Laugh Track

Fiction / Ben Briggs

:: Laugh Track ::

            I just need him gone.

            See­ing him makes me think about the girl. I don’t want to think about the girl.

            I brought it up to my ther­a­pist, Emi­ly, and she agreed. It’s my per­son­al space. It’s my home. The week­end was one thing. Now it’s Sun­day night. Now I need him gone.

            He’s watch­ing Sein­feld in my liv­ing room, still drink­ing beer, still not using a coast­er even though I encour­aged him to use one. I don’t care that he’s my cousin. I don’t care that he’s try­ing to help me. I like to read on Sun­day nights so I can get my mind ready for work in the morning.

            Even from my room I’m unable to do this because he has the vol­ume turned above 40 on the TV. It sounds like it’s at lev­el 45. I put down my copy of The Dance with Anger and walk back into the liv­ing room so I can find out when he’s leaving.

            Adam’s lying down on my couch as if he owns it. The shreds in his jeans were cool when we were kids, but he’s thir­ty now. And his hair? Christ. I would tell him to cut it, but if he won’t lis­ten to me about using a coast­er, he cer­tain­ly won’t lis­ten to me about that.

            To think he’s a father.

            He has to move his feet, leav­ing only inch­es for me to sit down. Both hands are behind his head like he’s loung­ing on a hammock.

            “My guy,” Adam says. “You hid­ing in a cave back there? Thought we were gonna crush a cou­ple movies together.”

            I only par­tial­ly agreed to that. Nev­er actu­al­ly confirmed.

            “I have work tomor­row. I’m get­ting men­tal­ly prepared.”

            “Pssst. Feel you on that. The Scaries are no joke. I fig­ured I’d take a few days off myself. Too much going on at home, with all the remod­el­ing and Aria start­ing school.”

            It’s hard to con­cen­trate on what he’s say­ing because the vol­ume on the TV is so high.

            “Have you heard from Lil­lian yet?”

            This makes him sit up straight.

            “I was just gonna tell you. She’s gonna stay at her Dad’s for anoth­er cou­ple days. It’s good for them to get away.” He paus­es. “Any­way, cool if I crash here one more night? Con­struc­tion guys are gonna be at it in the morn­ing. Too much riff raff.”

            He again puts his hands behind his head and leans back on the couch.

            “I have work in the morning.”

            “It’s no stress on me. I know you’re get­ting back on the horse, and believe me, by the time you get home tomor­row, I’m gone. Promise you that.”

           I nod and take a deep breath. Inhale and exhale, just like I do in my ses­sions with Emi­ly. I feel my feet on the ground, my back press­ing against the couch. If he’s going to leave tomor­row, that should be okay.

            “Could you please keep the vol­ume to a minimum?”

            Adam looks at me with a sly grin. “It’s the least I can do.”

            As I walk back to my room, I can hear the laugh track play­ing on the TV. Before Emi­ly, I used to think the laugh track was about me. That these peo­ple were mock­ing me. Laugh­ing at me, not with me. Now I imag­ine it dif­fer­ent­ly. I imag­ine a group of peo­ple locked in a room with seat­belts on their chairs. All of a sud­den, a bright light shines in front of them. “LAUGH” the light tells them. So they laugh. They don’t know what they’re laugh­ing at, or about, but they do it any­way. Until it becomes a call­ing. A way of life for these peo­ple. They laugh and laugh until they can’t laugh anymore.


            I’m dri­ving to work and it’s raining.

            It’s very impor­tant I’m on time today, as it’s my first day back in over two months. After the inci­dent, Emi­ly rec­om­mend­ed I take time to decom­press. But it’s been too long.

            Very rarely does it rain in the Bay Area and I didn’t account for this. I’m going to be late because of it. Adam kept the vol­ume above 40 all night. At 1:13am, I went into the liv­ing room to tell him to turn the vol­ume down. Of course he was already sleep­ing. Of course he was. For­tu­nate­ly, he’ll be gone by the time I get back.

