The Wedding – Nicholas Clemente
October 17, 2022
They look up: double checking the sky to make sure it’s still there, and just the way they left it: remade by their work, a fraction of a fraction of a shade brighter, but as different from what it had been before as if they’d forced the sun to rise early. They follow the cord back up the hill and stop to make sure all the lights have been switched back on. But it feels even brighter than it had been before the lights had first flickered and dimmed, like each bulb is putting out more light, or like the air has grown more receptive to it. Or maybe something even bigger than that, a change more fundamental. It feels like there are more people at the party than there were before, as if the guests, even at this late hour, are arriving instead of departing. The groom scans the crowd but still can’t pick out his wife from the others: it’s too bright, he has to shield his eyes: and everyone, from this distance, looks like they’re the exact same shape, the exact same size, standing in the exact same way, wearing the exact same thing. And maybe that’s not right, maybe he should be able to recognize his wife from any distance, in any circumstance – maybe he should have made sure to at least see her before running to the generator with those plastic bottles of gasoline leaking all over himself, maybe he should have at least let her know he was back – but there’s still no time, there’s still too much to do. She’ll thank him later. When she has the whole story. Because this is the only wedding they’re ever going to have, and he’s already disappointed her enough, and he will only disappoint her more in the future, so the least he could do is not disappoint her now.
They hadn’t been the best at planning it. Him especially, but her too. They didn’t talk about it much. Didn’t set a date at first. Only “soon.” She was too busy with school, with work. She was finishing up her degree, she was doing her residency. And him – he didn’t have any excuses. He was afraid to ever bring it up because he was afraid that if she thought about it too much she would just say no. If she thought about it for even one second. He was sure of it.
They thought about eloping. But they only knew the word, they didn’t really know what it meant. How it would look playing out in reality: in real life, with their bodies present, eyes looking out at the world, hearts beating in their chests. What would that look like? They couldn’t picture it: the where or the when. Like it was something they could do well or do a million times but they could still never make it something real.
They thought about doing a courthouse wedding. He had been there once before – it must have been for work – and he found the place charming. The more he described it the wider her eyes grew: women in wedding dresses, nine months pregnant, posing with bouquets in front of a wall-sized photo of the very building they were standing in. What? she said. What, he said. Why wouldn’t they just go outside if it’s just a picture of the same building. Because it’s always sunny inside; I don’t know. Is there a professional photographer there or something? Maybe there used to be; right now it’s just people with their cell phones.
She loved the idea of a city hall wedding. She was attracted to the irony of it, the spectacle; the mixing of high and low intentions, the pageantry qua pageantry, the layers of simulation which, if applied carefully and systematically, like stain or shellac, could add so much luster and color to what was, essentially, a formality. Because in her mind they were already married; the moment he asked her if she wanted to marry him and she said yes; in that moment it was already accomplished, all the essentials; the only thing missing was time, and that was something that came all by itself. The only thing missing was the actual thing. But it was almost like a small detail at that point. Something that could easily be lost in the shuffle; something so small and unimportant you wouldn’t even be mad at the person for losing it.
And maybe it went back even further than that. Because if it was only a matter of time until a thing happened then there was no clear point at which the process began, there was no limit to how far back you could look in search of a beginning.
