“Toteming” by Tyler Dempsey


“My partner—Eric?”

Tightwad Eric?”

“He’s sick of my shit.”

“He said it?”

“He said, I despise people like this. Meaning, assholes. I made him cruel.”

“Rob says that.”

“Moves—knees, elbows not bending. Afraid he’ll explode. He’s in front of a glass of water wanting a drink. Elbows humming from straightness.”


“After sex I went, Why are we together? Was not the thing to ask. He screamed, Did talking work before? I’d asked that same question 6 minutes earlier. He’d timed it, and showed me, the bastard.”


“Said, Can’t you treat me like our friends? Or coworkers?”

“Men—if we weren’t irrational, we’d bottle shit up and get on with it. He tried listening?”

“He claims to, around the beginning.”


“I was ditching him, then he stretched around my cat like the feeble bastard he is, snot-stalactite swinging. Cat’s bug-eyed ripping forehead layers.”

“You’re hard on yourself. Get tough. State the business, stick to it.”

“In my head—I’m stern, soft and hard, extinguish stalactite on sleeve, slam door. But there, my tone’s wrong, bonkers like mom’s. What if he’s right? With Susan, I talk investing. Susan’s immensely reptilian, eats crickets, stray children. I woo her. Say, Compounding’s interesting, wish Eric . . .”

“Emily, you know my business, and I don’t want to doctor/patient you too much but have you tried toteming?”


“I have this lacey see-through shit in the closet, for instance. Had it since high school.”


“Robert goes gimp. Talking—Pulp Fiction, leather, apple-in-hog’s-mouth gag-thing.”


“I thought so, too. It’s amazing. I’m another person. Rob does anything I want. Think of what scares Eric. Make it your totem.”



The Craigslist guy said, Pit vipers aren’t ordinary snakes. Not, pets. It struck the tank. Cars in the opposite lane Emily imagined crashing across the road.

It went on the table—forgetting Eric, she did an eighth of coke, smoked weed, and read Infinite Jest cover-to-cover. The snake struck over and over. Droplets of venom clung to glass that reflected the table. This is crazy.

She tossed her phone behind the couch. Squatting she opened the cabinet under the sink; the mouse froze—chest shiny, eyes wet. Emily’s cupped hands circled and glanced its cool trembling body. The snake hissed. Her cell rattled tile.


Tyler Dempsey was a finalist in Glimmer Train and New Millennium Writings competitions. His work is forthcoming in Soft Cartel and appears in X—R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Five:2:One Magazine, Buck Off Magazine, Wilderness House Literary Review, and The 3288 Review, amongst others.

Find him on Twitter @tylercdempsey

or at:http://tylerdempseywriting.com.

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