The ending of a story is as important as the beginning. Maybe in some ways, more so. The beginning hooks you and draws you in. But the ending is that big sigh of relief, or satisfaction, or sadness. Questions answered and threads tied so you can move on. Sometimes the end is a stop, sometimes a pause before the next linked story.
So when there’s no ending, we’re left suspended. No closure. And those are the stories that haunt you. Which is why short stories have such appeal for many; they don’t have a neat conclusion.
But typically, we want those final words.
I’ve said this before but will repeat here. One of the hardest things for me during my years on the fire department was having no ending. You’d be so, so intimately involved with a person at this horrible moment in their life, and then they’d be gone. Whisked off to a medic unit, to a hospital, to the morgue. You’d never find out if the family managed to move on, to put pieces together, to get their lives back, to heal. You’re haunted by those who entered your life so briefly. Some were in your blood-soaked hands as their story ended.
Then there are friends. This afternoon I was reminiscing about a time, way back in the 1980s, when I hurt someone. To this day I don’t know how, or what, I did, only that it was awful enough that they took many years to reach the point where they felt they could have contact with me again. There was no ending to that story. I wasn’t able to apologize or explain, or justify, or help heal, since I didn’t know what I did.
In spite of no ending though, we’ve managed a new beginning over the last couple years, for which I’m thankful.
And yet I’m haunted still by that time. I was very naive back then. Well, heck, I was naive until my thirties when my husband showed up. As an example, there was that time in the 1990s, at a Duran Duran concert, when a man tried to sell me hash and I thought he meant corned beef.
I like to hope that this person now knows whatever I did, it was unintentional. But I’ll never know because there was no ending.
In writing, I always know the last line of a story before I begin. I may not know the characters or the story arc yet, but I know how it will end. Writing becomes a discovery of the path leading to those final words.
In real life, those final words are rarely so clear, or the path so easy to walk.