Kathy’s wedding (or how I met Doreen)
April 5, 1982
They said their names were John and John and that they were the other drivers.
Both wore vests, suits and overcoats, except Big John’s overcoat was leather which made him look like a cop.
He preferred to think that they looked like hit men.
I guess this was equally true.
Little John wore a blue, pin-striped suit, and drove a Lemans.
“He’s a young millionaire,” Big John said with his thick moustache lifting at the ends as he grinned.
This was “C’s” wedding and she floated around inside – the same tender being, the same tough bitch I remembered, wearing the same unbelievable smile.
Her smile never cracked over the years except for once, several years ago. And here we were, three stooges trying to tape crape paper to three very ordinary looking automobiles in the middle of a 40 mile per hour wind.
“It won’t last,” Little John said, his face flushed, his fake carnation fluttering on his jacket lapel.
Big John nodded.
“We could just go out and pick up a couple of broads, you know?” he said.
“John, you fuck,” Little John shouted. “You’re getting married to my sister in seven weeks.”
Big John grinned.
“Yeah, but I’m not married yet,” he said.
Little John clucked his tongue in disapproval and spread the white streamer across the top of his car.
“Tape it, will you? And shut the fuck up,” he said.
Big John came over, pushing Little John’s hand away from the paper.
“There’s a certain art to this,” he said. “A little finesse, a little class. Then you got it. Get me?” he said looking at me.
Little John clucked his tongue.
Big John shivered. “It’s fucking cold out here,” he said.
“What did you expect from Kathy’s wedding,” Little John said his voice sounding sad, sounding like there has been a time when… Then, he shrugged. “Let’s just get this over with and go inside.”
“Yeah,” Big John said. “Then we can get a little shot of something. You know what I mean?”
He poked me in the side and laughed.
But by the time we finished the third car, the first car’s decorations needed repair.
“My flower is wilting,” Little John said, holding the carnation gently between his thumb and forefinger.
“Dummy,” Big John scowled. “It’s fake.”
Little John looked up, his eyes showing surprise. “Well, what do you know…”
Big John moaned and threw up his hands. “Why me?” Then he grinned again. “Let’s get inside so we can get a little snort of something for warmth.”
“No way,” Little John said. “You’re not getting blasted before the ceremony.”
“I said one shot. That’s all.”
“That’s what you said last time at George’s wedding, and look how plastered you got,” Little John said.
Big John chuckled, glancing out at the Parkway just down the street. He had a devilish glint in his eyes.
“Now that was a wedding!” he said.
Little John finished the repairs and sighed. “But I remember how upset the bride was after you tried to pick up her mother.”
“She was a babe! How was I supposed to know she was the mother? She didn’t look old at all.”
We started towards the house. The wind picked up, whipping at the crate paper. Big John glanced back.
“Look at that shit! It ain’t even gonna make it to the church,” he said.
“Let’s just go inside,” Little John said. “I’m cold.”
So we went inside. The front room was filled with women, all wearing gowns. The bride sat at the dinning room table with her father beside her.
He wore a dark blue tux and a ruffled shirt.
The photographer was finally finished and stood with the maid of honor – Big John’s future wide and the sister of Little John -- sipping a drink.
Kathy’s mother came around the divide from the kitchen and saw us.
“Is it done?” she asked.
“Would we let you down, Ma’am?” Big John said with a grin.
Little John clucked his tongue and whispered at me, ‘If he tries to pick her up I’ll never speak to him again.”
Kathy smiled at me – the same winking kind of smile that suggested none of this was real.
Kathy’s father looked around, coughed and said, “I guess we’re ready.”
But no one moved. It was almost like we couldn’t, as if a spell held us and we feared what might happen if the spell broke.
Kathy’s mother broke it saying, “We have to hurry.”
“It’s only three blocks away, Margaret,” her husband said.
“Perhaps, but my little girl is going to be there on time,” Margaret said, then started to cry.
Big John went to touch her shoulder. Little John stuck his arm across Big John’s chest to stop him.
