the living room. Wanting to make a gesture to convey my effort to make things better but not knowing how to be a different person, I laid out my mat beside her. She rolled her eyes. We did yoga together. I let her correct my posture without objecting. We finished with a meditation and upon opening my eyes she looked at me kindly. Before dinner she asked me to choose between two sweaters. After walking home from dinner I was shaking out the umbrella when Sara walked into the living room and screamed.

We’d left the mats out and the bodies were lying in savasana. They were in the same clothes we’d worn out that night. My dead self—I don’t think I mentioned this to Sara—even had a wet spot on the right shoulder from where I’d let Sara get full coverage from the umbrella.

I was angry. Sara sat on the couch, stared at them.

“Who is doing this?” she kept saying. “And why?” She was holding it together.

I checked the Ring cameras, certain I was going to catch the perp but no one came to the front or back door between the time we’d left and come back. No window alarms had gone off. I watched the sped-up footage three times before joining Sara on the couch. She looked at me. I shook my head. Silent time passed. I thought about how difficult it would be to make dummies so realistic. Body scans, detailed measurements. I felt violated.

Sara knelt on the floor, touched her dead hand.

“I’ll take them to the dumpster in the alley,” I said.

“You realize how that would look?”


Sara went to the kitchen and came back with a knife.

“What the hell?” I said.

She knelt again, turned her dead hand over. And then she thought better of it and got up and knelt by my dead body instead.

“What are you gonna do?” I asked.

She unzipped the jacket, pushed the shirt up to expose the abdomen.

“No,” I said, and then slowly but without pausing she jabbed the knife into my dead side.

There was blood: thick, dark, coagulated blood. I stood. I lifted Sara up from under her arms and took the knife from her hand. I went into the kitchen and cleaned it like I’d witnessed a murder and had to help cover it up. Sara said something about there being a god and a devil after all. I felt dizzy. Sara got sick. I grabbed the car keys and took her by the hand and we left.

We went to a dive bar close by but neither of us wanted to drink. As real as the bodies seemed, they couldn’t be. We thought someone was trying to kill us. Savasana, translated: corpse pose. But the cameras, nothing. We did the possibilities-brainstorm: friends, family, Yamatani.

“They had to be inside,” she said. “They were already inside the house. The bodies and the person putting them there.”

We left our bottled Cokes on the bar and I called the police and reported a break-in. We met them down the street. I offered the sergeant the keys to the house. He declined and asked for a layout. Three went around back. Four stayed out front. And then, standing in the street, we watched a guy kick in our front door and they all ran in body-armored guns-raised yelling too many commands for a person to respond to at once. Sara leaned into me. There was a light rain.

“If no one’s hiding in there…” she said. “They’ll arrest us, won’t they?”

I hadn’t thought about the possibility—just the bodies, the blood. I told her probably. It didn’t matter. At least the phenomenon would be witnessed. Maybe we’d be famous, I thought. But the government would get in on it. They definitely would. Nothing I thought of seemed far-fetched. Exorcisms. Aliens. I squeezed Sara, her head on my chest. It was all changing. A transcendence from whatever the past had been. Flashlights in the windows. Our tranquil home. I cried. Silent cried. Just tears and a quiver in my chest. Weakness. Fear. Sara felt it, squeezed me back.

It was ten minutes in all. They work fast. One by one they poured out of the house, disappointed.

“Nothing?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “Your cat freaked out. Pulled down a curtain.”

Sara perked up. “Nothing strange at all?”

“We saw the cameras. We’ll need the footage. They probably left before we got here. Could be a common offender. Adjacent neighborhoods aren’t that great.”

Sara sighed. I put a thumb to my forehead.

“They’re broken,” I lied. “The cameras. I think I let the Ring subscription lapse.”

The cop squinted.

Sara stepped away.

“Call us if the activity continues,” he said. And then he touched the tip of his cop baseball hat and they all packed up and left.

Sure enough, the bodies were gone when we went inside. I held up the knife I’d cleaned. I stared at it, swearing to myself I could see the blood residue until Sara took it from me and hung it on the rack and we went to bed.

