Chapter 4: A Normal Wedding
Monica pulls into the Cityside Rooms event center. How quaint. Monica had suggested the Harbor State Room, at least it had a view of the water. But, as she had been reminded on several occasions, this wasn’t her wedding to plan.
And Sarah had chosen this place instead. For some unknown reason, Monica hadn’t put up much of a fight over the decision. Had Sarah played any mental tricks on Monica in the doing? She could never be quite sure.
Of all the offerings of this place, Sarah and Ralph opted for package C: one hour ceremony beginning at 10:00 a.m.; one hour reception with simple catering of ham sandwiches, potato chips, and various fruits and finger foods (feel free to take these with you after the wedding); maximum fifty guests. Sarah and Ralph had only managed twenty rsvp’s.
Monica had offered to pay for a bigger wedding. Simply place a quick call to the family’s trustee and everything would be taken care of, but Sarah insisted that she and Ralph pay for it themselves.
It would be a simple wedding.
Thankfully, today’s rehearsal will be short. Monica loves Sarah, but she never feels comfortable around her anymore. She wants to spend more time with her daughter, but when she actually does, she feels she has nothing of herself. Monica thinks that Sarah, by reading her mind, has perhaps taken it from her.
Monica heads toward the door and her heel buckles on a chunk of gravel. Quaint indeed. This will be hell on her ankles, what with this back-country parking lot and the outdoor photo session. At least no one saw her slip.
The hotel advertises itself as historic (read: old) and located a short twenty-five miles west of downtown Boston (read: maybe you bumpkins can afford this place). Sarah had chosen the spot for her father. She said Don might have a heart attack at the crowds if she’d have planned the thing nearer to the City. The building, built by Protestants sometime before the Revolutionary War, hasn’t quite stood the test of time. What exactly were they protesting against, good taste? She knows her architecture snob friend Tobias would skewer her for doing so, but Monica feels that the best architectural term to describe the exterior is ‘brutalist.’
Yet, as Monica walks inside a smile forms on her taut face.
So this is why she picked it. This old place hides a contemporary interior with a twist: three walls with traditional (beautiful, she must admit) stained-glass windows but on the eastern side, floor to ceiling windows; a huge glass skylight overhead; LED dimmer rope lights.
We’re in the groom’s dressing room.
Monica walks through the chapel and into the changing rooms behind it. Sarah and Ralph are here, as well as Don. Don with those damn wings open. So he really did get them working again.
So, you told Ralph about your father.
He took it well.
I bet he did. And have you told Ralph about your own little fib?
“Hey, Mon,” Don says. “Look, they work. Sort of, I mean I can’t fly but—“
Don begins flapping the hell out of his wings. He flexes hard and the thrust from them is enough to send him back into the wall. The wind from the quick motion blows Ralph’s thin hair back. Ralph starts laughing in big gulps as he rearranges his hair.
Monica surprises herself by smiling. Shining under the light cast off by the wall sconces, Don’s wings are rich brown and gold, reminiscent of brindle, and are sleek and narrow like a falcon’s wing.
And his waistline. Smaller.
“You’ve lost weight,” Monica say.
“You must’ve lost…one hundred pounds?”
“One hundred seventy eight, give or take a few,” Don corrects her. “As it turns out, functional wings require incredible metabolic supply for proper function. I think it’s partly why I got so fat when they quit working in the first place, you see. Kept eating like before…you know. So, most birds have to consume an incredible amount of calories to survive. I can’t fly, but I can flap. Got down to one sixty-five.”
He’s including the weight of a particularly large party-favor stuck to his back. Handsome, she admits to herself. But no, not the wings, not on Don. They would have been strikingly attractive on any other man, any man but her husband, any man but the father to her daughter.
Before the wings, she thought she loved him. After, everything was broken. The wings had done it.
Monica blames herself for being caught unaware by Sarah’s development. Her father had his deformity, and Sarah had hers. But Monica hadn’t seen it early enough. She prided her little daughter’s apparent intelligence. Never needed anything explained twice.
But, that laser-focus in second grade had grown to something like prescience by sixth grade. Looking back, she should have seen it.
As it happened, it wasn’t until a parent-teacher meeting on a Thursday in November of Monica’s sixth grade year that Monica knew her daughter was beyond normal, beyond even abnormal, was in fact something completely outside the range of human existence. Odd thing to possess for such a shy girl.
Monica had met with Mr. Healey, Sarah’s math teacher one night to discuss her progress in the classroom. He was a new teacher, fresh out of university and still full of passion for his work. It showed in his eyes. He was a strong-framed man, and when he took Monica’s hand and said hello, Monica’s blood rushed to her face. She was suddenly aware of her waist, her hips, she wondered how Mr. Healey’s strong grip might feel around her body.
Why not? Don fucked the nanny.
The woman had an ass like a Christmas ham. Monica didn’t understand what he found so attractive in that, but she let him get away with it, she’d been half-tempted to join in if only to see what all the fuss was about. So, as she spoke with Mr. Healey about Sarah’s exceptional ability to answer oral questions, Monica ran her hand up Mr. Healey’s thigh.
