Chapter 5: Newlyweds
Ralph is enjoying his post-marital buzz. He thinks today Sarah is unreal beautiful. He’s been in a constant state of swallowing down a choked-up urge to cry since they said ‘I do.’
Happy tears, all of them his happiest. He’d wiped away more than a few during the father’s last dance, and a few more when Monica led Don to the dance floor. Ralph can see the love still between them, just those damn wings are blocking their own view of it.
“Really? Two bottles?” Sarah says.
“Hey,” Ralph answers. “We paid for these, got to drink ’em all.”
“It’s 11:30 a.m. And, you know we get to keep all the leftovers. Even the booze, dummy.”
Ralph laughs too loudly. He takes a long swig. He puts the bottle down and says “already with the verbal abuse darling?” This sends Don into a fit of laughter himself.
Monica comes inside through the back door. She’s pulled her Mercedes outside the exit. “Okay Don,” Monica says and grabs a box of leftovers, “help me load this stuff.”
Don chugs the remainder of his champagne and lets out a wet sounding burp. Ralph and Don laugh again at this. Ralph was surprised they’d hit it off so well since they met in person just a day ago.
Ralph had been nervous to meet her father in person, more so due to the fact that the guy had wings. Ralph assumed he was a real man’s man, to have flown like he had.
“So this is gonna be like a ‘you show me yours, I’ll show you mine sort of thing?’” Ralph asked Sarah as they waited the day before the rehearsal. Monica wouldn’t arrive for another hour at least, she always seemed to spend as little time in the physical presence of her own daughter as possible.
“Something like that,” Sarah said. “You show him your secret, he’ll show you his” Sarah says.
“I guess showing isn’t the right word, really.”
Don and Ralph had talked about it over the phone, but Ralph had been careful. He’d said it as if joking, which confused Don at first but then he got the message: what if someone else is listening in, some uninvited phone guest? So the talk went something like ‘oh yes, invisibility might be the one to have if I were to pick,’ and Don had responded with ‘ah but flying is for man who wishes to be truly free,’ quite patriotic indeed, and then they’d moved on to more mundane matters. Ralph’s education (scant), his family history (scanter), his career (scantest). Don took it all better than expected. Don seemed sympathetic; he knew how this sort of superpower thing tended to work out in real life.
Ralph remembers how huge Don looked when he opened the door to the dressing room. An extravagantly wide man stood before him. Ralph froze for a moment, confused, thinking Don should have lost weight, I thought he lost weight? And then, oh yeah, he’s got them tied up under the jacket. That the duster made him look like some sort of parody, like a pudgy gunslinger stuck out of time.
Nervous. Always nervous during this sort of thing.
Ralph put his hand out. “Hi, nice to meet you, I mean you know, meet you in person I mean.”
They shook and Don said, “Nice to meet you too. In person I mean.”
“Go ahead and show him,” Sarah said to Ralph.
“Okay, so here it is,”
“Watch this, Dad,” Sarah said.
Ralph did it for the first time in months. He didn’t even hesitate to show him, because he wanted to see Don’s wings. Easy as the first time. No sound, no flicker, nothing. Here and then not here. The only sign of him was his clothes, a sweater and a pair of jeans that looked to be kind of puffed up like half-blown balloons.
“Isn’t that some shit,” Don said, and Ralph could tell Don was flabbergasted. “Can you go through anything?” Don asked.
“Nope. That’s the bad part. Can’t be seen, but everything else is still there. I mean, the one in Fantastic Four has her force field, even the one from that kid’s cartoon could make a kind of protective bubble. But me, just can’t see me. It’s like, what’s the point?”
’I sometimes wonder the very same,” Don said. Don unbuttoned his duster and let it fall to the floor.
“Whoa,” Ralph said and blinked back into the room.
Don untied his wings and let them rise up over his head, and then he stretched them out. Suddenly the room felt crowded.
“They’re huge,” Ralph said.
“Not big enough, I’ve been grounded for fifteen years now. Or you could say they’re the right size. I’m the one who’s too big.”
“I think they’re still impressive,” Ralph said. In awe but he thought, Don could never stop having these. He couldn’t ever quit having wings. The glorious beautiful things seemed to have doomed him rather than set him free.
Sarah had said before that Don would be ashamed of them, but Ralph could see in his eyes that he was proud. At least in that moment he was. Sarah could tell it too, apparently, as she smiled and clasped her hands together. Ralph ran his hand over one of the largest feathers at the end of the wing and grinned so big it hurt; he finally wasn’t the only freak on the planet.