“That’s what husbands are for,” Little John told Big John. “You’ll find out all about it in a couple of weeks.”
“Don’t remind me, will you,” Big John grumbled.
Meanwhile, Kathy’s father moved around us and held his wife.
Everybody except Big John seemed embarrassed. Big John kept poking me in the side and telling me how cute all this was. Little John kept shushing him.
Eventually everybody was ready and we all made our way out to the cars. Big John had a red Chevy, an old one, but cleaned and polished for the occasion. Little John had his Lemans. I drove Kathy’s father’s car with one of the bridesmaids.
She smiled as I climbed in and teased me when I tested the brakes.
“Power brakes,” I told her.
She was pretty, but not the vision that Kath was. Kathy was a stunning vision, one who nearly ended it all.
Then, we were off.
And indeed, the church was only three blocks away without even a traffic light to hinder us. We stopped at the stop sign and then pulled behind the church. Such damned ceremony for three short blocks. John, John and I got out of our cars and released our prisoners. The wind whipped around the cars and lifted their veils, and gowns, but not people’s spirits.
At the door, Big John waited for us, and gave us advice.
“Now remember, you gotta act dignified around here because we’re with the wedding party, you know?”
“And how many drinks did you have at the house?” Little John asked
Big John gave him one long stare and then shrugged.
“Two or three,” he mumbled. “It’s anti-freeze anyway.”
“Anti-freeze, my tooshe.”
“There you go, using those foreign words again,” Big John said. “How many times do I gotta tell you we live in America. Talk English.”
“Stick it, John.”
“Where would you like it?”
“John!” Little John hissed. “We’re in a Goddamn church.”
This last, Little John said a little too loudly and his words echoed, causing some of those who were near enough to glance back at us.
“There you go making trouble again,” Big John said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
Although Little John snorted, he said nothing. Everyone that was coming in, was in; so we made our way through the church and the small crowds.
“I gotta find a john,” Big John said, then laughed. “You’re better write that one down, Al: John is in the john.”
Little John followed along with a sneer. But the three of us descended the dark stairs into the basement – which was empty except for a ping pong table with a pealing top. There was a sign on the men’s room door that made Big John moan.
“You want to look at this shit!” he hissed.
“What shit?” I asked.
He pointed to the sign it said: “PLEASE DON’T SMOKE; GOD LOVES YOU.”
We went inside and found other signs above the urinal, toilet and sink. Big John took a pen from my jacket pocket and wrote on one of the signs on the door to the toilet. “Please don’t piss in the toilet; God loves you.”
“JOHN!” Little John howled. “We’re in a church!”
“No, we’re not. Were in the basement of a church – although that thing up stairs looks more like a movie theater than any church I ever saw. And did you see those chairs? My butt aches just looking at them.”
Big John went into one of the stalls and a moment later the toilet flushed and he reemerged pulling up his zipper.
Little John was in front of one of the mirrors combing his hair.
“Will you come on,” Big John said, tugging on his arm. “You already look as beautiful as you can get – which is pretty pitiful. But that’s the breaks, boy. Some of us got looks others gotta live without them.”
We climbed the stairs again. The organ sounded. We shuffled into the rear seats looking all the more like hit men than we did before.
The groom stood up front in a group of males, all of them in tuxedos, all with carnations in their lapels. They seemed to be protecting him in his last moments of freedom.
The groom looked scared, his eyes looking this way and that from behind his black rimmed glasses.
The organ sounded again.
The minister came out from behind the alter.
“Look at that, will ya,” Big John managed to howl and still keep his voice to a whisper. “A woman minister!”
“Will you shut up!” Little John hissed. “If you ruin this, I’ll find a way of getting even.”
“Don’t be such a mouse,” Big John hissed back – I was in the middle of them.
But they both fell silent.
The ceremony proceeded like some predetermined and unavoidable event, the words said, the rings passed, the kiss crowning the event with authenticity.
