Arguing over the ending (Ginger Man 9K)

“You bring the knife?” the man in the suit

Charlie stopped writing, put the pen and notebook on the sofa, rubbed his hands over his face. He remembered talking to Mike about this part of the story, must have been right after, a few days after Mike had told it. They were over at Mike’s house, sitting in his family’s living room, eating potato chips while watching television. They had just turned thirteen, and their long friendship was changing as rapidly as their bodies, Charlie developing his muscular football physique and Mike letting his stringy black hair grow out.

He couldn’t remember how the story of the Sleeping Jaywalker came up that day in the living room, but he clearly remembered what happened from the moment when he’d told Mike that he hadn’t liked how he ended the story.

Mike had shrugged, muttered that endings were never as important as what came before it. Charlie remembered trying to explain. “Seems like all of a sudden, soon as he sees the fortune teller’s sister all tied up, the Sleeping Jaywalker turns into a superhero or something, starts beating up people left and right.” Mike had shrugged again, said some people were just like that. “Yeah, but dontcha think you coulda said sumpin’ earlier in the story, give a clue that he could kick butt like that? Foreshadowing, think it’s called.”

Mike finally stopped looking at the television, and snorted a laugh as he looked Charlie in the eyes. Foreshadowing is for readers who want to be spoon-fed easy answers, he’d said.

Charlie rubbed his face again, picked up the notebook and pen from the sofa. He glanced at the kitchen clock — 4 AM. Good thing he was nearing the end. “Sorry Mike,” he said to the dark quiet of his trailer, “but it’s time for a re-write.”

“You’re making a mistake.” Charlie knew that wasn’t what Mike had said that day in his parents’ living room, but he still had that picture of Mike at 13 in his mind as the words came to him.

Sorry, Charlie thought, as he located the place where he’d stopped writing. He remembered telling Mike, that day when they were 13, that someday he’d like to try writing a different ending.

“It’s my story. Don’t you change it.” A line of acne had also sprouted on Mike’s right cheek that afternoon.

Charlie shook his head, and resumed writing.

asked. The man in the leather jacket stepped forward,

“Don’t ignore me.” The picture of Mike at 13 grew larger in Charlie’s mind.

opened his jacket, pulled out a long knife.

“Do it right!”

Charlie looked up suddenly, his face red with anger, shouting to be left alone. And looking down on him now was Mike, but not his friend when he was thirteen but the young man from six months who had returned from college, defeated and angry. In his wild eyes, Charlie saw a man whose life was destined to end in fiery pain.

“DON’T CHANGE MY STORY!”

Charlie fell back on the sofa, hard enough to bounce back, the momentum carrying his torso forward enough for him to fall off the sofa, onto the cold floor of the trailer. He pulled himself up quickly, looked around — and saw only the dark quiet of his trailer.

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