            The rain will make me late, but as Emi­ly says, that’s out of my con­trol. She tells me to height­en my sens­es when I’m stressed. So I start with the rain, know­ing I should appre­ci­ate the sound it makes against my wind­shield. It’s a pat­ter­ing sound. Rhyth­mic. It lets me absorb every­thing around me. I feel my feet on the ped­al of my Hon­da Civic. I feel my back against the leather chair. One hand on the wheel, the oth­er rest­ing on my lap. I can taste the banana I had this morn­ing. Deep breaths in. Deep breaths out. There are beau­ti­ful things in the world, real­ly. I just have to notice them.

            I see the cars around me as I merge off the high­way and into the city. There’s a cross­walk up ahead so I slow down. Com­muters are still out, even in the rain. Someone’s walk­ing very slow­ly through a cross­walk so I ease my breaks. They have rain boots on, a blue wind­break­er and a black umbrel­la. I see each step the per­son is tak­ing. Right. Left. Right. He’s about to pass my car so I put my foot back on the gas. My car starts to move for­ward, but then he slips. I slam on the breaks. Slips. He’s on his knees, try­ing to re-bal­ance. He slipped. No one pushed him. Slipped. I didn’t push him. My breaths are fast. Stop it. Deep breaths in, deep breaths out.

            The per­son gets up and waves at me for stop­ping. I fin­ish my com­mute to work.


            Even with the rain, I’m the first one in the office so I take a seat in my cube. My screens. I missed them. Breath­ing is easy here.

            When peo­ple ask what I do for a liv­ing, I tell them it will be too com­plex for them to under­stand. All they need to know is I’m at a com­pa­ny that val­ues me great­ly. It’s also a com­pa­ny I own, as I am a shareholder.

            My man­ag­er Angela tells me I’m on the fast track for promotion.

            I’m an Inven­to­ry Con­trol Ana­lyst now, and assum­ing my per­for­mance stays in line, which it will, I’ll become a Senior Inven­to­ry Con­trol Ana­lyst in two years. More plants, more dol­lars. After that, it would like­ly be anoth­er three years before I’m eli­gi­ble for anoth­er pro­mo­tion. But then, the pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less. I could become an Inven­to­ry Con­trol Project Lead, or I could do a lat­er­al move and become a Senior Pro­duc­tion Con­trol Ana­lyst. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Senior Pro­duc­tion Con­trol Ana­lyst role has to line up with East Coast hours with our plant in Mass­a­chu­setts. So I’d either have to relo­cate to Mass­a­chu­setts or be at work by 5:00am each morn­ing. Nei­ther of which I’d be will­ing to do.

            After a few moments of check­ing email, Angela walks by and stands out­side my cube. My col­leagues are fil­ing in.

            “Well. Hel­lo there, Richard. Wel­come back.”

            Angela’s lean­ing against the wall with her left hand on her hip. I don’t know why she stands like that. She’s chew­ing baby blue gum, just like she always does. It match­es her baby blue dyed hair. When she chews, she looks like a dog gnaw­ing at a bone. Which is okay. I can acknowl­edge this, but not let it both­er me.

            But, even if it doesn’t both­er me, it does impact my per­for­mance. I don’t know how to address the issue because the cor­po­rate pol­i­cy states I should dis­cuss dis­tur­bances like this with my man­ag­er. I plan to re-read the pol­i­cy for a loop­hole one evening. Maybe tonight as Adam will be gone.

            “Thank you,” I say.

            She glances around and low­ers her voice. “Did you have any issues with HR, you know, get­ting paid or… Any­thing like that?”

            I have a lot of work to catch up on, and don’t have time for small talk.

            “Nope. All seamless.”

             Our team meet­ing starts in five min­utes which will derail my pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. She’s still stand­ing there though, smil­ing at me awkwardly.

