A modest proposal
There was a quick thrust and a flash of red light. Amidst the haemorrhage of human traffic, the tram pulled away, dejectedly, grey and slow like a lingering memory.
It was six O’clock. Water-worn high heeled shoes clattered along the city kerbs, and looking languorously out of the tram window, Leah watched the salt and pepper combination of workers picking their way across the streets. She wondered what kind of lives they were going to go home to. The young man clutching a briefcase with an air of vulnerability – did he return to a letted room he called home, draining glass after glass of dry wine? She wondered. She wondered if anyone had planned an evening quite like hers.
She had waited, prepared herself with dedication for what she considered years. But now, as the city streets clotted hotter than ever, the smell of damp copper coins radiating in the waning sun – she told herself she was ready. Ready to propose to he who had utterly dominated, shaped her very existence. Finally taking life into my own hands, she thought. It was a monumental occasion. She watched a woman with violent red hair patter along the pavement like a nervous insect. Finally, the waiting, the monotony, would all be over!
It was to be a surprise of course. What kind of proposal wasn’t?
She imagined herself slipping the key in the lock of the hotel room, cleanly and distinctly, like a form of preparation. She had been staying in the hotel after since she took the concept of proposal seriously – her parents had become gradually wearied by her utter compulsion, circuits of the churchyard in a kind of fantasy. She traced the stones, swept across the aisles. She imagined all those who would help it become a truth.
An aging clerk adjacent to her in the tram carriage wore a ring of a greasy white gold. It captivated her momentarily. White gold stinks of purity, she thought. She wondered why people lied to themselves on such occasions.
The tram stuttered to a stop. Those immediately in front of the doors flapped from the carriage like a collection of damp pigeons. Leah kept her reserve. She stood up carefully, considerately – she had not eaten since the previous morning, and her chain belt hung nervously against her stomach, empty and disturbed. She told herself the proposal would be more efficient that way – food only re-enforced the idea of monotony. She flashed an uneasy mandatory smile as she left the tram; It was somehow the suburban expectation of a hot day. Prioritising in her mind the necessary instrument for the occasion, she allowed herself to be caught in a flock of bodies until she reached the main street. Someone was crying out about politics.
She darted into the first suitable shop she saw. Silver and gold are only markers of antiquity after all, she thought. The shop floor was studded with possible buyers in possibly genuine jackets – their accents seeping with what they believed to be the idea of sensibility. The stirring syllables asking for the silver made her sick. She reacted hastily.
‘Can you point me to something good in steel?’ She asked the nearest shop assistant vaguely, her voice gathering a wave of hysteria. She told herself to think of the cold metal, its promise, the safety it held within its grasp. The young male assistant eyed her suspiciously, looking down with a slight discomfort at her exposed arms. His pupils were glazed over. He had been told a day previously that he was failing his degree and had stumbled home to fall into alcohol and malady and the smell of unwashed flesh. He looked abstractedly at how her chapped lips placed a horrible slippery kind of emphasis upon the single syllable of ‘good’. It was a strange existence.
He waved in a non-committal way towards an open display which glowed sickly under a couple of broken LEDS.
‘Any from that collection really. Obviously depends on personal taste, how much you are willing to pay….’
She eyed the arrangement hurriedly. For which would draw his attention greatest, allow for the quickest, cleanest, most perfect result? She noticed that the assistant was attempting to ask whether she was currently finding her preparation routine difficult, had she bought with the chain before?– it wasn’t relevant. She wanted silence. A radio behind the customer service desk was spitting out part of a badly-spoken drama series like a clot of hot oil – ‘Did you fully commit to something today? Did you do something you believed true?’ It irritated her.
‘I’ll have that one,’ Leah snapped emphatically, indicating the sharpest steel with a delicately lacquered nail. The preparation had been pain-staking. She imagined herself a canvas on which convention was to be arranged, no less. The assistant nodded vigorously, wrapping up her purchase in a kind of crepe. It appeared to Leah uncomfortably like tissue or orange pith, the strands she had seen discarded in the public walkways and crushed under foot.
‘Would you like me to put that in a bag for you?’ The male assistant drawled in a practiced manner ‘After all, you might get some funny looks walking through the streets with something…. You know.. so.. obvious?!’
