Short Story: “Hope for the Worst”

When Poppy announces she wants to kill herself, her playwright husband employs a peculiar coping technique.

Interior of an abandoned provincial theater, cinema after fire. Destroyed by fire building in an abandoned province. Garbage and traces of fire destroyed dance hall. destroyed wall. Selective focus © A_Lesik /

February 25, 2024 03:44 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: To what extent does negative visualization make you grateful for what you have? 

When the struggling playwright Alvin Rikard and his wife Poppy return home from the theatre, having watched a performance of one of his plays, Poppy announces that she wants to kill herself. “It wasn’t that bad was it?” says Alvin, but Poppy doesn’t laugh. She sits down, her coat still on, and stares vacantly at nothing. 

Poppy has suffered with depression for as long as Alvin’s known her. She’ll be perfectly happy for months at a time and suddenly the voice in her head will turn against her.

When Alvin takes hold of her cold hand, there’s nothing to suggest she even registers his touch. “You’ve been here before darling,” he says, “you just have to wait for the storm to pass.” 

Alvin reminds her, as he’s done many times, that the thoughts she’s experiencing are temporary. They come and go like the rain. They are not who she is.

The voice in her head bats this way. Poppy is, and always will be, a parasite. She’s given nothing of worth to the world. And the world will be indifferent to her departure. 

Alvin tries to be as natural as possible, but being with her in this state is like getting changed into wet clothes. 

“I’m going to walk out in front of traffic.”


“You’d all be better off.” 

“The thoughts you’re having,” he says, “they’re just thoughts. They’re not you.”

Shortly after midnight, something snaps and Poppy says, “You’re right, you’re right. You’re completely right.” But then she starts apologizing. And when she’s depressed and remorseful, nothing can stop her. On and on she goes, apologizing for putting Alvin through this, for being a bad wife, for being a burden. Apologizing for the way she is. Who she is. How she is. 

“Don’t you think you’d be better off without me?” she says. “But don’t you? If you think about it, don’t you think you’d be better off?” 

“No,” says Alvin, “not for a moment.” 

Once she’s gone to bed, having promised him she will never act on those awful thoughts, Alvin sits where she sat on the sofa, closes his eyes and practices negative visualization. He does this every time he has a play on. He sits still and pictures not just his play being a flop but the theatre burning down. Being blamed for it. Being sent to jail and assaulted in the showers. And being blamed for that too. 

It’s a stoic technique which helps you realize that even the worst-case scenario might not be too bad. The time spent in prison might inspire Alvin to write the best play of his life. By the time he comes out, he might have taken on a dark, edgy kind of vibe.

This is the first time he’s ever done it in relation to Poppy. He sits there and pictures how events might pan out if she were to…and… and…well…if he were to come home and find her. Or get a call from emergency services. He takes a deep breath to steady his emotions but the voice in his head is already alive to the signs of weakness. 

It paints a picture of Alvin roaring in pain; animal fury coursing through him. 

“Then again,” says the voice. “It might help your writing. Your work might take on a dark, somber kind of vibe. And the life insurance payout. You’d be able to focus on playwriting full-time and not have to balance it with the indignity of paid employment. 

“Your latest play is awful, you know that don’t you? Poppy certainly does. The threadbare audiences. The actors. They all know it’s a waste of time. You’ve not had a good idea since you wrote ‘Fake World.’ 

“Poppy’s death could finally inspire you. And no one would blame you for writing about it, not in the slightest. Friends would gather round to offer sympathy. Producers might be slightly more charitable. Audiences even, if the word were to spread. And what about Natalia?”

Alvin gasps. Opens his eyes. Looks around the room. Takes in a picture of him and Poppy on their wedding day. Tries to push the thought away. 

Natalia is a friend of theirs. She’s a hairdresser from Poland who spends her free time spearfishing. She was, until recently, married to Alvin’s mate Mike. Alvin has always felt, always detected, a slight frisson between the two of them. She, a beautiful, energetic spear-fishing hairdresser. He, a fat, balding playwright. 

