Brief Encounters with the Enemy
“Cartography” is from Said Sayrafiezadeh’s debut collection, Brief Encounters with the Enemy (Random House). Sayrafiezadeh is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, selected as one of the ten best books of the year by The New York Times.
His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, among other publications. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a fiction fellowship from the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. Sayrafiezadeh lives in New York City.
He said this about the origin of his story: I had been working at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for quite a while, bored and unchallenged, holding out the hope of one day being a writer, when I was presented with an opportunity of submitting a short story to The Paris Review. “Maybe you have something that’s been sitting in a drawer,” my agent suggested. “Yes,” I said, “in fact I do.” But I didn’t.
Having had limited experience writing fiction, and with a deadline of about four days, I had no idea how or where to even begin. I had recently written a short piece for the New York Times about my rather quaint experience commuting by bicycle during the three-day subway strike that had only just ended, and I thought that I could possibly recycle that into fiction–while, of course, adding characters, plot and four thousand words. Staying up late, racking my brain, fearing that I was about to lose out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I recalled another transit strike that I had endured with far more devastating personal consequences. This one had taken place a decade earlier in Pittsburgh, three-weeks long without any buses, leaving me isolated in my downtrodden neighborhood located on the outskirts of the city. Add to this my former employment as a cartographer (another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity), a closeted male boss who preyed on me, and an invalid neighbor who befriended me, and I had the makings of a story.
With the exception of some condensing and conflating, the reluctant changing of names, and a few carefully placed twists, the fictional events of Cartography adhere quite closely to the actual events of my life, even down to that memorable letter that the protagonist receives, with the blockbuster line, “My cock feels full with the thought of you in my heart.”