            “I know you like your space, so I’ll leave you be. But remem­ber, my door’s always open if you ever want to talk about your… break, or any­thing real­ly. Hap­py to have our num­ber one work­er bee back.”

            I tight­en up for a sec­ond, but I have to keep my com­po­sure. I have to remem­ber com­ments like this come from a good place.

            “It’s great to be back,” I say.

            And it is. This is why, gum chew­ing aside, I like Angela. She real­izes the worth I pro­vide to the com­pa­ny. She can spot tal­ent a mile away.


            The team meet­ing was pointless.

            The more time I talk about what I do, the less time I can actu­al­ly do it. I’m back at my desk now. This is where all the mon­ey is saved. I open up my doc­u­ments and look at all the part num­bers. I imag­ine the dol­lar sav­ings I’ll be able to generate.

            I copy a part num­ber from Excel that’s no longer going to be pro­duced by our com­pa­ny and paste it into the Inven­to­ry Man­age­ment Sys­tem. I check the inven­to­ry lev­els in all of our plants. I have all the pow­er. 37 units on hand in Tecate, MX, 45 units on hand in Shang­hai, CN and 172 units on hand in Cham­paign, IL. I email the plan­ners for each facil­i­ty and inform them the parts are going to be dis­con­tin­ued. We won’t be mak­ing them any­more, so they need to bleed off the inven­to­ry. I’m doing good by the com­pa­ny. Brick by brick. Part by part. I repeat the process for the next part num­ber, and the next one, and the next one.

            Before I can blink it’s 5:42pm. I skipped lunch, it appears, but I for­give myself because it was such a pro­duc­tive day. My breaths were con­trolled. I was present and in the moment. Adam is gone now, so I’ll have my space. I can read, I can make din­ner. I can do what­ev­er I want.


            I’m in the hall­way of my unit, about to open the door when I hear noise from my kitchen. I must be hear­ing things. It’s impos­si­ble for me to be hear­ing noise from my kitchen as Adam is gone. But when I open the door, it hits me like a tidal wave. Clang­ing pots and pans, the siz­zling of bacon, eggs being bat­tered. Adam is mov­ing through­out the kitchen, play­ing music on his phone, lin­ing up plates and mak­ing a mess. He’s in the kitchen. He’s not gone.

            “Ricar­do! Wel­come back amigo.”

            He’s wear­ing an apron. I had it tucked away above the oven. He must have searched the whole kitchen. Each and every drawer.

            “What are you doing here?”

            “Your shelves are thin, my broth­er. For­tu­nate­ly a lit­tle break­fast for din­ner nev­er hurt any­one. Want any?”

            It’s a mess. Every­thing is a mess. Why is he not gone?

            “I thought you were leav­ing today.”

            “You won’t believe it,” he says, paus­ing his oper­a­tion. “Pow­ers out at our unit. Some­thing the con­trac­tors did. Maybe a snip where there shouldn’t have been a snip?” He laughs. “I’m no expert though.”

            He puts his hand up in mock defense, as if I would ever insin­u­ate him to be an expert in any­thing. I start to shake when I real­ize what this means. Not only is he not gone. He’s not leaving.

            “Wouldn’t our Mom’s love this? Just me and you, bunk­ing just like old times!” He grabs the skil­let and starts pour­ing eggs on his plate. “Say… Why don’t we just chat tonight? You could tell me about work, how you’re feeling…”

            I can tell he wants me to nod my head or to give him some sort of cue that it’s okay he’s still here. Like I can’t read through these lit­tle “check ins”. Like I don’t know he’s just the mer­ce­nary my fam­i­ly puts on the front line with me. Years ago they were more fre­quent. But it’s been a while.

            I feel like my body is frozen in time. Breath­ing is get­ting hard­er, and I real­ize it’s inevitable. The longer he’s here, the more I have to think about the girl.

            “All the stuff you’re doing with Emi­ly,” he says. “Seems pret­ty chill. I’m sure I could learn a trick or two myself.”