“And yet,” says the voice in his head. “If Poppy died she’d be devastated. Natalia has a sister but they no longer speak, and Poppy has taken her place. If Poppy died, she’d want someone to speak to. The two of you might…”

Alvin pushes the voice away. It’s preposterous. If Poppy killed herself, he wouldn’t suddenly shack up with her best friend. He’d be ruined. He’d be finished. It wouldn’t help his writing career because there’d be no point writing anything if Poppy wasn’t alive to see it. And if he can’t come up with any good ideas now, what chance would he have when…

“Hang on a minute,” says the voice in Alvin’s head, “Is this not the great idea you’ve been waiting for? Wouldn’t this be one of the best plays you’ve ever written?” Alvin’s eyes widen. He wants to silence what the voice is about to say but he knows he has to hear it. “A blocked writer’s wife says she wants to kill herself. The writer employs negative visualization to help him get through it. And this sets him off on a wild fantasy about pushing his wife towards suicide and marrying her best friend.” Alvin can’t believe what he’s hearing. “And no,” says the voice in his head, “of course you can’t write that play because it might very well push Poppy over the edge in real life. So maybe that’s what happens. Maybe that’s how this blocked writer does it. He tells his wife about the play he’s writing, where she kills herself and he marries her friend. And the act of him writing it is the very thing that pushes her to kill herself and allows him to marry her friend. Yes. That’s it. That’s what your next play should be about. A comedy. A hilarious, biting comedy. Domesticity, deceit, death. It’s not a bad idea. It’s not a bad idea at all.” 

Alvin stands up. Could he do it? Could he get away with writing a play which uses his wife’s depression and imagined suicide for comedic effect, while speculating on the possibility of him ending up with her best friend? Alvin shakes his head. He shakes his head again. The voice relents. “No,” it says, “You can’t write that play it in real life. No. Of course not. No. No. Definitely not. No. Of course. No way. No way. No way. Completely and utterly out of the question.” 

“So,” says Poppy, after Alvin has taken her out for drinks at the top of the Shard, overlooking the whole of London, “what is it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Not a bad view, eh Poppy?” he says, staring down at St Paul’s. 

“Alvin? You said you had good news?”

“Not a bad view at all. Ah…uhm… Yes. Well… yes, I. It’s…” he casts his eye upon the Southbank of The Thames. “You know how I’ve always dreamed of having a play on at The National Theatre…”

Poppy pulls him away from the window to take him in. Her smile is so big it can be seen from street level. “I’m so proud of you,” she says, “so, so proud of you.” She kisses him and looks down on the city as though it’s theirs. “So what is it?”


“The play? Is it a new idea or…?”

“Ah, it’s…”


“Hmm?” He turns his face away from her. 

“What Alvin? Why are you being weird.”

Poppy’s been in a great mood for the past two weeks, the voice in her head using every opportunity to remind her that she’s a decent, worthwhile person. Alvin is desperate not to ruin it. 

“God,” he says, “did you see that bloke over there? Beckoning the waiter over to him, don’t you hate it when people do that? We could do with a refill too, but do you see us shouting across London? Awful.” 

“What’s it called?”

“Entitlement, I’d say.” 

“Your play.”


The play is by far Alvin’s best, and he didn’t write a single word. The voice in his head held him captive and demanded he type out its thoughts. Even the edits were done through Alvin rather than by him. The experience proved to him once and for all that he, Alvin, was a barrier to the process of creation, which was best served by him getting out of the way. 

“Why are you being weird?” says Poppy.

“I can’t believe it,” says Alvin, “someone else is beckoning the waiter now. Why can’t they have patience? What’s happened to civilization?” He directs his remarks outwards to the room, to the city, but too quietly for anyone to hear. He turns back to Poppy. “It’s uh… it’s uh… it’s a comedy… you love my comedies. It’s called Hope for the Worst.”

“Hope for the Worst?”

“The poor waiter,” says Alvin, “putting up with this nonsense… You like the name?”

“Hope for the Worst? Memorable.”

“It’s not a bad title, is it?”

“What’s it about?”

“Ah, that’s not important.”

“No, go on.”

“You’ll see it when it’s on.”

“Give me the premise at least.”

