Mr Somebody and the Proposal
If it’s not some time around the middle of the night, then I’m either very surprised or blind, because it’s darker than a blackhole and colder than my limbs can handle. I choose to be surprised, since it’s a hell of a lot better than being blind, and in any case the outline of my own hand is starting to become clearler. Once I’ve gathered the use of my eyeballs, I see that I am fully horizontal in my favourite booth of my favourite bar. I sit up and rub my face and smell cigarette ash and tequila and the Sunday morning aroma of the pretty girl with her skirt hitched up over her hips against the men’s toilet stall. So I know I’m alive but also in the beginning stages of the world’s worst hangover: the record-breaker of all regrets, the head-thumping hum of dirty blood and tarred bronchial trees, a veritable grove of vomitous recollections. After many years of over-indulgent drinking, smoking and fucking, I have learned that this kind of hangover comes with a real gusher of a nosebleed. I go to the bathroom and stuff toilet paper up both my nostrils, since they like to alternate as blood outlets, and there is no way of predicting which geyser might burst and when.
This is not the first time I’ve been locked inside Booty’s Bar after closing. When I get this sloshed the staff simply lay me out on a couch because they know I can find my way out the back window like a cat that walks on two feet. Once again, I find myself wrestling my body through the tiny window. My left knee is propped up on the counter and my right foot is pressed back against the cash register, ready to propel me through the cat-flap made just for me. Like a practiced acrobat I shoot through, and then with the grace of a third-place Olympian I land in the alley outside, like a sack of potatoes wrapped in a trench-coat. I hurt my knees and my elbows, so I limp out onto the main road with my arms going like windmills so as to stretch out the bruised joints. With the toilet paper still stuffed into my nose and me breathing through my mouth I look like some kind of Frankenstein. And this is how I meet the future Mrs-Me, Miss Margot of Who-Knows-Where, and daughter of I’ll-Never-Find-Out, because Miss Margot is mute.
I’ve seen Miss Margot out and about plenty of times, everybody has. She’s an anomaly around town: a silhouette behind a curtain before showtime, dark eyes, one of those Marilyn Monroe mouths. She’s Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, sad and strong and lonely and beautiful, but I think I am the only one who sees that because the general rule around here is if you can’t talk, drink, smoke or fuck, then you’re nobody. And nobody is anybody’s game, but nobody sticks up for anybody, and if anybody did stick up for anybody, then it’s welcome to Nobodys-ville, population somebody and Miss Margot, stray cats to be pitied but never fed. I am no kind of anybody, but I’m still no nobody, and that makes life in this town a lot easier. But to me, Miss Margot is a somebody of note. She’s the soulful type. I get the feeling that she thinks about the deeper stuff in life, not like me. I think this because although she never talks I can see her brain whizzing around behind those big eyes. I described her in this way to a friend of mine, Larry/Barry/David/Matthew (LBDM changes his name all the time since he’s terrified his ex-wife will find him and bring his kid along with her), and LBDM said, ‘Yeah, like a balloon that’s running out of steam, like a fart dropping in the wind.’ I laughed, but only because you have to laugh at whatever LBDM says. He is a crude and vulgar guy and is likely to deliver a series of swift punches to the face of whoever has upset him. So I laughed, but I admit I was offended. I thought about what Miss Margot would say if she heard all the things people said about her. Well, she’d say nothing since she’s mute, but maybe she’d give some choice looks and a slap here and there. She seems the type of girl not afraid of slapping even LBDM in the face, and I think a slap from a mute girl would ruin LBDM’s fragile bravado forever. And that might be the best thing for the town and even LBDM himself.
So, I’m stuffed with toilet paper and limping like a wheel-barrow that’s just learned to walk, when Miss Margot turns the corner and is knocked face-on by one of my pinwheeling arms. I hadn’t intended to be making a fist at that particular moment, but such is life, and sometimes it breaks your nose. Now it’s her that’s got the gushing schnoz. Luckily the toilet paper from my nose has not been dislodged during the collision, so I whip it out and shove it up her nose-hole.
I hoist Miss Margot up off the ground and wrap her arm around my shoulder. She is clearly a bit shaken by the incident because she is having trouble walking straight. If ever there was a time to pretend I am a good type of guy, I figure it to be now. I ramble apologies, and since I’m still drunk they fall out of my mouth like shredded dictionary pages. But Miss Margot hasn’t spoken a word since the day she was born, so I don’t feel too guilty about my speech impairment, especially since it will wear off after a cup of coffee and maybe a pie. Together, Miss Margot and I win the three-legged race to the nearest diner, which happens to be an all-night McDonalds. I set her up at a booth, which is her first and my second for the evening, and head to the counter to get coffees and muffins since they are all out of pies.
I’m getting a lot of funny looks from the other patrons of the diner, and when I look back at Miss Margot I know why. She’s sitting there, quiet as always, huddled over a bleeding nose and her left eye is starting to look a little blue. I’m a well-known drunk around here, and I can tell that everyone thinks I must have had a little too much to drink and then really lost it when my little woman didn’t line up the dishtowels just the way I like them. I grab the coffee and cakes and sit down next to Miss Margot.
‘You have to hit me,’ I said, moving the sugar packets out the way. Her eyes say no, and I know she knows it was an accident. I feel a little bad about putting her in this position, but the cashier is giving me snake-eyes and his hand is resting tentatively on the phone, which I assume is a direct line to the police station.