The hush around us was almost too much to bear. Big John noticed this, too, and shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, then played with the pencil he’d found stuffed in the slot in the back of the seat in front of his. He kept looking around for something to write on.
Little John glared at him. Big John put the pencil back in the slot.
Then the whole thing ended and the bride and groom came marching down the aisle, the parade of people behind them. Me and both Johns stood up. But when Big John started to step out into the aisle, Little John grabbed his arm.
“This way,” he said, urging us towards the side of the church.
We were supposed to be outside waiting to drive again.
But just then, Big John noticed a pretty blonde woman with a slit skirt.
“Look at that piece of ass!” he growled. “And she’s alone!”
Little John glared at Big John, but then we slipped out into the aisle anyway and got onto the back of the line so as to give our best wishes to the bridge and groom.
Kathy was crying and hugging everybody, just the way all new brides should.
Her new husband stood at her side, stiff, trying already to fit the mold of the man of the house, his smile, however, was like a little kid’s, too naïve to really convince anyone of anything other than his momentary happiness.
But I wondered just how long that would last.
Little John shook the groom’s hand so enthusiastically, I thought the man’s arm would fall off, then repeated this with Kathy, and Kathy’s father.
Remarkably, Big John seemed tamer, pausing in front of Kathy to tell her how beautiful she looked, especially her eyes.
I followed along shaking the hands of father, mother and groom without really knowing who they were. I was just a stranger off the street with a fake carnation and a wrinkled suit jacket. The parents knew me only from handing me the keys to their car for me to drive in the wedding fleet.
Big John then lost it a little, sniffling as he said, “Ain’t it terrific! Just terrific!”
The groom seemed particularly grateful for our being there, and greeted us with a big grin. He had always been one of the boys and realized that he had just traded in his familiar way of life for something utterly unfamiliar – and his eyes showed his doubt, even reflecting the glint of his wedding ring.
And then, I was face to face with Kathy. She just stared at me and smiled.
Both Johns stared over the shoulders of other people and I could see them wondering about me and her.
Then, she pulled me against her and hugged me so tight I could hardly breathe, hugged me the way no two people should have at any wedding where the two in question weren’t the husband and bridge.
“So this is it,” I said, when I managed to regain my breath.
She nodded. She couldn’t yet speak – so much was welling up inside of her. I knew I had to get away from her before the crying started: hers and mine.
We were both thinking of that time now long ago when I had left an unsigned poem in her bag as the hospital.
She didn’t know me then; I didn’t know here. Neither of us could ever understand how two people could fall in love by hearing about another person through other people.
Some of that talk still got me angry, talk about how she ought to have known better, or how she got what she deserved, or even how she had tried to die in Roland’s arm.
Other people talked about her in better terms, how sensitive she was, how vibrant, how she had simply gotten caught up with the wrong men.
Something in all that had made me write a poem to her, a life preserver to suggest that someone out there she didn’t know thought she was worth keeping alive. And it had worked, too. She made Roland tell her who wrote it, and then she came looking for me.
Hugs and kisses, but not much more; nothing more was necessary.
Her tears came anyway as we pulled apart – a natural thing considering the circumstance.
I wanted to tell her writers didn’t make good husbands; soldiers did. And since her husband was a soldier, this might have given her comfort. I envied him; I even envied his shit-eating grin. He was so fucking lucky.
“I got another poem for you,” I said, and watched her expression change.
Just for an instant, her smile vanished, and she got a look I couldn’t interpret. Then, she smiled again.
“I’ll give it to you later,” I said, and moved on as others wanted to give her their best wishes.
I went back to my two new friends, John and John.
“Getting a little hot and heavy there, eh pal?” Big John asked, giving me a dig in my ribs with his elbow.
“John!” Little John snapped. “Mind your own business.”
“I was just commenting. That’s all.”
“Well don’t,” Little John said.
We moved closer to the door. I popped my camera out and snapped a few shots of the bride.
For memory’s sake, I suppose, and as proof that this really happened.
A woman smiled at me from the chapel door and I smiled back and said, “hello.”
