Daniel was nervous. As carefully as he planned out the proposal to his girlfriend, what if something went wrong? What if the Kiss Cam didn’t pan at the end of the fourth inning as designed? What if other spectators interrupted him as he confessed his love and popped the question? But most importantly, what if she said no? Regardless of how strong a relationship is, a man always has doubts on how his girlfriend will answer when the engagement ring is revealed. By staging something elaborate in front of thousands of people, Daniel hoped it would tough for Andrea to deny him. The momentum of this special proposal would hopefully push her to saying yes.
When the big day arrived, Daniel took the subway to the stop nearest Andrea’s home. A beautiful diamond ring costing $7,000 was safely stored in his jacket pocket. Just when he was a block away from her row house, a flash of light momentarily blinded him. Upon regaining his vision, he looked around to see green fields dotted with old barns and homes. Stunned, he settled his eyes upon a small cottage. A tall man emerged from it and walked up to Daniel.
“Hej, Daniel. My name is Stig Greybeard, and I’ve been sent to help you. You are not dreaming and this is not a conjurer’s trick, for you are right now standing on real soil.”
“Are you a god?” Daniel asked. He couldn’t help but notice Stig’s beard. Long and braided, it nearly reached the man’s chest.
“I am not, but the powers I have may seem godly to you. The flash of light was a teleportation to the past. Right now the year is 1946 and we are in the American province of Kansas. The cottage you see in front of you is where your father’s father and mother lived. Follow me.”
Daniel followed Greybeard into the cottage. The living room was small and furnished with a velvet chair, small couch, and square coffee table that came up only one foot above the wooden floor. There was a radio but no television set. Greybeard moved into the kitchen and motioned for Daniel to follow. Inside was his grandmother, a petite woman with stout arms. Daniel’s instinct was to hide, but Greybeard told him not to worry since they couldn’t be seen or heard.
“She’s preparing dinner for your grandfather. You’re watching her knead dough. Soon she will peel and prepare the vegetables for the meatloaf, your grandfather’s favorite dish. It will take her three hours from start to finish.”
“Poor woman,” Daniel muttered. She was humming a song that Daniel didn’t know, occasionally taking breaks when her hands became tired to look out the small kitchen window. She wanted to make sure that Daniel’s father and three dogs were not straying too far from the cottage.
“So she just stays home to cook all day?” Daniel asked.
“She takes care of the home, your father, your grandfather, and the dogs. It’s not easy work, but she takes pride in it and pays no heed to the women in town who say she needs to make money as a factory hand or secretary. Behold, your grandfather is coming home now.”
A burly man with light purple shadows underneath his eyes walked inside and put his steel toolbox on the floor next to the door. He entered the kitchen to greet his wife with a short kiss.
“How was work today?” she asked, wiping the counter of flour.
“Hard. But they let us out early.”
He went to change his clothes and then sat on his chair. A cold bottle of his favorite beer was waiting for him. Beside it was the day’s newspaper, his pipe, and a tin of tobacco. He sat for some time, uninterrupted, as the house filled with the aroma of his wife’s cooking.
Another flash of light blinded Daniel. He was now in a modern office building with endless rows of quiet cubicles. Daniel instinctively followed Greybeard until he stopped at one cubicle in particular.
“It’s Andrea!” Daniel exclaimed. She was taking a break from her duties and catching up on Facebook correspondence. Daniel always trusted her, completely respecting her privacy, but curiosity overcame him and he leaned over her shoulder to see what was on the screen. He was surprised to see her finalizing plans for lunch with an ex-boyfriend, one that he thought she was out of touch with.
Daniel shot a concerned look to Greybeard, who could only shrug. “The events that transpire are not my doing,” he said.
“I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for this.”
“Perhaps,” Greybeard responded.
They sat watching Andrea for a while when she received a call. She picked up the phone and put it to her ear, briefly flashing a small “faith” tattoo below her palm. The “Hey girl” greeting suggested it was from one of her close friends. Daniel zoned out, as men often do when faced with female pratter, but snapped back to attention when he heard his name.