“Another person, look. Waving their hands, shouting for the waiter. We’re doomed Poppy, if this is how people insist on carrying on.” For the next five or so minutes, Alvin continues trying to catch the waiter’s eye while moaning about his fellow patrons’ behavior. And Poppy pokes him about the play’s plot until he finally gives her the rough outline. The failing writer. The suicidal wife. The negative visualisation. “He’d miss her terribly, of course,” says Alvin. “Terribly, terribly, terribly. But he realizes he might, in the fullness of time, be ok. You’ve got to admit, as plays go, it’s not a bad idea.” 

“Why would he be ok?”

“Well… ah… I mean…that’s a trifling point.”

“This doesn’t sound like much of a play,” she says. “What is it that makes him realize he might be ok? What is it that creates the drama? Her death might inspire some new ideas, I can see that. He, as a writer, might take on a complex, vulnerable kind of vibe. But I don’t see how that’s dramatic enough to sustain a play.” She gasps. “Does he by any chance end up shacking up with her best friend? Her beautiful best friend who works in a hair salon and spends her free time spearfishing?”

“The waiter’s not paid enough to be hectored like this.” 

“Alvin,” says Poppy, in that tone of voice he can’t stand. “Natalia is the fittest woman I’ve seen in my life. She spends her free time swimming in the ocean shooting fish with a spear gun. It burns nine hundred calories per hour, that’s what she told me. When did you last burn nine hundred calories per hour, other than on opening night when you can’t control your bowels?” She doesn’t care if people overhear her. “The idea, the suggestion that Natalia would in any way be interested in you.” 

“Yes, that’s the point. That’s quite right. It’s a comedy. Of course the idea is absurd. I… he, the writer, it’s not about me, he realizes this. He knows it’s ridiculous. It’s a thought experiment, that’s all it is. He deludes himself into thinking this could happen. But the dramatic irony stems from the fact the audience knows that it never could. Come on, it’s not a bad setup.” 

“Sorry, are you telling me that the best friend character, in your play, is literally a beautiful hairdresser from Poland who enjoys spearfishing in her spare time?”

“You see, Poppy, my problem as a writer, as you well know, is I have a severely limited imagination. But… but simply because I take things from real life, it doesn’t mean…” 

“And what happens?”


“What happens in the story? After he realizes he’d be absolutely fine if his wife topped herself and starts fantasizing about her best mate?”

“Not absolutely fine. Not absolutely fine at all.” Alvin stammers and stutters like he always does when she puts him under pressure. “He realizes this. And he supports his wife. He’s determined to do everything he can to help her. But, well, when she’s feeling better, he does turn the idea into a play.”


“That’s where the drama stems from you see. In the play. In my play, Hope for the Worst, that’s what I…he… the writer does. You must admit, it’s not a bad idea.” 

The voice in Poppy’s head is often disparaging about her husband but right now it’s reached a level of disdain she didn’t know was possible. “In your play about the writer who imagines what life might be like without his wife, and comes to the conclusion that it would be pretty great because he’d end up with her best pal…”

“I never said it would be great.” 

“In this play of yours, the writer turns the idea into a play?” 

“Yes, well, first he has to discuss it with his wife.”

“Does he take her for drinks at the top of the Shard to try and butter her up?”

Alvin can’t help smiling at how well this woman knows him. 

“So what happens?” she says. 

“He discusses it with his wife…”

“And she’s not very happy.”

“Not particularly.”

“Does he put the play on regardless?”




Poppy stares at him. “In the play about the man who puts a play on, the man doesn’t in fact put the play on?”

“That’s right.”

“She kills herself, doesn’t she? That’s why he doesn’t put the play on?”


“Does she kill herself?”

“It’s just a play.” 

“You want me to kill myself, don’t you?”

“No, I really, really don’t.” 

The waiter comes over to take their order and Alvin keeps him with them for as long as he can. He tells the waiter that he’s seen how he’s been beckoned over by the other customers and that he himself would never dream of doing such a thing. Alvin says it’s on principles such as these that societies rise or fall. The waiter nods politely and hurries away to the bar. 

“What happens after she kills herself?” says Poppy. 

