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Undivisible first pages


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Opening scene: introduces primary conflict, setting, protagonist, and tone


First, I want to say I’m sorry. Not for shooting Ethel—that was an accident. And not for showing up at City Hall with a gun—I promise I wasn’t going to hurt anyone. I was just trying to help.

But people are hurting right now, and to those who think I made things worse: I’m sorry.

Some people are calling me a white savior. Others are saying I was pushed over the edge by the election. Those are both partly true, I guess, but neither of them is the whole truth.

Honestly, I wasn’t trying to save anyone except myself. 

You may never understand why I did what I did. But I bet you’ve also never listened to someone defend slavery in the year 2016, in San Francisco. San Francisco! They don’t allow Republicans to live here, practically.  

It’s easy to judge me now. But at the time, I did what any 26-year-old white woman would do: I decided to make a podcast about it. 

#

If I had to pinpoint the moment where everything went wrong, it would be right before I met Ethel for the first time, when I was standing on the corner of Bagley and 19th in the Mission, not quite where I was supposed to be going because I hadn’t listened to my boss when he told me. 

Next to El Farolito, Tyler had said. To the right of the taco shop is a boring building that looks like an office complex, so I know that can’t be the one that houses the bitcoin startup. To the left of El Farolito is a forest green Victorian with gold and brown accents, wearing a turret like it’s the only one at the party who showed up in a party hat. It looks like a fairy tale castle in the moment before everything goes terribly wrong for the heroine. The blinds are drawn in every window, despite the fact that this is one of the nicest mornings we’ve had in weeks—very in keeping with an early-stage startup concerned about confidentiality. It makes me think of Vegas, the windowless and clockless casinos that pump oxygen into rooms and alcohol into bloodstreams.

When I cross the street to get a closer look, I can make out a gold sign next to the polished wooden door that reads FUNDUN. This is a startup name if I’ve ever heard one—and I’ve heard plenty. Without a question, this is it. I ring the bell. 

Someone yells out “Hold on!” and I freeze, because the voice sounds old—definitely over 50—which is two decades too old for someone who works at the type of place CastPod profiles. I consider turning and walking swiftly in the other direction, but something keeps me there—inertia, maybe, or laziness would be a less generous way of putting it. I can rationalize almost anything using the admittedly far-fetched, sometimes tipping into paranoid thoughts running through my head at all hours of the day like they’re being chased by an animal one level up on the food chain. Maybe it’s “bring your parent to work day.” 

When the wooden door swings open seconds later, I see a woman who is, in fact, old. Mid-70s, probably, with white curls piled on top of her head, wearing perfectly round glasses that sit on the tip of her nose, so close to falling off that I have to wonder if she can even see out of them. Her pants are high waisted, in a way that would be fashionable if it were meant to be, and her shoes are of the loafer variety. I bought loafers too, the week before last, but returned them after Jill told me they “didn’t do me any favors.” They’re not doing this woman any favors, either, but what separates me from Jill is I would never tell someone that. 

“Good morning!” The woman says, beaming. Whatever flavor of Kool-Aid this particular startup’s founder is peddling, this woman has mainlined it into her veins. “Can I help you?” 

“I'm here to profile your organization,” I say, “for our podcast? I’m with CastPod. My boss met someone from here the other night and set this up—I think someone is expecting me?”

"A podcast!” The woman says. She suspends her hands in midair as if she’s either going to clap them together or grab me by the checks, grandmother-style. I instinctively take a step back, forgetting that there are steps right behind me. “How perfectly delightful. So that's a radio program, then?”

“Something like that,” I say, forcing a smile. Who hasn’t heard of Serial?

“I think that's just wonderful. We’ve been waiting for someone like you, and here you are! It’s almost like…well, it’s almost like someone sent you.” 

“My boss sent me?” 

The woman ignores this statement/question hybrid. “I'm Ethel,” she says, sticking out her hand. Her nails are long and tapered and yellow on the inside. I immediately think of claws. “What did you say your name was?”

“Darcy. Darcy Heller.” 

Ethel's eyes widen, making her appear even more thrilled. I can’t say that anyone has ever had this reaction to me or my name before, and I have no idea why this relatively unremarkable combination of syllables triggered this reaction, but it’s nice to be wanted—I’ll take it. 

“Please, come in." 

I follow Ethel into the hallway of FUNDUN, which, it becomes immediately apparent, is unlike the office of any startup I’ve visited before. The hall is narrow and dim, lit by a single chandelier. An open door to the left reveals a table with an ancient-looking desktop computer on it (an antique? An ironic joke?), and shelves and shelves of binders and actual paper books. To the right is a small kitchen, which has a sink piled high with dishes (that, at least, is standard), a yellowed fridge, a dishwasher with the door left hanging open like a gaping mouth, a sputtering old-school coffee maker, not a K-cup in sight. 

Ethel leads me to a room at the end of the hallway. Glass cases line the back wall, giving off strong museum vibes. Also contributing to the museum vibes is the vintage-looking furniture filling the room—a coffee table made of dark wood, a couch and an armchair upholstered with a maroon, velvety fabric. So far, I’ve seen no laptops, no standing desks, no ping-pong tables, no nap pods. Tyler had failed to mention—though to be fair, I also failed to ask—what this startup actually did. If I had to guess, I’d say some kind of anti-aging app. Brain games, maybe. Or a service where young people donate blood to rich old people who want to live longer.  
 

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