Reverse-Engineered Narrative


Nameless man: lonely guy, living in New York City, feels very isolated, driven slightly out of reality by his prolonged loneliness and isolation. The narrative is told by an omniscient narrator, but is roughly from his perspective.

Nameless girl: everything the reader knows about her is what is posited onto her by the nameless man, who doesn’t, in fact, know her, but creates elaborate scenarios about who she is and their life together. Beyond her physical reality, she is a blank canvas on which he posits his own fantasies and increasingly his self-constructed realities of her begin to supersede her actual, physical reality.

Time: Contemporary

Place: Manhattan, but it could as easily be any big city. While his actual sightings/stalking of her occur in the streets of the neighborhood where they both, presumably, live, through coffee shop windows, on the bus, etc, through his imagination she (and the reader) is transported into other, fantasized locales and realities (the nameless man’s apartment, the home of the nameless girl’s Italian parents, etc).

The Precipitating Event: In a way it is the first moment he sees her, but in another sense, the precipitating event is the nameless man’s depression and loneliness, which set the stage and, indeed, precipitate his descent into delusion.

Rising action: Each successive sighting of her, his mounting fascination/fixation with her and his growing desire to know her, to meld fantasy into reality.

Climax: Finding himself unexpectedly face to face with her on a street corner, their eyes meet and someone seems to say ‘hi”, though he’s no longer able to distinguish between reality and his imaginative fictions.

Denouement: The girl disappears and the reader is not sure if she has merely walked away as the nameless man contemplates the moment, or if, in fact, she was entirely a figment of his imagination from the beginning.

“After You”:


There she was again, quickening her already-brisk striding pace across the street as the light flickered from yellow to red. He couldn’t remember exactly where he’d first seen her, or why, exactly, she’d caught and held his attention, but, undeniably, she had. Sometimes, he spotted her through glass—while sipping slowly on a cup of lukewarm coffee in a hole-in-the-wall bakery or through the rain-streaked window of a city bus as it pitched and rolled by, jostling its contents like so many eggs in a carton, ready to crack. Other times he would catch a glimpse of her, between the flow of cars, striding briskly by on the opposite side of the street.


At first, this was enough—to passively observe her, to take in as much about her as he could in the time it took her to pass from view and look forward to the next time, whenever it might be. At first, he was comforted simply to know she was out there, and to leave his next glimpse to chance, sensing that inevitably she’d reappear when he least expected it. Slowly, though, curiosity grew. He found himself wondering as soon as she’d passed from sight how long he’d have to wait before she would reappear, like a junkie calculating the hours and minutes until his next fix.

For a man as isolated and alone as he was to permit the presence of another person, a regular presence, to encroach upon his solitude seemed to have become a slippery slope that quickly escalated into a landslide. For so long, he had lived alone, slept alone, eaten alone, sat alone on park benches, coffee shop stools, and subway seats, that the very awareness of another person, the very perception of constancy that he began to feel for her as she wove herself through his daily experiences like a single bright thread on a loom dressed entirely in gray, was intoxicating.


He felt, somehow, that he knew her, and before long, he found himself expanding on the reality of her, imagining innumerable personal histories for her, creating and recreating her until the lines of truth and reality began to blur.
For him, she became whatever he needed her to be—she was a recent immigrant and he was helping her learn English, they were watching TV in bed and when someone on the screen said a word she didn’t know, she would repeat it, tentatively, and look to him inquisitively for the meaning. She was a graduate student and every night she would come home and kiss him gratefully, smelling of old books, as she sat down to devour the meals he always had ready for her at 7:30. She was a hairdresser and cut his hair at the kitchen table, in the glow of a single light bulb, running her fingers gently across his scalp, the sound of her scissors softly, rhythmically intruding on the sound of his voice as he read out loud to her. She was the youngest of seven sisters, from a large Italian family, and every Sunday, they would go to her parents’ house and eat and drink until all anyone could do was sprawl across the living room furniture, laughing until they cried. Sometimes her cousin would play the guitar and everyone would sing. She was a photographer, and she would take his picture, gently reaching around the camera to adjust the angle of his face or the direction of the light. Somehow, she found a vulnerability in him that he hadn’t even realized was there, and when he looked at her photos, he would feel exposed, but strangely exhilarated.

Some imaginings were less complete—more like snatches of memory: she was lying next to him on their bed, wearing a blue cotton dress, she was running toward him, smiling, she was drinking tea from a large mug, cupped between her hands.


These thoughts became more vivid, more colorful, more beautiful, more real than anything else to him. When he saw her walking by, the feelings they evoked rushed over him.


He became less and less able to see her as the person he had first observed, the solitary figure, walking briskly. For him, the woman moving quickly down the block ahead of him was less real than any one of the thousand versions of her he’d created in his mind. He found himself following her, fascinated, fixated, trying to find a way to break down the barrier between realities, to make the vivid images of their possible lives together real, to give his life the kind of color, vibrancy, and meaning that every imagined moment with her held.


And then one night, there she was, standing only a few feet away from him on the street corner, suddenly real, in person, once again in sharp focus, and almost close enough that he could have reached out and touched her. She looked so ordinary, so static, somehow smaller, silhouetted against the backdrop of passing cars, with a cacophony of sirens, skidding tires, snatches of mariachi on car stereos, the screeching laughter of teenagers, drowning out her silence.
He inched slowly closer, intoxicated, aware of the delicacy of the moment, scared it would pass before it had begun, but sure she could feel the bond of common understanding they shared. He waited, anxiously wondering what his next move could be, and then she made one for him. Glancing up (could it have been accidental?), her eyes met his for a moment as she scanned down the street, then, returning, glanced back over him. “Hi.” Had she said it or had he? Had it been out loud or in his head? He wasn’t sure, but in that moment as he hesitated, wondering, she was gone, and he was alone again.



One Response to “Reverse-Engineered Narrative”

  1. […] Here’s a silly, slightly creepy little story I wrote for an assignment for my Media Practices: Concepts class. The assignment was to reverse-engineer a narrative–to take six of the photos from the photography assignment and create a story around them, so that they become the illustrations, in a sense, for the narrative. Well, since most of my photos were simple, straightforward portraits or more abstract shots with a stalkerish quality, I decided to go with the latter category and wrote an abstract story about a stalker. Maybe if I’d done any creative writing since high school, this would be better, but it is what it is. […]

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