“It’s just a play.”

“What happens?”

“I’m not going to put it on so it hardly matters.” 

She shakes her head. The voice in her head starts weighing up how difficult it would be to hurl her husband through one of these glass panels to a seventy-floor drop onto the street below.

“The husband realizes how much he misses her,” says Alvin. “He’s lost without her. He’s ruined. He can’t cope. That’s not a bad message, is it?”

She looks at him. “You mean it?”

“That’s the whole point of the play.” 

“He’s lost?”

“He’s bereft.”

“He can’t cope?”

“Not for a moment.”

“He’s ruined?”

“Utterly. You see, my love, when it comes to it, I’m not a bad man.” 

Sitting there with her husband, suspended in the sky above London, with the dim lighting, the low music, Poppy almost allows herself to get lost in the romance of it all. Until a thought pops into her head. 

“He ends up with her Polish hairdresser friend, doesn’t he?”

Alvin waves his hand in the air and shouts, “Waiter! Waiterrrrrr!”

A few months later, with Poppy’s blessing, Hope for the Worst is about to open at the National Theatre. Alvin is getting ready to leave the house to attend the final dress rehearsal. He had hoped Poppy would come with him. But she has given way once again to the voice in her head. 

“You’re not a bad wife,” says Alvin. “You’re a wonderful person. And you’ve made me happier than it’s reasonable for one man to be.”

Her face doesn’t move.

“I could stay home?” he says. “They’ll be fine without me. They’re not a bad bunch.” 

“I want to be there,” she says. “But I’ll only embarrass you.” Her speech is flat, emotionless. “Your first play at the National. You should be able to enjoy it without me pulling you down.”

“You don’t,” he says, taking hold of her cold hand, “you lift me up. I wouldn’t write anything if it weren’t for you.” 

The voice in Alvin’s head tells him not to leave her alone but he can’t listen to it. They need him at the theatre. Tomorrow is opening night. What if something about the play isn’t perfect? 

When he gets home that night, she isn’t there. He’d called two hours ago at the interval, then again after the bow. They’d asked him if he had any notes, and he could’ve given them several pages, but he wanted to get home. 

Standing alone in their kitchen, he experiences what it’s like to know and not know a thing at the same time. When his phone rings at 1:33 AM from a number he doesn’t recognize, he hears the conversation before he answers. The one he’s dreaded, that he’s tried so hard to push away. 

Hit by a bus a few streets from their house. Was she heading for the theatre? Or the void? He will never know. 

Hope for the Worst runs for six weeks and gets great reviews but he never goes to see it. When it’s offered a West End transfer, Alvin turns it down. Everyone understands. And then forgets.

The voice in Alvin’s head is merciless. Blaming him. Excoriating him. 

“You can’t keep doing this to yourself,” says Natalia. Her hair’s damp. She’s wearing a crop top and silver sheen leggings. Her spear gun is resting in the nook next to Alvin’s fridge. 

She’s been checking in on Alvin once a week. She was so moved by his eulogy. So touched by the love he felt for her friend. 

“I let her down,” he says. “I’ll never forgive myself.” 

For the next six months, Natalia is Alvin’s rock. She supports him, she listens to him, she even gets him to come spearfishing with her but he finds the wetsuit too uncomfortable, so he watches from the boat. And without either of them intending to do so, they fall in love. 

A year and a half after Poppy’s passing, Alvin is married to Natalia. He didn’t think it was possible to love anyone as much as his first wife but, as he says in his wedding speech, “I was shot through the heart by Cupid’s speargun.” 

Natalia’s estranged sister, with whom she fell out years ago, returns to perform the most amazing operetta in tribute to newlyweds. Alvin has sat through thousands of plays and never once been moved to tears. But he weeps openly as she sings the words. 

He and Natalia buy a house together not far from where he used to live with Poppy. The honeymoon period seems as though it will never end. 

But Alvin has some news and he has no idea how to broach it with her. The producer who wanted to take Hope for the Worst to the west end is back in touch. He’s offering Alvin a prime theatre for a four-month run followed by a tour, followed by a potential motion picture. Everything Alvin’s ever wanted is there for him on a plate. 

