The Man On The Stairs by Miranda July, 2004
The magic trick:
Ending the story with a flashback that transforms the man on the stairs figure from reality to metaphor
“The Man On The Stairs” begins simply. There’s a couple in bed. There’s a man on the stairs. Oh no!
It gets stranger quickly.
Our narrator provides some backstory about her relationship with the man in bed next to her, in between updates on the situation with the intruder outside the bedroom. Then just as the tension peaks, she closes the story with no definite conclusion before tacking on one more bit of backstory – a flashback to the day she and her boyfriend met.
I’ve never read a story structured like this. I’m not totally sure it’s successful, but it’s pretty cool in its boldness. The man on the stairs transforms from tangible antagonist to something even more threatening: a metaphor for a soul-crushing romance. And that’s quite a trick on July’s part.
I didn’t want the man on the stairs knowing these things about us. But he would know. The second he threw on the lights and pulled out his gun, his knife, or his heavy rock, the second he held the gun to my head, or the knife at my heart, or the heavy rock over my chest, he would know. He would see it in my boyfriend’s eyes: You can have her, just let me live. And in my eyes, he would see the words: I never really knew true love.
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