“Lightbox” by Emma Cleary follows a male narrator and his obsession with a woman named Elsie.
From the beginning of the story, the narrator leads readers to believe that he and Elsie form a couple and are living together (the red herring). At the end, it is revealed that the narrator is a stalker who has developed an obsession with the girl (the plot twist).
The short story begins with the exposition which introduces readers to the setting and the characters: “Elsie wears her picnic dress today, a black and white check. She stares at a crossword puzzle and sips her purple smoothie (…) I buy my own smoothie and take a seat.” (ll. 1-3)
The middle of the story presents the narrator’s attitude towards Elsie. Throughout the rising action we get the impression that the narrator and Elsie form a couple, and that he is insecure about their relationship:
It has a lot of likes already, including some guy she works with. I click his profile picture, scroll through the pages I can. He likes nearly everything Elsie posts online. I think it’s cute and all but sometimes I think to myself, Elsie, keep something back for just us, you know? (ll. 20-22)
However, the author also sprinkles the narration with various hints or foreshadowing elements, which suggest that something is not quite right.
For instance, there is no direct dialogue between Elsie and the narrator. Another hint is that the narrator sits at the back during Elsie’s yoga classes: “When I go I feel kind of self-conscious, if you want the truth, but I try to stay at the back where no-one’s watching.” (ll. 23-24)
Tension increases as Elsie apparently ignores the narrator, another hint that things might not be what they appear: “She eats standing at the counter. I want to tell her about my day, but she clears her plate and disappears into the bathroom.” (ll. 42-44)
The ending of the short story brings clarity to the plot and reveals the plot twist. From the falling action, we realise that Elsie is in fact in a couple with her co-worker and not the narrator. Furthermore, Elsie knows the narrator is her stalker: “ ‘There’s that guy again,’ I hear her say in a stage whisper. (...) I watch them walk away, holding hands.” (ll. 107-109)
The resolution finally reveals the plot twist. The narrator lives on the same floor as Elsie but in the block across from hers.