“So, when are you going to fly again?” Ralph asked.
“I think never.”
“Did Sarah tell you about the crash?” Don asked.
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. They’re only for show now.”
“I hope you’re wrong,” Ralph said. He immediately wished he hadn’t. Don’s face grew sullen. Flying, the idea had been so gone from Don. Any hope or fear at the prospect of ever flying again Don had long buried. And Ralph stood there with a shovel, busy digging it all up. Shouldn’t have done that. He’d even tried to cut them off once, Sarah had told Ralph in secret. Don didn’t want them anymore. He didn’t want to fly. Ralph could relate.
Sarah mercifully interjected and said to Don, “Well, they’ll be a good look for walking me down the aisle, and that’s all I need.”
“How are you gonna hide them after that? I mean, during the reception you know,” Ralph said, grateful to be changing the subject.
“A matter of plastic wrap and penguin tails. They’ll assume I’m fat and have bad fashion sense. Nothing else to do for it.”
“Dad, don’t say that. You look good. Everyone will be happy to see you.” Sarah said.
“So,” Don asked Ralph, “what’s it like to be not invisible?”
“Better, I think. The whole thing, I guess it got sort of distracting. I can’t find a job now, though. Something about twenty years of unemployment turns off anyone who’s hiring.”
“Sarah’s got you looking for work?”
“Well, he can’t keep stealing,” Sarah said. “How else is he supposed to help out?”
“You’ll have to wait tables. Maybe be a garbage man,” Don said.
“Don’t trash the garbage man now,” Ralph said and laughed, “they make heaps of money. Piles of cash.”
“Seriously,” Sarah said. “You’re in no place to judge. Good hours, good benefits. But well, the City hasn’t gotten back with Ralph yet.
“Oh, so you…”
“Yep. And a waiter. And a janitor. It’s not easy out here for a reformed invisible man.”
“I know how you feel,” Don said. “I’m not quite employable either.”
That was the truth. Don’s resume had to have been more barren even than Ralph’s. A former broker, wearing suspiciously baggy clothing, applying for non-physical jobs because he’s too fat for anything else? Ralph hadn’t been much better, though. Or perhaps worse. Ralph doubted Don had ever used his power to jerk off in public.
“I’m happier now without it though,” Ralph said. “Good thing we’ve got a normal person to support us, huh?” Ralph put his arm around Sarah and kissed her on the cheek, sending her to grinning.
And Sarah had supported Ralph through the entire wedding. Gotten him through loads of awkward conversations with people he’d never met. Acted like a bitch to his parents and sent them scrambling for the exits, which Ralph thoroughly enjoyed.
All the guests have left, finally Ralph feels he can breathe. He leans back in his plastic chair and sips from the bottle. Don stands to help Monica pack the leftovers. Ralph watches him as he fills a paper bag with trays of finger foods, Ralph knows Don is hesitating because Ralph knows that facial expression, he’s seen it so often in himself, but Don manages the courage to ask Monica: “So what are you doing after this? Want to get a drink?”
“You know, I think that can be arranged. My hotel’s bar is nice,” Monica says.
So Don had worked up the nerve after all. He nods to Don as he passes, raises his bottle, and says “cheers.” Don just shakes his head but there’s a smile on his face.
Sarah walks into the reception area, she’s changed into blue sweatpants and tennis shoes, but her makeup and hair is still done up.
“You look like the prettiest girl at the trailer park,” Ralph says.
Sarah doesn’t sit or smile, instead she takes Ralph by the hand and says “Come on. We need to talk.”
Sarah pops one of the bottles of champagne for herself and leads Ralph into the chapel. They sit at the steps of the altar they had been married on not two hours ago and look over the pews, the soft light from the skylight pours through the multicolored plate-glass, throwing the room into a blend of shades: red, green, orange, blue.
“Shit,” Ralph says, “we still have to load all those potted plants.
“Forget ’em,” Sarah says. “They’ll be fine here.”
“What? But you love those things. I threw out a bunch of stuff in the apartment to make room for them.”
“One of the staffers wants them. More than that, she needs them. They remind her of someone.”
Ralph furrows his brow, “One of the staffers told you that?
“Not quite,” Sarah says. “I know she wants those flowers, well, like I knew you were invisible the first day you saw me.”
