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The Proposal


Harry Buschman

He felt the loss of a little of himself each day. Not quite enough for others to see, and he was aware of it only when he had to do something he used to do with ease, now it seemed to be an intolerable task. Miss a high step, or maybe the telephone might ring in the other room without his hearing.

Living alone contributed to it. Each day’s loss went unnoticed. But whenever Agnes came to visit, (which was all too seldom these days) he thought, she’d mention it in an offhanded way.

“You’re not listening to me, Richard.”

He heard her talking, but as attentive as he tried to be, he couldn’t make out what she’d asked him. So he shrugged it off and said, “I’m sorry, Agnes... I was thinking of something else, would you mind repeating that?” And she’d repeat it, mouthing the words carefully as she spoke. She knew, of course she knew.

Then occasionally they’d be walking and he’d take her arm––not so much to help her, but to ask silently for the help she could give him. It was sad feeling his love inside, knowing it was not nearly enough to keep her all to himself. He’d lose her in the end, he knew he held a losing hand.

He decided to tell her on Thursday night, it was their usual night. He decided for her sake more than his, it would best to do it then. “How best?” he wondered–– ”before or after dinner?”

“During.” ...and then he realized he was talking to himself again. “Why do I do that?” he asked himself, and shook his head in irritation.

“Lutesce” would be a good place to do it––somewhere between the entree and the dessert. Something symbolic about the clearing away of dishes and wiping the tablecloth free of accumulated crumbs and dribbles. That would probably be the best time to bring it up––cast off the old––yes the old. He almost felt she would welcome the chance to break it off gracefully, without rancor. Take up with someone younger.

...and him? How would he feel about it after? A warm spot by the fire, with the cruel wind outside––maybe some music––scarcely heard––nothing intrusive. Yes, a man of 50 should begin to think of living alone. Think of thinking backwards––of remembered snapshots and scented letters.

Agnes would get on well––he knew that. She would turn up the volume and pick up the beat. Wouldn’t she though! That was the gist of it, he’d been a stone around her neck for a long time, an anchor where none was needed, or worse––an obstacle.

So he was especially careful about the tie––nothing gay or gaudy. Not too somber either. Something casual, as though it might have been chosen at the last minute before going out. Green and tan perhaps. No, not that one! She gave him that one for his birthday. There! Brown and blue knitted. It would be acceptable with the blue suit. Then he asked himself––what did it matter. It would end badly, whatever he wore.

It was late spring and she walked into the restaurant wearing a light wrap over a print dress. They didn’t bother to check it, instead she draped it over the back of her chair and it formed a decorative setting. He was reminded of a flower in a corsage of lesser blooms––like a diva, he thought ... waiting for her cue from the maestro.

“I wish I knew what I wanted,” she said from behind her menu. “Do you realize I’m thirty seven years old and I’ve never had duck in orange sauce. Is it good here?”

“It’s good anywhere,” he answered. His mind was far away: certainly not on the duck––not on the soft light that seemed to surround her. His mind was searching for an entrance line––something to help him ease his way in.

“How many times have we eaten here?” he asked her. “It can’t be the first time you’ve had the duck.”

She thought a moment, then smiled. “I suppose we’ve eaten here a dozen times or more––I”ve always loved it here, Richard. Every time we come here we make an important decision. You changed jobs––remember? I rented a new apartment ...”

It was the opportunity he was waiting for!

“Agnes,” he began.

“Don’t start off like that,” Agnes laughed. “That’s the way they taught us at teaching school.”

“How shall I begin?”

“Tell me what’s on your mind? You’ve been thinking I know ... I can always tell. I can even tell you what you’re thinking.”

“No you can’t. You couldn’t possibly know.”

“Richard, we’ve been dating more then three years. I haven’t seen anyone but you in three years. It’s the same with you I know. That’s long enough don’t you think?”

“I don’t know as I’d put it that way.”

“”Well I would. I think it’s time we got married.”

©Harry Buschman 2008

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