She peered down and saw that Mr. Healey approved. Monica tongued her upper lip and grabbed him. Rock hard already, a gift wasted on the young. She leaned over his desk and it had been quick and as she adjusted her skirt she saw that she’d reduced Mr. Healey to a boy wondering what the hell that woman had done to him. He wore the confusion until she gave him a parting gift, a little tap on his ass to bring him back into the world, and left.
She confessed to Don that same night. He’d been unimpressed and disinterested. Some merger had been set that day for some future date and so he’d shorted, or had he taken the long position, Monica could never remember the difference. The bottom line was $200,000 made within the week. Not peanuts, he said, but there was more to come. Just seed money. The thought of it made Monica more excited than Mr. Healey had managed.
So it was in this elated state of mind that Monica went upstairs and entered Sarah’s room. Sarah sat crouched on her bed, her nose deep in a school book.
“Hey mom,” Sarah said.
“Sarah, did Rosa give you any dinner?”
Somehow, the girl managed to skip dinner at least once a week.
“You…you had sex with Mr. Healey,” Sarah said and pounced from her bed.
“You did, you…you touched it…you turned around. How could you?”
Monica was punch-drunk. Sarah had a sweet kind of crush on Mr. Healey and perhaps Monica should have considered that…but… How had Sarah known? She couldn’t have overheard her speaking with Don from up here.
“And you told Dad!”
Then Sarah retreated to her bed, tears streaming from her face.
“Sarah,” Monica said. “I’m sorry. How did you know?”
Monica sat and listened as her daughter tried to explain what life was like with a gift for incomprehensible perception. And at the end of the lesson, as multitudinous questions and worries swirled through Monica’s mind (is Sarah reading me now?), the one which stood above the rest was: should I tell Don?
In the dressing room, Monica turns to Ralph. She wonders whether Sarah ought to tell Ralph after all, she isn’t sure whether the knowledge might strengthen or kill the relationship. The knowledge of Sarah’s telepathy had caused nothing but pain for Monica. She had long ago abandoned the notion that she could somehow sense in her own mind when Sarah went, what, reading or hearing or whatever the word is for it, scrounging around in Monica’s head. Monica can’t feel someone eyeing the back of her head. A blind person can’t tell if they are being stared at, a deaf person can’t hear someone call their name, Monica can’t perceive Sarah crawling through her head unless Sarah lets her know. And as if on cue, Sarah projects to her:
So, you think dad looks hot.
Yeah, okay. He looks good.
“So, Monica,” Ralph says, “You ever go for a ride on those things?”
Oh, Ralph. Ralph who stumbles over words and tables with equal aplomb. Ralph who can’t seem to find gainful employment. Ralph who inexplicably caught her daughter’s eye. And Ralph, who Sarah decided should learn of Don’s wings. He seems to be taking it well. Here he stands, having just met a goddamn man with wings of all things, and he had a stronger reaction to Monica’s enhanced chest when they’d first met.
No. I didn’t mess with him. Ralph’s just easygoing.
Easygoing? You thinking of a different person than I am?
Most people try not to sweat the small stuff. Ralph just got it backwards. Him and Don are having a great time together.
That, I can believe.
“No,” Monica answers Ralph, “I’ve never flown with him. And I never will.”
“Never say never,” Don says and nudges Ralph.
They’d never made love after the wings. Monica wonders how it might be to be taken surrounded by those wings. It’s apparently been too long since she’s had a man, if she’s fantasizing about sex with Don. Stop it, Monica thinks as she glances at Sarah to find her smiling back at her. Monica blushes.
It’s okay Mom.
Sarah had first spoken to Monica telepathically at the age of twelve, the summer after her sixth grade year. Before then, her daughter’s telepathic presence was much like an invisible man walking down the street. There but unperceived.
Monica still hadn’t told Don. He’d try to make money from it, somehow. Sarah didn’t want to make money; she only wanted to fit in.
Monica had to practically drag Sarah to the country club’s pool that summer day. Had to practically drag her to anywhere but her room for the entire summer.
“It’ll be good for you to get out of this room for a change. How are you going to make any friends cooped up in here all summer?”
“But mom, it’s so, so loud out there. And too bright.”
“If you go, we can stop at Marco’s pizza on the way back, okay?”
A cute boy with swept back hair worked behind the counter at Marco’s, this had been enough to lure her daughter out. So, Monica lounged at the side of the pool in a black two-piece bikini with gold chains dangling at the hips. Most of the boys and all of the men watched her, either outright or through the occasional sneaking glance.
This was by design. She’d been practically starving herself for this moment, and if she wanted one, she’d pluck him like a ripe peach.
But, there was Sarah, her odd little daughter in a striped one-piece. She clung to the edge of the pool, alternating hands when the cement edge became too hot for her fingers. Like this, Sarah made slow circles around the pool, keeping her eyes fixed on the blue tile just above the water.
Monica thought to call out to her; she stood to tell her to go play with the others, but at this Sarah shook her head immediately, before Monica could form the words in her throat.
