Alfie Zimmer, a traveling salesman peddling bar code readers and instant dinners, pulls into a Motel 6 in Nebraska for the night. He settles in, and pulls out a revolver, ready to commit suicide because he "couldn’t go on living the way he had been living."
He has a wife, a daughter, and a hobby: recording strange bathroom graffiti which he discovered on his many long, lonely travels. He first started noting down scrawls on the walls that attracted his attention without any reason but then became "fascinated with those messages". Alfie has filled a whole notebook with such gems as "Save Russian Jews, collect valuable prizes" and "Mammon is the king of New Jersey."
In his solitary life of a traveling salesman with only miles and miles of the empty road for his companion those "voices on the walls" became his friends; something to think about during the long drive, something precious and important, something that "spoke" to him.
Alfie decides that "a shot in the mouth is easier than any living change", but every time he puts the gun in his mouth, he worries that leaving the notebook filled with bizarre ramblings behind will make him seem crazy to whomever finds his body. Alfie wants to write a book about the graffiti, even coming up with a great title, but knows "the telling would hurt." While standing in the freezing cold of the winter night, sobbing to himself, Alfie decides on a plan: if the lights of a farmhouse behind the motel reappear through the snow before he counts to 60, he will write the book. If not, Alfie will toss the notebook into the snow, then go inside and shoot himself.
The reader is left pondering what happens to Alfie, as he begins to count. The story closes with the man standing near the field outside the motel, ready to throw the book, but stubbornly clinging to it — as he is clinging to his own life.