They staggered, stunned, into the fall, she and Teddy making giant vats of pasta and vegetarian burrito dinners to feed twenty-five, inviting home everyone they knew to eat, to drink, to stay over, please, we have a futon and…
“Epilogue” began more than a decade ago. I sat down intending to write about Teddy and Jane, but instead produced a two-page wall of text describing my own memories and impressions of living in lower Manhattan in the year after 9/11. I was a college sophomore at the time, and, together with friends, watched the attack on the World Trade Center from a dorm room balcony.
I revisited the piece a few years later, this time with enough distance to filter my own experiences through the lens of the characters. The events of the story haven’t changed much since that early draft, but I tinkered with the language—sentence by sentence, word by word—for a very long time. I wanted the language to reflect the characters’ disorientation as they attempted to understand an experience that was both intensely personally horrifying and also a national tragedy.
“Epilogue” became a piece I would turn to in between working on other projects, make a few changes, save, and put away. For a long time (years), the biggest problem was the ending; I tried concluding the piece in so many different ways, but nothing I tried felt authentic.
There’s no great turning point here, just an eventual realization: that the ending was giving me so much trouble because there is no ending. The deaths on 9/11 don’t make sense. They never have. They never will. Jane can never find a resolution; she just lives with the lack of it. That realization led me to the final few sentences, and those sentences, at long last, felt like an honest way to close the piece.
And yet, and yet. Even honesty can be slippery. I finished this piece in August 2019. Now it is April 2020, and the world is stumbling through a new tragedy, one both slower moving and wider spread than 9/11. Jane’s ending still feels honest to me, but it also feels very much of the time before COVID-19. If I were to write an ending for Jane today, I imagine that she’d be wrestling with a different kind of truth: that we never do know what’s going to happen next, and that uncertainty can be terrifying. But if we sit with it for a while, hold it up to the light at just the right angle, maybe there can be some hope in it, too.
CAROL M. QUINN’s fiction has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Border Crossing, Painted Bride Quarterly, Joyland, Chicago Quarterly Review, and pacificREVIEW. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and often teaches first-year writing, most recently at Michigan State University. A native of Queens, New York, she lives in Michigan with her husband and sons.