The wedding’s only a fifteen minute drive up the avenue from here, already been dressed for an hour, enough time for one more drink. Thirty minutes until the procession begins, until the grandmothers and mothers and bridesmaids and flower girls all walk down the aisle. It’s been a rough week already, so many weddings in the summer. And it’s so sunny out, not a cloud in the God damned sky, not a trace of weather. I’ve been good about it lately, watching myself, watching my ring. Enough time for one more, easy. Only had a couple so far, just to loosen up, soften the edges, to black out the corners. Make the sun a little dimmer; it’s just been so bright out this whole week. It’ll make the flowers a little less fragrant, the bridesmaids a little less happy, the mothers a little less tearful, the flower girl a little less innocent. Still 25 minutes left until they all start to walk the aisle. Plenty of time for one more. Way too much time. It’ll make the words a little easier to say. Let them spill out of my mouth, like the bottle of bourbon pouring into the glass.
The soft light of morning was peering into the room below the drawn window shades, illuminating the dust caught in tiny updrafts. The only sounds were the splitting and jostling of the ice cubes in his glass, and the periodic hollow clink of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s being set back down on the coffee table. Samuel Rasmussen sat in his small apartment living room on a fading oak wooden chair that he had decided to keep after his wife had died. He was dressed in an ink black shirt and pants with his white collar standing out brilliantly against his dark, aging skin. Too many bright sunny summer weddings. Lines were beginning to cut deeply across his face, adding a defeated look to his already subdued eyes. Some of this was due to the years slowly accumulating, some to his drinking, but mostly it was due to the death of his wife.
20 minutes until it starts, enough time for one more.
Adrienne had been diagnosed with breast cancer. All her years doing walk-a-thons and putting pink ribbons on the back of the car were in vain. All his years devoted to the church, to God, to his wife, and to the people whose length of commitment was maybe a few hours once a week were also in vain. Then all the hospital visits, the chemotherapy, the drugs for the pain, the hospital bills, the weakened body, the prayers on Sunday, the cards from family members, the remission, the hope, the reappearance, the mastectomy, the visiting hours, the prayers on Wednesday, the promises of another recovery, the doctor’s condolences, more cards from more family, more drugs to ease the pain, the prayers on every night, the last few weeks back home, the final few days when she seemed happy, the funeral in the church, the questions of why. All in vain. Adrienne, the reason for the drinking and lines.
15 minutes until it starts, time to go to one more.
The drive there was marked by windshield glare and heat. The June sun beat in on Samuel, causing tiny beads of sweat to form across his wrinkled forehead and run down his back. The black shirt and pants made it worse, the broken air conditioner made it worse still. Samuel had grown accustomed to traveling after drinking though, and was able to keep himself composed on the road. Start, stop, turn, repeat. Easy. The real challenge was ahead of him on a grassy little hill where a hundred faces with two hundred eyes and two hundred ears would be on him, lost in June romanticism. He arrived just as everyone was ready to begin the procession and took his place at the altar next to the groom. The music began.
One more outdoor wedding, you can get through this. Keep yourself steady, focus on the words spilling out of memory, don’t look them in the eyes. The eyes made it so much worse. Let it all just fade into a great grey blur. Keeping them faceless was the trick he learned in the war. Same little brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles and friends in the front; odd acquaintances and strangers in the back rows. The same June sun and the same June romanticism on the same grassy little hill. Keep them faceless; keep them like cookie cutter bodies.
The grandmothers sat down.
Faceless grandmothers with the same wrinkles, same small apprehensive steps, same smiles, same dresses, same proud posture while sitting. Good start.
The parents sat down.
Faceless parents with the same crying emotional mothers with the same special occasion expensive jewelry. The same stiff military father with a defined chin and short hair. The same pressed uniform with tiny medals of courage and pain. Same supportive lean against each other and the same sharing of memories. Keep it together, Sam.
The bridesmaids and groomsmen walk down the aisle.
Bridesmaids, with thick happy smiles and ivory teeth and dreaming eyes. Same excited bodies and light feet and clean dresses. Same styled hair and painted nails and dangling ear rings. Gotta keep it together, Sam. Same groomsmen in the same awkward debonair outfits. Same freshly cleaned faces and tired eyes from last ditch parties. Same concupiscent eyes and confident steps and hair like their fathers.
The flower girl skips down the aisle.
Faceless little flower girl with the same tiny arms and legs and big head and bigger smile. Same odd mixture of summer flowers and the same skipping routine. Same cuteness, same innocence. The bourbon will kick in soon.
