For the First Sentence series, we have asked authors to revisit the opening sentences of their stories or poems. Here, Melinda Moustakis writes about the beginning lines of ‘River So Close’.
‘She’s a good-for-nothing chummer.’
She’s a good-for-nothing chummer.
A kiss in the dark, that’s what this first line is – Wait. What just happened? Who? – a confusing first kiss. We all would like to think that with one line, one brush, we could make a reader fall madly in love, and there are writers that illicit such a response with the appropriately gorgeous. I read a piece where a writer described her stories as beasts gnawing off the lovely clothes she had carefully dressed them in. I, too, find the stories that I will to be beautiful and charming end up, despite my efforts, strange creatures running for the woods. I’m asking you to kiss this strange creature in the dark, dear reader. And after, I want you to think, ‘A little weird, unnerving, but I’d do it again.’
If she survives a week on the slime line without cutting off her thumb or slicing her wrist, she’s hired.
For many years I had wanted to write a piece set at a cannery, but other stories and settings took hold and needed to be written first. I was slowly collecting language and information about this particular setting, here and there. Accumulating. Assembling. Now, when I look back at the first line of this story, I see the hyphenated ‘good-for-nothing’ as an assembly line. The slime line in a cannery is not an assembly line per se, that isn’t quite right, because this is where salmon are cut up and disassembled – a disassembly line then. The cannery workers are also in danger of being disassembled themselves, of losing a thumb of finger. If the first line is a kiss in the dark, then the second line is a warning: Dear Reader, this story is a strange creature that might bite you.
First lines can also be little secret notes to readers, puzzles and clues that take on more meaning after the story has been read . . . I take great pleasure in going back to a first line of a story and finding a whole world of significance, sometimes the entire essence of a story jam-packed into the opening line. Chummer, as a term, sounds ominous – chum as in fish guts, chummer as one who chums the water to entice fish, or an expendable new ‘good-for-nothing’ cannery worker who has less value than fish guts until she proves she can handle the job. The question of value is a theme that pervades the story. Certain parts of a salmon are more valuable than others. Is a factory of cutting up and isolating fish parts so different from the factory of images we seem to live in now – how we can cut or crop an image to see only what we want to see, to take what we want? Dear Reader, is life a disassembly line?
Image courtesy of Christopher Porter