The first line

Two takes from a prompt: “What is your metaphor for the fear of writing that first line?”

*****

Take one:

The first line contains the entire story. It is everything. Once the first line is written, everything else is inevitable. The entire story unlocks itself in your head. And you are stuck with it. You have to do the work. You have to set it down on the page or it will grow inside of you and press against the inside of your skull and make you sick with inspiration. Sick and angry and agitated, dangerously altered and off-kilter. Once the first line happens, the rest of the story leaps up inside you, fully formed if only partly seen.

Once the first line escapes your head, you have only two choices: swallow it down or vomit it out.

Take two:

They are lying in bed, unclothed, not speaking. Sunlight spills in through the curtains, filling the bedroom with a holy light. They are waiting. The sound of their tandem breathing excites him. He is eager to veil her face with kisses. He does not move. Not yet, he tells himself. Say something clever.

She shifts slightly under the covers while he is thinking. The rustle of her bare legs beneath the sheets piques exquisitely.

Not yet, he tells himself. Too soon. This is not yet enough, he tells himself. She is only just shifting to make herself more comfortable. He wants to help her writhe.

The sound of their breathing, an anticipatory rhythm gradually cooling until it becomes a thing between, a thing that separates them.

And now he stares up at the ceiling, mind reaching for words. Say something brilliant. Say something devastating. There is nothing.

And now he begins to panic. This perfect moment is tilting away from him. Two bodies, familiar and eager, caught in an uncomfortable space, trapped by thoughts and ideas. He is captured inside his mind and he can only look out at her through the narrow turrets of his eyes and see her there waiting, wondering what is taking so long. A moment ago she had been perched on the precipice of pleasure, a women ready to dive down headlong. Now, she was a woman waiting for a bus. A woman of great restraint, assiduously not checking her watch. A woman with places to be.

Say something, his mind screams. Say one simple thing to set this into motion. The words all scramble away from him, darting and scattering like a school of tiny fish.

She rolls over onto her side. They lock eyes. He is no longer staring at the ceiling. His mind no longer reaching for words.

“I’m right here whenever you are ready,” she tells him and he realizes in that moment there is nothing that needs to be said. He reaches out for her. His fingers find her skin. There are no words that need to be found. There is nothing he should do to improve this moment.

He is there. She is there. This is the first line. Their bodies know exactly what to do.

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