How it Ends by Tyler Dempsey | Flash Fiction | #thesideshow

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How It Ends

While they are occupied with listening, the art of companionship is, as it were, neglected a little.

Robert Walser, Radio


Question: why do you write?

By questions we are driven, steered, I’m a bit of a “why” man.

Why man?

A why man.

The tea kettle agonizes. He crushes a beer.

So, care to finally explain to me the origin of that bag?

Crumpled horse hair.

Why’s it—


Horse hair . . . chic. The kettle?

Makes quick-prey of the kitchen. The air whipped by cabinet doors. He opens the fridge, jamming around, finds a bottle.


No, bottle opener?


Still no answer. So, how’s about it? Why?

Why what?

You decided you just had to have it.

This horse-haired thing? No reason. Screaming deal from Tiff—



I sliced my—do we have a band-aid? —SHIT!

Running of tap.

Fucking goddamned opener! It comes out of my paycheck, you know? Our paycheck. No one—


Swaddling finger, half-napkin. A kiss.

Thanks. [Movement toward trash.] No one reads these. We’re supposed to find cash, where, exactly? For the trip? The ocean, beach? Whatever, without—

We are going?


[Sweeping the tile in a crescent with her toe.] The beach?

I don’t see how we could. The—


Anywhere, nothing coming in, and—

What are we gonna do? [Exasperation] God. I really can’t do this anymore.

Like, in general?

Phone rings.

Carol! Oh, nothing, just . . .

Grabs a newspaper, an ad reads, If You Hadn’t Stepped in that Car, Would You Still be Y’all?

Hahahahaha! Carol! Of course! I think. He must! Hah. You do not, you’re seventeen and have, evolved . . . Horse hair.

Get off of the phone, please? Can’t we talk without changing, I’m not saying it’s the . . .

Opens a cabinet. A tumbler smacks. Audible slap. Ice cubes. Pouring whiskey.

Alright. Call you back. Bye. —Don’t? With Carol. It’s important, like work. I know. [Flat-palmed pleading.] Please. God, Paul, what are we gonna do?


This weekend? Not in general.

Well . . .

Proposes a list:

  • She drowns herself in the river.
  • Skydiving?
  • The next train out of town. Cleveland?
  • A pill or twelve.

You make me feel so guilty, all the time.

Guilty? You’re a damned comedian! Hah!

What’s for dinner?

There you go! Changing—

I’m not—I’m bored. Which is boring.


You didn’t pick anything up?

Not exactly . . .

What did



Dinner. Moonlight, a halogen lamp. They sit, the table in moonlight.

You two ready?

I’ll take steak over-rare. And hollandaise-blossom hors d’oeuvres.

The gentleman?

Side-hip lamb au crème. Pile of potatoes.

Over easy, brazened?

It matters?

She slips a black book in the black pocket-apron, and vanishes into the kitchen, black.

She was nice.

Seemed up to something, or something.

Look at this.

Where’d that just all-of-a-sudden appear from?


[About to sip a cocktail] Is that the horse hair?

No, different.

Pauline! God! Is that dog?


JESUS . . .

But just look, look, this article on immortality, by Kant—love the title. If She hadn’t Chosen Silk, Would You be Y’all?

That’s gotta be expensive. What the hell?

Says Behavioral Autointrusional Disor—

What is this shit?



—The lady, T-Bone, appetit. Lamb’s getting sided as we speak. A potato pile while you wait?

Sure . . .

Squeezes a half-lemon on a Mayan-Earthen broiler. Belching flames. The restaurant erupts in clapping.


Anything else?

No . . . We’re fine.


What else is—


You’re always— With everything! Just say it, goddamnit.

How’re the potatoes?


What’s so wrong with secrets?

What do you mean?



The beach. Sunshine.

Cannot believe you dragged me out here—these damned airlines.


The fucking hotels rape you, I swear. Nice though, huh?


[Sunglasses lounge on bridge of nose.] What’s with you?


Three kids jostle next to the waves. Their swim trunks a line of different colors.



Can we talk?

Where’s that—

Something wrong? Oh, God.

[Exasperated.] Really could use a beer or twelve.


Where’s that damned waitress-girl? This vacation . . .

A fish washes up on shore, a Wilson-Bohannan padlock through its tail. Children flock.

Paul? I asked if we could—

What’s that!


That! A ship?


It’s going? Coming, or? Can’t tell, directly—

Pauline digs in Paul’s trunk-line and cossets his genitals.

What’s the — Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!

She falls asleep. Smiling of Paul. The kids have a carpenter’s belt, they search for a key, wrench, mallet. Rise and fall of kid-sized hands. A carpenter, half-streaking over sand, towel dancing. There are mallets.

[Waking up] Another god-damned bag? Jesus. Where could that have even come from? Just how long was I out for?

Took a jaunt to the gift store.

We’ve gotta talk . . .

A disembodied-horse-head floats right into Paul and Pauline’s field of vision.

What the fuck?

It’s Love, Paul.

About the Author

Tyler Dempsey‘s work is forthcoming in Wilderness House Literary Review, has appeared in Gone Lawn, The 3288 Review, Badlands Literary Journal, and The Bacon Review. They have been a finalist in New Millennium Writings and Glimmer Train competitions. Dempsey works as a National Park Service Ranger.