False Starts and Unsatisfying Ends

a few months before this story took place
a few months before this story took place

The story starts like this. I go to a bar with friends. My boyfriend doesn’t come with me because he never goes with me anywhere. He wants to see me only after 10pm, and I think he doesn’t want to be seen with me.

In the bar’s courtyard two young men strike up a conversation with me. They make me laugh and one is tall and good-looking. It turns out the shorter one is married, and after a few minutes he says he needs another beer and leaves the tall guy on his own to talk to me.

I think the conversation goes well, but when my friends say it is time to go home, he doesn’t ask for my phone number. Walking out of the bar, I see the married friend. I do something that goes against my wallflower grain. I push through the crowd to talk to him.

“It was nice to meet you,” I say, hoping he will say the right thing. He seems like that kind of guy.

“Did my friend ask for your phone number?” he asks.

“Oh, no,” I say as if this hadn’t occurred to me.

“Give it to me,” he says. “He’s just shy. I’ll give it to him.”

If the tall guy had really wanted my number, he would’ve asked, but I decide I’ve nothing to lose. The tall guy does call. It is Monday night and friends are crowded around my TV to watch the season premier of Murphy Brown–the one where she responds to Dan Quayle.

“Look, ” I say to this guy who is handsome and funny and actually calling me. “Murphy Brown is on–can you call me back later?”

He hesitates. “All right,” he says, and I’m sure he won’t call again. But he does.

That Friday night from my bedroom window I watch him walk up to my apartment, and he’s so good-looking I panic that he’s forgotten what I look like and that he will be disappointed when I open the door. But he smiles, and I think we’re off to a good start, even if his friend talked him into asking me out.

But what ending is unpredictable? The tall guy was the tactophobe. The End.

The beginning of any story holds promises. Perhaps a mystery will be solved or a quest will be completed. The tone and style of the beginning sets up certain expectations. It is hard to imagine starting with Great Expectations and ending in Clockwork Orange. Nor do you want the reader to know how everything will end.

When you’re writing, it’s a long way from those first pages to the last. Do you ever feel that the beginning to match up to the promise at the start? What story endings have let you down?

4 thoughts on “False Starts and Unsatisfying Ends

  1. oh no, the ending was right there in the beginning, and on some level, you knew it- “If the tall guy had really wanted my number, he would’ve asked.” You’d already picked up on some absent part of him, some passivity. So it sounds like your instincts are better than you give them credit for, when it comes to knowing how things are going to turn out!
    So I guess the lesson for writers is, stay true to what you know the story is *really* about, and the ending won’t feel like it violates the truth of the beginning.

  2. You tell wonderful memoir stories.

    endings usually fight like wrestling a twenty foot boa. You have to let the boa win if the story’s going to work, in my experience. At least with short stories; because I have a hard time writing them.

  3. Are we sure the tactophobe didn’t end up being gay? If he didn’t, who needs those issues?

    Bad endings… omg… those Twilight books. Fine, it was immature and whiny and badly written, but there was something in there that kept me coming back. And then by the end, it was like a car wreck I couldn’t turn away from. I mean, it was like a teen girl’s fantasy of life and death and the living dead. She didn’t even stick with the internal logic of her own story. Blegh.

    I like writing endings. Middles suck. Beginnings are too hard. But endings are where it all falls into place for me.

  4. Sarah, yes, the ending is always in the beginning. Shouldn’t we all trust our instincts more?

    writtenwyrdd, ha! A boa. I shall keep that in mind.

    rowena, plenty of people suggested he was gay, but I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t know. I know that when I met him a girl had just broken his heart. He’d wanted to marry her and she left him. And I know he married the girl he dated after me. I’ll never know that ending.

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