The Decent Proposal

By: Kemper Donovan


BEFORE GRAY HAIR, or crow’s-feet, or achy backs and fickle knees, there is one sign of aging that makes its appearance early enough to bewilder its young(ish) victims instead of alarming them, as it should. And so one morning a few weeks after his twenty-ninth birthday, Richard Baumbach awoke in a state of bewilderment:

Since when had the hangovers gotten this bad?

Lifting a twisted rope of bedsheet from his naked chest, Richard placed it beside him with a tenderness usually reserved for more sentient occupants of his bed, and braced himself for vertical alignment. Here goes, he thought. You can do this. Come on. One, two, three . . . go!

Nothing moved other than his brain, which beat steadily against his skull.

He tried picturing the bright green Brita pitcher inside his refrigerator door: the cool, refreshing water it contained. But the mere thought of brightness made his eyeballs retreat painfully in their sockets like hermit crabs darting inside their shells, and his stomach lurched at the suggestion of anything green. He switched to the aspirin waiting for him in his medicine cabinet: chalky-white, inoffensive, holding out the promise of an end to his misery. Two tablets was the recommended dose, but for this Hindenburg of a headache he would allow himself four . . . if he ever managed to get up.

Nothing to it, he pretended. Piece of cake, easy as pie.

Ugh, dessert-based idioms were not the way to go.

Get. Up. Now!

For one glorious moment the throbbing sensation disappeared inside the whoosh of upward momentum and he became a believer in miracles. His headache was gone; he was cured! Then his feet hit the floor and his head came to a stop, igniting in a series of fiery explosions that—even in the midst of his pain—he likened to the climactic sequence of one of those nineties action movies viewed routinely on his DVR. Thinking about his DVR only added to his pain, however, his wince deepening from minor toothache to full-blown lemonface as he shuffled to the bathroom. Just yesterday the cable guy had come at his request to take away everything, including his beloved DVR. He had no Wi-Fi now, and in a fit of martyrdom he’d even canceled his Netflix streaming account, which he supposed he could have used on his laptop in coffee shops. But he had decided the eight bucks a month was eight bucks he could no longer afford in the face of a credit card bill that had begun not so much accumulating as metastasizing from one month to the next.

Richard dumped six aspirin into his shaky palm and lapped up a mouthful of water directly from the tap. (Screw the Brita.) For one who supposedly worked in film and television, it was more than a little mortifying to lose the ability to watch films and television inside his home. But this was what his life had become.

He collapsed onto his couch, facedown, like a corpse. It was thoughts like these that had led to several rounds of homemade cocktails the night before with his “business” partner, Keith. They’d only recently begun adding the quotation marks, and when Keith had pointed out halfway through the evening that they were having a literal pity party for themselves, Richard had pretended to be amused. He turned his head aside now and eyed the Bombay Sapphire still sitting, uncapped, on his coffee table. Et tu, Bombay? he asked it silently, unable, even in his dejection, to overcome his weakness for terrible puns, which was nearly as acute as his weakness for gin-and-tonics, and for madcap plans like starting his own production company with nothing to recommend him other than his (alleged) wits and youthful audacity. Three years ago, he and Keith had quit their jobs as glorified assistants for an established film producer to strike out on their own, and Richard feared that “striking out” was precisely what they’d done. Nowadays they worked out of each other’s apartments with extended stints at a Coffee Bean in the Valley alongside all the other unemployed writers, actors, and producers whose irregular schedules ensured L.A.’s world-famous traffic would never be confined to a few simple “rush” hours in the day. True, they’d made some progress: Two Guys One Corp had sold a few feature screenplays, a pilot script or two. But despite considerable hustling and bustling, the much-sought-after green light to production remained elusive, a distant mirage always just out of reach. And until they reached it, there would be no money coming in.

Also By Kemper Donovan

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