“Daniel is a nice guy, but sometimes he’s just so boring. He takes me to a restaurant then expects sex, even if I’m not in the mood, and it’s getting old. There’s no excitement anymore, but I feel guilty for thinking this. It’s just that… I don’t know. I want adventure, I want my heart to beat hard. If only I was young again and could control the wild ones with what I know now.”
Daniel couldn’t bear to hear more. He walked out of the cubicle and into the hallway. When he came back a while later, it appeared to Greybeard that he had been sobbing. “This is a lie! This isn’t real! Why are you doing this to me?” he demanded.
“You have been chosen to see the truth,” Greybeard calmly responded, stroking his braided beard as if it was a cat’s tail.
“But this isn’t the truth. Andrea doesn’t think I’m… boring.”
Another flash of light. Daniel was now in a tiny room. He noticed a vague sour odor. In one corner was a narrow bed while in another was an overweight middle-aged man, sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen.
“Where are we?” Daniel asked. Greybeard lifted his arm towards the man sitting in the chair. Daniel walked closer and noticed the man’s right hand vibrating in his lap. “Christ,” Daniel said, as he realized the man was masturbating into a tube sock. Besides the monitor, which was alive with tentacle rape porn, Daniel caught sight of a pay stub. He squinted his eyes and saw his name. Scanning it further, he noticed the payable amount to be impossibly low, less than what he was currently making.
“Now I know this is not the truth,” he said to Greybeard, smiling, relieved that this was all a nightmare, not at all based on reality.
“I only deal in truth,” Greybeard responded, stroking his braid faster than before with both of his hands.
Daniel then reached for the stub to examine it more closely. He saw a box marked FAMILY GARNISHMENT that totaled about 80% of the GROSS COMPENSATION box. The smile disappeared from Daniel’s face.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Greybeard said.
They walked past broken-down vehicles with missing wheels and packs of teenagers looking for trouble. Not until an hour later did they shapeshift through the iron gate of a lovely planned community. The streets were well-lighted and quiet. Two families were taking an evening stroll.
Daniel and Greybeard walked into a large house to find two young children, one boy and one girl, watching television with an open pizza box resting behind them. Upstairs was a woman sitting in front of her laptop. It was Andrea, older and bigger, though not as big as the masturbating man. She was on an internet dating site, filtering through 4,216 messages she received in the past day. If Daniel inspected the room, he would have seen a value sized box of magnum condoms in the nightstand drawer along with a bottle of lubricant specifically designed for anal sex.
Greybeard escorted Daniel, now trembling, outside the house. “What you have seen is truth. Not many men will have this opportunity, but it has been declared by those more powerful than me that you are worth saving. It is up to you to decide what to do with what I’ve shown you today. It makes no difference to me.” Greybeard twirled his braid with his finger while Daniel stared at the ground.
Another flash at light, the brightest of them yet. Daniel found himself back on the city street near Andrea’s row house. He sat on a bench to think about what just happened. Was it a dream? No, it was real, but surely the future wasn’t written in stone. He found it hard to believe that he would end up the way that Greybeard showed him, but the more he let his mind churn through the events, the more he could understand how such a fate could befall him.
Daniel met with Andrea and they went to the baseball game. On the way over, he suggested that they visit the natural history museum that weekend for a special exhibit on herbivorous dinosaurs. “Can we do something that’s not so… flat?” Andrea asked.
“So what do you want to do?” Daniel instinctively replied.
“I don’t know,” she said, looking annoyed.
Just as planned with the stadium’s public affairs office, the Kiss Cam panned to them after the fourth inning. Daniel saw himself on the jumbotron and grabbed Andrea’s hand. Images of Greybeard popped into his head, of his grandmother kneading dough, of Andrea gossiping with her friend on the phone, of him beating off into an athletic sock. He shook his head violently side to side and then reached into his jacket pocket.
“Andrea… you are the best thing to ever happen to me, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”
When Andrea gave her answer, after an awkward six second pause, the crowd roared with applause and cheers.
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