1131: How It Will End by Denise Duhamel

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1131: How It Will End by Denise Duhamel


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I try very hard not to predict the end of a movie before the final scene. I have a habit of assessing the main character’s conflict and personality traits then imagining the outcome. Certain genres typically adhere to a structure. In horror films, people die but the protagonist survives, not without a ton of hair-raising scares. Once a character starts walking down into a dark basement over an eerie soundtrack, I drift off.

Scenarios in wedding movies play out in predictable ways, too, but in real life, as we know, relationships are hit or miss. Today’s poem illustrates how difficult it is to plot the fate of a couple, especially one whose ups and downs are played out publicly.

How It Will End
by Denise Duhamel

We’re walking on the boardwalk
but stop when we see a lifeguard and his girlfriend
fighting. We can’t hear what they’re saying, 
but it is as good as a movie. We sit on a bench to find out
how it will end. I can tell by her body language
he’s done something really bad. She stands at the bottom
of the ramp that leads to his hut. He tries to walk halfway down
to meet her, but she keeps signaling Don’t come closer.
My husband says, “Boy, he’s sure in for it,”
and I say, “He deserves whatever’s coming to him.”
My husband thinks the lifeguard’s cheated, but I think
she’s sick of him only working part-time
or maybe he forgot to put the rent in the mail. 
The lifeguard tries to reach out
and she holds her hand like Diana Ross
when she performed “Stop in the Name of Love.”
The red flag that slaps against his station means strong currents.
“She has to just get it out of her system,”
my husband laughs, but I’m not laughing. 
I start to coach the girl to leave the no-good lifeguard,
but my husband predicts she’ll never leave.
I’m angry at him for seeing glee in their situation
and say, “That’s your problem—you think every fight 
is funny. You never take her seriously,” and he says,
“You never even give the guy a chance and you’re always nagging, 
so how can he tell the real issues from the nitpicking?”
and I say, “She doesn’t nitpick!” and he says, “Oh really?
Maybe he should start recording her tirades,” and I say
“Maybe he should help out more,” and he says
“Maybe she should be more supportive,” and I say
“Do you mean supportive or do you mean support him?”
and my husband says that he’s doing the best he can,
that he’s a lifeguard for Christ’s sake, and I say
that her job is much harder, that she’s a waitress
who works nights carrying heavy trays and is hit on all the time
by creepy tourists and he just sits there most days napping
and listening to “Power 96” and then ooh
he gets to be the big hero blowing his whistle
and running into the water to save beach bunnies who flatter him
and my husband says it’s not as though she’s Miss Innocence
and what about the way she flirts, giving free refills 
when her boss isn’t looking or cutting extra large pieces of pie
to get bigger tips, oh no she wouldn’t do that because she’s a saint
and he’s the devil, and I say, “I don’t know why you can’t just admit 
he’s a jerk,” and my husband says, “I don’t know why you can’t admit 
she’s a killjoy,” and then out of the blue the couple is making up.
The red flag flutters, then hangs limp.
She has her arms around his neck and is crying into his shoulder.
He whisks her up into his hut. We look around, but no one is watching us.

“How It Will End” by Denise Duhamel from BLOWOUT © 2013 Denise Duhamel. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.