Saturday, June 09, 2012

Scriptic Prompt Exchange: "What's the Problem?"

(For the uninitiated, which this week includes most people, the Indie Ink Writing Challenge has indeed shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the bleeding choir invisible. In its place we find the Scriptic Prompt Exchange, which consists of most of the same people, wearing most of the same clothes, (though I can't speak for Supermaren, who may not be wearing any clothes) doing most of the same things, just like when Paul Rodgers sings with Queen.)

[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Kat gave me this prompt: "Write a story about an empty glass." I gave Chelle this prompt: "Write about someone who has, or has had, or is about to have, a headache. Literal or metaphorical. Or both!"]

People aren't all that hard to understand, Stacy thought. Men especially so. It wasn't just that the list of things they could possibly want was so short (typically beer, or sex, or a sandwich, or, ideally, all three), but it was more that they were such linear thinkers. Subtlety and nuance and subtext were Scrabble words to them. She knew what most men wanted within minutes, and the ones she knew well, men like patient, earnest Thomas, sitting there with his blue gray eyes and his new haircut and the rakish knot in his tie, she could read them in seconds.

She knew the moment he had suggested they eat here, the new French place that was becoming all the rage, what he was planning. She could have claimed illness, or a conflicting engagement, but she didn't, putting on the dress and shoes she wore to a wedding in Texas last year, noting with dismay how snug it suddenly felt, and met him there a few minutes after 7, noting with mild sadness the Cheshire Cat grin he was wearing, the grin that confirmed that she had read him absolutely correctly.

They walked in together, her eyes playing over the fat confident faces of the other diners, listening to the gentle swells of Chopin being played through hidden speakers, her footfalls silent on smooth burgundy carpeting. There were no children, no loud conversations, no TV like the more popular, family style restaurants they usually went to, just darkness and flickering candles and a funereal hush. The maitre d led them to a cozy corner table, gallantly holding out her chair first. She sat, and then he did. When the tuxedoed waiter came around, he let him order the food and wine, his 2 years studying at the Sorbonne making him the expert in such things.

She watched Thomas speaking his rolling, smooth French to the waiter, who was smiling, his eyes hiding amazement at the fluency. Thomas was a good man. He was wise, and placid, and calm, never aggressive and seldom angry. He was neither too clingy and jealous, nor too distant. He had good taste in books, and film, and music. When the sewing circle, as she called it, convened at work, the young unmarrieds complaining about the latest errors made by their men, the last birthday forgotten or hairstyle unremarked upon, Stacy never had anything to add. Thomas never forgot anything, was nice to her mother, and joked about the Bears with her dad. "He's perfect," fat, single Jean said once, when Thomas' name came up, and Stacy laughed, but she had to admit her friend had a point.

Thomas was a nervous talker, though, filling silence with words, telling her now about how he had a chance to get a quarter share of a pair of Brewers tickets, good seats down the third base line, which would mean having to attend 20 or so games per year. He had taken her several times, and she had dutifully smeared on sunblock, purchased a few different girly baseball tops and a pink hat, and sat through the games with him, listening to his explanations of things she already understood, then driving home while he napped off the beer in the passenger seat. Baseball wasn't her favorite thing on earth, but every woman knew life with a man involved pretending to care about things that didn't matter. Baseball wasn't the problem.

The waiter had already refilled her glass without being asked. Stacy wasn't drunk, but she could feel a slight dissociation beginning to take hold. She couldn't afford too much more without any food in her stomach, she thought, and as if her thoughts had summoned him, the waiter was back with a pair of elaborate chicken dishes, setting them down before them with a flourish. Stacy looked down at her wineglass, swirling the liquid very gently. By the time this glass is empty, she told herself, you have to say it.

Thomas was onto a work story now, telling about a deal that was on the verge of breaking down before his team managed to slap together some financing that made the whole thing work. He was into the details about notes maturing, and interest rate hedges, and how amazed his bosses had been when he showed them how much their firm got to keep. He was drinking wine, too, but he wasn't drunk. Alcohol made him more voluble, and Stacy was more than happy to let him lead the conversation. That made everything easier. It was annoying, but his overtalkative nature wasn't the problem.

What was the problem? He didn't hit her, or force sex on her, or gamble, or cheat, or lie. He made good money, he loved kids, he didn't have any more than the average number of psycho exes. He dressed nice, he smelled good, he loved nature, he cared about the right things, he was a perfectly competent lover. As soon as she felt this night coming, she immediately prepared herself for it. She had to be ready to answer yes, or she had to somehow cut him off before he could ask. She remembered her Vonnegut: what can you say, after someone says "I love you," other than "I love you, too?"

