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…
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 wife, Allison, and their 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.