The young man was clean shaven and neatly dressed. It was early Monday morning and he got on the subway. It was the first day of his first job and he was slightly nervous; he didn't know exactly what his job would be. Otherwise he felt fine. He loved everybody he saw. He loved everybody on the street and everybody disappearing into the subway, and he loved the world because it was a fine clear day and he was starting his first job.
Without kicking anybody, the young man was able to find a seat on the Manhattan-bound train. The car filled quickly and he looked up at the people standing over him envying his seat. Among them were a mother and daughter who were shopping. The daughter was a beautiful girl with blond hair and soft-looking skin, and he was immediately attracted to her.
"He's staring at you," the mother whispered to the daughter.
"Yes, Mother, I feel so uncomfortable. What shall I do?"
"He's in love with you."
"In love with me? How can you tell?"
"Because I'm your mother."
"But what shall I do?"
"Nothing. He'll try to talk to you. If he does, answer him, be nice to him. He's only a boy."
The train reached the business district and many people got off. The girl and her mother found seats opposite the young man. He continued to look at the girl who occasionally looked to see if he was looking at her.
The young man found a good pretext for standing in giving his seat to an elderly woman. He stood over the girl and her mother. They whispered back and forth and looked up at him. At another stop the seat next to the girl was vacated, and the young man blushed but quickly took it. "I knew it," the mother said between her teeth. "I knew it, I knew it."
The young man cleared his throat and tapped the girl. She jumped.
"Pardon me," he said. "You're a very pretty girl."
"Don't talk to him," her mother said. "Don't answer him. I'm warning you. Believe me."
"I'm in love with you," he said to the girl.
"I don't believe you," the girl said.
"Don't answer him," the mother said.
"I really do," he said. "In fact, I'm so much in love with you that I want to marry you."
"Do you have a job?" she said.
"Yes, today is my first day. I'm going to Manhattan to start my first day of work."
"What kind of work will you do?" she asked.
"I don't know exactly," he said. "You see, I didn't start yet."
"It sounds exciting," she said.
"It's my first job, but I'll have my own desk and handle a lot of papers and carry them around in a briefcase, and it will pay well," and I'll work my way up."
"I love you," she said.
"Will you marry me?"
"I don't know. You'll have to ask my mother."
The young man rose from his seat and stood before the girl's mother. He cleared his throat very carefully for a long time. "May I have the honor of having your daughter's hand in marriage?" he said, but he was drowned out by the subway noise.
The mother looked up at him and said, "What?" He couldn't hear her either, but he could tell by the movement of her lips and by the way her face wrinkled up that she said, What.
The train pulled to a stop.
"May I have the honor of having your daughter's hand in marriage!" he shouted, not realizing there was no subway noise. Everybody on the train looked at him, smiled, and then they all applauded.
"Are you crazy?" the mother asked.
The train started again.
"What?" he said.
"Why do you want to marry her?" she asked.
"Well, she's pretty -- I mean, I'm in love with her."
"Is that all?"
"I guess so," he said. "Is there supposed to be more?"
"No. Not usually," the mother said. "Are you working?"
"Yes. As a matter of fact, that's why I'm going to Manhattan so early. Today is the first day of my first job."
"Congratulations," the mother said.
"Thanks," he said. "Can I marry your daughter?"
"Do you have a car?" she asked.
"Not yet," he said. "But I should be able to get one pretty soon. And a house, too."
"With lots of rooms."
"Yes, that's what I expected you to say," she said. She turned to her daughter. "Do you love him?"
"Yes, Mother, I do."
"Because he's good, and gentle, and kind."
"Are you sure?"
"Then you really love him."
"Are you sure there isn't anyone else you might love and might want to marry?"
"No, Mother," the girl said.
"Well, then," the mother said to the young man. "Looks like there's nothing I can do about it. Ask her again."
The train stopped.
"My dearest one," he said, "will you marry me?"
"Yes," she said.
Everybody in the car smiled and applauded.
"Isn't life wonderful?" the boy asked the mother.
"Beautiful," the mother said.
The conductor climbed down from between the cars as the
train started up and, straightening his dark tie, approached them with
a solemn black book in his hand.
© 1966, 1977, 1986 Robert Fox, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
"A Fable" originally appeared in The Midwestern University Quarterly, 1966:no.3.
It also appeared in Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories, (Gibbs M. Smith, 1986)