“You’re not a bad writer,” says the producer, “you’re not a bad writer at all. I love everything about this play. It’s one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen. But what I love most of all is the final scene.” 

He’s not alone in thinking this. All the reviews mentioned it was one of the best climaxes they’d ever seen. The perfect mix of comedy and sadness. Inevitably and surprise. 

In the final scene of Hope for the Worst, the playwright is happy. He’s lost his wife but he’s found love again, and he’s just been approached about taking his play to the west end. But now, somehow, he has to talk to his new wife and explain to her what the play is all about.  

“My baby gonna eat well tonight,” says Natalia. She has her speargun tucked under her right arm and a massive fish flung over her left shoulder. She lets the gun fall with a thud to the ground and drops the fish onto the kitchen counter. “You ok?” she says. 

Alvin smiles. “How would you feel about having drinks at the top of the Shard?” 

She looks at him. “What’s going on?”

Alvin feigns confusion. “Why would something be going on?”

They’ve not been married long but she already knows him so well. 

“Ok, ok,” he says. “I have very good news. My play Hope for the Worst is going to be on in the west end. They think it could be the breakout play of the year.”

“Oh Alvin,” she says, “that’s wonderful. That’s so wonderful. Drinks at the top of the Shard? Let’s do it. Let’s go tomorrow. We need to celebrate isn’t it.” He smiles. “Hope for the Worst?” she says, “I like the name.”

He smiles again. “It’s not a bad title.”  

While they’re waiting for the fish to cook she quizzes him about the play. The run at the National was in the aftermath of Poppy’s death and, like Alvin, Natalia wasn’t in much of a mood to be out in public. 

Alvin tries, as delicately as possible, to explain what the play’s about. “You must admit, it’s not a bad idea.”

“Negative visualization?” she says. “Why would anyone be stupid enough to do that?” 

Alvin had expected her to be more annoyed about, well, pretty much every other aspect of the story to be honest, so he’s more than happy to discuss this angle. 

“Don’t you know how dangerous that is?” says Natalia. “If you manifest in your mind something negative, the universe will make something negative happen. It’s basic science.” 

Alvin agrees. He wants to keep her on this topic for as long as possible. But at some point, he knows she’s going to start asking slightly more troublesome questions. 

“He wants his wife to kill herself so that he can be with her best friend?” she says. 

Alvin shakes his head. “He doesn’t want her to kill herself, no. The whole point is to picture what you don’t want to happen.”

“It’s a silly thing to do.”

“He’s a silly man. It’s a silly play. But you’ve got to admit, it’s not a bad premise.”

“Tell me about the friend.”

“Ah well, she’s beautiful. Intelligent….”

“Based on anyone?”

“Uh… no. No. No, no. A fictional character.”

“Does she come from Poland? Does she own a hair salon? Does she enjoy spearfishing in her spare time?” 

“You see, Natalia, my problem as a writer is I have a severely limited imagination. But… but simply because I take things from real life, it doesn’t mean…” 

Her face switches between smiling and scowling. He can’t tell if she’s doing it voluntarily.

“What happen?”


“At end of story? This writer, this fat, bald writer. He picture what life be like if wife died and he realize it be ok because he could be with beautiful, spearfishing, Polish hairdresser friend. He decide to write play about this idea. His wife die and he end up with friend. Then he is given the chance to put play on in west end. And now he must tell friend, new wife, all about it. What happen next?” 

The voice in Alvin’s head tells him to tread carefully. 

Alvin pretends to check the oven. “That’s not a bad fish.” 

“You think I will kill myself too?”

“Of course not.”

“But in your play, that’s what happen? The second wife, she kill herself isn’t it?”

“We don’t know if the first wife did. The bus… it might have been an accident.”

“But with second wife, we do? She die and this time we know?”


“So what happen?”

The voice in his head starts to panic. 

“Look,” says Alvin, “it doesn’t matter.” 

“If she no kill herself, why you no deny it, isn’t it?”

“She doesn’t kill herself.”



“So why you are looking at me like that?”

“She doesn’t kill herself but…”

“But what?”