            “Great,” I blurt out.

            But I imme­di­ate­ly go to my room. I lay with my back on my bed and stare at the ceil­ing fan. The spin­ning usu­al­ly calms me. Should I call Emi­ly? I inhale. No, I can’t. Not right now. I exhale. I can’t let her down. Besides my fam­i­ly, who have no choice, it’s typ­i­cal­ly two min­utes before some­one becomes dis­in­ter­est­ed in me. They turn their head. They change the sub­ject. Emi­ly gives me fifty five min­utes. No mat­ter what.

            She deserves my best.

            For her to see me like this? Not com­posed? No. She was the only one that believed me. Of course the fam­i­ly didn’t. Why would they?

            But the girl. We talked at the social. The girl, with her tight jean jack­et. The girl, with her freck­les. She should have remembered.

            “Are you going to apol­o­gize now?” I said to her.

            I shouldn’t have said it like that, but I did. It was lat­er in the night. On the dock. It was fog­gy. It was crowd­ed. It was right before she slipped.

            She looked up, then back at her phone. Like I wasn’t there.

            “Hey,” I pressed. “What’s wrong with you?”

            How could she not have remem­bered? What hap­pened next was an acci­dent. I know I moved clos­er. Too close, prob­a­bly. But push her? No. I didn’t do that. I didn’t.

            The ceil­ing fan is giv­ing me clarity.

            Adam’s done this in the past. Stayed at my place, “kept” an eye on me. So why does it feel dif­fer­ent this time? Yes, his house is under con­struc­tion. Yes, Lillian’s par­ents don’t like him. Yes, he can be a job­less dead­beat. But maybe it’s some­thing more.

            Maybe this is all… A set up? Yes. That’s it. Adam sup­pos­ed­ly saw every­thing. Or so he claims. He was only ten feet away from us on the dock. Tops.

            But not only that night. A few days lat­er, when it was all set­tled, when the girl final­ly got “clar­i­ty” and false­ly accused me — Adam stepped in and talked to the police, to the girl’s fam­i­ly. I assumed he was help­ing me. But what if he was doing the oppo­site? A set up. How did I not think of that? A set up, yes. Is he try­ing to lure some­one here to trap me? It was only a mat­ter of time before some­one tried it. Something’s been off. That sly grin on his face. I know he’s work­ing with them.

            Stop it. Adam’s my cousin. Deep breath in. We were born in the same town. Deep breath out. The same month. Deep breath in. Our Moms would take us school shop­ping togeth­er. He helped me move in here when I couldn’t afford it myself. Deep breath out. He’s here to help me. Even if I just want to be alone.

            I grab a remote from my bed­side and turn up the ceil­ing fan pow­er. It spins faster, but I can still hear the TV vol­ume. It’s above 40. Prob­a­bly close to 50 now.

            Order. Clean­li­ness. Rules. Emi­ly told me to estab­lish them. They will calm me.

            I take more deep breaths and feel the oxy­gen flow through my body.

            No one’s accus­ing any­one of any­thing. But, if Adam is going to be here, in my home, I need to address the rules with him. If the house is order­ly, there won’t be any problems.

            I walk out of my bed­room and into the liv­ing room where he’s already stretched back onto the couch. He left his half-eat­en plate of bacon and eggs on the floor, not the side table where it should be. I pick up it up stare at the TV. It’s the Sein­feld episode where George, Jer­ry and Elaine are at the car deal­er­ship. Kramer is out test-dri­ving a car.

            I turn to Adam.

            “Okay, so a cou­ple rules if you’re going to be stay­ing here for a few more days. Over the week­end we were going out. Now it’s the week. Now I have work.”

            “Of course.” He perks up.

            The TV is blar­ing. George can’t get food out of the vend­ing machine. The laugh track plays. That laugh track.

            “Would it be okay? Could you just turn the vol­ume down?”

            Adam flips the vol­ume from lev­el 47 to 42.

