The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith: No Exit

the first person and other stories

In No Exit, the unnamed narrator is a woman at a movie theater who witnesses another woman walking through a fire exit during a film screening. The narrator had been to this theater before, so she knows the door the other woman went through is an illegal emergency exit that leads nowhere and locks from behind. Even though the narrator makes a mental note to go and check out on the woman if she doesn’t return, she leaves without doing so or mentioning it to the ushers after the movie ends. The woman had left her bag and sweater on her seat, so the narrator thinks it is up to the ushers to figure out where to find its owner.

Now at home in the middle of the night, the guilt is eating up the narrator. She can’t even fall asleep as she imagines the other woman all alone stuck inside the cinema. So she calls her ex-lover at 3 AM, with whom she discovered the illegal fire exit hoping he’d console her. However, that doesn’t happen at first. “You can’t do this, [you say.] It isn’t fair. It’s unreasonable. We agreed not to behave like this. We promised,” he tells her before hanging up, although he calls her right back and starts reminiscing on their life together.

No Exit is a melancholic story, and I wonder if the blocked fire exit is a metaphor for the two lovers’ relationship. Although it seems like they have been separated for a while, it doesn’t feel like either of them has moved on – he still tries to make her laugh, and she still counts on him – which gave me the sense they are also sort of ‘stuck together’ with no way out. 5 stars.

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