What an odd thing to say. Ralph takes a long draw from his bottle, finishing it off while he tries to make sense of her words.
Still confused, he says “So it was love at first sight? And you didn’t want to tell me till now. I get it.”
“Not love, Ralph. Though I do love you.”
Sarah takes Ralph’s head in her hands and turns his face toward hers.
I love you. Every inch of you.
What was that? She spoke, but he hadn’t seen her lips move, he hadn’t heard her voice. His brain perceived the words directly, and it physically hurt. Like a needle prick right in his goddamn head. Like a spider crawling up the walls of his skull. It hurts, it is confusing, like flexing a muscle for the first time. Such a strange pain, Ralph felt as if, if such a thing were possible, that his brain had physically moved. Like he’d flexed his gray matter. Or Sarah had flexed it for him. Like waking up and knowing a language lost to history, or never before uttered. Ralph rubs his temples and blinks. After considerable effort, he manages to speak, saying “what the fuck was that?”
I could see you, because I could see your mind.
Ralph’s head is an off the rails bullet train now. What does she know about me? Why didn’t she tell me? Why lie all this time? What else hasn’t she told me? What…what…what
“Fuck, Sarah why didn’t you tell me?” he finally says.
Sarah kisses him.
I know, and love, all there is about you. I didn’t tell you because I’m a coward. I’m trying to be brave like you.
Who else did you lie to? Does Don know?
No. Ralph don’t tell him
He’s mad. Pulsing, throbbing fucking angry at her. And his head is killing him. How could you not tell me? This is worse than mine. Way abso-fucking-lutely worse. I’m leaving.
I love you.
Ralph wants to say something hurtful before he storms out. But he can only stand and walk away. Nothing he can say she wouldn’t already know. How can you say something hurtful, something untrue like ‘I don’t love you,’ when the other person knows you do?
He thinks of Don and his wings, how he’d let them destroy him and how he was only now getting his life back together on his own. He thinks of his own battle with his power, and how Sarah had saved him from a meaningless life, just by being with him. Now it is his turn to help her. They’ll need some time, somewhere away from where they’ve been so far, and in that far off place get closer to each other. How long will he allow himself to stay angry at her? And then, like a switch, his anger is gone. He’s reminded of the love and the peace he had felt only minutes before, and this fills him up. It is strange, how easily shook that anger, but Ralph doesn’t bother question his quick turnaround.
Instead he turns back to her, walks over and kisses her hard, but she is crying.
He furrows his brow, as if all the sudden he must give effort to a thought, and he thinks: I can’t lie to you. Like not even if I wanted to.
But now she’s crying harder even than the night she split up with him. She turns away. Ralph leans in to kiss her again, but she pushes him away and stands. He can’t think of what to say, and he learns within a second the difficulty of ordering one’s own thoughts so that they might not betray oneself. She knows everything about me. I am not my thoughts, he thinks loudly in his head, making sure she’ll pick it up.
That secret place in his head is obliterated, and he wonders how it will be to live without it. Why should she be crying? He knows she knows this question in his head, but she does not speak to him, instead turning toward the chapel doors.
Ralph realizes then that this is a one-sided arrangement. He can’t read her mind. He can’t know what, why, how, unless she lets him in. It strikes him how much harder their marriage might be, and he wonders, fleetingly, whether the effort is something he can bear. He pushes the doubt away, again tries his best to think loudly: yes, they must stick together now more than ever, and he decides to emphasize the point by speaking but before the words form in his throat she’s out the doors.
Ralph follows her closely, but once he reaches the door, he can no longer see her. It’s as if she’s the invisible one, and Ralph is becomes very afraid, for now he can see nothing.
How long he stands unseeing he cannot tell, he thinks time is slipping somehow in this hallway. It seems everything is gone too bright, his nervous system has become numbed by something, his mind has become intoxicated by something. It occurs to them that the earth is confusingly large and small, same as the universe, and that’s okay. The absurdity of existence and the blackness before him, he accepts it. Nothing more than an atom cluster with sentience, and if he lost the sentience, he could join the other atoms in harmony and that will be alright. He’s ready to depart this feeble mind.
And just as he was lost, he is back. He touches the wall to make sure, looks into a chandelier overhead and squints as he should, he runs his tongue over his teeth. She’s gone and he has no idea why. He tries to shake off the strange feelings he had only a moment before, it is as if he has awoken from a dream.
