"The Reluctant “I.” Write a 600-word 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 or herself than in what he or she is observing. You can make your narrator someone who sees a very interesting event in which she is not necessarily a participant. Or you can make him self-effacing yet a major participant in the events related. The people we tend to like most are those who are much more interested in other people than in themselves, selfless and caring, whose conversation is not a stream of self-involved remarks (like the guy who, after speaking about himself to a woman at a party for half an hour, says, “Enough about me, what do you think of me?”). Another lesson you might learn from this exercise is how important it is to let things and events speak for themselves, beyond the ego of the narration. It is very important in this exercise to make sure your reader is not surprised, forty or fifty words into the piece, to realize that this is a first person narration. Show us quickly who is observing the scene."
She didn't want to wear the dress or the hat or the shoes. She didn't want to sit at the piano or pose for the picture, but with a bit a gentle coaxing, she finally gave in.
"It doesn't feel right," she'd said. "We shouldn't be here. We should be leaving with the others."
And though we both knew her words held a heavy truth, we also knew fleeing was futile. To stay or to go, the end result would most likely be the same.
So we stayed. This was our home. It had been our home and our place of peace of twenty years. We had held our wedding in the garden outside the large front windows that overlooked our village. We had held many celebrations in our home, listening to her gently tap the black and white keys of the piano. Such happiness and simple times then.
She had given birth to all five of our children--three alive and two slipping into the world but never taking a breath--on a pile of mats and bed clothes on our bedroom floor, surrounded by only our mothers to comfort her and ease her pain. Both the mental and physical aspects of giving birth and losing two precious ones.
Our mothers have long been gone from this world, passing before chaos knocked at our borders, threatening everything.
Our children? The three we'd had the privilege to raise and watch grow into adulthood?
One had married and crossed the seas. We hadn't seen her in years, though we exchanged letters often, but letters couldn't replace embracing her, touching her. My dearest daughter.
She had begged us to come to her country, to stay with her and her kind husband. She'd send money if she had to, but money was never the issue. It never had been. We simply couldn't leave. How could we after sending our two sons to war, to fight for the country we loved, only to abandon it and them? We couldn't. A part of our heart was with her and the other part with them. That was the way of a mother. That was the way of a father.
We also had hope. We believed we could and would win this battle. Our boys would come home, walking through the door, and together we would make a holiday out of visiting their sister in her modernized western world. We'd travel by boat. We'd touch the ocean waters. We'd see sites we'd never seen before.
We'd be happy again. We'd be a family again.
Only that wasn't how war worked. With war, one side would win and one side would lose. One side would never find their happiness again. War destroyed more than lands.
The house shook on its foundation, rattling pictures on the walls. Several books fell from the shelves. A bit of plaster fell from the ceiling, leaving a dusting of chalky whiteness over the surface of the antique piano.
They were indeed getting closer.
She almost stood then, leaving her bench, but the shake of my head stopped her. "Not yet."
She settled back, as fear once more gave way to acceptance. We knew our fate.
One final picture, and despite knowing neither of us would ever see it developed, it didn't matter.
For in this moment, in her white dress, resting against the piano, face sullen, yet beautiful as though she hadn't aged a day since we'd first met, gave us each a sense of normalcy. Something we'd lacked for many many months.
The shutter clicked. The picture taken.
Neither of us moved as the earth shook beneath our feet once again. More plaster crumbled. More books fell to the floor. The pictures no longer clung to the walls, but lay in broken heaps.
We looked at one another. Years of love and adoration passed between us despite no words spoken.
Slowly, her trembling fingers caressed the familiar keys of the piano, touching them lightly, pressing one at a time, and then several together. One perfect chord. Then two. Trickling of music fluttered from her fingertips, whisking away the tension and terror in the air.
There were no bombs destroying the nearby villages. There were no enemy troops marching toward us.
There was only her, in her white dress, playing the piano like our world wasn't about to end.