short fiction

The Proposal

26 August 2020

I am going now, into the soft swooning night. Sleep well, sweetheart, I will be back soon. I need to talk to the night, that sweltering air enveloping us all, carrying us precariously to dawn. I need to talk to something that is not you. After an evening such as the one we’ve passed, there is much to be said.

It shocked me to see your mother at our dining table, licking over our fine bone china. In my head, I saw her, in her head, saying, “Fine bone? Fine? Good bone, perhaps; but fine?”. 

It transported me, rudely, to those times I saw them, her and friends, Mother & Co., in the parlour, after we returned from some intimate movie or lush picnic or town with my heart beating in my eyelids in ecstasy. Over cups and newspapers and biscuits crumbling dry in their mouth, talking of Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Michelangelo. Holding them in their mouth, parsing them out to their fibres – like a mediocre cut of beef – pressing them to the spotted roof of their mouth with their white-green tongue. And then hmmm swallowing. My love. What can I do? What can I do when their eyes are fixing on me: my back, my head on which I delicately place a hat to suppress that balding patch, your translucent hand on my grey-brown sleeve, the door which seems conceited in front of me and downright vainglorious behind me.

I’m riled. I think I could slip in this dark wet and break my neck. Let me think on your hand some more. Or the perfume on your skin (that perfume isn’t the same in the store, I swear it). The ambrosial bow of your mouth. Your riotous gait and tender apples of your cheek. You are abundant. I cradle the world in your body.

Here I am. The reflection of oneself in a darkened storefront is a sad sight to see. Here I am: limpid, lined, ragged. What is that in my eyes? A spark? It could be. I could be Adonis, risen from the dead, and show them all. Oh, yes, I will be twice-born for you. I could draw myself up, be a barraging wave, not seafoam; a gorgeous, romantic shipwreck, not seaweed and debris. I could bend into the form of that under-seething question, a velvet ring box pressed in hand like a hot coal and ask for that blushing hand. But then, if your eyes happen to grow frightfully round and you draw yourself up to say my name, frightfully slow—“Alfred… I’m sorry… no”—I shall dry myself off and dissolve into foam. It was candlelight from the apartment across the way. You’re right, I’ll go.

I come, padding on dewy grass. Your hand on my jacket; am I anything more than that? At some intimate movie or picnic or out to town or in the process of getting to or from any of the above. In the middling mild middle-dom of this world, aren’t you cobalt blue streaked across my eye? Aren’t you the only creature who is made not for this world, not even for me, but something else? I have seen every moment rewound in dreams and then marred, flickered through with film grain. A smile I hadn’t realised was simply polite, a hand that bore my weight only in pity. Creature that is not me, I am in love with you, but this yellow streak is a mile wide. Impossible! Should I have the will to strong-hand that moment, that place that was special to me, to its crisis?
How would I begin?

It is shortly uphill. A great sense of mortality contemptuously descends on me. It mocks me for being afraid of the end of such a life. Nonetheless, I walk, expecting to topple shortly from some arrest or atrophy and soak a great expanse of dew on to this very practical tweedlinencottonsilkcorduroy.

I am on the hill now. A sheet of lavender gossamer inches ever further across the sky, bordered by yellow. I think of you. I think of love, of boredom; I think, with despair, of being born like this. I think of being born again. I betray them all in the process.

With indignity, I walk back down the hill. Confounded fool, you are not Adonis; you tended the myrrh tree. A serf. Not altogether disrespectable, but a bit doltish. Sometimes, perhaps, ridiculous.

I grow weary. The stones are slick and reflect the shine of the early sun. The early people—bakers, postmen, gardeners, un-recent widows busy around, quietly. Quiet busy. They are some of my favourite people.

I take the long route, through the main streets. The fog is bolstered by the smoke rising from the cigarettes of lonely severed hands, lolling out of taxicab windows. This too is a reminder. It sets in motion that mind-spun celluloid of soaring, leaping. Freshest perfume and bright, unpolished apples on a wooden table and gold light pouring over us sweetly like molasses. And to win it all, just one vital break and—the reel comes undone. I won’t talk about joy, happiness, bliss—or misery: tinnitus, a ball of silence, cold under scalding water and goose flesh for the wrong reasons. I won’t do it. What need is there for such cruelty to feeling? Just like this, in technicolour black and white, in one terrible metal scrape moment of exposure, you can become a ghost. Love is the thing with many teeth.

Maybe when we are wizened and greying all over and together – in heart of hearts, in absolution, in nothing short of a miracle – we are together. All-together, our bones huddled into each other together, you can whisper to me softly, my love: long ago, how long ago, how long I made you wait. And that joy postponed is still true and good; better for it, in fact. That as absence makes us fonder, time made us sweeter.

There you are, love. By you, I mean the house and by the house, I mean us. I’m looking forward to seeing you, honey-combed, bright white heart, hair splayed like a gunshot. This night has done me no good, none at all. No worse either, none at all. I am much the same as I was.

I take the door handle and, in my cowardice, let my cowardice—get the better of me.


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