Where The Door Is Always Open And The Welcome Mat Is Out by Patricia Highsmith, 1945
The magic trick:
Manic attention to manic details
Poor, poor Mildred. Life is a little bit hectic for her in New York City, despite her best efforts to put on a calm front for her visiting sister. Highsmith does a wonderful job of recreating the urban stress by focusing on every little mundane detail that runs through Mildred’s to-do-list-addled mind. It’s a two-for-one magic trick. The technique describes the scene perfectly for the reader, while also imparting the character’s mindset. And that’s quite a trick on Highsmith’s part.
Twenty-one minutes of six, she saw as she trotted into the bathroom. Eleven minutes before she ought to leave the house.
Even after the brisk scrubbing with a washrag, her squarish face looked as colorless as her short jacket of black and gray tweed. Her hair, of which the gray had recently gotten an edge over the brown, was naturally wavy, and now the more wiry gray hairs stood out from her head, making her look entirely gray, unfortunately, and giving her an air of harassed untidiness no matter what she did to correct it. But her eyes made up for the dullness of the rest of her face, she thought. Her round but rather small gray eyes still looked honest and kind, though sometimes there was a bewildered, almost frightened expression in them that shocked her. She saw it now. It was because she was hurrying so, she supposed. She must remember to look calm with Edith. Edith was so calm.
She daubed a spot of rouge on one cheek and was spreading it outward with timid strokes when the peal of the doorbell made her jump.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.