My dry cleaner proposed to me at El Matador Beach, over Malibu Country Mart’s second cheapest bottle of prosecco. We sat on a bench in the blufftop parking lot. I was queasy from the motorcycle ride.
Arthur worked in the basement in Santa Monica Boulevard skyscraper. Fourteen floors above, I answered phones. So far, we had gone on three dates, if you count walking his elderly bulldog as two of them. For this fourth date, I’d gotten a mani-pedi in scarlet at the ritzy salon over the little pedestrian bridge from the office. With my short fingernails, my hands looked like a pageant toddler’s.
Arthur took a knee; held my sandaled foot. “I meant to do this down at the beach,” he began.
I was raised to make a man wait, as a way to super-charge my allure. By this point in my life, it was a habit. I smiled into his eyes and said I’d think about it.
“Very good!” he said, a little too loudly. I could see him clinging to the scene’s romantic possibilities; that the glass-strewn lot, my roiling tummy could be part of a cute story one day.
That night, we slept together. I was housesitting for a unit publicist I knew. She was constantly being flown around the country to work on location. Her bathroom cabinets overflowed with hotel toiletries.
Our sleeping together was chaste. Arthur and I wore the unit publicist’s sweatshirts and pants. We fell asleep holding hands like a couple of stuffed otters.
When I awoke, he’d left for work. He must have walked his motorcycle to the corner to avoid waking me. I would have welcomed a roar.
Over backdoor stretches, I told my neighbor, Thora, what had happened. In her heyday, Thora had been one of those piano bar chanteuses who peppered her set with world-weary patter. But now she had entered the caftan and rattan furniture phase of life.
Thora took my toddler hands in her own. “We’ll plan the nuptials together,” she rasped. She raised her arms to salute the sun, her naked body visible through the batwing sleeve opening of her caftan.
How does anyone know when they are in their heyday, in the right location? I hated my job but liked the view. The building was across Santa Monica Boulevard from the Los Angeles Country Club. From the 14th floor, L.A. looked like a verdant plain. Jets ripped soft trails across the sky. Once I shook Magic Johnson’s hand in the high-speed elevator.
It was time for work. In the basement, it looked as if no one was on duty. Here was my hope for Arthur: that he’d roared off on his motorcycle in furious dismissal of me. Toward a wild future in a big-sky location like Yuma or Gallup.
But there he was, hunched like a fussbudget, picking up a scatter of safety pins from the floor. I ducked below the tall counter. But it was too late.
“I was just…peering,” I said.
“I always did give in to peer pressure,” he said. His plastic half-glasses were a little steamed.
I shook my head; kindly, I hope. He nodded in understanding.
Arthur was no showstopper, but he had put a little spring in my step. Part of me wishes I was still there in the basement of that Beverly Hills skyscraper. Curled up on the warm cement floor as above me plastic-wrapped dresses and jackets churned their oval trajectory.
Oh, Arthur. I would have fallen for you hard, if only you had left me behind.
I have been writing for a long time, but barely at all while my kids were growing up. In 2017, I learned what I’d been easing into had a name: flash fiction. I sought out a great teacher, and that teacher was Meg Pokrass. Location was inspired by Meg’s story, Prescription, from The Dog Seated Next to Me. It begins with someone popping the question and includes a narrator in the midst of a house-sitting gig. The location in this story is a place where Meg and I have both worked at office jobs: Beverly Hills, CA
Patricia Q. Bidar is a lifelong Californian with roots in New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. Her stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, New Patuxent Review, The Pinch, Wigleaf, and Pithead Chapel. Apart from fiction, Patricia writes for progressive nonprofit organizations. She lives with her DJ husband in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit Patricia on Twitter (@patriciabidar) or at www.patriciaqbidar.com.