Next Line, Please

Sense of an Ending

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By David Lehman

December 2, 2014


 

Many thanks to all who entered our competition for the best last-sentence of a narrative that does not (or does not yet) exist. In the end, for the end, I chose Kempy Bloodgood’s “And that was just the beginning.” I like its crispness. It consists of only six words, of which just one is polysyllabic. The line has been used before, in one guise or another, although that should probably not prejudice us against it. Phillip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint concludes with the doctor saying, “Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”

I recall “Station Baranovich,” a story by Sholom Aleichem in which a tale-teller on a train regales his traveling companions with a curious story full of twists and turns. Suddenly he realizes that the train has reached his stop, Baranovich. He grabs his bag and races for the exit. One of the listeners tries to stop him. “What happened next?” they want to know. “We won’t let you go until you tell us the end.” The taleteller is now on the platform and the train is about to pull out. “What end?” he says. “It was just the beginning.” The story’s last line: “May Station Baranovich burn to the ground!”

Millicent Caliban’s entry —  “They shuddered as they heard the gates clang shut, then hand in hand, continued slowly along the way spread out before them” — also echoes a noble predecessor, in this case Milton’s Paradise Lost: “They hand in hand with wandering steps and slow, / Through Eden took their solitary way.”

Maureen has a pair of sentences that struck me as promising: “It’s the last time she slipped a stitch” and “He’ll always be glad for her hairpin.”

And Kushal Poddar got some votes in the committee of my mind for “And we waited for him to turn his head, and we waited.” The repetition of the verb vibrates eerily in the air.

Next Tuesday we shall have a new competition. If you have an idea for a good prompt, please feel free to enter it here in the comment field.  You never know.


David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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