Exploring the art of prose


Author: Megan Cummins

Author’s Note

“The Beast” has had many endings. In the very first draft, Beverly’s friend and boss, Cal Nevins, leaves the Beastific show drunk—driving away in a car that’s not his but looks like his— amd merges onto I-80 via the exit ramp. He dies as a result of the accident he causes. But this was too drastic a redirection. It was an ending that shocked the rest of the story into oblivion. A nuclear ending. Pass.

The second ending got Beverly to the Beastific after party. I was getting on the right track. The scene involved Beverly coming face-to-face with Pierre, but shame overcomes her, and when Pierre asks if her daughter will make it to the party, she finds her coat and leaves, grateful Pierre doesn’t recognize her.

But where does she go after that? Robert, her husband, has betrayed her, and the story wasn’t letting on how she feels about that, or what she plans to do with him. Beverly needs a win, I thought. Life hasn’t been fair to her these past few days. But what good thing could happen to her in the middle of a Nebraska night, forty miles from the nearest city? She isn’t going to turn on the news and find she’s struck gold with one of the crumpled lottery tickets in her purse. A win, I thought, but a subdued win. Beverly needs to do something for herself.

So I added a scene: once she leaves Pierre, without trying to get close to him or letting him know who she is, she walks across the road to a different hotel, one that’s a little nicer than the Holiday Inn. At the front desk they take her credit card—which to her relief goes through—and she goes upstairs to enjoy room service and a quiet, clean room to herself. She says goodbye to her obsession with Pierre quietly.

A friend read this version and said she felt that I knew what happened next in the story, after Bev sees Pierre at the party, but I hadn’t written it. At this point, almost three years had passed since I wrote the first draft. All the endings I’d written excluded Cal—except that first one, when I killed him off. However out-of-touch Cal is, however pig-headed he might be, he’s also the person in the story with whom Beverly spends the most time; with whom she has some amount of independence. He takes advantage of her—that’s a real problem in their relationship—but he’s also the only one who respects her enough to trust her with knowledge.

It was time to write the ending where Bev asserts her independence from the people (i.e. the men) who have not taken her seriously, who have gained by bargaining with her, who have used her lack of scrutiny to their advantage. She leaves Pierre and her husband in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn, discarding the pieces of herself that tether her to them. I knew, too, that she would have to do this with Cal, too. It felt right for the two of them to end up, by chance, at the hotel bar late at night. Bev hears Cal’s promise and makes a promise to herself, too, that things have to change between them. Making a promise to oneself doesn’t make a problem go away, but in this case it does mark a renewal of independence for Beverly, and it (hopefully) propels her as a character past the last page of the piece.

MEGAN CUMMINS lives in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in A Public SpaceGuernicaOkey-PankyOne Teen StoryJoyland and elsewhere. She has an MA from UC Davis and an MFA from Rutgers-Newark. She is the managing editor of A Public Space.