We had no reason not to, so we both went to work the next day, numb. We met for lunch at the taco truck and split a carne asada bowl, ate it standing in the alley, where I assumed we’d hash things out, but I guess there was nothing new to say. We passed the bowl in silence. I could hear her chewing.

“Do you want to eat out tonight?” she asked. She tossed the bowl at the trash can like a Frisbee.

We normally would have argued about spending food money twice in a day.

“Sure,” I said.

That night the bodies weren’t there, or the next night, or for two weeks until they showed up on the floor of our bedroom in the middle of the night. I tripped on Sara and fell on top of my dead self. She didn’t wake up so I went to the bathroom and back to bed.

We tried to be normal. What can you do? If we were hallucinating, which seemed to be the best explanation, we didn’t want to go to a psychiatrist and be labeled and put on medication. Apart from the bodies showing up, life went on. There were strange times, dipping-teabags-a-hundred-times strange. Pondering. Otherwise, life was a bit better than it had been.

A month passed without the bodies appearing so we thought it was finally safe to have some friends over for dinner. Sara’s birthday was midweek and everyone was going to be working so people brought gifts and it turned into a party. After dinner we hung out in the kitchen and drank tequila and then our friend Misha went to the bathroom and on her way back started cackling hysterically from the living room.

There they were, on the couch, same clothes, same apparent deadness. We were prepared for some serious questioning, an intervention maybe, but everyone thought the bodies were the funniest things they’d ever seen. Jared was laughing so hard he dropped to a knee and cried. Ben just kept punching me in the shoulder and laughing in heaves. Tess was already taking pictures.

“Where, and how, did you get these?” Misha asked while pinching Sara’s dead cheek.

Sara and I looked at each other.

“Uh,” I started. “An old friend. I have no idea where he got them. Tried to look it up. I don’t know why he thought it would be so funny.”

“Funny?” Jared said. “I’m dead!” And then everybody lost it, us included. Sara hugged me around the waist while we bent over and laughed and we ended up on the floor with Jared and, honestly, I guess it was the first time we accepted our dead bodies, with the help of some friends.

Misha twerked on me, and Sara. Jared turned me over and asked if my ass was really that toned. Ben punched me in the face. We blamed it on the tequila. My lip bled. He thought he broke a bone in his hand. Tess took pictures and videos of it all and we told her not to post anything. She said sure and commenced putting together an Instagram reel.

It’s been a year now. The bodies show up without notice, disappear when we’re not looking. We understand it’s inexplicable. Again, what can we do? We don’t want them to come, but there are a lot of things in life we’d change if we could.

The rigidity of our bodies isn’t consistent. Our limbs, for instance, rest casually like limbs would rest for someone who’s alive. Our heads don’t fall back and our mouths don’t gape. But our eyelids, our eyelids have to be pulled open, and sometimes, when the appearance of our deadness is unsettling, we pin them open with safety pins.

The bodies don’t increase in deadness the more they appear or the longer they’re around. After some research, we determined they’re always about twelve hours dead. They don’t stink yet, but rigor mortis has set in.

Because they show up with our same clothes on, we take the clothes off of the bodies. Who wouldn’t want an extra set of clothes they like? The first time, the nakedness was humbling so we covered them with a sheet. Not ideal. Since then, we use robes. When the bodies disappear, the robes stay. I guess because they didn’t show up with them? I wouldn’t call it a tradition, but whenever we stay in a hotel we get a room with two queen beds.

This morning we showed up in the breakfast nook, so I did what I always do. I poured four cups of coffee and made two extra pieces of toast, took a bite out of one. The window looks out to the street. From my side if you lean left and look north you can see the mountains. It’s where we like to sit on weekend mornings, and we don’t mind our dead selves anymore. I put sunglasses on myself because I don’t like the eyelid thing. Sara looks forward to it. She bought mini safety pins of all different colors. Today it’s yellow.

We all look quaint in our robes. I’m one of those people who still walks outside and picks up the paper every morning. I get enough screen time at work. I usually start with the headlines so I put the sports page in front of my dead self and we switch when I’m done. I prop one dead hand on the table, bend the fingers of the other around the handle of the mug.

