Visitor by Bryan Washington, 2020
The magic trick:
A dramatic setup that surprises as it reveals itself to be a foil and not the focus
Bryan Washington today as we continue our series of stories this week from African-American authors.
“Visitor” starts by introducing one heck of a drama. The narrator, still processing the recent death of his father, finds at his door a man from Jamaica claiming to be his father’s ex-lover.
Interestingly, the story doesn’t really try to deliver on the mysteries presented in that premise. Instead, the visitor serves more as a foil to the narrator.
The story’s focus isn’t a quest to figure out who this mysterious visitor is. The mysterious visitor serves to allow the story to focus on figuring out who the narrator is.
And that’s quite a trick on Washington’s part.
He knocked on my door about a month after the funeral. I almost didn’t answer, since I wasn’t expecting my fuck buddy. It was entirely too late for anyone to be visiting, but the man in front of me said that he’d been a friend of my father’s—and I slipped on the face I wore for those people. It was three or four in the morning. He’d caught a late flight from Kingston to Houston.
Then the man said something else, in a heavy patois. I asked him to repeat it.
His lover, this guy said, rubbing both of his elbows.
I made a new kind of face. Except it couldn’t have been a new kind of face. We only get so many.
What, I said.
It’s true, he said.
No, I said, and then I laughed.
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