View Full Version : Don't Ask (1500 words)

The Bruce
July 15th, 2014, 05:57 AM
Since the breakup began I've been sleeping even worse than usual; I think the last time was about three hours on Thursday evening. At nine o’clock this morning I brought Sarah some tea, and then read to her for a while. She read to me for a little while after that, and I finally fell asleep at eleven.

I don't think she does it consciously, but nor do I think that it's coincidence that Sarah usually precipitates conversations about our relationship when I'm in some way weakened. If I'm drunk; or hungover; or ill; or once when I was talking about my grandfather's recent death.

Two hours later Sarah woke me up and informed me that she didn't believe that the only reason I wouldn't marry her was because I didn't want children - she said that even if we were agreed on that I would still refuse to marry her and she wanted to know why. She had obviously been trying to think of a way out of this - so have I - but had become frustrated and was taking it out on me. In fact I told her myself last week that children weren't the only reason, and I have told her many times of how unhappy I am with my life here.

Unfortunately, I was barely sensible at this point and mumbled my way through something evasive. I was desperately trying to find something honest to say, to show that I wasn't abandoning her on a whim - a notion that's clearly unreasonable anyway. After a long, long pause I asked if Sarah would ever consider coming away with me. Leave her job, and London, go wherever we felt like going until we wanted to move on, and work when we needed money. Italy, France, Thailand, Japan, the world. She was baffled. She wanted to know exactly where, for how long, and anyway we couldn't leave until we both had jobs lined up, and if she left her career now then she would never have a career.

"I'm not going backpacking," she warned.

"I'm not suggesting backpacking, am I? I mean, we would probably own backpacks. But in Thailand I lived in an apartment. I could have got a job if I’d needed it." At the very least, this unexpected turn of conversation was keeping Sarah off the front foot a little whilst I tried to wake up.

"Well, you know I'd love to live abroad. But it’d be impossible to have children if we never settled down. What would we live off when we couldn't get jobs?"

"Well, our savings."

"If I gave up my career and spent my savings then there wouldn't be anything left. We'd never be able to buy a house." The conversation petered out, and Sarah left the room non-plussed. But it had felt good, very good, saying what I wanted instead of trying to justify not giving her exactly what she wanted. In fact, I thought it needed saying again, more clearly. Being tired is much worse than being drunk. Being drunk makes you impulsive, being tired makes you stupid.

I got into the shower. I was going to go further than saying what I wanted, I was going to ask for exactly what I wanted, for the first time. Then she would have to accept that this was all her decision as much as it was mine. I composed it in my head, I thought about exactly what I was asking for - was it honest? It would be too easy to come up with an ultimatum I knew she'd never accept just to get her to say 'no'.

I got dressed. It was honest. But I knew she would say 'no'. I was about to win the breakup.

I got undressed and changed into a suit. I stood in the doorway, and doubled down on the appalling mistake I was making: I thought about what would happen if she said 'yes'. A life on my terms. A life of happiness, with my best friend, but without her schedule, or her plans, or the mediocrity of experience to which she aspires. A way out of this. It was wonderful. And all I had to do was ask for it.

My hair was still wet, plastered to my head. I was wearing my glasses so that I could see her expression properly. My shoes were in the living room, the suit was unironed and I hadn't been able to find my tie. Unfortunately there was a full length mirror next to the living room door, and so I was able to glimpse this spectacle on the way in. If I’d been holding toast I could have been running for the school bus.

My tongue felt swollen, like I was about to choke on it. I forgot how to walk. Is it left arm with left leg or left arm with right leg? I staggered robotically across the room, and felt a ludicrous stab of pity for World Cup penalty takers. My legs were far too long, like John Cleese's: going down on one knee didn't seem to work right at all.

"Sarah, life with me will not always be comfortable; and life with me will not always be safe; and life with me will not involve children," she had already averted her face as it disintegrated into tears; this had sounded significantly better in my head, "but life with me will be fun, and you will end up in places you didn't expect to be, and it will be a life well lived. And I love you. Will you marry me?" "No!"

She had waited for me to finish but never hesitated as she shouted "no" through the tears. Being tired is much worse than being drunk. I hadn't thought this far ahead. I hadn't expected the humiliation; but even if I had I would never have expected it to be so visceral, or so physically painful. I tried to get to the front door, but she chased me, she wouldn't let me leave.

"You can't attach conditions like that!" she chastised me. Her tears had gone. She had won the breakup with a crushing come-from-behind victory.

"Sorry!" I blubbed, "That was the worst proposal ever. I meant it, I meant it!" I really did. I managed to get past her to the toilet and locked myself in. I haven't cried like that. The sobs really hurt and I got a stitch.

And then - for fuck’s sake - that's it. No bags packed. Just like the last time we broke up, a week ago. We went out for some food, and came back and watched a film.

While we were out a beggar started following us in Spitalfields Market. He said he didn't want cash for drink or drugs, he just wanted us to buy him a hot meal. We said fine.

He said he could get two hot meals a day at the hostel, and he didn't want cash, we could come with him to the hostel to pay. We said fine and walked with him for a few minutes.

I asked him where we were going. He told us about how he was homeless, and talked about the hostel some more and how he was going to wait in the church until it opened, and we could come back later or if we wanted we could just give him the cash. We said we could come back later, what time.

He said that he had to do the interview with CRISIS to get into the hostel first, and we had to come with him to the office all the way over in Old Street. We said fine.

He said that the interview wasn't until eight o’clock, and we could just give him the cash because if someone else gave him the cash before we got there then we'd have wasted a trip. I said I'd meet him in Old Street at eight.

He said I could just give him the cash if I'd prefer. I said I'd prefer to meet him in Old Street at eight.

He turned his back and walked away. We talked about how he had been very convincing at first.

We went to the supermarket and it started raining hard. It was ten to eight. I asked Sarah if I should go to Old Street. She said she didn't think I needed to. I went anyway.

I was in Liverpool Street. If I got the tube from Liverpool Street, then I could get there on time. I walked to Bank and got the tube from there, and arrived at Old Street for ten past eight. He wasn't there, but I was late, so maybe I missed him.

Sarah's in bed. I don't think I can sleep. Shit day.


July 15th, 2014, 10:51 AM
This was really good, I enjoyed it. The characters are believable and feel real. I liked the conflict between them, and how even though they "broke up" they're still together (unless I'm missing something, it is getting late here as I write this).

One thing I thought should be tightened up was the bit with the 'homeless' man. Though I do see its purpose, I think the flow could be improved. Just my opinion though, so I'm not going to tell you how to do it. Only that you might take it into consideration and give it a second look. :)

Look forward to seeing where this relationship goes.

The Bruce
July 15th, 2014, 01:42 PM
Thank you very much. I agree that the second section drags slightly, but I'm not certain what to do with it. I was partly trying to convey the boredom and frustration of being played like that, but I think maybe it just ended up being boring. The solution might be as simple as just making it shorter, I'm not sure there's any value to bulking it up with dialogue and description.

July 15th, 2014, 07:56 PM
Thank you very much. I agree that the second section drags slightly, but I'm not certain what to do with it. I was partly trying to convey the boredom and frustration of being played like that, but I think maybe it just ended up being boring. The solution might be as simple as just making it shorter, I'm not sure there's any value to bulking it up with dialogue and description.

No problem. And I can agree with that. At the end of it I really did get that feeling of, "Wow. Nothing is working out for this guy." I know all too well about those downright crappy days. But, that second section may have just taken too long to get there.

December 26th, 2014, 04:02 PM
This reeks modernity, pretty good.