[This exercise was taken from “The 3 A.M. Epiphany” by Brian Kiteley in which you construct a 600 word short in which the protagonist uses a first-person noun only twice.]
They’ve shown that rocket on the news all morning at work. The Blue Plate’s regulars are all lined up at the counter watching, their eyes filmed over with hope. The scientists named the rocket a a long number, but the reporters either don’t remember it or don’t care, because all they’ve been calling it is “Sal’s Rocket”. They cluster around it and move the camera all worshipful back and forth, showing off its angles like its the new girlfriend. One of them even cries.
The rocket is sleek and silver and shaped like a pencil. There’s a hatch on the side and two tiny windows that aren’t any bigger than a pet door, and the back of it is jagged where the fire comes out when it takes off. The reporter then interviews Sal, Sal Bainbridge, and he’s got a shifty look about him. His square face is too tan, and he’s got his black hair pulled back in a ponytail. You’d think he’d have cut it since he was going to be on the television and all, but he’s wearing it like it says something good about him. His suit has those square shoulders that make him look even bigger than he already is. His hands are folded. There’s a gold ring on his left hand that keeps catching the light.
This rocket’s going to save the human race, says the blonde reporter that had cried. How does that feel, making space travel available for anyone who needs it?
Sal smiles. Shrugs those big, meaty shoulders. He looks more like a jock than a scientist. It’s a good feeling, he says. We’re going to escape. We’re going to live on. This isn’t the end.
You gave that to us, says the blonde, and she dabs her eyes.
He smiles again and he looks helpless. Like he’s still trying to figure out what happens next.
Here’s what comes next at the Blue Plate: Mrs. Ripkin orders her coffee black most days and makes a point to mask the crackle of the sugar packets she dumps in by clearing her throat. She’s a diabetic and her doctor is like to kill her, but he can’t kill her any faster than the nukes can, and Mrs. Ripkin has a routine. Her husband used to touch her hand whenever she reached for the sugar so nicely. He didn’t rebuke her, he didn’t tell her to fucking quit it, he just leaned over and pressed his hand to hers, his liver spots and sagging skin a mirror of hers and she’d give this snort and pretend she’d been heading for the salt the whole time. But then she’d smile at him and there was an apology hanging from the corner of her cracked lipstick. He’d always accept it. Every time.
Old age got him, maybe. Mrs. Ripkin never said.
That rocket man’s full of shit, she says now, and clears her throat over her coffee. Her hat sways on her head. We’re the problem, she says. Not the nukes. We leave here, the nukes’ll follow us.
Sal knows that. That’s why he can’t look anybody in the eye. Salesman are all the same. He’s selling the future, but my future’s never going to change. I’ll be working here at the Blue Plate the day the radiation melts that television right off the stand.