Sara slides the crossword over and leans on her left elbow. She nudges herself and smacks the table when she reads a clue and has the sense that she knows it. She says it’s like knowing a Jeopardy clue but if it doesn’t come out immediately it doesn’t matter. You definitely know it and the word or name is in there, in your brain, right there, just behind the clutter, more akin to a realization than a fact, and as soon as you let go and think about something else and give the subconscious the keys it comes to you, like something you lose and find where you thought you’d already checked.

She fills out the whole puzzle in ink, mistakes evident in thick lines that sometimes pierce the page. I ask why she doesn’t use a pencil and she says, “Because you’re not supposed to.”

“What does it prove?” I ask.

She doesn’t look up. “I dunno.”

“That mistakes are permanent?”

“Nothing is,” she says, and then she throws the pen down and her hands up and looks at her dead self. “How is the state bird of Florida not a flamingo?”

“They’re seasonal,” I tell her.

“They migrate?”

“Read it in this bird factbook at the doctor’s office the other day.”

“Did you read about the state bird of Florida?”

“No. But I did read about this study where a guy went around Times Square asking people whether they thought there were penguins at the North Pole.”


“Out of a hundred people, guess how many said yes?”


“One hundred.”

“All of them?”

“Crazy, right?”


“Did you know penguins were only in the Southern Hemisphere?”

She looks up at me, smiles. “I’m not telling you.”

“See? We’re all just putting things where we think they fit. Snow as far as you can see, icebergs…there must be penguins.”


ANDREW POTTER lives in Bishop, California, with his cat, Lennon. There will always be a cat in his life and his stories. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. He practices the samurai ritual of meditating daily on his own death. Find him on Instagram @ajpotterrr.


Featured image by Thomas Verbruggen, courtesy of Unsplash.


Author’s Note

Before I had the idea for this story, I was reading a lot about dreams and death’s role in them. I was working at better remembering my dreams, and was obsessed with the idea that our subconscious fear of death—our hedonistic notion to grasp tightly to our finite reality—is the deconstructed source of our internal strife. And then (you guessed it) I had a dream I woke up in a hotel room and my dead body was in the bed next to me. Some writers don’t like to admit when an idea comes from a dream, but whether we’re awake or not when the inspiration manifests, I believe we’re probing the same subconscious ether.

I wrote the story, workshopped it, thought it was pretty good, had some friends read it, got a lot of laughs, and then I put it away for a while. Often my initial drafts are like outlines: there are solid story elements, but they lack interiority. This story was no different, and after trying to work out the problems with the draft for a while, I opened a new document and rewrote it entirely. I’d just read Cormac McCarthy’s The Passenger, which felt like a masterclass on the art of dialogue. Inspired, I rewrote the opening pages, replacing exposition with scenes, and voilà, the characters now had a complexity that matched the philosophical depth of the initial idea.

To make such a far-fetched concept believable (enough), their reactions to the situation had to be as realistic as possible. So began the journey of really putting myself in their odd situation. What would you do if the impossible was really happening? If your mortality was right in front of you, visceral and fleshy? Most of us would probably find someone to blame, and then question our sanity, and then try to get someone from the outside to fix it, and on and on until, well, you have to find a way to keep living. Personally, I think that’s the beauty of this story, the lack of a resolution, of the underlying why? If we all had that answer in our lives, the world would look entirely different. Boring, if you ask me.

Craft-wise, the story demanded simplicity. Any initial overwriting felt contrived. The harder I tried to make the surreal real, the less believable it seemed. Like the characters, I had to relinquish control and let the story tell itself. They never address their relationship problems directly. They don’t change in the way we expect partners to change. In embracing the mystery, becoming more aware of their blunt humanness (that one thing we all have in common but often forget), they soften toward each other. They stop grasping at situations and feelings, and in the process of letting go learn to live more freely together.


ANDREW POTTER lives in Bishop, California, with his cat, Lennon. There will always be a cat in his life and his stories. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. He practices the samurai ritual of meditating daily on his own death. Find him on Instagram @ajpotterrr.