His eyes glittered, but with moisture rather than suggestiveness.
Despite his collapse of professionalism, for the sake of haste she agreed with him and left the shop in a state of agitation. She could feel the pastel lipstick thickening with a combination of sweat and saliva against her top lip. Her black dress clung to her desperate frame. Well, I’ll be wearing white later, she thought, And then, I hope, nothing. Despite the disarray, as she stole from the shopping streets to the more secluded avenues, smiling numbly to herself. She imagined herself, laid there in a kind of ecstasy, her body stripped down by him as a kind of confirmation. Ah, no longer would the bed be a devastating expanse! It would mean something; gather that necessary symbolism which only comes with time. She chewed her knuckle nervously.
Suppose the whole arrangement would not work! Suppose she found herself choked with nerves, her hands slicked and unsteady! Perhaps this was not even a woman’s role; she should have just been carried along listlessly – like those afternoons fondly remembered of flat tonic and alcohol with too many aspirins. But those types of relationships were fleeting, passive. This would be permanent! To be united with love and all that she found fascinating. She grinned.
The timing was perfect as she mounted the stairs to the room. He always waited. It was verging on dinner time too, she considered, possibly beneficent in that any clumsy movements, the anticipated shriek of shock – would be as private as possible. The banister somehow resisted against her fingers like a reminder of living human skin. She detached herself and hurried onwards, clutching her gift with a kind of intimacy.
Reaching the door, she took a breath. It was a strange, ragged inhalation, like something within her own lungs was attempting to communicate with her, like a plea. She laughed and saw her painted lips and white teeth reflected with a kind of emphasized gleam with the bulbous glass lights in the hallway. Finish with a smile, she willed herself.
He had been with her in presence, in thought, all day, and seeing him as the door clicked open, she crumpled to one knee, sweeping her purchase from its package, committed, ready, smiling.
‘I’m so happy!’ She announced ecstatically.
There was a quick thrust and a flash of red light.
Mr Mors, the hotel manager, was listening half-heartedly to a replay of some wavering radio drama when he was interrupted by a member of the cleaning staff.
‘The occupant of room 40 hasn’t cleared their room yet, and it’s twelve lunch-time Mr. Mors, suh.’
How that dialectical drawl irritated him! With his characteristic, slightly weighty sweeping motion of movement, Mr Mors decided it would save time and patience if he went to the room immediately and challenged the occupants themselves – after all, it was only a short distance from the managerial desk. He shook his head as if irritation took the form of clinging drops of moisture he was trying to remove desperately from his shaved skull as he followed the cleaner. Ah, there were always a few people every so often, willing to push the system, step out of line! Reaching the room of question and with no response after two rounds of knocking, with a disgruntled sigh, he slipped the master key in the lock and pushed at the door. It opened heavily, reluctantly.
For behind the door was a beautiful woman.
Mr Mors stared . The woman lay with her face to the floor, both knees crumpled in a bend, as if fast in prayer, praying silently, praying on a mat of red. For from the woman’s side, straight through the folds of a tight black dress, glistened a steel knife.
The following hour was a wash of confusion.
He phoned the undertakers, enquired of family, found none, sat at the phone numbly, the radio still stuttering, drank tasteless glasses of iced tea, mopped his brow. It was 2 O’clock when he finally dared approach the room again.
Reaching the door, he opened his mouth to ask whether the undertakers would require a room for that night.
He mumbled emptily against a wall of silence. Words and eyes fell onto the corpse, undressed on the bed – her rouged cheeks, her painted nails, her combed hair. A young man, evidently an apprentice of the old undertaker, turned when hearing the greasy leather footfalls of Mors’ entrance. The lad’s eyes were red and wavering with hysteria.
‘Will you turn that damned thing off?!’ He shrieked.
Mr. Mors stared at him blankly, before he realised.
‘Turn that damn radio off!?’ The lad’s bottom lip was trembling under a nervous sweat ‘Can’t you see? This young woman here lying alone, she did it you know, she ….’
His voice caught and trailed off. But the radio, the radio continued to pulsate from behind the managerial desk only a few metres away.
‘’Did you fully commit to something today? Did you do something you believed true?’