What was going on inside her poor daughter’s mind? What punishment had she been treated to, and for what crime? A little girl confined to the edges. And Monica thought she might never be freed of it.
At least Monica could free her from the edge of this pool.
Monica left her seat and went to Sarah and leaned over, ready to tell her it was time to leave.
Monica stumbled and sat hard on the cement. What had happened? She felt as though the horizon had wavered, she thought she might vomit. She hadn’t heard her daughter, not exactly, sound has a physical nature to it, a frequency to pass through the structures of the ear and on to the brain.
There had been no sound to this. Yet a message had been sent. Sarah had both hands on the edge of the pool now, looking at Monica, her eyes equally stunned. What the hell was that?
I don’t know.
An answer? So this means,
We can talk? Like you’re like me?
I suppose we can. Or, not really, you can talk to me and read me too.
What’s the difference?
For one, I have to ask you why you said No.
I can’t leave right now. I’m bleeding. My swimming suit’s red.
Bleeding? Honey, where?
Oh. Down there.
They might see it.
Sarah started trawling around the edge of the pool again.
Got to keep moving.
Monica stood and grabbed two large white towels from a green wooden cubby near the clubhouse. She gathered all of their things and put them in her canvas bag then crouched at the edge of the pool nearest the exit.
Alright, Monica thought, I’ll wrap you up.
Okay, get ready
Sarah jerked herself up and Monica put the towel over her, plucking her from the water like an angler with a big catch. Once out, Monica wrapped Sarah in the second towel.
Okay, let’s make a break for it!
Monica sprinted toward the exit and Sarah followed. They passed a lifeguard on their way out, a blonde teenage boy who’d been rendered brown by the summer sun. “Hey, the towels have to stay here!” he shouted at them.
Sarah stopped, but Monica pressed her by the waist and goaded her on.
“Ours now!” Monica shouted back. Go, she thought.
Sarah started up again and they both made the escape to the Mercedes. Once inside they laughed like maniacs at their big payday heist.
“We’re the towel bandits,” Monica said.
“Yeah,” Sarah managed through laughs.
“With our powers combined, no one can stop us! To the drugstore!”
“Oh, yeah.” Sarah said, no longer laughing.
“You’re a woman now.” Monica said. She put the car into drive and turned out of the parking lot, leaving an open-mouthed lifeguard in her rear view mirror.
The problem of course is that Sarah just lets Monica in on one frequency. Only shows her what she wants her to know. Monica doesn’t have that luxury.
The normal flow of things between a mother and daughter is unworkable, it’s as if someone brought a howitzer to a medieval contest.
“Well,” Monica says to Ralph, “you seem to be taking Don’s, differences, better than I expected.”
“It wasn’t entirely a surprise, Sarah told me a while back. She tells me everything.”
That so, Monica thinks, and from the corner of her eyes she can see Sarah’s head droop a little.
“Still, such a sight,” Monica says, “it would have sent most men running to the hills, or the authorities.”
Stop probing him mom.
“It was my decision to let him know,” Don says. “Sarah asked me, and I said yes. I trust Sarah with it, I trust you with it, and now I trust Ralph.”
“Thanks dad,” Sarah says.
Monica purses her lips. Don looks happy, or maybe it’s relief on his face, that Ralph had seen the things and not freaked out.
When Monica had first seen them, they had been so hideous, revolting, worse they had been frightening, and Monica had been frightened for good reason.
Fully formed, the sight of the wings wasn’t so jolting; still, Ralph’s reaction to this was akin to finding a fairy or a unicorn in your dressing room, petting it, and continuing on with your day. Monica didn’t have to read minds to know that something is off in this room.
What are you hiding from me?
Just drop it.
“So, the wedding venue is acceptable, I think, if a bit middle-class.”
“Isn’t that what we are?” Ralph says. “Smack dab in the middle.”
“I wish,” Don says. “So Ralph, your parents…”
“They’ll be here. I told my father he could be best man if he wanted. He said he couldn’t get out of his kid’s ball game for the rehearsal.”
“His kid?” Don asks.
“Yeah, he’s got another kid. Another wife too. So, he had to opt of the best man thing, but he’ll be here. Flying in tomorrow. But Frank Jr., that’s the boy, and his wife aren’t coming...
Happy to attend, as if he’s doing his son a favor by showing up. I told Ralph not to even invite them. I’ve never even met them. But he said he doesn’t want to seem like an asshole.
Sounds about like Ralph. Timid.
Sorry, I know, I know, he’s so much more than what he acts like. But I can’t get inside his head. I just don’t know him well enough like you do. That’s all.
…and so, since mom’s not coming, Monica volunteered to pin my boutonniere,” Ralph finished.
What had he been pattering on about? Monica can’t follow two conversations at once.
Just say his mom doesn’t deserve him and that you’ll be glad to do it.
“That woman doesn’t deserve you, Ralph. I’m glad to do it.”
The rehearsal was finished within twenty minutes. Made possible by a minimally small wedding party consisting of Don who’d both give his daughter away and serve as best man, and Monica serving as maid of honor.
