Short Story Exercise –
I am currently taking a short story class through the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, located in Denver, Colorado. Each week, we read one short story. Our instructor also provides written reference materials on the craft of writing a short story for us to review prior to class. In addition, we are required to also complete a writing exercise.
This past week, I had chosen the exercise option to write a short story in first person narrative but was only allowed to use the possessive nouns – I, me, my, mine – just two times in the story. I utilized a possessive noun in the first paragraph to establish the first person voice and in the last paragraph to tie up, or conclude, the narrative. The word count was suggested at 600 words but I could not tell a story within this limited word count. My attempt was just over 900 words.
Below is my example of this exercise. I highly recommend every person who wants write to attempt this exercise. I struggled to create the first person narrative throughout the piece and this exercise was definitely challenging. I found it a fulfilling attempt to try to be as creative as possible while still maintaining a sense of action and first person narrative.
Bistro Vendrome Moumonte
Circling the restaurant, with water pitcher in hand, my sole intent was to find and fill every empty glass of water. Instead of hovering, like a raptor zeroing in on its prey, the art of being the secondary wait staff at Bistro Vendrome Moumonte required the stealth and skill of an invisible ninja. While keeping the face neutral, it is important approach the table quietly, bringing the pitcher delicately forward, and then silently retreating.
In the northeast corner of the restaurant, hidden away from the large, plate-glass windows, the elderly couple ate in silence. As the man cut his steak, sawing with gusto, the woman pushed her food around the plate. With deliberate motion, she would examine each morsel of food carefully. Spying an acceptable carrot, she stabbed it with the fork and put it into her mouth. “The carrots are over cooked,” she finally said to the man. His eyes never veered from his plate, “Well, that’s too bad. Try something else.” Instead, she waited for the glass of water to be refilled and said curtly, “Thank you.” She began to push her food around the plate, intently inspecting each piece.
On the opposite side of the restaurant, a handsome young man sat at a table for two. Dressed in a well-tailored gray suit, he looked like he was either going to vomit or pass out. Sweat collected on his brow. He grabbed the linen napkin, wiping his forehead and eyes. He was already on glass number three of water. Shelia, the section waitress, approached his table and he ordered a nice bottle from the wine list. As she walked away, he looked back at his watch. A loud noise erupted from the center of the restaurant. He glanced over at the table of five middle-aged women.
“Here’s to a night out without husbands, children, and in Mandy’s case, a boyfriend!” said a somewhat overweight red head. The ladies raised their glasses in unison. A highlighted blonde concurred, “I don’t know what I would do without my girlfriends. You guys always help to keep me sane.” The conversation grew more animated. The bottles of wine – both red and white – traveled around the table. “Well, are we ready to order?” a brunette with red highlights asked the group. Phillip, the waiter with an apparent sixth sense, approached the table and began to take their orders.
At the next table, four businessmen were half-way through their meal. Entrenched in an intense conversation, quiet and serious, the men seemed to be bankers, lawyers, or corporate raiders. Approaching the table with the water pitcher, the men quickly stopped speaking, putting down their utensils in unison. Even the secondary wait staff members of Bistro Vendrome Moumonte were not privy to the discussion taking place.
A young woman walked through the restaurant and approached the table of the well-dressed young man. She greeted him with a passionate kiss. Sheila, the waitress, produced a menu and began to chat with the couple. The young man topped off his glass of wine and filled a glass for the young woman. Their eyes met. They looked so happy, very much in love.
The restaurant was crowded. Instrumental Parisian-style music softly played in the background, enhancing the ambiance. The mummer of conversation created a white-noise hum. An occasional loud laugh would pierce through the air, making the atmosphere seem more alive, more jovial. The smell of food and wine provided an intoxicating aroma. The sights, the sounds, and the smells ensured that it was going to be a great night. The staff should receive substantial tips.
A movement caught the eyes of some of the diners and wait staff. The young man was down on one knee. He carefully pulled out a small box from the interior pocket of his jacket. One of the ladies at the table of five proclaimed somewhat loudly to her friends, “Oh, God, I think he is proposing to her!” They all stopped talking and looked over at the young couple. Even the elderly woman quit eating, pointing out to her husband what was occurring. The noise in the restaurant seemed to fade to a quiet din, as the occupants began to stare at the couple.
The young woman gazed down at her beau, unaware of her surroundings. She only had eyes for the young man. Time seemed to stop. Would she say “Yes” or would this become extremely awkward? Either way, this moment in their lives was being shared among strangers. Even the businessmen stopped their covert conversation to look toward the young couple.
Her reply was heard throughout the quiet restaurant. “Yes!” she replied, ecstatically removing the diamond ring from the box. He rose to his feet and placed it on her left ring finger. The restaurant exploded into applause as they began to kiss. A sense of joy permeated the atmosphere and joyful people were always more generous when settling their tabs. It was definitely going to be a prosperous night for the wait staff.
As the couple prepared to leave, they walked by the table of the businessmen. One man stood up, handing the young man a business card. “Just in case you need a pre-nup,” he said to the young man. The young woman gave the older man an icy stare and pulled her fiancé away from the table. The lawyer looked at his compatriots, stating, “Well, we’re realists, aren’t we?” Leave it to a f*cking lawyer to kill the mood, paling the proposal with his jaded, realistic view on marriage. At that moment, I decided to not refill his water glass again, hoping the bastard would die from thirst.
What was the theme of this piece?
I was trying to highlight a form of hypocrisy. The narrator/protagonist takes note of the fact that he/she will receive a financial boost in tips because of the positive mood the proposal has created with the restaurant patrons. In a sense, the lawyer, too, is just taking advantage of the situation by hoping to increase his own financial gain. I admit that I relied on the preconceived societal assumption that lawyers are considered ‘cut-throat sharks’ on the prowl for new clients. Honestly, I do not believe ALL lawyers are cut-throat sharks – just some of them!
Laura L. Roberts, April 2, 2013