She could remember the first fight they ever had. She couldn’t remember what it was about; that wasn’t the point, that wasn’t why they were fighting. They were fighting so that she would one day have a reason to remember all the things that followed from the fight they were having: the nausea she felt, the dizziness, like she had been kicked in the stomach. It didn’t make any sense that they could be capable of hurting each other like that; they had only been on a few dates, they barely knew each other. She fled the living room, where she had, hours before, inserted all the extra leaves of her grandmother’s antique table which was too big for the apartment even at its smallest size but which she could not bring herself to get rid of (who would take it, she wondered; where could she possibly leave it; the thought of that table sitting next to a barricade of stacked black garbage bags on a Manhattan sidewalk made her flinch as if at the sight of an abandoned child; and yet there really was no better place for it, and she would probably have to get rid of it eventually; and she wondered how many other people were faced with the same problem, the shrinking of existence, a world which had grown too small to house the precious objects stored within it; and eventually they would have to figure out something better to do with all these things than throw them out or sell them or break them down; as if the best thing to do might be to tell everyone in the city to gather on the Great Lawn in Central Park and throw them all in a heap; dump lighter fluid all over and set it ablaze; and watch the black smoke curl, thick and solid like inverse clouds above the city; smoke fed from a mix of organic and inorganic, sweet wood and sweeter chemicals, the fumes so strong it would make them all light headed; and the flames growing and growing, rising up taller from the center, spreading out closer to the edges, changing color, red to yellow to white, hotter and hotter every second; until everyone around was compelled to drift backward, pressed finally against the trees and fences which ringed about the lawn; pressed shoulder to shoulder, so close their hands were almost touching; and the light of the fire glowing in the black depths of their eyes, lighting them up as if from the inside, so that when you looked into the gaze of someone else it was only the fire that you saw; and the pale green leaves overhead would start to shrivel and sear, the crowd would be panting from the heat of it; and some people would be dancing like pagans by the fire and some people would be contemplating it calmly from a distance; from twenty stories above, looking down upon the inferno glowing at the heart of their parkside view; contemplating all the effort and all the hours lost in that fire; all the workmanship, hewing, hauling, chopping, splitting, carving, sanding, finishing, selling, moving, preserving; generations of effort gone in an instant; all the time which had been absorbed by these objects since they had been built, decades and centuries sucked in like a sponge; all offered up in the smoke, all for nothing; all so that the black pillar of smoke now rising up like a skyscraper of man’s invention, the same proportions, the same dimensions, might be made indistinguishable from the night sky curving over the city; the same color, the same consistency, the two worlds joined together for as long as they could keep the fire burning). She retreated to the kitchen where she had, hours before, prepared the meal which was now releasing its heat, steaming up into the air atop the leaves of her grandmother’s antique table. She went into a corner of the kitchen and looked at the wall and crossed her arms over her cramped stomach. Why? Because she didn’t want to see him and because there wasn’t anywhere else to go in her tiny apartment except for her bedroom; because she knew that he would follow her, and she wanted to avoid the bedroom and its scents and its sheets and all that these implied. He followed her anyway: of course he did: his feet falling on old linoleum, the shriek of a pre-war metal drawer opening. How did she know exactly which drawer was opening, how did he, who had never been to her apartment before, know exactly which drawer to open? How did she, still facing the wall, studying the texture of the ugly avocado paint, know exactly what was happening? So that, hesitating a moment more, she was exactly too late to stop it from happening but exactly early enough to see the event unfold in full: his left fist resting atop the white cutting board, his right hand poised over it with the knife: the expert way he made the cut, with matador precision, upon the pointed round bone on the outer side of his wrist: not so deep that he would need to go to the hospital, but still deep enough to bleed and bleed: thick blood, berry red, bubbling up from his flesh, running over the scarred and pitted surface of her cheap plastic cutting board, pooling in the runnels molded around its edges to catch the juices. She grabbed her own wrist – the exact same one, the left, in exactly the same place – and let out a low scream, as if she were the one who had been cut. And she hated him more than ever for it, because it had worked exactly as he planned, because he had gotten everything he wanted. Maybe, though it was apparent only in retrospect, this was the moment at which they had begun to be married. Or maybe further back still: you could always go further: before they had been born, or anyone they knew, or anyone they had ever heard of: the first time one person had ever bled for the satisfaction of another: that was when they had been first married.
She didn’t know what to do with the cutting board after it was over. The blood had penetrated deep into the interior of the thing: into every narrow valley carved by the action of her knife, the translucent edges of each fissure turned from white to a fleshy pink: the blood had made its way into the substance of the plastic, so that even after she had washed it and bleached it a dozen times it still wouldn’t come out. Of course she hadn’t ever dreamed of using it as intended no matter how clean she got it. But she couldn’t bring herself to throw it out either. To consign it to an anonymous black bag piled up on the Manhattan sidewalk. That was why she cleaned it as best she could and dried it as best she could and kept it out on the counter, wondering, every time she was in the kitchen, what she was going to finally do with it. She didn’t have any idea until necessity impelled her: he was due to come over in a week, and she still hadn’t figured out where to keep it. Until she did: and the doing of it was so easy she almost didn’t have to think about it. It was a process worked out solely by the action of her hands, rushing around the apartment, the butter already melting in the pan: she was removing the leaves from the storage cavity inside her grandmother’s table and then suddenly, as if surprising herself, as if trying to make sure she wouldn’t be seen (but by who? maybe by herself), she walked quickly to the kitchen and quickly back again and slipped the cutting board into the empty space.