Don and Ralph riffed together during the entire thing. They seemed to share a repartee that Monica herself had yet to develop with her soon to be son-in-law.
After the rehearsal, Monica escaped to her hotel room. She lies in bed in her suite. The bed is guilt-inducingly comfortable, the room well-appointed with oak furniture and wallpaper in simple lines and matching tasteful art, and the television is impressively huge, seeming to overpower every other piece of furniture in the suite. But Monica hadn’t paid triple the price of a night at the Holiday Inn, where the rest of the wedding party was staying, for any of this. She’d paid for silence, most of all for the respite from her daughter’s near-omniscience.
Monica is not religious, but she believes in God She wonders sometimes, after hours around her daughter, after hours of speaking to her in hidden thoughts, that if Sarah were to meet some type of God, what might It try to hide from Her? Would it succeed, and if not, would this mean her daughter is also some kind of deity?
Monica remembers the scared little girl edging around the pool, simply her ward then, if a special case. Nothing a mother couldn’t handle, she was sure. Until that first day of high school, when Sarah made it absolutely certain Monica was incapable of handling this.
What had occurred to Sarah between that day and the day she’d, done what exactly? To that punk kid. The days between those are smeared together. A mother and her daughter, and the ever-present nanny. Easy times go by like that.
But that day dwarfed all the others around it. It stood out. A day a mother fears her daughter is a day that will be remembered, voluntarily or not.
Don had cashed out another stock and the family was flush with cash. He’d spent the day golfing. She’d been at the tanning booth then the salon. She’d planned on paying Don special dividends that night. But then she got the call.
Every school Sarah had attended had contacted Monica once a month or so, something Sarah had done: called a boy out for his prehensile tail, told a girl who’d called Sarah a cunt that the reason her mother had left her was because she didn’t want to stop partying for a kid she didn’t even love, told the Spanish teacher that he needed to stop thinking of the girls that way. So Monica hadn’t been shocked, or even surprised, to see that the school had called again.
“Sarah’s okay, but there’s been an accident.”
The urgency in the woman’s voice told the story. Sarah was most assuredly not okay.
“What happened? What did she do?”
“She didn’t do anything. Another student touched her inappropriately, and, well, it’s probably best if you come and pick her up.”
“Who did it? Call the authorities damnit, this isn’t just some bullying. It’s assault.”
“The authorities have been called, but not for the bullying. The other student, he’s…he’s passed.”
“What does that mean past? Past what?”
“You know. Passed away, moved on. This isn’t something to speak over the phone about. Sarah didn’t do anything to him. She’s physically unharmed. Though they told me to ask you, can we sedate her?”
“Sedate her? No you cannot fucking sedate her. She weighs ninety pounds for Christ’s sake. Do your damn job. I’m on my way.”
Monica got dressed, for the first time in a decade she entered the public with mismatched clothes. She had grabbed the nearest items without bothering anything else. So a thin woman with stunning legs in a pencil skirt and an oversized sweater belonging to her husband with a picture of a moose and the big green words: VISIT WY emblazoned on the chest showed up thirty minutes later at Sarah’s school. An ambulance, two police cars, and for some reason a ladder truck had beat her to the scene.
The principal was waiting for her as she entered.
“Mrs. Porter,” he said.
“Where is she?”
“She’s in an empty classroom, she’s fine. The paramedics examined her. But, she’s behaving strangely.”
“What the hell did he do to her?”
“He, we think he must have grabbed her somehow. He didn’t injure her, but it seems he did injure himself.”
“We think, we think he stabbed himself. Medics couldn’t revive him. The boy’s gone.”
This Monica didn’t process at the time. Stranger’s kids die all the time. Sad, but not so sad as when your own offspring has had some sort of mental breakdown from it. In that moment, she didn’t have any empathy for the other kid; she only wanted to protect her own.
“What room number?”
Monica pushed past the principal and ran to the room. Inside, at a writing desk in the corner of the room furthest from the door, sat Sarah. Her forehead rested on the corner of the desk. She didn’t look up as Monica entered the room.
I did it.
“Sarah, speak to me.” Monica said.
Sarah kept her head down on the desk.
No, this is better. If I talk, I’ll cry again.
Crying is better sometimes.
I don’t get to cry for this. I killed him.
No, you didn’t. They said he did it to himself.
But I told him to do it.
Telling someone to do something isn’t…
You don’t get it. I didn’t say anything. I, I told him, I thought do it. And he just. I’m a murderer.
So you talked to him like this? Like you do with me? That’s still not…
No. Not like this. It was like, like I pushed him like I grabbed him or something. I was mad and I wanted to hurt him. His blood got on my shoes.
Monica looked down below the desk. Sarah was wearing only socks. Monica didn’t believe her daughter was a murderer, and yet…
You believe me.
I believe you. But you aren’t a murderer.
I told him to die, and he died. How’s it any different than if I’d used a knife?
You didn’t know he’d do it though, did you?
So it was an accident. That’s how it is different. You couldn’t have known, because no one can teach you. But now you do know. So you can’t do it again.
Or else I’d be a murderer.