She said “Hi” and I turned,
Her purple gown and blonde hair glowed some internal vibrancy. Her outside wasn’t bad either.
“I’m with the wedding party,” I said and she nodded.
“I know,” she said. “I saw the flower in your lapel.”
“Don’t let that fool you, it isn’t real.”
“Does that mean you’re not real either?” she asked.
The remark threw me. But before I could respond, John and John came over. Big John was grinning and kept pointing at the alter where the bride and groom posed for pictures with the preacher.
“That’s one Goddamn strange preacher,” he said.
The woman in purple bristled.
“Oh? How so?” she asked.
Big John gaze turned towards her and he lit up like a firework.
Little John just rubbed his temples with the tips of his fingers and looked away, already knowing what would happen next.
“Say…” Big John started, but he never finished. His future wife, the maid of honor, waved for him to join her at the alter.
Little John chuckled.
“Someone’s calling you, Johnny,” he said.
“Don’t be a wise ass,” Big John said. “You’re not far behind me. Remember that.”
Again the maid of honor waved for Big John and with a sigh, he complied, leaving me with Little John and the woman in purple, who was laughing.
“My name is Doreen,” she said, holding out her hand for me to shake. “What’s yours?”
“I’m Al,” I said, and then indicated Little John. “This is John.”
“And him?” she asked indicating Big John.
“That’s John, too. Just ignore him,” I said.
“And who’s the lucky woman he’s with?” she asked.
“That’s my sister,” Little John said with a sigh. “They’re going to be married in about seven weeks.”
“I see,” Doreen said. “I hope she’s good with a whip and a chair.”
Then, she looked at me with renewed interest.
“And what exactly is it that you do, Al?” she asked.
“Me? I write and go to school,” I said.
“Well, I’m trying to write a couple of novels.”
She seemed impressed and was about to say something when Big John came stomping back.
“Now, here’s the plan,” he said. “We’ve got to go to the hospital first...”
“Hospital?” Doreen gasped. “Is something wrong?”
Big John turned, looking agitated.
“Will you please let me finish,” he said. “As I was saying, we got to the hospital to take some more pictures with Kathy’s grandmother, then we go to some dump called The Townhouse for more pictures, then we get to go to the reception where we can all get drunk. You got that?”
He looked at me, then at Little John, and we nodded. Then Big John glanced back up at the alter and cringed.
Then, we were on our way: our three cars in procession with like a funeral. Only the tattered remains of the crate paper clung to the cars, fluttering and twisting in the still vibrant wind until each piece tore off and vanished. The people on the sidewalk we passed looked indifferent – although I glimpsed the embarrassed faces of the bride and groom in the other car as Big John, driving in front of me in his big red Chevy insisted on beeping his horn, the best man and the maid of honor in the back seat waving at him to stop. I could see Little John driving the car behind mine, grinning and waving at me as the newly weds cooed in the back seat of his car.
Big John turned into the hospital driveway at which point, the maid of honor, his future bride, slapped the back of his head and the beeping abruptly stopped.
We all pulled up to the curb. The honored couple got out of the car behind mine. The maid of honor and the best man got out of the car in front of mine. My two passengers remained seated looking confused.
“Should we be getting out?” the woman asked, her thin lips pressed tight.
The man looked out at the groom just then passing the car. The groom nodded. The man opened the door, helped the woman out, and suddenly I was alone.
I fingered the hard edge of the envelope in my pocket, wondering if it was proper to give a newly married bride a love poem.
But it wasn’t really that either.
It was a wedding poem, bitter sweet yes, but meant well – although I felt as if I was taking back what I had given Kathy years earlier, stealing away the cheerfulness and hope I had expressed in an effort to save her life.
I didn’t see hope here. Not if what she said was true.
Eddie, her new husband, would be shipping out to Saudi Arabia next year, and she would be going to Texas – as far away from him as the moon in my mind.
I turned off the car and listened to the engine sputter.
Again I fingered the envelop, then I opened it, and the poem was in my hand, the expensive paper feeling like exotic fabric.