How long has he been standing here? What was it Sarah had told him? Ralph listens and hears movement back toward the reception area. Okay, he thinks, and there was another wedding scheduled after ours so it hasn’t been long since…since whatever happened that made her leave and whatever she said and whatever she’d done to him…and…
And then he had no recollection of their encounter.
“What am I doing?” he asks himself. Standing out here for no reason. He chuckles at himself and heads off toward the reception room to find Sarah, having no memory of her tears and no memory of her leaving.
He finds Monica and Don loading the last of their wedding paraphernalia into Don’s car, helped by a hurried and flustered member of the chapel’s staff. A few members of the next wedding party, still dressed casually, are waiting in the corner of the room and giving anyone who dares cross their gaze a ‘hurry the fuck up before I get violent’ look. But Ralph doesn’t see Sarah, she must be back in the dressing room.
Ralph opens the door to the dressing room. Inside, a petite blonde, a striking girl but not Sarah—and, Ralph thinks, much too young for marriage—turns to him in shock. She’s fully clothed but the sight of a middle-aged, somewhat pudgy stranger has seemed to have caused her much consternation, and this is confirmed when she shouts, “Get out, creep! Dad!”
Ralph shuts the door hard and rushes, head down, back to the reception room. Don and Monica have loaded the last things up and are simultaneously thanking the staff member who helped them and apologizing for setting the next wedding behind. The staff member isn’t gracious—their place has already been paid in full after all and the business must move on to the next scheduled betrothment’s fulfillment—and turns in a huff to the next party, who she greets with a smile.
“Where’s Sarah?” Monica asks as she notices Ralph.
“I, I don’t know,” Ralph says, trying but failing to remember what had happened in the chapel.
“She was with you,” Monica says.
“Yeah, oh yeah we went to the chapel to talk, and then, uh…” Ralph drifts off and turns to scan the room, then turns back to face Monica, “huh,” he finishes.
“You must be leaving now,” a voice says, it sort of rises at the end to frame the statement as a question. The staff member again.
“Right, right,” Monica says, “we’ll be leaving, then.”
“Thank you, have a good one,” the woman says dryly.
Ralph starts to protest, thinking Sarah might get pissed that everyone left the room without her, but he notices that Monica’s face is white, as if all the blood has been drained from it, and he remains silent. Usually so well put-together, she seems haggard, here yes frantic, her movements jarring. Ralph follows her as she quickly exits. Don follows and shuts the door. Ralph takes a moment so that his eyes can adjust to the sunlight and then turns again to Monica, only halfway believing the way she’d looked before. But that unsettled look is there still, amplified even.
“Where’s Sarah?” Ralph asks her, feeling a lump in his throat, the words come out like a gulp.
“Bathroom?” Don suggests, not yet realizing that Monica looks as though she’s just witnessed a car crash.
“So she told you,” Monica says to Ralph. Monica sits on the curb, hard. Ralph looks to Don, and Don is looking at Monica as if he’s never seen her before, and in a way this is true because he has never seen her like this in Ralph’s presence—but in truth Don has seen that look before, it was the very same one she had given him the day he revealed his budding wings to her—and Don says slowly, “Mon, what did she do?”
“Not here,” Monica says.
On the ride to Monica’s hotel room, Ralph asks a few questions but getting no answer, the majority of the ride is in silence. Inside the hotel room, Monica fixes a drink and sits in a leather desk chair at the corner of the room. Don sits on the bed across from her, but Ralph stands, pacing, wondering, shocked yet numb.
“Okay, we’re here,” Ralph says, “where is she? What happened?” He tries to sound brave or fierce or angry but only desperation comes through his voice.
Monica says, “Ralph, sit. Listen for a moment, don’t talk, just listen, okay?”
Ralph sits next to Don on the bed, and tapping his fingers on his leg he says, “okay.”
“Don?” Monica asks.
“Okay,” Don answers
Monica speaks the truth to her family, or what she knows of it. How her daughter, Don’s daughter, Ralph’s wife, is a telepath. How Sarah can see thoughts like others see a face. How she can control minds. How she’d killed a boy with this control, how she’d saved Don from discovery as he lay in a hospital bed. Monica leaves out the part about how Sarah had kept Don from killing himself at Register Cliff, thinking it best for him to believe he’d saved himself. Don takes Monica’s hand as she speaks. Ralph’s mouth is open wide, as if Sarah had not, only an hour ago, spoken to him telepathically.
