I’ve learned that I do not write uplifting stories. The realness in my stories tends to be in the harsh reality vein and not the “write the world they way you with it were” vein. I remember writing stories as a kid of seven or eight writing stories with dead parents and other kinds of loss. That is apparently the way my brain interprets the world. I am doing a series of writing exercises by Brian Kiteley with my friend Lacy over at Laughing Lemon Pie. The exercises are challenging and often uncomfortable, as they would be for any writing muscles as flabby as mine, but educational nonetheless. I am posting the prompt and my results below.
Writing prompt: Write a first-person story in which you use the first person pronoun (I, me, or my) only two times — but keep the I somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing.
The Reluctant I
Wearing wet socks is the worst. Not only do the shoes press the wet fabric into one’s flesh, like an insult, but the whole soggy package soon becomes the day’s black hole of thought. All thoughts, about anything, are filtered through dirty, stupid, cold, wet feet.
The cab driver probably drove through the puddle on purpose; he had a smile on his stupid face as he swerved and drove away. His vanity license plate also read “DEZ NUTZ,” which can only mean he woke up this morning planning to ruin someone’s day. I hate walking to this bus stop because something bad always happens on the way. It’s like that mile and a half of concrete sidewalk is cursed. There was the eight months of construction that changed absolutely nothing in the end, the day of the stray chihuahua with a vendetta, the mugging, and today the puddle…it’s all too overwhelming to think about.
At the bus stop the smell of B.O. and human shit wafted over from two homeless men who sat on the bench a few feet away. So why complain about wet socks when there are men wearing garbage bags and no shoes at all? It doesn’t make any sense. Maybe it’s because they are laughing together, their toothless faces cracked with the pure joy of each other’s company. They can laugh and the guy with the swamp feet can’t get himself out of the gripping darkness long enough to appreciate anything.
Just as one of the men patted the other on the back and said something cryptic like, “No, not THAT kind of cheese!” which made them both crack up, a woman talking on a cell phone arrived at the bus stop. She didn’t hide her disgust when the odor hit her but she kept her attention on her phone call. She wore black jeans with a green hoodie and she had a tattoo of a star on her left temple. She robotically answered a series of questions that seemed to bore her. In mid sentence of her fourth or fifth answer the cell phone rang against her ear – a girly pop tune that was popular on the radio. That was kind of funny. People who have fake phone conversations to avoid human interaction are always funny, but not funny enough to make the darkness go away.
The woman’s face briefly registered horror at being busted (by a few strangers at a bus stop who didn’t give a shit). She looked at the number on the caller ID and clicked the phone off. She crossed over to stand even closer than the homeless men sat, but at least she smelled better. Like cinnamon or vanilla or something that you want to eat at a bakery. She didn’t seem to notice the wet socks, which seemed weird because they were the entire world. Why leave the house at all when a person can’t even wear functional clothing? Was it too much to ask of the world for a guy to walk one fucking mile without his day getting completely ruined? The ruined socks covered a shameful collection of scars that somehow felt more prominent when soaked in dirty rain water. Some things are impossible to escape.
The woman was standing uncomfortably close now. She played a game on her cell phone that produced repetitive dings (ding…dingding…ding…DING); the kind of sound that climbs into a man’s eardrum and announces that society has lost its soul. She was laughing. She was an idiot. The men are still laughing. Maybe they laughing to keep from crying because they also understood that the world is a dark and scary place. The bus pulled up then, right on time. The two laughing men took their time climbing onto the bus. The driver’s face betrayed her impatience.
The woman, finally at a more comfortable distance, climbed the first step of the bus then turned around and said, “Are you okay?”
It took about a minute to realize she was talking to me. “I have to go home and change my socks. I’ll go to group therapy tomorrow.”
As the bus drove away, her face was in the window, staring at a man still sitting at the bus stop, staring at his feet.