The poem didn’t even have a title. I had thought of dozens, but could not settle on one.
“April is the cruelest month,” was one, but if I had written that, she might not have wanted to see me again, ever.
I debated scribbling it in, but folded the paper again and slid it back into the envelop free of change. Then took it out again, to reread it, for the millionth time since I had created it – and each time, the words seemed worse and more cruel.
To think that I had already cut out the most offensive and self-indulgent parts, playing with the remaining that I could not change – asking myself why on earth I had even written it.
I looked up at the hospital, the tan brick illuminated by an all too bright day and a wind that seemed to spoil it all. Then I glanced at the sheet again and started to reread it.
Spring spreads green
With its quiet qualms quality the cold crusted winter
You come, settle,
Wait the ceremonious hours before the ceremony
Bursting with the bubbling burning boils of love.
Time ticks on too tenderly,
Moody and wrong,
Painfully aware of you,
Telling you in your settled world,
That this is the moment.
Outside, the gulls return
The guests who squander their inheritance
Wasting the wet winter thaw,
Somehow the hours ahead seem haunting,
The ghost of marriage more than a little strange,
The indomitable isolation of independence gone
With a ring and a chant
How many rings does Saturn have? Or Jove?
Rings that are jolly, rounds and violating
Their own rude rules
The ring rolls around your finger.
The vows in your head. The quiet questions
The preacher proposes whispers in the room.
“What was that?” you want to ask, but don’t.
Can’t. Caught in the aura of austerity
This IS the moment.
Then, you are one.
Holy in a whole world’s whispers.
The music starts and stops and starts again.
You turn, two into one, standing at the alter,
Standing with your hands bound piously
People pouring rice above you
Man and woman
Husband and wife
Terms that wear through life
And settle you in these “spots” forever.
For eternity. I…now…take…this.
Soul sacrifice of self for you.
You, love. You and love
the eternity of love to hover
over you like a glorious spirit
This is the moment.
There was a knock on the glass and I put away the poem. It was Little John. I opened the door and he climbed in.
“God, it’s cold out there,” he said.
“And windy,” I added.
Little John nodded. “Watch now. John is going to wonder what we’re doing over here.”
Sure enough, Big John rolled out of his empty care and waddled over in our direction. He pulled open the passenger side door, nudging Little John: “Move over.”
“There’s not enough room,” Little John said.
So Big John squeezed into the back seat and we all sat there in silence, except for the radio on very low whispering with some vaguely familiar song.
“I got to get me a broad,” Big John finally said.
“I don’t want to hear this,” Little John said. “You’re engaged to my sister.”
Then came a long pause and again Big John burst out.
“This is dumb! Here we are sitting in front of a goddamn hospital when we could be at the reception boozing it up.”
Little John glanced over his shoulder at Big John.
“You’ll get your chance.”
“That don’t help me now.”
That’s when the photographer showed up, camera in hand, face red from the cold. We watched him go passed in the direction of the hospital.
“About time that clown showed up,” Big John grumbled. “We’re here freezing.”
“I’m not freezing any more,” Little John said. “In fact, I’m too hot.”
I sighed and turned down the fan to the car heater.
Big John laughed.
“I’m too hot, too. Did you did that broad in the striped shirt? Man, how I’d like to get my hooks into her.”
“I don’t want to hear one more word!” Little John said. “Or I’ll tell Maggie.”
“You would, too, you little worm.”
Then, the wedding party came out and my two companions hopped out. But Big John shouted to me and Little John.
“Remember we got to do that motel for pictures.”
He grinned devilishly. I wasn’t sure what he meant.
The three cars started to move and a piece of crate paper I hadn’t noticed before flapped on the hood.
It only occurred to me at that moment. This was Palm Sunday. Not generally a good day for me.
Little John beeped his horn for me to hurry up. The man and woman in the back seat mumbled, but I didn’t hear about what.
At the motel, we all got out: a procession of suits, carnations and gowns. We were looking more and more like a funeral every moment.
