My Dilemma

~Be Ye Warned: Spoilers!~

You remember the short story, The Lady or the Tiger? by Frank Stockton? I want to talk about the ending, or lack thereof. You see, there are these two characters each facing a dilemma. The first’s dilemma is to choose between two identical doors. The problem: one door houses certain death by tiger. Now, the man who must choose between the doors has a hot-blooded lover, and she, by resource and disposition, discovers the contents behind each door.

She also has a chance to tell him which door to pick. Here is her dilemma: if she directs him away from the ravenous tiger she directs him towards her rival. If he chooses the door without the tiger, he will be wed to the other woman.

The narrative flows up to the point of the man opening the door his lover directs him towards, and then asks what the hot-blooded woman decided. Did she lead her lover to the brutality of the tiger or the embraces of her rival?

Stockton is no help on the matter, and for this crime I suggest we feed him to a tiger.

However, life has the cruel habit of giving us half stories like these. I’ll tell you one from today.

Coming off the train I saw uniformed guards and a bottleneck of passengers moving through them. Preparing my ticket, I approached the throng and was let through with a summary nod. Amid the noise of annoyed people I heard a shrieking as of one mad. The source was an old crone being handcuffed. I listened. She seemed to claim that her husband had her ticket, that she could see him, that she was screaming for him.

I have been dealing with a few issues, and see a dramatic change in my personality. One of the symptoms I’ve noticed in myself is a coldness towards humanity, like all the empathy has been drained from me and replaced with hellish anger. So, whereas it seems reasonable that sympathy should be felt for the tormented woman, I felt a sort of dumb curiosity. I just stood there and watched.

At a point, the cops lead her away, but I could hear them saying something like: “Is he over here?”

They were going to see, going to try to find out if she was telling the truth or if she was an obfuscating liar. I had taken it as a matter of course that she was lying; all city people lie, especially to authority. My phone rang; I answered it; hung up. The crone and the cops were gone.

And it really bothers me that I don’t know the ending to the story. Was she a thief compounding her judgment with lies, or a put upon woman who deserved much apology? How can one solve such a problem?

If this were a story I was writing, I’d tell the ending that seemed right: that is my problem. A part of me is uncomfortable with her being innocent. I want her shrieks to be evidence of a warped mind. I want her to be guilty, to be discovered, to be punished. There’s a satisfaction I’d gleam lording my honesty, as if buying a train ticket was some mark of great virtue.

One of the things I love about Andrew Klavan’s protagonists is that they are as sick as I am. In his book, Empire of Lies, a reformed sadist is the narrator, his wicked thoughts on display for all to see. I suppose if I were a protagonist in one of Klavan’s thrillers, the readers would be privy to all sorts of arrogant displays like the one I outlined above, watching me from the seat of God.

I don’t want to give anything away from Empire of Lies, but spoiler warning just in case. The protagonist has to make a choice: either return to the evil within himself or let thousands die. I don’t want to say anymore on the subject, but it is a very powerful scene.

And so I am left with my own dilemma: I must find some peace regarding this unfinished story.


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