Yes. But this, this was just like a car accident.
Sarah looked up from her desk. The lack of spoken word hadn’t stopped the tears after all. Sarah’s face was beet red, her eyes puffy. Monica knelt next to her and Sarah hugged Monica’s neck.
Monica wondered what to do about Don. She feared what he might do if he found out. Would there ever be a time to tell the man?
No. We won’t tell him.
Are you sure?
Yes. He won’t keep my secret.
And when Don suggested counseling, neither of them objected. She met with the counselor to keep up the illusion of a normal girl who suffered a traumatic experience. And six months later, when Don sprouted two grotesqueries from the back of his ribcage, he hadn’t wanted to keep it a secret. He had wanted fame, fortune and all the trappings which went with them. He wanted to fly from the comic books into the real world. So Sarah never told her father of her telepathy, and neither did Monica.
Monica drifts to sleep wondering how long until she told Ralph? Had she already told him and was lying for some reason? Was this what made Ralph so chummy with the idea of a winged man? Or had Sarah performed some tom-foolery with Ralph’s mind? Had she done any sort of thing with Monica? Monica thinks no, but she had some distrust for Sarah. Monica’s entire life laid bare before her own daughter, and Sarah is allowed her own secrets still. Although she appreciated that Sarah had at least let her in on the secret, the arrangement didn’t seem fair to her. The arrangement is one which inevitably fosters mistrust on the part of the person laid bare. And of course, Sarah knew all of these things about Monica.
The next morning, Monica has breakfast by room-service and dresses in a couture gown accented by Jewelry from Augustine’s jewelers, a New York based jeweler who’d just opened second location in Boston. Monica’s best jewelry comes from there, and as she admired her ruby bracelet, it struck her that the thing was worth more than Don’s car.
She sort of pities the man; her still living in wealth while he has been forced into something she imagined was close to poverty. He always liked to think his little games with the stock market were the reason they lived how they did, but truth was Monica’s trust account earned more than his portfolio on its best year. She’d been quite generous to him during and after the divorce, and though he protested her little quarterly gifts, the checks were still cashed religiously.
She remembered what Don always said, I want our kids, and our kid’s kids to live on the interest. That’s real wealth, never having to touch principle.
But now Don had neither principle nor interest. Without those damn wings, he might have turned his hope into reality. When they divorced, he laughed as he signed the settlement, thinking he wouldn’t need to fight hard for any assets. He’d be famous soon after all.
He only asked that she take Sarah to visit more often than the papers required. She never had. He was the one to leave them, why should Monica make the effort to drag Sarah halfway across the continent to visit her delusional father? And what if Sarah had let something slip? What then?
Monica clasps the bracelet over her wrist. She had done the best she could with Sarah, and with Don. Once, a few years back, he’d called drunk and crying and asked her back. Said he’d tried to cut them off for her but couldn’t. The things were stuck on. Permanent as his love for her. She hung up then, but now she wonder what if she hadn’t? What might it be like under those wings?
She spent the entire drive to the chapel trying to shake the thought.
At the wedding venue, flowers had been arranged around the front of the room. Sarah, as expected, insisted that cut flowers be kept to a minimum, and so the rows of seating had been lined with daisies and hydrangeas and lilies, all poking out of their little flower-pots.
None of the guests have arrived yet, and this Monica meets this fact with relief. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to see her family; it’s only that of the twenty guests who’d agreed to attend, fifteen of them were Monica’s blood relatives. She’ll have to entertain all of them during the reception. Don would be sure to shirk to a corner for the entirety of it, both because he is deathly embarrassed to see any of them again and because the wings, even when tucked tightly under clothing made him appear to be an odd bodied man, almost as if he was trying to hide a hunchback.
In the dressing room, Sarah is fussing with her hair.
“How’s it going,” Monica asks.
Mom, I don’t know what to do.
Your hair looks fine, Sarah.
Not that. Should I tell him?
I don’t know. Yes.
Talk to me. Let’s pretend we can’t do this. Let’s pretend we’re normal.
But we aren’t normal. You have to accept that.
So Sarah hadn’t told him. Monica closed her eyes. Sarah hadn’t been lying. Ralph didn’t know. It felt good to be needed.
Of course I wasn’t lying.
If I could stop it I would. It isn’t something I should keep from my husband. But, I don’t know if it can work if he knows.
You already know everything about him right?
And you’re still marrying him?
Obviously. But in the future, if he
Look. Men aren’t half as good at lying as they think they are. So he can’t lie to you, so what? Millions of wives around the world can’t be lied to by their husbands either. It can still be a normal marriage. Even if he knows.
There aren’t going to be many surprises for us.
Trust me, surprises are about the last thing you want.
“Tell him the truth. If you do, maybe he’ll scare off. If you don’t, your marriage is doomed already,”
“Everything. He might stomp off and pout, but he’ll be back,” Monica says with a little bit of doubt. Monica smiles, “I know you caught that. It’s hard being your mother, you know?”
Monica leans over and hugs Sarah, wipes her face and says “Tell him the truth.”
