by Sandra Crook
Tony seems nervous today, really edgy… like he knows what’s coming. It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have let it drag on this way.
Mum always says, “you let yourself get drawn into things, my girl, too soft-hearted to make a stand.” And she’s right. Not only have I put off telling Tone that it’s over between us, I’ve also failed to mention I’m off abroad next week, working my way through Europe with some mates from college. It’ll be a real adventure and Tone has no part in it.
I’ve decided to tell him in the shopping mall, where he can’t make a scene. Well he can, being Tone, but there’s less likelihood. I’ve suggested we eat at Burger King but he wants a sandwich in the central hall, beside the fountain. That’s why I know he’s nervous – Tone’s always up for a burger.
We sit down on a bench, and I start tucking into my egg mayo. I might as well eat first, I think, keep my strength up. Tone’s pulling bits out of his cheese roll, looking nervously around.
And then these three guys stroll out from behind the fake marble pillars, carrying guitars and wearing red three-quarter length jackets with black velvet lapels. Their sparrow-like legs shimmer in silver-flecked drainpipes and terminate in clumpy crepe-soled shoes. I nudge Tone.
“Getta load of the teddy-boys,” I snigger, but Tone seems quite tense.
“Love me tender, love me sweet,” croons the eldest one with greasy grey hair curling forward into an exaggerated quiff, “…never let me go.”
I snort my milkshake down my nose. It hurts.
“You have made my life complete,” joins in the second Ted, “and I love you so.”
“Jesus,” I say, “he’s looking right at me.” Tone doesn’t reply.
The three of them then warm to their theme.
“Love me tender, love me true, all my dreams fulfilled…” The eldest one is putting so much vibrato into his performance I can’t drag my eyes away from his quivering Adam’s apple.
“For my darling I love you, and I always will.”
I turn to grin at Tone but he’s not there.
He’s on his knees in front of me, holding out a red velvet box.
“Fuck me,” I think, glancing nervously round at the gathering crowd, registering a ground swell of “awwww’s”
“Go on love,” says a voice from the crowd, “the suspense is killin’ us.”
Tone fumbles the box open and there’s this ring to end all rings, winking at me grotesquely.
I sit there with my mouth open. What can I do? There’s me, preparing to call it a day, and there’s him, itching to make it a lifetime.
The crowd are getting restless, and I sense the mood changing.
“Hard-faced bitch,” says a low voice to my left.
“He’s worth ten of her,” growls another.
I’m realising I’ll get lynched if I say no. I can see the grand tour of Europe flushing down the pan, being replaced by a lifetime married to the wrong guy.
Tone’s eyes are beginning to water, and I sense his first doubts about the way things are going.
Even the Teds are looking a bit uneasy but they soldier on.
“Love me tender, love me long, take me to your heart”.
The oldest one fixes me with a glassy stare, almost pleading with me.
“For it’s there that I belong, and we’ll never part.“
I open my mouth to bite the bullet.
“Oh go on then,” I hear myself say, irritably. “All right.”
Tone slides the ring onto my finger. It’s way too big and the stone slips round towards the palm of my hand immediately. The audience breaks into a round of applause and the teddy-boys bow, before stepping back behind the marble pillars again.
Cooing contentedly, the crowd melts away, and we both stand there staring at each other.
Tone’s bottom lip trembles and I can see he’s a bit underwhelmed by my response.
“You wouldn’t have accepted if I’d asked you quietly without all this fuss, would you?”
I open my mouth to lie; to say “yeah, ‘course I would…honest”.
But this time a different voice emerges, the voice of someone older, much stronger. Someone with conviction.
“You’re right, Tone. I just did it to save embarrassment.”
There’s a long pause and we’re still standing there like lemons. I twist the ring easily off my finger and hand it back to him. I hope he bought it sale or return.
He turns and walks slowly away, head down, shoulders slumped, hands in pockets. I feel like I’m going to cry.
Maybe next year … when I’m back…
‘NO! snaps this strange new voice in my head, ‘leave it now, it’s done’.
And suddenly, with relief, I see that it is.
Sandra Crook writes for pleasure and more often than not for free.