Commentary #24 (of 28): EXODUS

Commentary Pic #100Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.


Marianne and I were eating breakfast the morning after, just toast and orange juice. It was almost noon. We had about three hours of sleep between us. We weren’t tired though. We were outside in her backyard eating at the table by the pool.

This is another one of my favorite stories in terms of economy and my ability to communicate what I wanted to say. This story is a bit of a cheat, as it’s based on specific true events, but the ending is completely untrue. Originally, I wrote the story as it happened, but over the course of several drafts, I decided to swerve and create an ending with more dramatic weight. Plus, I wanted to write a Raymond Carver ending, one that ends at the climax without any need for a denouement.  He pulled this off perfectly in his short story “Cathedral”, and it was a device I really wanted to explore.

I submitted this story to The New Yorker a long time ago – my only submission to the magazine – and though it was rejected, the editor gave me some wonderful feedback which was the next best thing to having the story accepted.

The scenery revealed itself in pieces, as I became more awake. It felt like I was watching a painting come alive. I imagined myself staring over a painter’s shoulder and he was highlighting the scene with the new colors he created during the night. He said he named his infant colors with the names of former lovers. He splashed Isabella on the trees to my left and he gave the yard a hint of Penelope. He said he wouldn’t reveal Tiffany and Zuella until sunset. He stretched out his mustache and asked, “Do you see it?” I said that I didn’t and he huffed.

Marianne saw me frowning, but she kept eating her toast in silence. She looked like a gypsy, pretty and mystical, especially the way her hair floated around her, like she belonged with elves. I’m sure I looked like a bum. I didn’t bring a change of clothes and my shirt was wrinkled.

“I’m dying,” I said.

She smiled, as if to say, that’s nice.

“I’m serious.”

“I know you are.” She said it solemnly; her grin said otherwise.

This story was eventually published in Third Wednesday.

Now that I think about it, I’ll post the entire story later this week.