John Edgar Wideman

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Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story


This troubling narrative opens with, "They say you see your whole life pass in review the instant before you die. How would they know? If you die after the instant replay, you aren’t around to tell anyone anything" (120). The narrator, a newborn girl on her way down the garbage chute from the 10th floor of an apartment building, reflects on what might have been had she lived long enough to have experienced life.

The structure of the piece moves the reader from floors ten, nine, into the game of chance played with dice, to "The Floor of Facts." At this juncture, the newspaper account of the newborn dead in the trash is iterated in its cold truths. The narrator laments, "As grateful as I am to have my story made public you should be able to understand why I feel cheated, why the newspaper account is not enough, why I want my voice to be part of the record" (123). The narrator shifts gears and begins to explore what her life might have been had she lived beyond these few hours.

She enters a "Floor of Opinions," where her own beliefs must be voiced and for which there must be room on the "Floor of Facts." She speculates, based on the experiences of her socioeconomic--and possibly racial--situation, whether her death will serve any purpose. On the "Floor Of Wishes" she imagines things she would have likely loved, such as Christmas. From this point, the narrative, in quick and painful anecdotes, draws the reality of the powerlessness, the limitations of love, and the brutality suffered by those in the clutches of urban poverty. Then the narrator enters the garbage compactor at the bottom of the chute, inviting us all to join her "where the heart stops."

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