Sarah nods, stands and twirls. Her figure is every bit as alluring as Monica’s was all those years back. Sarah could have married a financier, a politician, hell she might have landed a celebrity. But she chose the plainest yet somehow oddest man Monica has ever known. What can be said about attraction when a woman who can reads minds chooses a man like Ralph, Monica wonders.
“I think you look amazing, honey.”
Sarah winks at Monica, “I know you do. Will you go see how Ralph and Dad are doing? Make sure Ralph hasn’t bailed.”
“You wouldn’t know?”
“I mean, I guess…”
Sarah tries so hard to be normal. Monica decides to play along, but she can’t help but wonder about Sarah’s power, that level of control, what if she had…
“Mom, I’ve never done that to you.”
“How can I be sure?”
“Because you’re still afraid that I have.”
From the back hall, Sarah peaks into the chapel. Guests are filtering in. Since there are no ushers, the seating arrangement is haphazard already. A smattering of Monica’s family dotting here and there. A few she doesn’t recognize. These must be Ralph’s three, yes three, guests. One, a black man Sarah had said Ralph had asked to the wedding. The man was homeless and crazed. But he wasn’t violent so Sarah relented. This man sat at the very front, nervously tugging at his collar.
Monica ducks back down the hallway before anyone notices her. She wants to limit face-time to the reception only. She knocks on Don and Ralph’s door.
“Come in,” Ralph says.
Monica enters. Both of them are still in their undershirts and Don’s got his wings spread wide open. Ralph’s smoothing the feathers with a cloth, and, “what is that?” Monica asks.
“Baby shampoo. They use it on pet parrots,” Ralph says.
“Don is not a bird.”
“Yeah, I mean but come on. Feathers are feathers, you know?”
“I don’t know why I never thought of it,” Don says with a grin.
Monica sighs. Two damned peas in a stupid-pod. When Sarah first revealed Ralph’s little secret, Monica immediately thought of the tale of the invisible man. In it, the main character becomes evil. Threatens to reign in terror. He doesn’t even make it past the villagers before they kill him. She knows now Ralph isn’t close to that sort.
If Ralph had met Don earlier, before Don had been forced to face permanent failure, Monica guesses Ralph would’ve hated the man. Ralph always said things that made Monica think he was one of these easy hippie-liberals.
These types were always fast to condemn the big players. But when they wanted to use a credit card, where did they turn? When they wanted to buy a car, or, and this one is a stretch for Ralph, a home? Those big evil banks.
Monica hadn’t gone to business school, but she understood the importance of liquidity and of debt, both concepts which seemed to fly over Ralph’s noggin. Before he’d completely excised himself from the world, Don despised Ralph’s type even more than she had. Yet here they were, engaged in a too-close grooming session.
A wedding for lunatics. A secret telepath bride, a pudgy winged man father, and a invisible idiot groom. What does that make me, Monica thinks.
Don is happy though, she can’t deny that, and this makes Monica involuntarily happy as well. She’d forgotten about that feeling he gave her, but here it is.
“Sarah wanted me to check in. Make sure you hadn’t run off,” Monica says.
“We’re still here,” Don says.
“What if Don flew off?” Ralph says, “what would you say to that?”
Monica ignores him. “You know we’re supposed to be lined up in fifteen minutes, right?”
“You don’t even have your dress shirts on,” Monica says.
“No worries,” Ralph says. He removes his rented shirt from the hanger, “stiff as cardboard,” he says as he pulls it over his arms.
“Look, no rush,” he says and pulls a bowtie from the plastic accessory bag. “They’re clip-ons!” Ralph smiles as he latches it behind his neck.
Why oh why had she allowed him to pick the tuxes.
“It’ll fit in with the shotgun theme of this place,” Monica says. “Here, now stand still.”
Monica carefully pins the crimson boutonniere to Ralph’s lapel. She leans in and kisses Ralph on the cheek. She backs and takes him by the shoulders. Soon, Ralph would have a ton of weight on his shoulders, it will be nice that Monica can share it with someone. Someone to empathize with her.
“Good luck,” she says.
“Uh, Monica,” Don says. “Little help here?”
Oh yes. Don and his ‘gesture.’ If any more members of her family had RSVP’d she might’ve tried to talk him out of it. A cheesy way to send a daughter off, this idea of his. If Monica had attended a wedding with such a ludicrous display, a fat man with fake wings letting his daughter go, she’d have had to stifle laughter.
A symbol for what really? Self-indulgence? A veiled threat to the soon-to-be son-in-law? As it stood, she’d be standing near the display, part of it actually. Monica never thought she’d feel such relief at a small wedding for her daughter, yet there it is.
Don’s spinning like a confused little bird stuck in a trap. He’s managed to get one wing free through the hole he’s sewn in the back of his tux (won’t be getting a deposit back for that) but the other wing is trapped under the back of the jacket, Don flexes it, careful not to rip his jacket but he can’t reach the exit for the wing.
Don’s frowning, he’s got a defeated look on his face she’d become so tired of over the years. Monica pities him. He made it further than she’d imagined he would. If not for that crash, maybe...
“Hold on,” Monica says.
