Ralph sat upright in his recliner, his legs splayed out before him. His hands, resting between his knees, quavered furiously. Ralph sighed. How, he thought, could he ask Elizabeth to marry him when he couldn’t even hold out the engagement ring without shaking like a cornstalk in the wind?
Would she laugh at him? he wondered. No, Elizabeth wasn’t cruel, but how could she possibly not feel the revulsion that Ralph felt for himself? She wouldn’t give voice to that emotion, but that only made it worse. Ralph had once owned a three-legged dog, but his father had scolded him, saying he should settle for nothing less than perfection, and dad had the dog put to sleep. When Ralph subsequently developed his tremor, his father had regarded him as something less than he had before.
In 1930s Germany, Ralph knew, he would have suffered sterilization so that his infirmity could not be passed on to future generations. Or, he might have himself been put to death. He let out a breath. Why me? he used to wonder. At length, he had conjured an answer: Why not me? Besides, by now, he was used to it. He took up the jeweler’s box and extracted the ring, weighed it in his palm, contemplated his intense, primal love for Elizabeth for a moment, then said aloud, “I’ll ask her. Tonight!”
They sat in his living room, a fire crackling in the fireplace on this, the night before Christmas. The tree scented the room with balsam. Ralph was nervous. He had never asked anyone to marry him before; he’d never had the nerve. Also, he had never been in love before. She sat beside him on the sofa, waiting expectantly, he thought. He held the jeweler’s box behind a throw pillow; he didn’t want to frighten her away. Could she really accept him? he wondered desperately.
He was not anyone’s idea of perfection, certainly not his father’s. His childhood rejection by his dad figured prominently in Ralph’s memory, and it’s what made him the man he was today. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was perfection itself. He had never known a nobler, more exquisitively lovely creature before. If she said yes, then she would be his mate, his lover, his wife. A bead of perspiration appeared on his brow. Nervously, he wiped it away with the hand holding the box.
“What’s that, Ralph?” Elizabeth asked unexpectedly.
“Huh?” he said stupidly, hiding the box again. But it was too late.
“What have you got there, Ralph?” she asked anew, pointing to the hand holding the ring box.
Ralph brought the box into view and murmured, “Liz, I was going to ask you…ask you to marry me.”
“Have you changed your mind?” she asked boldly.
He blinked. “No…No, I…Will you marry me, Liz?” he implored. “I know I have a lot of faults,” he began. “But, I love you, and…”
“Shut up, Ralph,” she said gently. “You had me at ‘Will you marry me?'”
Ralph smiled, leaned in for a kiss, being careful not to bump Elizabeth’s walker.
Bill Tope is a retired public assistance caseworker living in Illinois with his mean little cat Baby. He has been published several score times, in both poetry and fiction. He has been published in Cathedral of Insanity, Wordgathering, Down in the Dirt mag, and others.