“The greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel” is “to put down what really happened in action; what the actual things were which produced the emotion that you experienced. The real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion … would be as valid in a year or in ten years or, with luck and if you stated it purely enough, always.”
—Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

I’m never sorry when I take this bit of Hemingway’s writing advice to heart. For example, here’s a write-up that I spent hours whittling away at, saying less with each round of edits. Each time, I felt that I had cut as much as I could. Each time, with a little help from my mercilessly insightful husband, I realized that I had more to cut. Until this version. I think.


“Sir, I need to see your ticket,” the bus driver says.

A young man, maybe in his early twenties, is walking toward the back of the bus, where I’m sitting.

“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.


The turn signal is going tink-tink. The bus pulls into the flow of traffic. At the next stop, the driver calls back: “Your ticket, sir?”

“It’s down… It must’ve…”

The man speaks quietly, as if he’s talking in his sleep. He moves a slow hand around in his satchel. After a few seconds, he abandons the effort. Maybe he’s drunk or stoned, but I don’t smell anything. His face gives away nothing. One booted foot sticks out into the aisle.

“Need a couple of bucks for a ticket?” I ask.

He raises his face and looks at me.


I pull two folded ones from my wallet and put them in his hand.

“This should be enough.”

He stands and takes a step toward the front. The bus slows, pulls over, stops. And out the back doors he slips.


For an early draft of this piece, as requested in a comment below, see “Enough”—An Early Draft.

4 thoughts on “Enough

  1. Steph,

    Thanks for the feedback. When something is stirring deep down, as was the case here, I always want to write too much, tell readers how to feel. I know that when the cuts start to hurt—as in “Nooo, that’s my favorite line”—I’m getting close. As a reader, I appreciate authors who give me credit for figuring out what they leave between the lines, and I appreciate their ability to capture just the right details so that what’s left unsaid comes through. So when I write, that’s the kind of experience I aim to deliver.

    I like your idea of sharing an early draft. This piece went through so many changes that it will take me some thought to decide which iterations to share. I’m on it! Watch for a follow-up post.

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