She had been thinking about it constantly. Was he the one? If he was, she had to be sure. And if he wasn't, she had to be just as sure, so she could get away from him before he asked. She couldn't let him ask, because she couldn't be the kind of person who said "no" when someone proposed. You can't let that happen. And as she went through her days, showering in the morning, standing in line for coffee, waiting for the afternoon meeting to begin, she kept going over Thomas like a geometry problem, trying to find the fault line, but she couldn't uncover it, the key piece of information that would open him up, displaying his faults for her to peruse.

The glass of wine was halfway gone, and she could feel the chicken and the rich sauce starting to counteract the heady alcohol feeling. Thomas had come along when she was a wreck, on the edge of losing her job after another messy breakup, an ex who decided it was a good idea to bed his intern in the apartment they shared. She had treated him abominably after they were matched up by chubby Jean, not returning his calls and cancelling plans without notice, but Thomas persevered, and eventually she saw the enormous kindness of him, allowing him into her life full time two years ago.

They did all the ritual visits, Thanksgiving and Christmas and holiday weekends and weddings and funerals. It was one of the first steps, she knew, feeling Thomas beginning to be integrated into her own family and her into his. She remembered clearly her mother's face, disappointed when they had not come home to announce an engagement, and the way she snuck in a message, scraping a Thanksgiving dish beside Stacy while Thomas watched football with her father in the other room. "He's a good man," she said in a low tone, traces of Ireland around the edges of her voice. "They don't grow on trees."

So what was she waiting for? What was this hesitancy, this voice telling her "no," "wait," "don't," "you can't?" She knew there were plenty of lesser men out there. Was this just cold feet, an inability to concieve of an entire lifetime with just one person, no matter how flawless? What was the problem? She took another sip of her wine. She looked into Thomas' eyes, holding his gaze. Was she really ready to spend decades with that face, raise children with him, never make a plan or an appointment without consulting him?

She looked down, staring at the way her thighs strained against the fabric of the dress. The truth was, Stacy told herself, that she needed urgency. Every relationship she had ever had had been one of need, of possession. She had to be obsessed, to want to consume, to be unable to bear being separated. She required this quickening of her heart rate, the out of control sense of a car chase in an action movie, to feel alive, and this feeling, this dark sweetness, was the farthest thing from her mind when gentle, sweet Thomas held her hand shyly on the couch after dinner.

"Stacy?," Thomas said. Stacy's glass still had a swallow of wine lingering at the bottom. Her stomach plunged when she registered the look on his face. Too late, she thought. She closed her eyes slightly. Stacy thought about draining the glass, sucking it back, standing up, telling him in a controlled fury that they were going too fast, that she couldn't settle down, that she wasn't prepared, that she never wanted to be anybody's other half. She thought about how painful it would be for him, how deeply she would cry on the way home, but how she would also feel the freedom, she was sure, of someone making a jailbreak.

She opened her eyes and stared for a moment. His chair was empty, and she had trouble registering it for a moment. Where had he gone? She thought about it for a moment, then suddenly registered a crowd over her left shoulder. The maitre d was back, holding a deep black bottle with gold lettering on it, and behind him were a few black clad servers, all looking at her expectantly. She was about to say, "What?," when she saw Thomas out of the corner of her eye, on one knee, looking up at her, one hand behind his back.

"Will you marry me?," he asked.

Stacy swallowed, and closed her eyes for another second.

"Of course I will," she said softly, and the champagne was opened, and there was extended, polite clapping from the staff and neighboring tables. She stood up, pulling her dress down over herself, and they embraced beside the table, Thomas pulling her in for a long kiss, and a long, slow squeeze.. Stacy felt herself starting to tear up, and she buried her face in his neck, his strong, muscular neck that smelled like oak trees and sweat, and she repeated the phrase again and again. "Of course I will, Thomas, of course I will, of course I will," she said into his neck, "of course I will," and she cried a little bit, and she hoped she was telling the truth.


  1. OK, that put a lump in my throat. Gorgeous, as always.

  2. This is stunning. You are wonderfully talented.

  3. What a wonderfully intense story. The characters were so life like. I kept wondering if she'd misjudged his true intentions and he was going to do the opposite of asking for her hand in marriage. I was holding my breath, waiting to see how it played out.

  4. Now you have me wondering if she will actually go through with it. And being a Midwest gal - I love going to brewers games :)

    Love what you did with the prompt.


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