--IN THE BEGINNING THE MUSIC ALL BLURRED TOGETHER
We were the fat kids, Gordie and I, hunched beneath the musty-smelling table cloth, passing miniature candy hearts back and forth, a flashlight for our guide. A few days earlier there had been a funeral in this chapel and for all I knew the casket might have sat where we were now hiding. It certainly smelled of formaldehyde, of bug collections and Bactine, but it might have just been bad perfume.
Above us new arrivals signed the guest book. We could hear them scribbling their names, could hear their growling stomachs and whispers.
“I can’t believe this is actually going to happen.”
“I know. How many guys do you imagine she’s slept with?”
“Has to be hundreds. I wouldn’t be surprised if she did the priest.”
They were talking about the bride-to-be, my sister and, to his credit, Gordie didn’t say a word, he just nibbled on his candy like a dutiful rodent. The flashlight bisected his face, showing swirls of peach fuzz, flabby cheeks and a dimple burrowed to China.
We were careful to whisper when we spoke.
“This one says, ‘U R My Sunshine,’ but it’s pink.”
“The sun’s not pink.”
I wanted to slug him but there wasn’t room for proper leverage, plus we’d be found out, plus there was the issue of Ms. Colson, my therapist. Ms. Colson favored soft shades of purple and she surrounded herself in it—lipstick, eye shadow, nail polish, handbag, shoes, cushions and drapes. She kept a color wheel in her lap as she quizzed me, twirling it absentmindedly. She always wanted information about the latest hole in my bedroom wall and when I wouldn’t give it, she’d say things like, “If your fist weren’t a fist, Jeffrey, what would you imagine it as? Hmm? What other appendage?” When I said, “A penis,” she stiffened and began to weep, which was when I knew she was the real crackpot.
“You think she’ll be wearing white?”
“Hopefully off-white. Like, off-off-white. Something in the very not-quite-right-white shade.”
“I hear she’s pregnant.”
“I hear it might be her father’s.”
You pee on a stick and it turns either one of two colors. My sister’s stick turned pink. At the top was a smiley face and I wondered if it had always been there, before the splash of urine, or if not, then how did the stick know she was pregnant and why in the world would it think she’d be happy, carrying a mutant baby like that? As far as I could tell, my sister was miserable. She always had been, but now she was the kind of miserable that is contagious, that runs into everyone else’s laundry bleeding like madras.
Gordie, shifted his thick thighs and winced. “My kneecap’s asleep.”
“Shh, not so loud,” I said.
“These are my brother’s dress pants. They feel like pantyhose, they’re so tight.”
“Suck it up.”
“Hey, this one says, ‘Merry XMas.’ They got the wrong holiday. How about that?”
“Are you retarded?”
“I don’t think so.”
I heard an organ strike a sonorous note, heard door hinges squeal closed, and the stilted sound of a hundred shoe heels taking a stand in the pew aisles.
I heard my stepbrother, Rogan, yell my name a half dozen times as he scoured the vestibule area. After a brief search, he dropped a fat F-bomb about me and said, “You ruin everything. I hope you die.”
Gordie’s head twitched, his eyes, too. He was getting all this. He wasn’t so dumb. “This is a good one,” he said, holding up a lime-colored heart, ‘Have My Baby.’”
“That’s ‘Be My Baby.’”
“Nah huh, look. It’s ‘Have—“
Then I did hit him, probably too hard. He rubbed his arm and mumbled something.
I told him I was sorry. “I mean. I am,” I said.
“Forgive and forget?”
I recognized the song that played. It was the same creepy, Phantom of the Opera-type number that old lady had played two nights prior at the rehearsal dinner.
“You think you’ll ever get married?” Gordie asked.
“Are you nuts?”
Gordie thought for a moment. He took every one of my questions seriously. “I don’t think I am. I’m weird and a little chubby, but not crazy.”
“Let’s go,” I said, pushing my head through the table covering. A cramp bit my calf like a crocodile.
Gordie swore, “Damn.” The crystal dish that had contained all the candy hearts was empty. He licked his thumb and dragged it across the thin coating of pastel sugar dust, then sucked it off.
“Come on. What’re you going do, eat that glass bowl?”
“Where’re we going?”
“You’re going to be in a lot of trouble if you miss your sister’s wedding.”
I hobbled a few steps, working the horse bite out of my leg. “You don’t have to come.”
I punched the door open so hard it echoed across the vestibule.
I thought about my sister and Terry exchanging their handwritten vows and how pretty my sister would look, how Terry’s knees would wobble, him nervous as hell, chewing on the consequences.
I left the church and said a vow myself—that I wouldn’t permit myself to think about love, or if I did it couldn’t be anything angry or negative. I was of course distrustful of love, how it proposed to be the truth but was more or less the shield people threw around themselves when they were lonely or in trouble. What I did respect, however, was the silken paleness of the sky overhead, blue bordering on periwinkle. “Isn’t that something?” I said to myself.
“Here’s one, says, ‘Keep it real’,” Gordie said.
As I turned, he was pulling fabric from his groin. “What?” he asked. “Why’re you smiling?”
“I wish I knew,” I said. But I did know. Or so I thought.