Until This Is Over - Bit 4
This post is the fourth in the Story Course series. If you just subscribed or just discovered this post, please start with the first post.
Let’s talk about the third bit of Until This Is Over. You might find it helpful to open the previous post in a separate window so you can refer to those new story paragraphs as you read these notes.
Are you suspicious of the man? I certainly am.
But I am also suspicious of my suspicions. Yes, it’s pretty strange that he walked into an unknown house; yes, he fidgets with the box cutter. Other than that, do we have enough evidence to convict him?
He is immediately apologetic, and I think he comes off as sincere. Do you agree? He’s open and honest about the events so far — he saw the open doors, he called out, curiosity pulled him inside. He doesn’t say or do anything threatening.
If he had called into the house, walked in the open door, fiddled with the box cutter, then looked around and found the house’s resident unconscious — having some kind of medical emergency, maybe — we’d see the protagonist as a hero. “Thank goodness you cared enough about your neighbors to check in on them,” we’d say to the man, slapping him on the back collegially. We’d be a little embarrassed that we’d ever doubted his motives, and we’d resolve to be less judgmental in the future.
We are judging the man, and making assumptions about his character and his motivations, solely on the behavior we’ve observed and on the context. Which is natural, and human, and it’s pretty close to how we proceed in real life, I think.
Only, this isn’t real life. It’s a story. We’re seeing only what the writer wants us to see. The story’s narrator seems to have an omniscient point of view, but so far, we don’t know what the characters are thinking. We only know what they’re doing (and also now, in this latest bit, what they’re saying).
The writer could have chosen to let us into the man’s head. For example:
“He thought it was strange that all the doors to the house were open but that nobody seemed to be home. He had an odd feeling that something might be wrong inside.”
If I’d read that, I’d be far less suspicious of him. Wouldn’t you? Or what if we read this:
“As he turned the box cutter over in his hands, he felt that terrible familiar impulse well up within him, and a low buzzing sensation began to pulse near the base of his skull.”
Uh oh. This is not going to end well, right?
But we don’t get any of that. The writer has chosen to not let us look inside the characters’ heads. Could have, but didn’t. The writer has deliberately withheld information that would help us understand the characters’ motivation.
Okay, with our own heads full of things we noticed and things we felt and things we wondered about and our guesses about what comes next, here’s the fourth bit of Until This Is Over:
He stopped in the arched doorway and turned halfway back toward her. He tried another smile. “Yes. I’m right behind here. On Acacia.”
She didn’t respond, but turned her eyes from him and walked with exaggerated confidence to the breakfast bar, and he watched her scan her possessions. Then she put the phone down alongside the keys and glasses and rested both hands against the countertop.
“Okay,” she finally said, then she exhaled a long breath. “It’s pretty weird to find a strange man standing in my kitchen.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry.”
“Especially with what’s been going on around here.”
She pushed her shoulders back and drew herself up to stand at her fullest height. “So you agree that this is not normal behavior?”
“I’ve never done anything like this. I can’t explain it.”
She looked him over then and he stood and let her take stock of him. She nodded, crossed one arm over her chest and gripped the other. “I’m Teresa,” she said, letting her face relax into a strained smile.
“Scott,” he said, and gave a small wave, still standing just inside the entryway. “Scotty.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet a neighbor, Scotty. However weird.” She uncrossed her arms and walked from behind the island toward him, hand extended. He smiled then and shook her hand. “Since you’re here,” she said, “can you help me carry that table in?”
Okay, you know the questions by heart now: What are you feeling? What did you notice? What are you wondering about? What do you think will happen next? Drop your thoughts in the comments. When you’re ready, here’s the next post.
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