We stepped through the glass doors and into the eloquent lobby, a chandelier full of round silver balls hung over us as two stairways descended from either side. Kathy smiled at me from isolated position among the crowd of gowns.
Big John grabbed me and dragged me down the hall.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the bar,” he said. “I can’t take this any more. Even a car you gotta put gas in every once and a while.”
So two rights and a left later, were at the bar. The bar maid eyed us like had just landed there from mars.
“I didn’t know we had a wedding here today,” she said.
“There isn’t,” Big John said. “We just came here to take some pictures. We’re the drivers. God, you’re pretty.”
The barmaid didn’t even blush. She just smiled and asked what we wanted to drink.
“This round is on me,” Big John said and ordered a beer and a blackberry brandy for himself. I ordered a gin and tonic, at which point, Little John found us.
“So this is where you two got off to,” he said. “You both ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
“Don’t be such a stuffed shirt,” Big John said. “Have a drink. I’m buying.”
Little John stood for a moment, then shrugged.
“Why not? It’s cold,” he said and sat on a stool to the other side of me.
“There you go, boy,” Big John said and reached passed me to pat Little John on the back.
And there we sat, the three of us, eyeing the dark bar and the few women scatt3ered around it. An older woman looked up at us and Big John grinned.
“Hello there,” he said. “Did anyone ever tell you that you’ve got a pretty smile?”
Her smiled widened. The barmaid only shook her head.
Then Eddy appeared on the far side of the bar. Big John shouted.
“Hey, you’re the groom. You’re not supposed to be here.”
Eddy looked over noticing us for the first time, smiled, and then spoke with the barmaid briefly before making his way down the bar to us.
“You gentlemen starting early?” he asked.
“Early, hell!” Big John howled. “Everybody but us is at the reception hall already getting sloshed. We just figured we’d get warmed up a little.”
Eddy nodded. The rough features of the soldier’s face were caught half in shadow, half in the red bar light. He looked devilish, almost evil. And when he smiled, he gave a frightful aura of cruelty.
At the same time, he looked as scared as a little boy. His gaze prowled the bar halting on every women there. He seemed to be looking for something.
“How about you?” Big John asked. “You want something for the road?”
“Oh no, I’ve got pictures to take. I just came here to find the manager. You guys enjoy.”
Then, he was gone, and the three of us just sat there.
“This seems to be a funny thing to be doing on Palm Sunday,” I said.
Both Johns looked at me strangely.
“How do you figure that?” Big John asked.
“It just seems like the wrong day to be celebrating,” I said.
Little John shook his head.
“It doesn’t make any difference as long as they’re happy,” he said.
“Damned straight,” Big John said and sucked down his shot of brandy. “And those two are gonna be the happiest two people in the whole fucking world. You watch and see.”
I touched the poem in my pocket and nodded.
Big John finished his beer. He was about to order another round when his future wife appeared.
“John!” she scolded. “Can’t you go anywhere without looking for a drink?”
“Ah, Maggie, it was only a little drink.”
“Actually, it was two drinks,” Little John pointed out without looking up from his own drink.
“You stay out of this, twerp!”
“That’s my brother, you’re talking to,” Maggie snapped.
“Sorry, little brother,” Big John said, reaching passed me again to rustle up Little John’s hair.
“JOHN!” Maggie yelled.
Little John glanced at me and winked, then turned to Big John.
“Don’t worry, big brother, I’ll be at your wedding, too,” he said.
Big John blushed, then turned to Maggie.
“I thought you people were taking pictures,” he said.
“We were. We’re done now. And we need our drivers to drive us to the reception hall.”
Little John and I finished our drinks and started out of the bar. Maggie grabbed my arm and Big John’s and floated between us, laughing. Kathy looked up when we appeared, an edge of curiosity showing in her eyes. Maggie’s fingers squeezed my arm.
At the reception hall, they put me with both John’s and Kathy’s sister. There were other people around us but I hardly noticed them. The preacher got assigned to our table, too.
