I love stories that announce their secret from the beginning yet still seem to unfold in a surprising way. This story began as a challenge to myself: I’d show my hand almost from the get-go but in a way that takes the rest of the story to fully appreciate.
This piece also began as a challenge in terms of pacing and motion. How far could I get from such an innocuous-seeming starting point— “Summer Night,” which could just as easily be a sweetly forgettable pop song or the heading of a high schooler’s essay or a cheap perfume—in a relatively short span? Partly because I have two brothers who are run-aholics, partly because I have an excruciatingly sedentary job, and partly because of the pandemic, I’ve been pretty religious about running lately, so distance and pace are on my mind. I’m not the first to draw some connection between writing and running, but I’ve been increasingly struck by the way many of us seem to have a natural setpoint as far as distance and pace—both in writing and running. When I sit down to write a short story, I can almost guarantee I’m going to land somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 words. Every single darn time. Unless I very intentionally try to do otherwise. Here I wanted to try a shorter length/faster pace in fiction—not quite flash, not a sprint exactly, but a middle-distance run.
The change in pace and distance seemed to push me out of my typical storytelling mode as well. Most of the stories I write are grounded in the regular ol’ world as we know it, and yet often there’s a sense of dislocation or shimmering menace lurking in the periphery. But my instincts are almost never those of an out-and-out fabulist or speculative writer. In this piece, however, it felt essential to move things more overtly into an imagined future that feels (depressingly) not so far off.
What I wrote as a kind of environmental nightmare-scape now reads to me differently. It’s hard in current circumstances not to read this also as a pandemic story: two people quarantined together guarding against an outside danger, their days monotonized, haunted by a lost sense of normalcy so recent it’s still palpable.
JOANNA PEARSON is the author of the short story collection, Every Human Love (Acre Books, 2019). New stories have appeared recently or are forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Crazyhorse, Salamander, The Sewanee Review, and Subtropics.