Time to start, take it easy, not too loud, not too quiet, keep it calm. “All rise for the bride.” Same father escorting his baby girl towards the same altar down the same aisle to the same future with the same family all around. A familiar bride with white lace and light flowing dress. Her familiar scared and excited and loving and not-quite-prepared eyes set straight ahead. Her familiar beautiful bronze skin caught in the rising sun, beaming joy onto the grassy little hill with a hundred faces with two hundred eyes and two hundred ears. Don’t think about her, eyes off your ring. Couldn’t keep it faceless, now it gets hard. At least he had the bourbon in him, still able to soften the edges, black out the corners.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the presence of God, to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony…”
Good opening. Keep them nameless and faceless. Don’t let her get to you. Keep your head down, words steady, don’t look up, keep your head down just like in the war. Don’t let the sun get in your eyes, its way too bright. Focus on the words; watch them spill out of your mouth. Your shoes are the ice cubes, watch them split and jostle. Keep your head down; it’s a lot easier with the sun out of your eyes. With her out of your eyes. Head down, eyes off your ring, trained on your ice cube shoes. You can make it through this.
“Who presents this woman and this man to be married to each other?”
You can feel it in you now. Dampening your veins, hollowing you out, glazing over your eyes. It’ll get easier now. It’ll make the sun a little less bright, the flowers a little less fragrant, the bridesmaids a little less happy, the mothers a little less tearful, the flower girl a little less innocent. Now the words are really flowing, hear the splitting of your shoes yet?
“Damien, do you take Jane to be your wedded wife, and in the presence of these witnesses do you vow that you will do everything in your power to make your love for her a growing part of your life?”
It’s hitting heavy now. Ice splitting everywhere. Almost done though, only a little more left. Only a few more drops left to shake out. A good job so far, just keep your head down a little more, keep the words steady, keep the sun out of your eyes. Eyes off the ring, mind off of her. Just a little more, just like in the war. Let them face each other and promise love despite money and bad times and sickness. Just keep your head down. Ask the question. Pronounce the marriage. Get off the grassy little hill caught in the June sun that melts all the ice cubes.
“…speak now or forever hold your peace.”
Keep your head down. Just finish it.
“Now that Damien and Jane have given themselves to each other by the promises they have exchanged, I pronounce them to be husband and wife, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Damien, you may kiss the bride.”
Wasn’t so bad. You did a good job. You kept your eyes off the ring and off their faces and on your shoes. A great job worth celebrating. Now get off the grassy little hill, out of the June sun, out of the heat of the car, and back into the calm dusty living room. Back into the fading oak wooden chair. Back into a glass with splitting and jostling ice cubes. Already half way back to the car, the glare is just awful with the sun out like this, not a trace of weather in the God damned sky.
“Excuse me, sir?”
Just keep walking. You didn’t hear it. All you hear is splitting ice and the hollow clink of bourbon.
“Hey! You hear me?”
Just a few more steps to go, no need to stop, keep your head down, almost there.
A man grabbed onto Sam’s right arm and spun him around with force. “Why don’t you just hold on? What the hell is your problem?”
A man from the procession. A stranger from the back row. “I’m sorry; I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The hell you do, you just motored through that wedding. You completely blew off that girl in the back who stood up to object. You didn’t even look up from your shoes, you old son of a bitch. What were you thinking?”
He had sobering eyes. They looked like anger was a rare spectacle for them, a special guest on holidays. “I must’ve missed her. Sorry.”
“You must’ve missed her? You’re sorry? Do you even realize what you’ve done? You could’ve just f***ed her whole life up, ruined somethin’ beautiful!”
Sobering voice too, with sobering words. Keep your head down, eyes off the ring. Keep your eyes off Adrienne’s ring. “Maybe. Sorry.”
“Is that all you have to say? Jesus Christ, what is your problem? What kind of man of God are you? Do you even know what it’s like to lose someone you love?”
Really sobering words in the sobering June sun.
“You know what? You probably don't have any clue what its like. The days filled with nothing but regret and thoughts of them and how they won’t ever come back. And how feeling sorry about it doesn’t matter to anyone, not even to them ‘cause they’re half way across the God damned country with a new man. The spiral of depression that feels exactly how it sounds, things spin by you in a terrible grey blur, and you never want to see the details of the life around you. You just shut down. That’s what you’ve done to this girl. You’ve condemned her.”
The man spat and walked away, back towards the grassy hill where a young girl sat with tears in her eyes, still in the seat she had been in during the wedding. Another back row stranger. Samuel stood there in the June sun, letting the glare and heat swallow him up for a long while. His eyes drifted from the barren blue sky that didn’t have a trace of weather in it, to the chair the girl had been sitting in, to his ring, to Adrienne’s ring. He remembered a wedding from a long time ago on a grassy hill many years ago in a younger June sun. He remembered a bride with white lace and a light flowing dress. He remembered her scared and excited and loving and not-quite-prepared eyes set straight into his. He remembered her beautiful bronze skin caught in the rising sun, beaming joy onto the grassy little hill with a hundred faces with two hundred eyes and two hundred ears all focused on them.
Samuel Rasmussen drove home slowly, taking in the trees and stoplights and building fronts and the drops of sweat running down his back. He quietly walked into his small apartment and into the living room. The tired light of evening was peering into the room through open windows, illuminating the dust caught in tiny updrafts. The only sounds were the splitting and jostling of ice cubes tumbling down the sink and the hollow clink of an empty Jack Daniel’s bottle dropping into the garbage. Samuel then sat in the fading oak wooden chair that he had decided to keep after his wife had died and wept.