“But there’s the suggestion that she might.”

“I’m not going to kill myself.”

“I know you’re not.”

“Why I would kill myself?”

“You wouldn’t. It’s a comedy.”

“A comedy?”

“You know what, I’m beginning to think it might not be.” 

Natalia smiles. But it’s the sort of smile he imagines she did when she set eyes on the fish that’s now baking in their oven. 

“He been thinking about it isn’t it? He been thinking about the fact she might kill herself?”

The voice in his head is screaming at him. Roaring at him.

“Can we please…”

“He’s been doing his negative visualization about her isn’t it? Just like he did with wife number one?”

“Come on Natalia, please…” 

Poppy saw the funny side. Natalia does not. “And he’s been thinking it might not be too bad….”


“He’s been thinking he probably be better off after she gone, in fulness of time?”

“It’s just a play. I’m not a bad man, Natalia.”

“How can he possibly think he be ok without her? She digged him out of hole. She gived him confidence to…Oh my god. He’s been thinking about her sister.”

“Well done Alvin,” says the voice in his head, “you’ve done it now, haven’t you, you bloody idiot? You’re on your own mate, there’s nothing more I can say.” 

Natalia laughs. It’s the most terrifying laugh he’s ever heard. “He’s been thinking if she dies, it no problem, because Natalia’s sister’s single, this bring us closer together and maybe I be happier than I am now. Deny it. Go on, deny it.”

“This character in the play, he isn’t me.”

“But he is writer? With dead wife? Who marries Polish, spearfishing, hairdresser friend? And what about sister? Is she opera singer? Does she go swimming in Hampstead Heath ponds? Can she put her legs behind her head?” 

“I told you. I don’t have a very good imagination.” 

“And I tell you my sister and I, we do not get along. We are not cuddly-cuddly. I tell you nothing make me more angry, more fury than my sister so of course there is no way, no possibility that you would even imagine for one tiny moment the idea that you and my sister… you and my sister… you and my sister…”

“I love you, I promise you. I only want to be with you-“

“Tell me your writer in your play don’t go off with the sister. Tell me. Tell me. Tell me.” 

“Of course he doesn’t. It’s the final scene. The play can’t go on forever. Look, let’s just laugh about it. I’m not a bad person.” 

“You’re sick. You’re a sick bastard. You’ve been thinking about my sister. And you were thinking about me when you were with Poppy. Poppy was my friend. Is the play a success? Is his sick, twisted play a success?”

“It’s a huge success. Rip-roaring. It’s one of the most successful plays of all time.”

“Well that’s all that matters isn’t it? Who cares about me or Poppy or the suffering you’ve caused us. You’ll have all your success and you’ll have my sister. You’ll have everything you wanted, who cares how many lives you have to ruin to get it..” Her eyes rest upon the spear gun. “Maybe I will kill myself.”

“Let’s just calm down-“

“Or maybe I’ll kill you.”

“Oh for God’s sake.”


“Just please, please, please, please, please don’t.” He’s begging her on his knees. “I know how odd it is, Natalia. How mad. How insane. How inappropriate. And I promise I never planned for my own life to go in this direction. But for some reason, somehow, everything I’ve written has come true. And that’s how it ends, you see. That’s exactly how I wrote it. The play’s a phenomenon but the writer never gets to see it because his second wife kills him. The beautiful, wonderful, Polish hairdresser who rescued him from the depths. She’s so enraged by the thought of him with her sister that she grabs her speargun, points it at his heart and, with the final line of the play, she says those infernal words…”

“That’s not a bad ending.”

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


Only Fair Observer members can comment. Please login to comment.

Leave a comment

Support Fair Observer

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.

In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.

We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost money.
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.

Will you support FO’s journalism?

We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.

Donation Cycle

Donation Amount

The IRS recognizes Fair Observer as a section 501(c)(3) registered public charity (EIN: 46-4070943), enabling you to claim a tax deduction.

Make Sense of the World

Unique Insights from 2,500+ Contributors in 90+ Countries

Support Fair Observer

Support Fair Observer by becoming a sustaining member

Become a Member