Someone asks: How do you know when a short story is completed?
I do not know.
Someone says: But you must know since you have written some?
Yes, I have written short stories. I have even been lucky enough to get some published. I know what the conclusions of my short stories look like because I can see the moment when the bus pulls into the station. I hear the call to collect luggage. I look for a familiar face, a honking horn. I can see the moment when the short story comes home.
Someone says: Yeah, that doesn’t help me much, fam. Tell the truth.
Ah. The hard part.
The truth: I am a coward—I look for a quiet place to quit without anyone noticing.
I want it to be more glamorous than that. Really, I do. I want it to have the smack of literary wisdom. The truth with a capital t. The kind which makes it to MFA and writing commandments: And on the 24th day of April, in the year of Our Lord, the Coronavirus, and the Ghanaian Coffin Dancers he sayeth unto them: “Ait, Imma dip out.”
It is that simple (or that hard depending on how you look at it). There is no Oracle to say some prophetic shit. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Nope. As soon as I see an exit sign—I do not care if the DJ just put on Sister Bettina or For My People—I leave the club. FOMO is for novelists with their “Aww, man, how can I live before I dance with you?” sentiments but when it comes to a short story you can bet the Uber will be two minutes away from my house by the time you look around for me. I cash in my chips in the middle of a hot streak while everyone looks at the dice. I am that guy who tells you to go inside and get us a table—“Yeah, baby, I’ll be right there…”—waiting for you to look outside the restaurant window just as the cinematic bus/truck/train/wagon/mammoth herd crosses my path and then—abracadabra, Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo—I am gone.
Jason Bourne shit. The man with no name. The writer who left me hanging.
Yeah, I give up.
It is necessary, though. If I do not quit I will do something even harder: continue.
And there is nothing worse than carrying on when the moment has passed, when the tea has gone cold. If there is anything worse than an uninvited house guest it is a short story that lingers on too long, one that attempts to be a three-course meal with the attendant array of forks, knives, and spoons when it should be served like street food, whipped together at speed, slapped with sauces unknown, and tucked into with all the good bits dripping down your chin. At some point, sooner rather than later—preferably sooner—you just have to let the short story go.
Let it go.
(Please do not sing that fucking Frozen song.)
I am slowly learning to do the same: letting go of The Sage Of The Six Nigga Paths, this collection of short stories I have been working on for the past two years.
The characters’ rhythms and their voices; their virtues, flaws, struggles, and successes; the seemingly strange structure of the collection; the attempted alchemic combination of prose, poetry, and listicles; the short, middle, and long distance nature of the tales; the working and reworking—I have to disconnect myself from this imagined universe made of the secret lives of lovers, friends, families, exes, wives and husbands, soldiers and the victims of war, the living, the dead, the living dead, and those dying to make a living.
With so many of these short stories having been published, and with some still out for consideration, it has been rewarding and tiring to walk down the dark path of enlightenment through the highs, promises, and failures of love and lust; the corrosive depths of grief and loss; the fires of wrath and folly; and over the hurdles of forgiveness towards partial redemption.
I think I have found a quiet place to quit with dignity.
Someone asks: And then what?
I rest, and then…