            “So a cou­ple of rules.”

            George is yelling at the deal­er­ship own­er now. He’s demand­ing his mon­ey back from the vend­ing machine. More laugh tracks. LAUGH.

            “Actu­al­ly could you turn it off?”

            I see Adam try­ing to be patient with me. But I know he’s get­ting irri­tat­ed. He doesn’t respect my rules. Inhale, exhale.

            “Okay, so just a cou­ple rules. This is a pro-coast­er house­hold. I’ve put them on all the counter sur­faces for you to use. If you’re drink­ing beer, which you’ve been drink­ing a lot of, and I get it, it was the week­end, there’s no prob­lem there. But now… There’s only a few left. For those last few beers, it’s best to use a Koozie. Trash goes in the grey bin. Recy­cling in the blue bin. I try to recy­cle as much as I can to elim­i­nate trips to the garbage room. Appar­ent­ly, there are rats in the garbage room at night. I nev­er go in at night. From 7:00am to 3:00pm is fine in my expe­ri­ence. So if you’re mak­ing a trash run, that’s when you make it.”

            He nods his head a few times.

            “All clear?” I say. “Okay, one last thing. Dur­ing the week, I’m typ­i­cal­ly lights out by 9:30pm. 40 is the mag­ic num­ber for the TV vol­ume. You can watch TV all night as long as it doesn’t go over 40.”

            “All good bro.” Adam says. “Did you feel bet­ter being in the office?”

            I shouldn’t have agreed to talk­ing with him.

            “I always do.”

            “For sure, for sure. You men­tioned look­ing at num­bers relax­es you. How was all that?”

            Emi­ly is the only per­son I want to dis­cuss this with. Not Adam. Not now.

            “I’m going to read in my room. I’ll see you in the morning.”

            Emi­ly would be very sat­is­fied. Expec­ta­tions have been set. I made rules that every­one, myself includ­ed, can fol­low. I com­mu­ni­cat­ed calm­ly and effec­tive­ly. And now that I’ve made myself abun­dant­ly clear, there shouldn’t be any more issues.


            It’s Thurs­day now. Adam has re-pro­grammed the TV. The vol­ume says it’s at 34. I checked it. But it’s over 40. I know it is. The laugh track plays and plays and Adam joins in as well. He’s laugh­ing at the same pitch. It’s an end­less loop of laugh­ter that plays in my head. It won’t go away. It’s been three more days.

            I’m trapped in my room, where I’ve been trapped all week. There’s no sign of Lil­lian or Aria. Adam says Lil­lian is pick­ing him up tonight, and he’s leav­ing. But I don’t believe him. I’m run­ning on emp­ty. Every time he starts to fol­low one rule, he breaks three or four more. Rules I didn’t even know existed.

            On Tues­day he was singing in the show­er. Loud­ly. I could hear him from my bed­room. Singing in the show­er, that loud, is worse than the vol­ume being over 40. Then lat­er, he left the win­dow open all night. It’s an ice­box in here bro, he said Wednes­day morn­ing. I won­der why? And then last night, he fell asleep on the couch after order­ing deliv­ery. Some­one rang the door­bell. Three times. Past 10:00pm. I was already in bed, and not to men­tion the unit doesn’t allow vis­i­tors that late.

            Now I can hear the laugh track again.

            I look at the clock and see it’s past 7:00pm. It’s offi­cial­ly night­time. He knows the rules and he’s not fol­low­ing them. I open the door to my bed­room. His bags are packed. He’s real­ly play­ing the part, pre­tend­ing that he’s actu­al­ly going to leave.

            I’m pant­i­ng as I walk up to him on the couch and snatch the remote out of his hands.

            “It’s past 7:00pm. The vol­ume is over 40.”

