If I'd Known You Were Coming
University of Iowa Press
Kate Milliken
“Man Down Below”

“Man Down Below” is from Kate Milliken’s debut collection, If I’d Known You Were Coming, (University of Iowa Press).  Milliken’s stories have appeared in Zyzzyva, Fiction, New Orleans Review, and Santa Monica Review, among others. The collection was chosen for the University of Iowa Press 2013 John Simmons Short Fiction Award.  Her stories have also received several Pushcart Prize nominations. She lives in Northern California.


She said this about her story: In order to talk about “Man Down Below” I have to let you in on a little secret. It’s not that juicy. It’s about revision. Sorry.


While “Man Down Below” is set at a newsstand on the very real corner of Sunset Blvd. and Hancock, in Hollywood, CA., on a temperate early morning, the story actually sprang from my memories of rainy days in Boston.


Boston was my first foray away from the suburban enclaves of my youth. I rented a studio apartment and put a loft bed near the window. From the loft I had a bird’s eye view down to a street corner that was near a T stop, busy with pedestrians. Men with their heads down, hands in their raincoats, hurrying, hurrying. Where was the lady with the red umbrella going? Where had the kid with the long purple hair just come from? Who were they going home to? Or were they, like me, alone.


Apartment living is so story-rich with its paper-thin walls and windows onto other lives. It’s lack of privacy. Thinking back on the view from that loft, what struck me about those people on the street corner, hurrying off, and the people in the apartments all around me, was that they all seemed to have in common a desire for more anonymity. And there I was, fantasizing about their lives.


I wanted the story to have an accusatory tone, an overt self-consciousness about it, so I wrote in second person. This point of view felt natural to the story’s central concerns and main character, Rebecca. As is often my preoccupation, I was interested in the duplicity of her desires. How she believed she wanted anonymity, but beneath that lurked another yearning.


When I decided to include “Man Down Below” in a collection of stories that was otherwise set in and around Los Angeles, my Boston apartment dwellers were packed up and moved to Hollywood. A place chalk full of self-consciousness, duplicity, and fantasies about other people’s lives. And, of course, secrets.

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