2019 Short Stories

by Kyle Barnhart

Last updated on 3 September 2019

I'm writing more. Here is everything I've written in 2019.


What You Make


4 April 2019

Ring ring.

Polly took a wide berth on her way out of the restroom and crashed into the sound of a payphone ringing. The real deal. A ferocious, tiny hammer bouncing between metal bells. Not a digital facsimile through a speaker but an honest-to-god, quarters only, electromechanical payphone.

This place was one of those neighborhood institutions with tables sporting red-domed tealights on checkered tablecloths and, apparently, working payphones. She brought the receiver to her ear and slipped a timid “hello” down the line.

Somebody somewhere said something. Polly nodded and walked out of the restaurant.

Back at the table, Mark was experiencing time dilatation. His phone was still in the car. The car was now her car because Polly took the car, and so it was her phone, too, and not his. With neither a phone nor a wristwatch nor a car, Mark began reading the ingredients on sugar packets.

Cane sugar, anti-caking agent, and natural colors.

A phantom loomed behind Mark. It asked if he was ready for the bill.

“I guess. Whatever.”

The waiter returned to find Mark with half-open eyes fixed on the wisps of candlelight dancing on the table.

“Hey,” the waiter offered kindly. “Sorry it didn’t work out.”

“Um, uh.”

“With your date, I mean. I’m sorry she left you with the check.”

Mark was clueless. He raised his head to regard the waiter– as if to thank him for the news– then jolted like a varmint to look toward the hall where Polly had disappeared. And, finally, Mark turned his head back toward the window. The car was gone.

And all of the natural colors drained from Mark’s face. The waiter moved like an old western gunslinger to unholster his dish rag. This wasn’t unusual. Customers frequently needed rags to catch tears and even more often, vomit. Service industry employees can always point you to the nearest rag.

“That’s my w-w-wife.”

The customer became unintelligible. Phonics disappeared under sobbing and bawling and leaking snot and coughed-up nibblets of chewed spaghetti. It was restaurant policy to move the customer out of the dining area in the event of a catastrophic meltdown, so the waiter took Mark’s hand and lead him like a small boy back to the kitchen.

The back staff all rolled their eyes and groaned at the mess of a human being laid bare before them, red and wet and heaving like a cut of beef dropped onto a sizzling hot pan. They considered cooking the man to make him useful. But the waiter dragged Mark on through to the back of the kitchen.

“You need to do these dishes,” the waiter barked. “You need to stand up straight and do these dishes.”

“Wwwwwwww,” Mark burbled in response.

The waiter took his rag– sopping with Mark’s sadness juices– and pushed it into the customer’s hands.

“You need to wring out that towel and pour on some soap and clean these fucking dishes right now.”

Shaking hands twisted the rag out into the sink as the waiter stood still with arms crossed, his face wrenched in disgust. Several child-sized stacks of plates and bowls were watching Mark, too. Everyone was so disappointed in him.

Mark took a plate from the top of the stacks and moved it under the faucet. The waiter called him an idiot and Mark hacked out a few dry sobs.

After a few moments of exaggerated scrubbing and rinsing, the white ceramic sparkled and glimmered. Mark could see the waiter’s expression change. The scorn had given way to total and utter indifference.

“That’s really acceptable work.”

Mark replied, “I’m slowly getting better.”

What You Make

3 Sept 2019

You’re having a crisis.

This crisis is not a familiar crisis. No one is casually aiming a handgun at a bus full of wide-eyed, frightened kindergarteners. Neither a measured de-escalation nor a carefully-timed word to a paramilitary SWAT team standing by with door-busters and automatic weapons will solve your crisis.

You’re sharing a table for two with a half-finished bottle of red wine and reflexively thumbing past search results with titles like




You have an inkling that maybe you’re fifty years old and you have marketable skills. You have a Google Doc so chocked full of clever concepts that your idle musings are collapsing into an outright crisis.

You could change your career and become a digital content creator. You think you could do this but first you


No. You swipe that breaking news notification away. This is your time.

You remind yourself— or perhaps you reassure yourself— that there will always be bad people in this world.

Good people, too. There’s a growing queue of younger, more savvy and well-read police detectives ready to fight cutthroat office politics for your vacant office, once you vacate your office.

