The Straw. Short Story.

Declans phone buzzed, he glanced ath the screen then put it back down. It buzzed again, twice more in rapid succession. He gritted his teeth and grabbed his phone, quickly he turned it onto silent, then put it down again. He took a deep breath and released it slowly. It did nothing to help. Even with the phone on silent he still knew more texts were coming in, probably a few phonecalls too. He always hated with Elizabeth got like this. No doubt she had seen something innocuous, a picture of him hugging a female cousin was what set her off the last time, but she wouldn’t stop until she had a full and total explination. He rubbed at his ring finger, it was still bare, but not for much longer. Elizabeth had been talking about marriage a lot lately, her friends were all getting engaged. He paused, realising she was the only one who still wasn’t. The last one. They must love that, lording it over her, after all she was usually the first for everything, all the latest designs, new electronics, new cars, new houses. He shuddered. It was exhausting trying to keep up with everyone else, but she insisted.

He began to feel guilty, he shouldn’t be ignoring her, it would only make it worse, the faster he dealt with it the faster it would all be over. They could go back to being happy again. At least until the next photo, the next text from a work friend, the next anything she didn’t approve of. He picked up his phone, twenty three messages and seven missed calls. It wasn’t bad. Maybe it wasn’t anything to do with him. He scrolled to her number on his phone, already he could feel the ball of dread forming, beginning to grow. He clicked dial. With each ring it grew worse until he felt a vague sense of nausea. Voicemail. Huh. Maybe this was some new form of punishment? He put his phone down, the nausea was growing. What if something had gone wrong, what if she had been in an accident and she was trying to contact him. The texts weren’t much of a help, mostly a variety of why aren’t you answering and where are you. Usual fare for her. His phone started ringing, her name on the screen. He took a deep, slow breath then answered.

The phonecall was short and cold. She wasn’t impressed that he hadn’t answered, telling him they’d have to discuss it later. That was the one positive thing about her friends, she didn’t like to argue with him in front of them. It wasn’t even anything important, just wanting him to ring and confirm their reservations for tonight. He didn’t know why she couldn’t just ring herself, it would have made the entire process easier. He shook his head, that was a lie, he knew why. She had specifically mentioned The Arch, the restaurant where they had their first date, along with pointed comments about how romantic it would be if they were given the same table. She was expecting him to propose tonight and god help him he thought she was right.

He had been given the ring by his mother, it had been his grandmothers. She had handed it to him, a knowing look in her eyes, “I know you’ve been talking to Elizabeth about this lately, I was waiting for you to ask for the ring, but I was worried you might have felt a bit off about it. I’m so happy for the two of you.” The ring was sitting upstairs in his office drawer, the only place in the house that was locked and that Elizabeth had no access too. Important client information, he had told her, ones that he legally had to keep under lock and key. His heart had sunk when his mother had produced the ring, he knew that was Elizabeth, filling his mothers head with stories of marriage and grandchildren. They’d only been dating two years at this point, he wasn’t close to being ready. But maybe no one was ready. They were happy weren’t they? In their own way at least. Sure it was stressful, but she could be so kind and loving too. Besides, she was the driving force behind him, always pushing him to do better, to be better. Surely that was what someone needed in a partner. He released a breath slowly, but would he ever be enough for her?

He sat in his office, the ring held in one hand, the sunlight glinting off the diamonds. He remembered being fascinated with this ring as a child, how the light played across its surface, hows his grandmother was so protective of it. She was a strong woman, proud and fair. Would she have approved of Elizabeth? He didn’t think she would. His mind drifted back to Amy. His grandmother had loved her, had told him not to be an idiot and let her get away. To just ask the damn question already. Sometimes, late at night when he was lying in bed, Elizabeth snoring gently beside, him he wondered if he made the right choice. He was young then, foolish. He shouldn’t have let her get away. He closed the ring box, hiding the ring. Tonight was the night, whether he was ready or not and he needed to make a decision soon.

His phone was ringing, it had been constantly since six o clock, when Elizabeth got home and found the house empty. He hadn’t answered yet, he didn’t know if he would. Not today at least. For now he just needed time to himself, to think, to really think. He drove at random, taking turns as they appealed to him. He liked driving, he found it relaxing. Eventually he found himself near the beach he had played on as a child. He parked in the empty parking lot and got out of the car.

He sat in the sand, the dying sun on his face. They were supposed to be there right now, in the restaurant. He felt a faint pang, he should have rang and cancelled. He started to laugh, harder and harder, tears started streaming down his face. After a few minutes the laughter subsided to the occasional chuckle. Well, there was his answer, wasn’t it? He hadn’t even thought to how Elizabeth was feeling, no pang for being here on the beach alone rather than in that restaurant with her.

He took a deep breath of the sea air, the gentle crash of the waves was soothing, he felt good, relaxed, for the first time in months. He knew it would have to end soon, that he’d need to leave this place and tell Elizabeth they were over, but for now he enjoyed it.

He sat into his car feeling content, he knew he had a difficult road ahead of him, but he’d be much better off once it was over. Already he could feel the weight that had been Elizabeth just sliding off him, he could feel faint sense of something else too, it took him a moment to realise he was happy, truly happy.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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