            Of course it comes to this. After it hap­pened, after the girl slipped and fell four­teen feet and every­one was shout­ing and throw­ing her a life jack­et, and every­one was focus­ing on the girl and only the girl, Adam was look­ing straight at me. From the oth­er side of the dock. He wasn’t look­ing at her. He was already accus­ing me.

            “Easy my guy. Are you okay?”

            I’m more than okay. I final­ly understand.

            “It’s you. That’s why you’re here.”

            Final­ly, I can hear them. The sirens. They’re com­ing for me. They want­ed to lull me to sleep. It’s been two months since the girl slipped. Just enough time for me to final­ly become hap­py again. To get back to the job I love, to find some­one like Emi­ly who believes in me, and now it comes crash­ing down. The only good thing is that the laugh­ter is drowned out, but it’s replaced with the sirens which are get­ting clos­er. And loud­er. I’ll take the laugh­ter over this. Any­thing but this.

            “How long have you been plan­ning this?” I press.

            It’s his fault I was even there in the first place. His Mom’s dumb “social” gath­er­ing with her col­lege friends. An annu­al din­ner and cruise for the Beta Kap­pa class of 87. What a scam. I shouldn’t have let him drag me there.

            I was out­side the restau­rant, play­ing Tetris on my phone, when I met the girl.

            “Why are you out here by your­self?” she asked.

            When I told her I had work in the morn­ing, and that it was an impor­tant call, and my voice couldn’t be raspy, she rolled her eyes.

            “It’s not like you’re the CEO,” she said.

            “Well, I do own the com­pa­ny,” I said. “I’m a shareholder.”

            And then she laughed. Right at me. All night she was laugh­ing, walk­ing around the social, telling oth­er strangers how ridicu­lous I was for think­ing the truth. Laugh­ing. What if some­one there worked for my com­pa­ny? She had no right.

            I’m stand­ing firm­ly over Adam now, and that’s when I see the girl on the dock, back­ing away from me. Adam’s scared of me. Just like she was.

            “Hold on dude,” Adam says. “What are you talk­ing about?”

            The stu­pid grin is off his face. It’s about time. I knew he was up to something.

            “Answer the question.”

            “Easy bro.” He puts his hand up. “Can you back up just a little?”

            I take one step closer.

            “I let you into my house. And you treat me like this? I thought we were family.”

            There are more sirens. Fire-trucks too. The whole city is com­ing. There’s no crowd­ed dock this time. Just me and Adam.

            “Bro, we are fam­i­ly. Why don’t you sit down. Have you called Emily?”

            I clench both my fists and I’m shak­ing. He can see it and I don’t care.

            “How long have you been plan­ning this? When you called me to stay here, was this the plan all along? I bet it was! I’m sure Lil­lian and Aria are just laugh­ing their ass­es off. What about the police? What did they have to say about me?”

            His expres­sion flips again. He looks at me with clar­i­ty, like he’s final­ly going to spill it. That it’s all a set up. That he made a mistake.

            “You did it… Didn’t you?” He paus­es for a few sec­onds. “You pushed that girl off the dock.”

            My heart is rac­ing. The sirens are get­ting loud­er. They’ll be here any second.

            “No. She slipped. I didn’t push her.”

            I’m clos­er now to Adam. I could reach him if I want­ed to.

            He wags his fin­ger and stands up. “You know what? I don’t need this. Lillian’s gonna be here any minute. Here’s to think­ing you actu­al­ly want­ed my help.”

            “Wait. I didn’t push her.”

            “Yeah. Tell it to your shrink.” He grabs his bag and walks to the door. He’s shak­ing his head, refus­ing to look at me. “Fuck­ing lunatic,” he mutters.

            Once he leaves, I walk over to the win­dow and know I’ll see the police, the ambu­lance, the fire-depart­ment, every­one. They’re all here to arrest me for some­thing I didn’t do. But when I look out the win­dow, I see a car I recognize.

            It’s Lillian.

