THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH
He gets down on one knee with a waxy smile. He pops an old glasses case and points at me a .22-bullet-sized inset that gleams like a blood-dark shard of church glass. I’ve seen the ring on his mom. Will you marry me? he trumpets and everyone outside Cinderella’s Castle begins to din and take videos I’ll see online for the rest of my life. I’m hearing a dirge that isn’t there—I’m outside myself murmuring: Yes. He bear-hugs my ribs and Mickey and Minnie rush over to help and I’m in the gummy jaws of coliseum lions, an entire metropolis roaring for gore. What am I doing? It’s Star Wars cosplay day—May the fourth be with you! I’m white-robe Leia, he’s fighter-jacket Han. I don’t know how to tell him we’re not getting married.
The only working channel in our motel is the porn one. He’s shirtless on the bed using my laptop to share proposal photos with our families. I’m on the little balcony over the parking lot, the dusk a deep bruise. I’m in my late grandma’s swimsuit with a pack of old cigarettes.
I could feed him tall boys, wait for snoring, take his car, leave my phone, but he’d get his cop brother involved. I could take my phone, taunt him when he calls, but he’d call my mom and she’d call his mom and together they’d preach about what a magnanimous angel I’ve been. This is fixable! my mom would say. Your many children will love you! his mom would say.
Get in here, he says, putting on a torn t-shirt. He wants me for a video he’s posting. I show the ring and say: Next stop Vegas! We watch and re-watch our first take. His smile is nowhere near mine. He must’ve known I would’ve said no. He needed the crowd.
Only a few days ago he and I were on a ragged Gulf beach watching the day die and buzzing on something cheap I’d bought at a gas station. He told me he’d likely be fired for kicking his construction job supervisor in the kidney over poker cash. He asked if we could move in together; I said we should go on a first road trip to Disney. I packed that night, thinking: We go, we return, we’re done, hallelujah. He pulled up at dawn insisting he drive all twelve hours. Almost right away, he called my mom about the rides he’d researched. You’re such sweetness! she said. Next, he called his mom: How I envy you two!
We nail his video on the fourth take. He shows me photos of the ask he got from passersby. You look so surprised, he says, holding the laptop to his face. Like you can’t believe it. I want to say: I can’t. I say: May the fourth—a date that will live in infamy! He holds my shoulders, says: I’m sorry I surprised you but we’ll be telling this story for the next hundred years. This is the first normal thing we’ve ever done. He drinks quickly and waits for me to bless him with forgiveness. I watch him talk Vegas chapel plans and our heading there tomorrow.
Everything about him once brought me an unfamiliar joy. We met a year ago in the Main Street coffeehouse where I freelance-edit technical manuals. He approached with a bag of sour worms and said he’d seen me eating them. He was weird-cute, pale with short dyed-black hair, shabbily dressed like in a bad band, dozens of little arm tattoos crisscrossed with scars. He’d been a marine, he said, in Iraq, and asked if I wanted to go see a new British aristocracy film. That afternoon we fucked in his un-swept bedroom like sad teenagers. I asked if he’d ever killed anyone—we were in our underwear, drinking boxed wine—and he said I wouldn’t believe him whether he said yes or no. When I found out he’d never been a marine, he said: I wanted you to know I could protect you, and he tried to punch through his bathroom door. He had me make a list of my passwords—social media, email, what-have-you. You’re older, my mom said on the phone. Mature him. When I met his mom, he took us for dinner at a Chinese takeout he used to work at. Afterwards, he and I were in my bed and he struck me on the fleshiest part of one of my bare buttocks. Naked, he stood over me and said he didn’t think I was strong enough to do the same: Hit me, Alice. Show me badness. Show me you. He first pretended to kill me after saying I should pay his entire electricity bill. Your deadbeat roommates should pay! I said and he shattered his cereal bowl in the sink. He grabbed my throat, shuffled me to the doorframe. You love this, he said, which was a little true. I spat in his face, raked my nails across his nipples. We belong together, he said weakly. A few weeks ago, we were in my car in an empty Walmart parking lot after he was fired from a telemarketing job. I bit his ear lobe and drew blood. He kept on sobbing: I’m nothing. I’m nothing. He’d never looked more broken. I realized then I’d only ever been devoted to how dangerous he might be. He won’t remember who we really were.
He falls asleep mid-sentence, something about an Area 51 honeymoon.
There’s nothing for me to pack. I take his keys.
On the little balcony the new night is alive with screams bouncing between the stucco buildings, a nearby boozy block party getting started. My USA flip-flops aren’t designed to climb down to the first-floor balcony and push through the wall of barbed bushes. I make a promise: When I remember today, I’ll remember the lacerated lines on my arms and legs. I’ll remember my midnight drive in search of revelers. The rest will have never happened.
R.S. Powers’s stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Sou’wester, Speculative Nonfiction, X-R-A-Y, World Literature Today, The Hunger, and other journals. He is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing at Florida State University.