Am I Missing Something? by James McEwan

Sunday, December 14, 2014
James McEwan's character is beset by doubts as he buys his girlfriend an engagement ring.

Malcolm handed five hundred pounds cash to the jeweller's assistant, it was the last of his savings.

'Am I missing something?' The assistant said and started to count the notes.

'What do you mean?' Malcolm fidgeted with his wallet and looked down at the builder's dust on his boots.

'Well it's a beautiful ring, I thought you'd be smiling.'

'Aye well.' Malcolm shrugged and adjusted his heavy donkey jacket. 'I'm no sure if she's ready yet.'

'Oh I don't think any woman would turn this away.'

'It's no the ring I'm worried about.' Perhaps he shouldn't have said that, now what is this girl going to think about him? 'But what if she says no?'

'Really. A diamond ring,' the girl said and smiled, 'come on, she won't say no.' She nodded and then patted his hand on the counter. She drew it back quickly when she glanced at the spots of sealant tar over his knuckles. 'I'll just pop it into a bag and get your receipt.'

Malcolm took the bag and forced a smile.

'Treat it as an investment for the future.' She grinned. 'You've got the receipt and you can bring it back in up to 14 days.'

'I was thinking fifty years at least.' Malcolm said and closed the shop door behind him. He stood on the pavement. Maybe he should take it back now and save himself all the trouble. He loved wee Jean, but there was always a doubt as he wasn't sure she felt the same way about him. The mates on the building site thought he was going a bit soft and said it should be Jean that does the chasing.

Malcolm pressed the doorbell for the fifth time and he listened again to the chimes from inside the hall. He looked down at his mobile and couldn't make out the message from Jean. It was something about fish. His shirt collar rubbed at his neck and he loosened his tie a fraction. Some yellow pollen from the flowers coated the sleeve of his new suit, a Moss Brothers special offer. He dusted the sleeve clean and stepped back a pace when the door opened.

'Sorry, but I couldn't miss a minute of Eastenders.' Jean stopped and gaped at him. 'Oh hell, who's died?'

He stepped forward, gave her the flowers and leaned in to give her a kiss. She took the flowers and turned to smell them. He missed her cheek and caught his lip on the hook of her earring.

'Get off.' she snapped.

'The table's booked for eight, remember,' he said and stepped back. 'We've plenty of time.'

'Time for what?'

'Well whatever you do, you know to get ready.' He coughed and stepped forward to enter the flat.

'Wait. I'll put these in some water and get my cardigan. You just wait there.'

The restaurant was full and the waiters were busy rushing from table to table. Jean had scolded him for not telling her how posh it was. That posh, really, in the background Tammy Wynette songs were on a constant loop, bitter, sweet sounds like the soup of the day.

Malcolm cut his roll in half and watched Jean scoff up her garlic mushroom starter. Imagine what would she say if he had a garlic breath, and tonight of all nights. She hardly spoke a word after ordering the high priced lobster with rice, salad and extra chips.

The little jewellery box in his pocket was digging into his leg as a constant reminder that it was a special night. It was just the matter of finding the right moment, and perhaps he should get the restaurant to change their music later on.

He reached over to add some more wine to Jean's glass.

'Do you like this? It's French and their very best. A Cros-Parantoux from Burgundy.'

'It's nice, but plonk's just plonk.' She wiped up the garlic butter off her plate with her bread roll, picked up her glass and drunk it down in one.

After the second course the table was littered with pieces of broken shells from the lobster and the tablecloth was soaked from spilt wine. Someone had turned up Tammy Wynette and her song was now spelling out D.I.V.O.R.C.E. Malcolm looked around at the other customers, who sat in a sombre silence. The waiters were making excuses about the length of time it was taking to bring the food to their tables.

Jean had a yellow sauce running down her chin. Malcolm lifted the wine bottle, the second of the evening. A waiter came towards him and he shook his head, perhaps they had already drunk enough. He asked for the jug of water to be refilled and Jean wiped her face with a napkin. The box in his pocket moved around and its corner edge dug into his groin. Once this song was over he would decide. Jean burped and he smelled her garlic breath float across the table.

The shop assistant looked up as Malcolm came into the jeweller's. He placed the box with its diamond ring and receipt on the counter. He waited.

'Oh dear,' she said. 'Never mind, there are plenty of other fish in the sea.'

Malcolm scrolled down on his mobile phone to Jean's message from last night.


  1. HI James,Y
    ou hauled me right in there from the beginning of the story: I was immediately involved with Malcolm and cared what happened to him. To an equal extent I felt that Jean should come with a health warning from the first my first encounter with her. Thank goodness our hero saw sense! Extremely well told and engaging, many thanks,

  2. first class! agree with Ceinwen, poor old, bumbling Malcolm seemed destined to make the biggest mistake of his life. I´d love to know what Jean said in her message!
    well done

    Michael McCarthy

  3. I'm with both Michael and Ceinwen - and more so, as Michael, would love to know what was in that text - though I think the last couple of lines sprinkle just the right amount of hint to get the picture (and the sprinkles smell much better than garlic breath...) Well done.

  4. Thank you all for reading and your comments. I was pleased that the piece was entertaining as human relationships do travel well. As in real life there are misconceptions as to how seriously people feel about each other and it takes a touch of reality to snap them out of their infatuation. If Malcolm asked Jean, would she have taken the diamond and run? The message - There are plenty of other fish in the sea-. Many thanks James.

  5. Very nice writing. Particularly liked our first actual glimpse of Jean. She's too interested in the Eastenders to bother answering her door. Heh. I'm afraid I didn't wonder too much about the content of the final text. I was too busy trying to grasp why Malcolm would even think about proposing in the first place.

    1. Hi Kathleen, thank you for reading and commenting. The idea of Malcolm even considering about proposing to Jean is the message of this short story, where love is blind. Many thanks, James.

  6. Good character development. I liked the way you developed sympathy for Malcolm from the first sentence. Spending the last of his savings on a gift, how can we not admire that. . . Well done.

  7. Well done! I felt for Malcolm in this flash story. I actually let out a little cheer when he didn't propose! Great character development.

  8. yes. Pulled me right in. Great choice of detail. I like when short fiction feels bigger and fuller than it seems its word count should allow.
    :) Michael King

  9. Good one, and an excellent ending, too. Best of luck to Malcolm and to all of us in this game called love.