This is how you tell the true story of the dead dog in the suitcase:
“So, this girl a friend of mine met in New York over the summer —”
You begin that way, even though it isn’t strictly factual. This friend of yours never met the girl, though she did once meet this girl’s cousin at an art gallery opening. But you can’t say so; your listener has played childhood games of Telephone and is dubious of any story with more than two degrees of separation between its source and its teller.
“… this girl, she knew this wealthy couple in Midtown, and they offered to pay her to apartment-sit for them while they went away for a week on business in Chicago —”
Any city will do, but Chicago is best.
“… and to take care of their dog while they were away. But the dog, they said, was old, and sick, and in the event that it die during their trip, she had been provided with the number of their personal veterinarian.
“So, she takes the job. About three days in, she comes back to the apartment to spend another night, and the dog is dead.”
“She calls the vet, but they’re closed, and she waits ‘til morning. She calls again, and the vet says that of course he’ll take care of the body, but he can’t pick it up himself. She has to go to his office, in the Upper East Side, and make the delivery personally. But she doesn’t have a car, so her only option is to take the subway.”
Notice the implication that she spent the night in the apartment with the dead dog; these grim details are what keep the story humming in the listener’s ear long after the telling has ended.
“She takes the dog and stuffs it into a suitcase.”
Take a moment to encourage the listener to perform his own imaginative detective work in determining both the size of the suitcase and the breed of the dog. I picture a Border Collie crammed into a briefcase, the kind a lawyer might carry, with the tail curled around the inside edges to make room. But most people seem to assume it’s a Black Lab, zipped into one of those travel suitcases with wheels.
“She’s on the subway, early in the morning, on an empty car. After a while, a guy in a suit gets on and sits across from her, and they ride in silence.”
It really is best if you have him in a suit.
“Eventually he strikes up a casual conversation: where she’s from, where she’s going, that kind of thing. Finally he asks, what’s in the suitcase? They’re still alone on this subway car, and she doesn’t want to say a dead dog, for obvious reasons. So, she panics, and says the first thing out of her mouth, which is, for some reason, ‘computer parts.’
“‘Computer parts?’ the guy says, as the train is pulling into the station. ‘That’s right,’ the girl says. ‘That’s interesting,’ he replies, and just as the doors open, he punches her in the face, he grabs the bag, he runs onto the platform, the doors close, and the train takes off, with her in it, standing there, empty-handed.”
And that’s it. That’s the end of the story. Here you can say “and that’s the end of the story,” but it won’t stop your listener from asking, “What happened then?” and “Was she OK?” and “Why didn’t she just take a taxi?” You could answer these questions. But it would be a disservice, I think, to the tale you’ve told. It’s best to answer, truthfully, that you don’t know, that there the story ends, its characters obscured by the fog of history.
The listener must wonder alone in the moments and days to follow, turning the events over in her head, and then relate them aloud to others, making her own sense of them, becoming the storyteller herself. The particulars change with each telling, as they have changed: The apartment in Midtown becomes a house in the suburbs; the lonely morning subway car now departs at night. But the truth is not made of particulars, nor is it on particulars that this “true” story depends. Only a few images must remain constant, shrouded and striking-sharp as the stalagmites rising up from the dark mouth of a cave: a girl, standing motionless on a train car, her nose just beginning to trickle with blood; a veterinarian waiting on a client who no longer needs to arrive, who will never arrive; a thief in a suit with his thumbs on the latches of a suitcase, bent-over and coiled, expecting riches.
Special thanks to Taylor Norton, a friend of mine who, perhaps, met this girl in New York over the summer–
Avery DiUbaldo can be reached at email@example.com.