            She’s stand­ing out­side her car on the side­walk. Aria is in the back seat. Adam walks up to Lil­lian and whis­pers some­thing, which makes her look up at the win­dow. I duck and sit down on the floor now. They can’t see me. The laugh­ter is gone. The sirens are gone. So I close my eyes.


            But I open them back up imme­di­ate­ly. I can’t rest. I start pac­ing and feel it com­ing through me again. Like a lion, ready to pounce. My apart­ment is spin­ning and wind­ing in every direc­tion. I walk to the kitchen and grab a ham­mer. Do I hear the laugh track again? I don’t know. The breath­ing meth­ods, my rules – they’re all use­less. Espe­cial­ly to a piece of shit like me. A piece of shit that scared a girl off the side of a dock. I pick up my phone to call Emi­ly. My heart’s pound­ing so hard it hurts.

            “Richard,” Emi­ly answers. “Are you okay?”

            I’m dizzy. I can’t say it but know I need to. I’ll spend a whole life­time like this if I don’t.

            “It’s just… How come I’m not bet­ter?! You said I would be!”

            The line is silent. I’m grip­ping the ham­mer tight.

            “I admit it, okay?” I point my fin­ger at my chest “I scared her, and she slipped! But why? Why aren’t I fixed yet?”

            I glance out the win­dow. Adam and Lil­lian are gone. The police aren’t here. No one is. Emi­ly final­ly answers. “I want you to take a deep breath in.”

            So I do. I slouch on the wall and fall back to the floor. The ham­mer slips out of my hand.

            “Now take a deep breath out.”

            I do that too. Deep breaths in, deep breaths out.

            “This is a process,” she says. “A slow one. But you can’t give up now.”

            My breaths are slow­ing down. The room’s no longer spin­ning. I want to start every­thing over. Go back to that night and change it all. But I can’t.

            “Let’s do an exer­cise,” she says. “I want you to think of a time when you were hap­py. It doesn’t mat­ter when. Let’s go to that moment.”

            Hap­py? I can do that. Just one time. I close my eyes and think of how I’ll answer.

From the writer

:: Account ::

In “Laugh Track” I want­ed to inhab­it the mind of a char­ac­ter on the verge of a men­tal health cri­sis. Men­tal health is so impor­tant to me, and some­thing I feel should be at the fore­front of con­ver­sa­tion in today’s cul­ture. Did Richard push “the girl” off the dock? I think it’s dif­fi­cult to say, but I don’t know if it real­ly mat­ters. I don’t believe he phys­i­cal­ly touched her, but I do believe his aggres­sive behav­ior and tem­pera­ment forced her to slip and even­tu­al­ly fall. I think what real­ly mat­ters is how he inter­nal­izes the inci­dent. How is he going to take the next step for­ward and improve his men­tal state?  In the ear­ly stages of this sto­ry, I imag­ined a house guest (Adam) over­stay­ing his wel­come and con­stant­ly blar­ing re-runs of a sit­com over and over that was dri­ving the nar­ra­tor crazy. The ini­tial drafts were more light­heart­ed, and focused on the house­guest more than the “host”, which in this case ends up being Richard. The more I dug into the sto­ry, the more I began to won­der – what if the host has some demons him­self? Who is this per­son, and why does he want Adam so des­per­ate­ly to get out of his apart­ment?   In terms of influ­ences, Haru­ki Murakami’s Blind Wil­low, Sleep­ing Woman col­lec­tion stands out. Muraka­mi does a sen­sa­tion­al job of get­ting very close into his narrator’s psy­ches and cre­at­ing sto­ries that force the read­er to ques­tion the valid­i­ty of what the nar­ra­tor is shar­ing. From a craft stand­point, I also will cite Robert McKee’s Dia­logue as an influ­ence, in an attempt to cre­ate unique voic­es for each char­ac­ter in the sto­ry.    Ben Brig­gs is an MFA can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of San Fran­cis­co. He’s the Edi­tor-In-Chief for the Invis­i­ble City Lit­er­ary Jour­nal.