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One-sentence story: A poem

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OCTOBER 01, 2022

I am trying to write a one-sentence story like Hemingway. Because he, purportedly, won a bet with the following: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.And it is, undeniably, a story. Six words are all we need to construct a world. In a time, probably in the early 1900s, maybe in Berkeley, in one of the old Victorians off of College Avenue, a young couple speaks softly, rawly. The doctor walks in and out of a room. The extended family sits in the parlor. The doctor drinks a scotch. He and the father go outside for a smoke break to discuss the prognosis and the only thing that keeps the father from falling is the nicotine. They had prepared a room and a wardrobe full of clothes — expensive — because they were of rich colors. They’d bought shoes. They put an advertisement in the paper the next week. But they didn’t need the money, really. They just wanted a way to tell the world about their tragedy. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

How does one do that? How does one prime the human imagination so perfectly? Let loose the mind within the bounds of a world set by six words — not too myopic but also not too general? The genius of it is the pregnancy of each phrase. “For sale” — immediately gives us the place. “Baby shoes” — why would someone sell baby shoes? Maybe the baby grew up and they’re getting rid of old clothes? “Never worn.” Oh.

Now, my attempts: 

“Giving away: Adult diapers and Nestle nutritional formula.”

Ugh. Shake off the old form of Hemingway. 

“Just his old surfboard floated in, broken in half.” 


“He never saw her until she saw him.” 


“The peeled orange fell and they hugged.” 


No, stop trying to make it poignant. By trying to make it poignant, you inherently make it less poignant. 

“Man seeking fun time: Bunions preferred.” 

So I revert to fifth-grade humor. Whoa. 

“Help wanted: Organize husband’s Playboy collection.” 

Warmer? Or not? 

“Raccoon for sale: House-trained, prefers adults.” 

I give up. 

Contact Jem Ruf at 


OCTOBER 01, 2022