I arrive in the rainy late afternoon to help Sophie dress. I'm directed upstairs to the first door on the left, where I expect an old-fashioned bedroom with lace curtains, a vanity and a four-poster bed, but I find Sophie and her friends in a conference room with stacked plastic chairs and a slide projector. She's at the lectern, clowning in her bra and stockings.
I go up to her and the words blushing bride come to mind, though she is, in fact, an almost constant blusher--from sun or wind, laughing, crying, anger or wine. Now she actually appears to be glowing, and I kiss her and say, "Hello little glowworm."
Her hilarious friend Mavis pours me a big glass of wine; she's pregnant and says that I have to drink for two now.
After I help Sophie on with her off-the-shoulder ivory gown, she asks me to put on her makeup, though she knows I don't really know how. It's for the ritual of it; I brush a tiny bit of pale eye shadow on her lids and put on barely-there lipstick. She blots her lips with a tissue.
Mavis says, "Jesus, Sophie, you look like a whore."
The photographer knocks to tell Sophie it's time for pictures, and the rest of us follow. Mavis and I stop in the bathroom, and from the stall she tells me she didn't realize for a long time that she was pregnant; she thought she was just getting fat and becoming incontinent. "So the pregnancy was really good news."
Since I have nothing to add about pregnancy, I tell her I read that Tiny Tim wore Depends in his final years. He wasn't incontinent, just thought they were a good idea.
Downstairs, we join Mavis's husband and the other guests. We take our seats in the room where the ceremony will be held. It has a river view, but all you can see now is fog and rain and wet grass.
I ask Mavis what her ceremony was like, and she says that instead of The Wedding March she chose K.C. and the Sunshine Band's song "That's the way--Uh-Huh, Uh-Huh--I Like It" and danced herself down the aisle.
Her husband does a deadpan, "Uh-huh, uh-huh."
The music plays. We wait. Mavis whispers that she has to go to the bathroom again. I say, "Think how much better you'd feel if you had a Depends on right now." This is what I'm saying when Max and Sophie walk down the aisle.
* * *
The reception kicks off with a klezmer band doing their bloop-yatty-bloop, and Sophie and Max are hauled up on chairs for the Jewish wedding version of musical chairs. I was raised as an assimilationist but it's not my confused identity that prevents me from joining in; I've got the spirit, but I can't clap to the beat.
Finally, we go to our tables. I'm at One, sitting between Mavis and Sophie, and I know everyone at the table except the man taking his seat at the opposite end. He's tall and gangly with olive skin, a high forehead and big eyes, cute, but that doesn't explain what comes over me. I haven't had this feeling in so long I don't even recognize it; at first I think it's fear. My hair follicles seem to individuate themselves and freeze; then it's like my whole body flushes.
He smiles over at me and mouths, "I'm Robert."
I mouth, "Jane."
When I come out of my swoon, Mavis is telling the table that my Depends comment made her pee in her pants. She tells me I should work Tiny into my toast, and only now do I remember that I'm supposed to give one.
I try to think of it during dinner, but I'm also trying not to stare at Robert, and I'm shaky and not exactly prepared when it's my turn to go up to the microphone.
"Hi," I say to the crowd. I wait for something to come to me, and then I see Sophie, and it does. I say that we met after college in New York, and that over the years we had a succession of boyfriends but weren't so happy with any of them. We were always asking each other, "Is this all we can expect?"
From The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank. ©May, 1999, Melissa Bank, used by permission of Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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