The Reluctant “I” (Exercise from “The 3 A.M. Epiphany” by Brian Kiteley)
Write a first-person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I or me or my) only two times – but keep the “I” somehow important to the narrative you’re constructing. The point of this exercise is to imagine a narrator who is less interested in himself than in what he is observing. You can make your narrator someone who sees an interesting event in which he is not necessarily a participant. Or you can make him self-effacing, yet a major participant in the events related. It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize this is a first-person narration. Show us quickly who is observing the scene.
Caution: Do not read if you are feeling depressed today. Close this window. Come back tomorrow.
The pallets roll in off the truck. Under the shrink-wrap are boxes. In the boxes are bottles, the slender, half-liter size filled with bubbly lo-cal sugar-free flavored water for rich, middle-aged white ladies. Hundreds of bottles, more bottles than any person should have to look at in a lifetime. I am a cog. The pallets move from the truck and the boxes from the pallets and the bottles from the boxes and the shelves fill up as if by their own volition. And then the bottles will move from the shelves into carts and into bags and into cars and into pantries and into mouths and into recycling bins. And then the plastic factories will take them back and grind them down and make them into new bottles inside of new boxes stacked on new pallets, and the same old trucks will bring them through the same old delivery door and the same old cog will put them back on the same old shelf again.
It’s all very existential, but it pays the bills.
For fifteen minutes I get to stand outside and have a smoke and feel a little bit better about things. It’s cold; the smoke could be pure breath. It smears together with the sky and the black smog pumping out of the back of the store. A delivery truck idles by the dock, churning out its own poison. More god damned pallets. Why do people need so much shit?
The truck roars to life. Even the dumpsters jump in surprise. Eighteen wheels strain against the stationary truck and it rips free from the loading station with an almighty screech.
The cigarette drops and burns a dead leaf to cinders before the wind blows it out. People are shouting, leaning out of the store and shaking fists at the runaway truck. Someone leaps out and runs for the cab. Idiot. An unsurprising gunshot rings out, and when the truck rolls aside there is a body in its wake. A strong body, until only moments ago; a thickset Hispanic man with a wide mouth that always looked like it was smiling, even when it wasn’t, who had dedicated four years to the machine.
He was a good cog.