Big John sat with a beer in one hand and a fork in the other.
“Okay, bring on the food,” he said.
“I can see you doing that at your own wedding,” Kathy’s sister said.
The rest of us laughed. For the first time, Big John looked embarrassed.
“I think I’m going to have to talk to your sister about these goddamn seating arrangements,” he mumbled.
“My sister didn’t arrange this,” she said. “Maggie did.”
Big John whirled around and glared up at the elevated table behind us, staring at the wedding party, in particularly his future bride.
She waved and smile. He growled.
“A man can’t get away with anything around this place,” he said.
“Never could,” the preacher said.
This turned Big John in the preacher’s direction, a look of shock on his face.
“There’s always someone looking,” the preacher said, casting a glance upward.
“Don’t give me that,” Big John said. “I’m an agnostic. I don’t need no preaching.”
“What you really need is a chain,” Little John said from across the table, drawing Big John’s wrathful stare.
“You,” Big John said, jabbing a forefinger at Little John’s face, “can be replaced!”
“You already have been,” Little John said, drawing a hearty laugh around the table.
Big John muttered something, but settled into relative peace, although from time to time, his gaze still wandered over to the other table and to the women in the striped shirt.
“Look at that build,” he muttered once.
Little John nodded.
Then she stood up as we stared.
“There she goes,” Big John said, jabbing an elbow in my side. “She’s going to the bar. Get up, you slugs before some other hound gets to her.”
So at Big John’s insistence, me and Little John stood and went to the bar.
“What are you going to say to her?” I asked.
“Me?” Little John wailed. “Why me? You’re the writer. You talk to her.”
“All right, I will,” I said.
But when I got to the bar and stood beside her, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I expected it to be the striped lady’s boyfriend. It was Doreen. Sweet, blonde-haired Doreen in her purple gown and her intensely interested gaze.
There was a diamond ring on her finger, but not on the left hand. For a moment, this confused me.
“Hi?” she said. “You remember me?”
“Sure,” I said, glancing over my shoulder to catch Little John pulling the silent act with the woman in the striped shirt.
I almost laughed, and would have, if not for Doreen’s continued stare.
“What’s my name?” she asked me.
“Name? Name… ah,” I sputtered. I couldn’t remember and I felt my face flush. “I’m really bad with names, you know.”
“Yes, I’m sure you are,” she said and took my arm and led me back to her table. “My brother couldn’t come so we have an extra seat. Sit.”
“No husband?” I asked.
“Does it look like I have a husband?” she asked, holding up her still vacant finger.
“Not there, but you’re other hand has a pretty hefty piece of stone on it,” I pointed out.
“I thought that for myself since no one else offered to buy me one,” she said.
I shook my head. She was a remarkably beautiful woman and I didn’t understand why she wasn’t surrounded by men.
She even drove a brand new Datzun 280z that was nothing to sneer at.
She had money but no man, while Kathy on the other hand had the opposite problem – too many men, too many evil spirits hovering over her head.
I touched again the envelop in my pocket, trying to figure out if I was one of them. It was the last thing I wanted, and the whole point of my original anonymous poem.
I may have loved her through some strange bridge of faith, but that was no reason to impose.
Now I felt as if I was imposing.
“Are you all right” Doreen asked. I blinked.
“I guess so. I have a small crush on the bride,” I said.
Doreen’s expression changed into something resembling pity. She nodded.
“That happened to me at my last wedding,” she said.
The conversation ended at the wedding rituals started, the ritual of the first dance, and the delivery of the meals. I went back to my own table, and began to get drunk, bearing more than a little self pity.
Big John was deeply involved in discussion religion with the preacher. Little John sat with a long face in front of his plate.
“What happened to Stripes?” I asked.
He shook his head.
“She didn’t want to talk to me,” he said.
Big John interrupted his own conversation to huff, “the asshole blew it,” and then realized who was at the table and said to the preacher, “Sorry Ma’am.”
The preacher grinned.