“…so the part I never could figure out,” Monica continues, “the part that’s always scared me, is how Sarah always said, without hesitation, that she can’t stop reading my thoughts. She joked that they didn’t make a blindfold for the mind. But when it came to control, she always said she could control it, that the only time she hadn’t, was the time she killed the boy, and that, of course, could be explained because she herself hadn’t known of that aspect of her power until she used it. And I wanted to believe her when she said that the two things followed different rules. But the way she looked in the hospital that day, God the way her eyes went…out…the way her voice lost its pitch for those few minutes. I’m not so sure. But nothing came of it, I mean she’s so well-adjusted, she grew up just how I,” Monica looks at Don, “how we, wanted her to. Don, I’m sorry.”
Don remembers how as a sixth grader she’d asked him to stop looking at the maid that way, and him thinking, when had she seen me even look at her sideways let alone ‘that way.’ The time he’d made a successful short and netted one hundred thousand in a day and she’d asked for a pony because now they were rich, and him thinking she must’ve overheard something. She never got the pony. How he’d used inside information that year to make over a million and how, if he’d known about her…Don hangs his head.
“No,” Don says, “I’m sorry.”
Ralph sees that Don’s eyes are wet, and Ralph knows he should feel sympathy or empathy or something in this moment but all he can think is, how the fuck do I get Sarah back? He hates that Sarah withheld her powers from him, and there will be a time to be mad at her for lying, but this isn’t it. He thinks, I did the same, before she convinced me to change. Now to return the favor, or at least try. The main problem before him, how does he convince a person to change who can change him without a word? He wonders, had she changed him already? He shakes the thought, no; there will be time for questioning and anger later. He hopes Sarah gives him that time.
He runs the scenario through his head: he finds her, somehow, confesses his love—again—and then what? Either she decides to wipe him out completely, or whatever, she doesn’t decide to do it but it happens anyway. No two ways about it, he ends up either very confused or dead. What was it she said before she cleared his memory? He struggles but fails to remember anything except standing in the hallway dazed as all hell and—
“Why didn’t she wipe my entire memory?” Ralph asks, not really waiting for an answer, “I mean, why are we talking about her at all right now? Monica, she surely knew you worried about her ability to control others, whether she had control over it, yet she let you keep on having doubts.”
“Well, like I said, if she can’t control it, she can’t—“
“She can control it,” Don says, eyes widening, “she just doesn’t know she can.”
“Something like that,” Ralph says, “yeah something like that. Or else, we’d not be sitting here talking.”
“I don’t understand,” Monica says.
“I’m not sure I do either. I remember, years ago, I’d think what if I couldn’t turn off? What if I could not stop being this,” Ralph makes himself invisible for a moment then returns, visually, to the room, “how would my life be different? Alone, sure, more alone even than before I met Sarah. But more than that I would have nothing close to an identity, except that I could not be seen. I would be completely apart from the world. Even though I can switch this off, I let it control most of who I was—and who I was, mostly, was a shitty person. I’m trying to say, if I couldn’t control it, this would have consumed me long ago. I’d have used it to its fullest extent, probably even to the point of murder.
“Sarah says she can’t stop reading thoughts, and you say she can’t help but control minds. I think, on some level, that she can. Because if she couldn’t, well, imagine if the ability to control minds controlled you.”
Monica and Don chew on that. Ralph imagines it too. His own mind, controlling others and controlling him. Jesus, at sixteen he’d have made a world full of flesh sex-bots.
“Ralph,” Monica says, “I’ve underestimated you. Sarah always said I did, and now I know she was correct. In all these years, I never put it together.”
“To be fair,” Don says, “you’d have to be one of us freaks to think like one.”
Ralph finds himself surprised that Don hadn’t reacted more strongly to the news. His daughter, the normal one, turns out to be the strangest of all, and Don’s only reaction is to apologize for not raising her? Maybe, Ralph thinks, Don knew something all along. Maybe he wasn’t in the dark involuntarily.
“So what do we do?” Monica asks.
“She’s going to try to kill herself,” Don says abruptly.
“How do you know?” Ralph asks.
“I speak from experience.”
“Glad you’re still here,” Monica says.
Ralph says, “Yeah, uh, me too. But shouldn’t we leave, like, right now? Go to our apartment, or I don’t know, the gift shop. She’s not answering her phone.”
“She’ll try it at Register,” Don answers, without a hint of doubt in his voice.