“I hear it. I see it. I feel it.” That’s what Jacqueline Lehr wrote in a comment on my previous post (“Enough“). What more could a writer hope for?
I know, how about a request to see an early draft? Steph Sinclair asked for just that. Here’s how that conversation went.
Below is the promised early draft. By the time I shared this draft with Ray (the aforementioned husband of merciless insight, sayer of things like “What happens if you delete this paragraph?” and “You’re trying too hard to make a point” and “It’s only two bucks”), I had already put in many hours. I had already cut a lot. I felt close to finished.
Ha! Eventually, I would chop off the first four paragraphs, massage the middle, and refashion the ending—oh, how I wanted to say things at the end! I added, changed, added, deleted, changed, deleted until nothing remained but what had happened: “the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion.”
“Enough” (Early Draft)
The bus is due in ten minutes. Should I stay here at the stop and wait for it? I’d like to hit the office-supply store down the block. Do I have enough time?
I jog to the store. I’ve had correction tape on my list for a while, the kind that comes in a round palm-sized dispenser that lays a ribbon of white stuff, like a skinny Band-Aid, over typos, ink smudges, and whatnot. This might seem like a silly thing for me to keep on hand since I make most of my fixes on the computer these days, but I find uses for the stuff. Other people do too, apparently; the store has six-packs on sale for two dollars, down from seven something. A steal.
I hand the cashier two bills, feeling that I’m getting away with something. I’ve just saved three times what I paid. I tuck the package into my purse and return to the bus stop with two minutes to spare.
I flash the driver the pass on my phone and take a seat near the back doors. Others get on.
“Sir, I need to see your transfer.”
A young man, maybe in his early twenties, is walking toward the back. “I just, it’s…”
I wait for him to complete his thought or turn around. He keeps walking. Everything he wears and everything he carries, as far as I can tell, is black. His clothes—jeans, shirt, jacket with lots of pockets—all hang loosely, hiding his body. He drops into a seat across the aisle, one row behind me.
“Sir,” the driver says.
The turn signal is going tink-tink. The bus pulls into the flow of traffic. At the next stop, the driver tries again: “Your transfer, sir?”
“It’s down… It must’ve…” The man speaks too quietly for the driver to hear. He moves a slow hand around in his satchel. After a few seconds, he abandons the effort if you can call it that. One black-booted foot is sticking out into the aisle. Maybe he’s drunk or high. I don’t smell anything. Maybe he’s angry, disoriented, embarrassed, any number of things I can’t guess at.
“Need a couple of bucks for the ticket?” I ask. I’m old enough to be his mother.
He raises his face and looks at me. “Yes.” It’s a deep voice, flat but not unpleasant.
The last time I paid attention to the price of a ticket, it was just under two dollars. I hope that two dollars is enough. I pull two folded ones from my wallet, aware that I’ve just done this very thing in another setting. I put the bills in his hand. I feel light, larger than myself.
He stands and takes a step toward the front. The bus slows, pulls over, stops. Just like that, out the doors he slips. As he walks off, I watch his back move up and down, up and down. What is he saying to himself? How long until he forgets this white-haired woman who has just looked into his eyes? Where will he go next? Who waits for him there? What will my two dollars buy him and when?
The bus continues on its way. I can no longer see the man, but I keep wondering. Will he ever have enough money? Will he ever believe that he has enough money—enough anything? How many of us ever do?
P.S. At least one person prefers this early version to the tighter one. (See this Facebook conversation.) What say you, readers? When you write, how do you decide what to cut, what to keep, what to add?
P.P.S. Okay, since you asked … surely someone asked … here’s a sampling of the endings I played with as I progressed toward the final, only-what-happened version (the final bullet):
- The bus slows, pulls over, stops. Just like that, out the doors he slips. He did not just do that, I think. Then: Of course he did. As he walks off, I watch his back. If this were happening in a novel or TV show, someone—maybe a gang—would run after him. Voices would be raised. Fists. Worse. As the bus continues on its way, the only things chasing this man, besides whatever demons follow him everywhere, are the questions I will never be able to ask him.
- The bus slows, pulls over, stops. Just like that, out the back doors he slips. He walks off, along with everything that follows him.
- The bus slows, pulls over, stops. And out the back doors he slips.