15 April 2011

"Inconvenient Proposal"

By Curtis C. Chen

Janet looked where Tim was pointing. The giant overhead screen flickered, and the magnified view of the arena stage disappeared, replaced by glowing letters on a black background:


The audience began applauding and cheering. Janet saw people looking around, searching for the couple who had just been put on display. She looked over at Tim. He was grinning like an idiot.

Tim grabbed Janet's left hand in his right. His other hand disappeared into a jacket pocket.

Don't turn on the spots, Janet thought. Don't light us up.

A blazing white lamp swung around and centered its beam on Janet and Tim. Janet yanked her hand out of Tim's grasp, jumped out of her seat, and ran for the nearest exit.

She didn't stop until she reached the women's bathroom downstairs. Before the door could swing shut, Tim followed her in, holding an open ring box in one hand. Janet kept her back to him, but she saw the glinting diamond reflected in the mirror above the sink.

"What's wrong?" Tim asked. "I thought you'd be happy—"

"I was," Janet said. "Bringing me to the concert was a nice surprise." She pointed at the ring. "That wasn't."

Tim pressed his lips together. "Are you saying no?"

"We're not doing this here," Janet said.

"I thought you'd be happy," Tim repeated, staring at the floor.

Janet turned, stepped over to Tim, and placed both hands on his shoulders.

"I am happy with you. With what we have," she said. "Why do you want to change things?"

"I don't want to change anything. I want us to stay together." Tim made a hiccuping sound that might have been a laugh. "For as long as we both shall live." He held up the ring.

Janet shook her head. "Christ, how much did you spend on that rock?"

Tim smiled. "You like? Two carats."

Before Janet could say anything else, the diamond moved in its setting, making a high-pitched scraping noise. Tim dropped the box, put his hands over his ears, and fell to his knees.

Janet backed away and raised her arm a fraction of a second before the diamond lanced through the air at her. The face of her wristwatch took the impact, but the force sent her crashing backward into the bathroom sink. She cursed in an alien language.

The crystal embedded in her watch was cracked and glowing. The watch threw off sparks, straining to sustain its force field. The battery wouldn't last long.

Janet yanked off the watch and threw it into a wastebasket. She dumped out her purse and stabbed her cell phone with one high heel. She rolled Tim's unconscious form onto his side, pulled the cash out of his wallet, and tucked the bills into her bra.

"Sorry, love." She planted a kiss on Tim's forehead. "I'm not the one for you."

The wastebasket started to rattle. Janet picked up her weapon and checked its charge. She headed upstairs, ready to run or shoot.


Photo: A Proposal in the Museum by National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution, May, 2010