She reaches under the jacket and takes the end of Don’s wing in her hand, realizing that this is the first time she’d ever touched one of them, and she thinks briefly, perhaps I’m equally blameworthy for his failure. The feathers are softer than she’d expected, pleasingly so, but underneath tendons and bone and she thinks there is real strength in this thing, not something any other human possesses. Real animalistic power, the type traded in by humanity for intelligence over millions of years of evolution. And with this in her hand for the first time, she realizes somehow Don has achieved both.
But somehow, he couldn’t handle both. Before, when he was just another rich unfaithful broker/trader, he’d work nonstop and rather than sleep he’d run for miles then fuck her then head back in for another marathon session at the office. He had been the strongest steel, but when the wings broke him, he shattered.
I didn’t help keep him together, she thinks. I didn’t do my duty to him. Tears well up in Monica’s eyes as she feels the smooth wing through the back of the jacket.
“I’m sorry,” she whispers to Don.
“Look, don’t give up on it. It’s almost there.”
“No, I don’t mean about this. I mean, for not being a good wife.”
Don turns to her, surprised look in his eyes. Had she ever apologized to him for anything before?
“Thanks. You know, I was a terrible husband. And anyway time proved you right. I think, if I could go back I’d have them removed. Like tumors, like you said.”
“No use living in the past,” Monica says just as she coaxes the wing through the slit in Don’s jacket. “Got it,” she says.
If he asks her, she’ll say yes. Too damn proud to ask him herself.
Monica looks over at Ralph, whose been standing near the door. He’s shuffling from one foot to the other like a shy child. Awkward to have been witness to such an intimate moment between his soon-to-be in-laws.
“Ralph, this is what you get when you mess it up. Don’t mess it up.”
“Gee, thanks for the pep talk,” Ralph says.
“Let’s get you married,” Don says and claps him on the back.
At the back of the hall, the event planner smiles a grin that’s a bit too large to be natural and says she just loves Don’s costume, “how unique” she says as she lines them up.
The organist begins playing and because of the miniaturette wedding party, Monica is escorted down the aisle by Ralph. She puts on her best this is completely normal smile, as Ralph takes her by the arm. Ralph is shaking at her side. He’s covered in sweat like he got dressed inside a sauna rather than a chilled room.
Ralph is not smiling, not attempting to. He’s got a blank look on his face like he’s tuned out, like there’s absolutely not a single shred of thought in the man’s head, like all this anxiety has turned him zombie. It’s these moments, Sarah has informed her, when precisely the opposite is true. So much goes on in there when he’s nervous, I can barely keep up, Sarah claims.
She says: I don’t know if it’s healthy, I think based on the outcomes it’s likely not, but it’s beautiful to perceive. I hate that I love it, because I know it’s not good for him, I know he wishes he could stop being this way, but I can’t help but get excited every time we go somewhere new.
Mind-boggling, absurd even, the range of characteristics humans find attractive. And as Monica turns from Ralph as they reach the end of the aisle, she thinks—my daughter’s attraction is wholly unique—she’s the oddest of all the fetishists, my daughter is. Monica holds her hand over her mouth.
Don’t get the giggles now.
Ralph is still carrying that dull blank-slate look on his face, even as the officiant, a thin bespectacled man with a surprising baritone voice, says hello to him. Ralph can only manage a nod. Monica lets out a giggle, then another and says “sorry,” between gasps for breath.
Bet she has a tough time finding porn for that sort of fetish. Now tears of laughter are dribbling down her cheeks. She wipes these away and bites down on the inside of her cheek, hard enough to draw blood and fill her mouth with the taste of copper. It’s a trick her mother had taught her years ago, and one she’s passed on to Sarah.
Monica looks at her mother, Elizabeth, nearing seventy-five but still trim and prim and upright. A few nips and a few tucks have helped soften the years, and her gown is hiding a tight corset keeping up the appearance of absolute tautness. To the uninitiated in the arts of fighting aging, Elizabeth might pass for twenty years younger than her actual age.
She nods at Monica, knowing her daughter had used the age-old trick to stifle untimely happiness. The hall opens. Tall double oak door as the end of the hall and Sarah’s there, Don at her side with his wings spread high over the top of them both.
His spread wings are too wide, too tall for the double doors. Don’t move them. Someone might notice that. Don angles them and crouches as he passes through the doors.
The sight of Don walking her down the aisle isn’t the groan-inducing affair Monica had predicted. Instead, the wings shine as under the stained-glass tinted light. The thousands of sequins on Sarah’s dress sparkle as well, in powerful shades of green, yellow, ruby, like jewels adorned over her entire dress and ever-changing as she walks.
Monica can see from the side of Ralph’s head that a dopey smile has formed on his mouth. Like a garbage-picker who’s found an abandoned winning lotto ticket amongst his pile of refuse. And, Monica thinks, the look is fitting. Any other expression may have caused her doubt. She nods to Sarah, thinks, your dad managed to surprise me. And you look, otherworldly.
Thanks. Everyone is loving it. Ralph’s about to burst. I kind of like this. All eyes on me. All thoughts on me. I kind of hate that I like it.
