One Thousand Words of Four Short Stories, One First Line

I was so inspired by the writing prompt workshop I took with Joni Cole at The Writer’s Center that I thought I would try it at home.

I’ve written from prompts before, especially when I started this blog, but I hadn’t tried a first line prompt. It seemed to work especially well for me.

So I googled “first line writing prompts” and found The First Line website. It’s a literary magazine where all the stories start with the same first line.

They ask that you don’t post stories anywhere before they publish their journal, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with using an old first line. And who knows maybe I’ll work on a story to submit with the current first line. It would be my first submission anywhere!

So tonight, I’m going to write four two hundred word short stories all using the first line, “My father and I left on a Thursday.” (This two hundred word explanation gets me to my one thousand words.)

My goal is to just write without stopping and see what happens. I can’t promise they will all be readable, but it will be a good exercise to strengthen my writing muscles!

==

My father and I left on a Thursday. We were only going to be away until Sunday, but my mother acted like we were never going to return. She packed us about ten thousand sandwiches and sprayed me with bug spray until I could taste the stuff.

As we walked down the driveway to the car, she stood on the front step, waving and calling out advice. Stupid stuff like “Be sure to set up your tent before it gets too dark.”

You’d think Dad and I had never been camping before.

When we finally drove away, I rolled the window down as far as it would go so the smell of the bug spray would wear off quicker.

“Why does she have to nag us like that?” I asked my Dad.

He was wearing his fishing hat, the blue one with the red band. He said it was his lucky hat, but he never caught any fish so I don’t know what was lucky about it.

Dad didn’t answer right away, but then he said, “Because she loves us, I guess.”

I thought about all the sandwiches and bug spray. “You’re probably right.” And I rolled up the window.

==

My father and I left on a Thursday.

Despite his age, Pop insisted on driving the entire trip so by the time we had reached Hardy, Arkansas, we were both exhausted, him from driving and me from worrying about his driving.

We decided to stop for the night at a cheap hotel just off the freeway and went to bed almost immediately.

I was lying in the dark, listening to the tractor trailer trucks roar by, when my father spoke. “How much further do we have?”

“Not far. If we leave after breakfast we should be there before noon.”

“Your mother always wanted to go to Graceland.”

“I know. That’s why we’re doing this, right?”

He was silent and I thought he had fallen asleep. Then he spoke again, in a voice barely louder than a whisper. “I should have taken her while she was still alive.”

I wanted to sit up and turn on the light, to look at his face. But I knew he would stop talking if I did. I didn’t respond.

“Jesse?”

“Yes, Pop?”

“Was she happy?”

“I think she was.”

My father sighed and I heard him roll over onto his side. We both slept.

==

My father and I left on a Thursday and never went back.

I often wonder what my grandmother thought when she went to wake me for school and found me gone. Did she know right away that we had left for good or did she think we had gone out to get milk and would be right back?

She should have known. My father had a history of leaving a place suddenly. He’d stay for a few months or even a year or two then he’d get bored and take off for someplace else.

My grandmother had always been able to convince him to leave me behind, so I could “have a home and stability.”

“A child needs to go to school,” she told him.

But this time he said that I was twelve and had enough school. He said, “Time to learn about life. You can’t get that from books.”

So we tiptoed down the stairs in the middle of the night and drove away in his blue station wagon.

When I asked him where we were going, he just laughed. I had never seen him so happy.

“It doesn’t matter where,” he said. “It’s the going that counts!”

==

My father and I left on a Thursday. We were supposed to stay until Saturday, but I developed a cold and he thought it would be best if I didn’t spend the next two days at the water park, getting wet and sharing my germs with every kid in the place.

I was asleep on the backseat when we got home, so Dad left me there and took our suitcases in.

Now that I’m an adult, I can imagine what he discovered inside, but at the time I was six and had no idea what had happened.

I woke up when my father slammed his door shut and started the engine up again. My mother was standing beside the car in her bathrobe, crying and trying to get the passenger door open.

A strange man stood on the stoop in his underwear and socks.

As my father pulled down the driveway, my mother chased after the car. She banged on the trunk with her fists. She was yelling, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying.

I turned to watch her as we drove away. She looked sad. The underwear man joined her and put his arm around her waist.

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