The prompt: Write a first-person story in which you use the first-person pronoun (I or me or my) as little as possible. 600 words.
Caffeine Dreams isn’t likely to last long here in this rain-drowned former logging town. It’s the first of its kind as far as I know. Espresso shots in off-white cups and saucers, four vegetarian sandwiches, homemade soup: this place doesn’t cater to the locals. The young couple at the counter, presumably the owners, are likely hoping that either they’ll be able to make converts or to draw enough closet artisans out of their hiding places to turn the whole street in their direction. When the woman laughs I almost believe it too, and then again when she fills my coffee cup, and asks, “Can I get you something else?”
Her shoulder-length brown hair brushes her cheek as she bends to pour my coffee, peeks at my pile of novels, my stack of composition notebooks, the open one closed over my long black-painted finger nails, still holding the pen. Her black frame glasses obscure her clear brown eyes, her thick lashes.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Shouldn’t you be in school?” She apparently changes her mind before I can squeeze out a reply. “Oh, never mind. I won’t hassle you. I skipped a few classes in my day,” she laughs.
She laughs often because she’s living her dream, fighting against expectation, pushing for reform, and because she’s in love, in love with the green-eyed, muscular, goateed man drying coffee cups behind the register. He’s wearing a blue nude T-shirt and at one point I made thirteen hash marks in my notebook counting the number of times he said “right on” to customers. There are only a few customers and a few more who have passed on during the hours I’ve been sitting here.
This balding, naturally curly reddish blond man moves the index finger and thumb of his left hand up and down his beard as he sits reading something I’ve never heard of, a paperback with yellowing edges and an Asian character of some sort on front. When his attention is drawn to the young owners, laughing while they work, his brow knits and he shakes his head, smiles that if-you-only-knew-what-a-fool smile. He’s sinking into an armchair in the far corner, next to where a fire crackles and glows.
An elderly woman, clip-on sunburst earrings, prune skin, white hair, sagging nylons, a big-buttoned wool blazer is sitting nearest the door, filling in a crossword puzzle. She puckers her wine colored lips in concentration, clicks her tongue.
And then there’s him, who I will only ever admire from afar. The painter who talks so sexy, so sure, who when he speaks light and perspective and social responsibility, not even, but especially, the otherwise bright girls swoon and are worse for swooning because they didn’t imagine themselves capable. Painters are rare in this lost, work boot town. Here’s someone to fear, I think.
And then just when it’s seems to have all fallen into place, a sound unanticipated interrupts the seeming scene. The child’s wail sends the slim-hipped owner, her black half-apron tied around her hips, fast-walking through the swinging double doors to the back room. She’s smiling again when she comes back through, holding the back of his round head to press the child against her shoulder. She’s bouncing the child up and down, saying something including the phrase “your turn” to the acquiescent father who takes the child and kisses the mother on the cheek as he moves through the swinging doors to the backroom. I’m appalled by the truth. I’ve just seen the strangest sight I’ve ever seen.