‘Miss Margot,’ I say, ‘There’s no other way around it. All these people here think I’ve treated you badly. I’m practically on the verge of a jail-cell. I’m no wife-beater, excuse me, woman beater, and since you can’t tell them otherwise, no offence meant of course, you’ve got to hit me. And hard, too.’
She ponders this a little while, looking around at all the suspicious faces. When she looks back at me and winds her arm up, I know she’s fallen in love with me. She nearly runs me through with her small fist, and just after the moment of impact, but before the pain begins, I think she may have a future as a light-weight boxer. She lets me have it so hard that my nose does start to bleed, but luckily it’s the nostril that’s still plugged. I will probably wake up tomorrow with a small bit of whiplash. Miss Margot has retracted her fist and is swaddling it like a baby in her other arm, she blinks repeatedly and this I take to mean that she’s very sorry for hitting me, because really she loves me. I carry on making a show of my busted nose and my bruised ego, and while I’m writhing in my seat I steal some glances around the room. Everybody is doing a bad job of hiding a smile, they must really have enjoyed seeing this somebody getting punched by the town nobody. Suddenly everybody is looking at Miss Margot like a pedigree Alsatian and not a stray cat with scabby fur. But Miss Margot has eyes only for me now, and my eyeballs have never seen so fine a visage as Miss Margot’s.
I tell her this one out loud, because most of the nice things I think about Miss Margot I have tended to keep to myself. She smiles, and then all of the stuff comes pouring out.
I tell her how I have loved her since the first time I saw her, walking around the park in circles. I loved her even more when I found out she was a whiskey drinker, and then that love double-triple-quadrupled and kept on multiplying every day I saw her after that.
‘I know what you’re thinking,’ I tell her. I can’t stop now, words and blood are flowing from all orifices with abandon. ‘You’re thinking this guy is a sham, a drunk, a loser. Sure, Miss Margot, I love you, and you love me, but how can I be Mr Margot when I’m barely a Mr Anybody?’
I really want an answer to this question, and Miss Margot seems to be giving it some real thought. Her head is cocked to the side and her finger is tapping her chin. She’s breathing so deeply that the ratty tail of the toilet paper wad in her nose is flapping about like a flag on the high seas. After some time, far too much time, as I have been sitting here nearly soiling myself with anxiety, Miss Margot turns her head and looks at me. She stops with the blinking, and simply grabs my hands over the table, which I much prefer to the sight of her fist careening towards my face. I am pretty sure that Miss Margot is telling me that she loves me no matter what, so I do what any other sane man would do when he is faced with the love of his life and is not sure, due to communication issues, that this is a totally bad idea.
Well, I get down on my knee, which is still bruised from leaping through the window of Booty’s Bar, and I hold Miss Margot’s hand in one of mine, and with my other hand I grab the remaining wad of toilet paper from my own nose and twist it into the shape of a circle, with a little knot at the top. From a distance it may be mistaken for white gold with a ruby inlay, and this is the way Miss Margot and I choose to see it, even from up close. As soon as I retrieve the paper-stopper from my schnoz, the blood starts to stream again, except this time both nostrils are gushing on account of the built up pressure, I would assume. I move to ignore the moustache of blood quickly forming on my upper lip, and Miss Margot seems to second my motion. Holding the ring, I ask Miss Margot to marry me. I ask her if she will do me the great honour of becoming Mrs Me, or me becoming Mr Margot, whichever way she likes it.
For a moment she’s silent, a different kind of silent. This particular silence hasn’t got much or nothing to do with her mouth or any other potential ports of noise. Her soul goes quiet, in this moment she wouldn’t talk even if she could. My knee is starting to hurt pretty badly now, but I stay kneeling, because if she says no then it’s a much shorter distance to fall from. So now it’s flowing freely, and it’s dripping onto our hands, and Miss Margot is still really quiet and all I want is a cigarette and I wish the coffee was scotch, and I wish the muffin was a pie and I wish I had never woken up from my favourite booth in Booty’s Bar. I have tried to keep the pain from my face but I can’t stop my eye from twitching, and I think Miss Margot senses my agitation, because she looks at me and says nothing, but she says Yes as well. She holds my face and is nodding furiously, and then we’re kissing, and it’s the kind of kiss that pulls a man into sobriety. Miss Margot says yes to my proposal, blinks at me, and says that we’ll figure out the logistics of the Mrs Me/Mr Margot dilemma another time. This night, she says, is for drinking and kissing and dancing.
The whole diner is applauding, and the snake-eyed cashier has been kind enough to put on some jazz for us – it’s Art farmer’s ‘Makin Whoopee’, which I think is a little distasteful since that is a private matter for discussion between Miss Margot and myself, and now the whole diner’s in on it. Nevertheless, snake-eyes seems to capture the mood, and soon the whole diner is a-singin’ and a-swingin’ and a-sippin’ on a-coffee. I twirl Miss Margot around by her newly ringed-hand, and somebody comes in from the road with a couple of crates of beer and a few bottles of scotch. What a turn of luck, what a night. The young delivery guy, who is either very kind or he is the prophet, starts decanting the booze into the coffee mugs, and although it tastes terrible nobody complains, because nobody though that they’d be drinking free booze at McDonalds in the middle of the night with a couple of newly-engaged somebodies, especially when one of them used to be a nobody and the other could have been anybody. But then again, this whole town is full of drunks.