Those thirty-somethings spend their lunch breaks watching TEDx videos about modern serial killers presented by twenty-something experts in criminal psychology. They understand the modern sociopath. They could do your job.

Richardson will probably get your job, you concede to yourself.

But you don’t have to rationalize this to anyone. Tonight is your


A moment passes while you feign consideration before following the trail of autocomplete suggestions: “Late night again, sorry hon.”

You set your phone back down onto the table and take an exaggerated pull of chianti. Your eyes close. Your nose takes in a long, audible breath and the lingering flavors of the wine sharpen and move in the back of your mouth.

Glug glug glug. The waiter is at your table now, topping off your glass.

“Anything else, sir?” the waiter asks you.

No, no, you tell her.

Wait. You ask her whether she has any favorite channels.

“Like, on TV? Or you mean online?”

Online, you say.

“Oh, gosh.” She thinks for a minute. “I keep up with a few D-I-Y-ers. MakeYourHouseAHome, definitely. Bespoke Too Soon. Umm…”

Take your time, you tell her, clumsily smashing the names into your phone as she lists them. After the eighth one, her expression changes.

“I feel like I know you from somewhere,” she comments as her eyes squeeze down upon you. “You sell cars?”

Police detective, you answer flatly.

“Oh shit, yeah, you were in the news! The—” She covers her mouth and shifts her glance from side to side with the sort of feigned guilt that a professional adult is obligated to convey after cursing on the clock.

Your face expresses a different kind of guilt. Patrons at neighboring tables are staring at you, not the waiter who said “shit.” Their looks are condescending— or perhaps not, but that’s how you’re reading them.

What you’re reading on their faces is, “he can’t do it.”

So you move your eyes to stare down at the checkered tablecloth, ignoring everyone else. You tell the waiter you want the check now. She tells you to hold onto the card.

“You can’t be too careful these days,” the waiter remarks as she hurries away.

Shit. Buzz buzz.


Really really shit. Buzz buzz.


Shitting shit.

Your eyes are closed again. The dining room is vibrating with the sound of knives on porcelain and kitschy violin and meandering dialogue about deals and celebrities and America and all of the other words. Your ears are filled with the glug glug glug of your beating heart and you can barely hear yourself breathing at all.

This isn’t where you should be.

You imagine something else. You’re in the same restaurant, but your wife is there, too. She’s holding your hand under the table and moving her thumb gently over the ridges of your palm. There is a dish of rigatoni in red sauce between the two of you and it’s gone cold because she has you. You’re a hostage in the deep green pools of her eyes and there is absolutely no escape.

That might not be your imagination. You might be remembering. That might have happened ten years ago or even one year ago. And that’s where you would be tonight, if some maniac hadn’t started

AMOUNT $46.29 OK?

The waiter is back with a portable card reader. A new portable credit card reader. Goddamn the Tap-and-Pay Killer, you think.

You show her a smile to convey no hard feelings about the cursing and she winds up a smile in return. Your fingers tap out a generous tip, owing to your embarrassment about the whole situation (which probably wasn’t a big deal to anyone). Then, reluctantly, you guide your credit card close to the machine and, with an unenthusiastic beep, the dinner is concluded.

“You’ll catch ‘em,” the waiter says.

You might not. You might be too slow. Every business in town might switch to the superior international standard for paying at restaurants and bars and the killer might get exactly what he wants.

You sling your coat over your shoulders and head outside.

Something catches your attention the moment the cold air hits your face and the door to the restaurant closes behind you. Is that a bell? The noise is so unfamiliar it takes you a moment to place it.

An old payphone. Huh.

You stop and take a moment to feel around for your car keys and that’s when you notice the waiter’s parting words have followed you out of the restaurant.

You will catch him.

You will catch him.


That door behind you swings open and, quite suddenly, you’re toppling over along with some other person who didn’t see you standing where you were standing.

“Huh,” the woman remarks, recovering from her stumble and moving with purpose.

Hey, where are you goin’ in such a hurry? That’s what you shout at her from the ground, sitting up on your hands and knees.

“I’m going to start a podcast,” she shouts back to you from over her shoulder.

And just as she reaches to open her own car— full of confidence and urgency— you bark at her that the world doesn’t need any more damn podcasts.

What the world needs and what the city needs and what your wife needs, is you.