The Proposal by Michael O'Keefe

BOMB 92 Summer 2005
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On Fifth Avenue there is a jeweler’s by the name of Elizé. They have a fine selection of diamonds. All of them laid out like sea worn glass, lit like falling rain in a foreign film. The one I bought for you glistened like a bead of water on a lip torn between quick evaporation and an urge to be swallowed. Like you, it caught the light around itself and kicked it back, forcing an astonished glance from its admirer.

Meir sold it to me. After a short period of bartering he said, “Call me Meir. Like mayor. And you are?”

“Michael,” I said.

“Michael,” Meir repeated, “I am going to take your offer to my father. This is his shop. If he approves it then we have a deal.”

Then my new friend Meir called his father and in a discreet tone related my offer, grunted a few sounds of concurrence and hung up. Coming back over and breaking my reverie, he said, “I am sure she’ll be happy. She will love the ring and you two will be very happy together.”

Well, this all sounded so potentially happy. For what seemed like a while I was actually potentially happy.

Bought the ring in November and I told everyone I knew, and some I didn’t know, that I was going to ask you to marry me. In December we flew to Louisiana to spend some time with your folks.

I wasn’t used to teaching five-year-old boys like your nephew how to light firecrackers to celebrate Christ’s birth; but I thought, Hey, these guys are going to be family, so get with the program.

As we were leaving I took your dad aside under the pretense of needing help with the luggage. I asked him for permission to marry you. Bobby Allen, who ordinarily stood about five foot nine, grew a bit taller. His discerning eyes narrowed and a spark appeared in them as if to say, “I’ve been waiting for someone to need this girl for a long time.” He spoke in a measured Louisiana drawl and, as always, barely opened his mouth to do so.

He said, “Well, Michael, no one’s ever asked me for permission to marry Kayla.”

I thought, That’s good.

“You have my permission,” Bobby continued. “I like your stability and I think that would be good for Kayla.” Your dad was really moved and so was I. Then we shook hands.

Going from Louisiana to Paris for New Year’s I thought, C’est un bon idée!

I began carrying the ring, deep in my pockets, looking for the spot to say, “Will you marry me?”

The night after we were at dinner at Jean-Jacques’s bistro and you asked me what it was like to cheat on my ex-wife in front of your friends, I thought, Well, tonight may not be the best night.

But at the Musée de Rodin, your favorite romantic spot in Paris, I thought, Hey, go for it.

I chose to ask you at a window looking out over the garden. The sunset reminded me of the first brush of lipstick on a teenager’s smile. I balked the first time, made an excuse, went to the bathroom, got religion, came back, and made my move.

At first I thought your smile was a good sign that you would accept my proposal and that you just needed encouragement. In retrospect, the truth had been clear for weeks but I’d ignored it, caught up in the false hope generated by the haze that descends on you when love overrides intuition. The little comments you made about my shirt at Christmas in front of your parents, the way you said, “I know you think I’m going to stay home and cook for you,” as if I ever asked you to, and the angry flare of your eyes when we made love spoke volumes I chose to ignore. Instead, I pleaded, cajoled, laughed, and wept. Asking only that you say yes. You said, “Not yet.”

That was a long time ago, and I just wrote to say I saw Meir again.

Stopping back at Elizé, I told Meir what happened and he said, “I am sorry to hear that. Let me speak to my father and see what he says.”

As he walked over to the phone I looked around the shop and realized I had stood in the same spot back in November when I bought the ring. Glancing down I actually saw shadows of my former footprints, as if a part of me had stayed behind knowing I would return and might need guidance when I did.

Meir came over to my spot and said, “Michael, come back in December and I’ll make you an offer. I’d have to lowball you right now. Unless there’s a problem and you need the cash.”

“No,” I said, “I can wait. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Okay,” said Meir. “I’ll see you in December.”

“Do you mind if I wait here?” I asked.

“Sorry?” Meir replied.

“I’m not going anywhere, so do you mind if I wait here?”

“Well,” Meir said, “it’s July. You might want to just, uh, come back in December.”

“No,” I said. “I’m fine here. So if it’s all the same I’ll just wait.”

Meir’s been very good to me since then. The other people working at Elizé seem very nice, though we don’t talk that much. My days are passed filling simple needs. The Polish deli around the corner on 48th Street delivers food. Meir’s provided me with a reading nook, and after his father is finished with the Times I get it; a bit wrinkled but it’s good to stay informed, I think. My mom mailed me my favorite pajamas, green flannel with pictures of reindeer arranged in a symmetrical pattern. Comfy.

And the seasons in New York! This summer’s been unusual with lots of rain. Autumn just began the other day, although it’s hard for me to say much about it because the temperature stays pretty much the same in here.

I like it best at night. The security lights bounce around the shop and the diamonds look like dinosaur teeth in a tiny museum.

Just think, December in New York.

Fifth Avenue with all the Christmas decorations. I can’t wait.


—Michael O’Keefe is an actor with both Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. Recently he performed on Broadway in Reckless and at the Roundabout Theater in McReele. He is also a lyricist, poet, and an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at Bennington College.

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Originally published in

BOMB 92, Summer 2005

Featuring interviews Edward Dimendberg and Allan Sekula, Luc Tuymans and Kerry James Marshall, Nell McClister and Paul Chan, Sue de Beer and Nancy A. Barton, Heather McHugh, Susan Wheeler, Miranda July and Rachel Kushner, William Wegman and George Steel, Tony Conrad and Jay Sanders, and Carolyn Cantor. 

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