“I understand completely,” she said.
This seemed to shut Big John’s mouth. He didn’t say anything for a while.
When the time came for the tossing of the bridal bouquet, all the women went out onto the floor, even the preacher. We all stared out at particular women: Little John at the women with the striped shirt; me at Doreen in the purple dress, and Big John – at the preacher!
Our three women stood at the rear of the pack when Kathy tossed it – but in the wrong direction.
“Stripes is gonna get it,” Big John said.
She didn’t; Doreen did.
Then it was our turn for the tossing of the garter. I rose with something strongly resembling dread.
“I’m not going out there,” I said.
“Yes, you are,” Big John said, as he and Little John dragged me across the dance floor to the crowd of waiting men.
The band laughed then played some mournful tune suggestive of marriage.
The garter rose on a perfect trajectory aimed at me. I cringed. But the damned thing hit the ceiling and was diverted to Little John. His face was nearly as purple as Doreen’s dress.
“Look at that son of a bitch,” Big John mumbled near my ear. “First he blows it with stripes and then he gets the garter.”
Kathy shrugged when she glanced at me; I shrugged back.
There was a hint of sadness in her eye. But it vanished when her husband touched her shoulder.
Little John and Doreen danced, while Big John and I went back to the table.
“I should have caught that,” Big John said. “After all, I’m the one getting married in seven weeks.”
We sat down and watched the lucky couple. But I watched the other lucky couple, too. The preacher came back to join us. So did Kathy’s sister, dragging along one of her friends who sat across from us telling dirty jokes. Big John grinned. The preacher sighed.
“It’s all right, Ma’am,” Big John assured her. “I’ve been licensed by the state of New Jersey as a pervert.”
“Oh?” the preacher said, suddenly interested. “They give you a license for that?”
Her stare straight into Big John’s eyes made him blush – again. He seemed to swallow himself with heavy gulps, as the rest of us laughed.
When the dance ended, Little John came back wearing the garter on his arm.
“They wouldn’t let me put it on her leg,” he said.
Again we all laughed. I peered over their heads, and then rose.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Big John asked.
“To see a lady,” I said, and made my way back to Doreen’s table.
She tilted her head towards the vacant.
“You didn’t catch the garter,” she said.
“That would have been too dangerous,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“I would have insisted on putting it on your leg.”
“And I would have let you,” she said.
Then, we danced – very close, her breasts pressing against my chest. There was a softness about her I just couldn’t believe. Her fingers were entwined with mine.
Every so often, I caught a glimpse of a laughing Kathy, and the poem seemed to grow more and more cruel in my pocket.
I knew then I couldn’t give it to her, and that no present was better than a cruel present. And yet in some ways, I wanted her to feel the old pain, if only to have her need me again.
“What are you thinking?” Doreen asked.
“Oh,” I said startled out of my self pity. “I was thinking it’s time for another drink.”
So we went to the bar. The room was filled with cigarette smoke and gossip. The band played tunes that made me think of my aunt’s wedding when I was a kid – the aunt that had acted at my mother during those years when my mother was crazy. I had thought that wedding the end of the world, too.
I sipped my drink, and then danced more with Doreen.
The night grew late. The cake got cut, served and finished. Dishes got collected. People started to leave. Doreen came over to our table. Little John asked her for another dance. She looked at me and asked me if I minded.
“Go,” I said. “I don’t own you.”
She frowned, and rose and danced the next three dances with him.
The newly weds got ready to leave.
“Good luck” I said coming up to Kathy, then went back to my seat. Big John was with his future bride. Little John was still dancing with Doreen. The woman in the striped shirt sat all by herself at another table.
So I went over and said, “Would you like to dance?”
She looked up as if surprised. “Yes, please,” she said.
Later, outside, Doreen waited for me, and handed me a folded piece of paper.
“I thought you should have it,” she said.
“What is it?”
“My phone number and directions to may apartment,” she said, laughed, wiggled her fingers as she made her way back to her car, the diamond ring glittering like a star on her right hand.