Revel in it.
Don takes his place at Ralph’s side, now acting as best man. He reaches overhead and pretends to manually tuck his wings behind his back, causing a few ‘oohs’ from the guests. The officiant stands between Ralph and Sarah and addresses the wedding party.
The ceremony goes off without a hitch and Ralph managed a long kiss for Sarah even in front of all those strangers. Made for a great picture.
At the reception, Monica has a glass of red wine—a too sweet red blend—and she can’t help but find herself waiting for Don to approach her. Don is sitting at a table with Ralph, his wings are tucked, poorly hidden under his tuxedo and Monica remembers how they brushed across her fingers hours before. She forces the thought away. That time was long over. Yet, she couldn’t help but wonder how he might look high up in the sky, and whether he could take her off the ground too, only just a little.
Don’s laughing with Ralph over something she can’t make out. It surprises Monica that the two have managed to remain so buddy-buddy through the course of the wedding. Surely money, politics, something had come up in these past hours to separate them. Twenty some-odd years ago and Don would have been in a shouting match about now, something about the benefit of additional market liquidity as a result of shorting stocks, maybe how insider trading is arguably a boon to the stock market.
But none of that has happened today. Today Don laughs with a bohemian.
His body had come back to him almost inexplicably, almost miraculously. Usually when someone loses such a large amount of weight their skin doesn’t snap back to its natural place near the bone and instead sort of hands like a king-size fitted sheet stuck over top of a twin bed. But Don’s came back with him, skin taut as ever. And who, Monica thinks, am I to question the epidural elasticity of a man who can—or could—use his wings to defeat gravity?
Don smiles and winks at something Ralph whispers in his ear and they clink bottles and chug. Chugging champagne straight from the bottle, another thing young Don would have scoffed at. They don’t get far before the bubbly forces them both to put their bottles down. As Don smiles at Ralph, the thin lines around his eyes and mouth only makes him the more attractive, the hint of gray in his hair only distinguishes him. Features she’d been playing whack-a-mole with on her own complexion, only serving to amplify her attraction to him. Damn men for it.
Don catches her eye and Monica turns away. She wills the blood rising in her cheeks back down but this is a losing attempt until she reminds herself of the look on his face the day he revealed the damn things to her. These feelings are a mirage she’s created in her head, her attraction nothing more than an unfaithful reconstruction of materials long ruined. Don is prideful, he is dishonest, he is greedy he is throwing a thirty year-long pity party for a lifetime failure of his sole creation, he is—
You know I’m right.
Of course. Of course you are. Me laid bare, all of us opened up like autopsy cadavers for your inspection, well you know what you—
You love him. Always have. Still do. Just really, really mad. I get it.
And what do you want me to do? Run back to him and forgive him for a decade of mistreatment followed by thirty years of failure, forgive him for thirty-five years of being a shitty father? Just act like all that didn’t happen that that he isn’t—or wasn’t—terrible for me? And me for him?
No. But you can keep going on this diatribe if you’d like.
What if I do? You going to mess with me? Make me love him, force happiness on us?
Monica hesitates as the thought crosses her mind that such a fate might be an improvement over the one which awaits her, then she rejects it, though she knows there was no worth in doing so, Sarah caught that passing notion sure as Monica did herself.
No, I won’t do any of that. Even if you want me to. But give him a chance. You loved him because of his will right? His strength? He still has all that, it just kind of turned the wrong way on him, hence his refusal to call an end to the thirty year-long pity party. He refused to stop being a failure. But, he’s righted the ship, and Ralph’s helped him with that you know. Don’s not a changed man, not really, he’s only changed direction. He’s thinking of you. Hasn’t stopped all day. Can’t get himself too. Laughing at half of Ralph’s nerdy jokes out of politeness. All the while trying to work up the courage to ask you for a dance. I can’t tell the future, but I don’t think he’s got it in him. I won’t mess with either of you, but I’ll give you a hint: if you ask, he’ll say yes.
Monica decides to give Don that chance. She makes her way to his table, asks him for a dance. Ralph winks and nudges Don and Don answers yes, as Sarah knew he would.
Monica leads Don to the floor and she can feel his eyes on her hips and lower. Together the two of them turn in tight circles over the small dancefloor. Don takes her in tight against him, she starts to pull away, remembering all that bad past, but instead her breasts press against his chest and her breath quickens and she lets herself imagine love with those wings wrapped around her and she pulls him closer.
She breathes against his neck and in a moment, Monica feels Don and knows he’s thinking of physicality as well.
“What is this, high school?” she jokes.
Don grins, embarrassed, “huh,” he says, “sorry about that. Been awhile.”
His grip loosens from her but only for a moment, Monica slides her hands down to his and forces him to grip her again. “I haven’t felt that in a long time,” she whispers to him. And then a memory like a flash occurs to her and Monica finds Sarah in the crowd.
Monica breathes in relief and asks Don, “remember our first dance?”
“Of course I do. I think this one will last longer.” Don says and Monica feels him firm against her as they dance to a second song.