Friday, 9 September 2016

There are many wondrous stories in the world. Today's thread, After the Gazebo by Jen Knox, is one of my personal favorites, wrapped in what I have elsewhere described as a gossamer veil of compassion.

After the Gazebo
by Jen Knox

She felt it in her toes that morning, dread that she would shove into ivory heels and dance on beneath heavy clouds. He felt a surge of adrenaline he thought must accompany every man on his wedding day.
Everything had been set in motion four months ago, when they adopted a pug that was abandoned in a nearby apartment complex. They were unsure they’d have the proper amount of time to devote to the puppy, but his bunched face and square body seemed perfect. It would be a responsibility test, a sort of trial run before they had children.
The pug had dermatitis between his folds, which cost money to correct, as did his shots and medications. It was enough to tear a small hole in their new car fund, so they had to reevaluate the year and model they’d go for. The lesser car they selected had good reviews, and the salesman even said—when he realized they weren’t the best negotiators and had told him their actual budget—that it was more durable than the newer models.
The couple’s fate was sealed when she drove the car off the lot, when he inserted the CD he’d brought along, just in case. “Ocean Breathes Salty” began the soundtrack. They drove all day, speeding along the peripheral of the city, and stopped for Jamaican jerk chicken at a restaurant they agreed they would return to regularly.

They took the pug to the dog park Saturday mornings. He enjoyed eating and watching Animal Planet, so they babied and indulged him. They learned everything they could about the breed and how best to care for him, finally putting him on a diet. They decided on his name after reading that the strange little forehead wrinkle that pugs share resembles the Chinese symbol for prince.
Together, they took Prince on lazy walks after work. They often ate out and met up with friends on weekends. She got a corporate job that replaced her occasional gigs as a yoga instructor. She hated the work but made a lot of friends, fast, and thought it an okay trade for the time being. He got a corporate job; he rather enjoyed it. She gained five pounds. He gained ten. They joined a gym a few months before the wedding. They made resolutions often. They both wanted to be somewhere else, but were unsure exactly where.

They lived near his family but far from hers, so they often spoke of moving somewhere in the middle. Her sister would often call, upset about her husband being out late. She wanted to be close enough to visit, watch bad movies and make orange cinnamon rolls.
They’d all be closer soon, the couple decided. This union was an inevitable step toward their ideal future. The details would work themselves out.
The day of the wedding, they awoke five hours and twenty minutes before they had to be at the meeting center by the gazebo. Their wedding would be outside, in a park where they first met. Both had been joggers. It would be a small ceremony.
She would wear her mother’s ivory dress, still a touch tight around the hips. He would wear his OSU pin on his slant striped gray tie. They would have a total of eighteen family members there; two would attend via Skype, and approximately twenty friends and acquaintances had RSVP’d. She would pick up her mother and sister from the hotel they insisted on staying at because the couple’s apartment was still quite small. Just fewer than forty people would surround them as they took their vows at Abaline Park at 2PM. It was the perfect wedding size, everyone agreed.
Prince had a habit of jumping up and down before treat time, after walk time, and this always made her giggle. Her giggling always made him want her.
It was wedding day morning. She laughed at his pitched pants and serious stare when she walked out of the kitchen. He didn’t laugh. Instead, with only hours remaining, he rushed her, moved his fingers along her belly beneath her shirt, lifted her sideways and took her to their bedroom where they would forget the world for almost an hour. Last time as a single man, he said. She pushed him off and over, hugged his waist with her knees.
When they remembered the world, they were frantic. They kissed goodbye. She took the car and thought about how lucky she was. She had heard horror stories about friends’ weddings but knew hers would be perfect. There wasn’t a fake or a placeholder in the bunch.
Her mother, an artist, presented her with a black and white painting of Prince when she arrived at the hotel. She laughed and loved it. Her sister worked hard to laugh with them, then explained that her husband couldn’t attend due to work. It had been last minute. The sisters embraced. 
Prince refused to wear the doggie tux. She understood his apprehension and clipped a bowtie to his collar. She hoped her fiancé would remember to pack the treats and the collapsible water dish. His father was picking him up. His mother was in a wheelchair after having reconstructive foot surgery a few weeks back. They lived close by, would arrive right before the ceremony. She was a loud, beautiful woman. Her three grown children, the husband-to-be included, had blinged out her chair while she was in surgery so that she now called it her throne.
The gazebo was perfect. His cousin, who had taken on the role of wedding planner, had done everything right. Nothing was overdone. The couple didn’t see each other until the vows. The sky was overcast but with no threat of rain.
The clouds framed them in pictures. The couple kissed. Prince jumped up and down at the dance after. His mother danced in her chair. Her mother sketched the children’s faces. Her father smoked cigars with his father as they talked about drone strikes and then football and then the quality of their cigars.
The recall notice hadn’t reached them because they’d forgotten to write the apartment number on the paperwork, and his email had filtered the e-copy to junk. This would strike the parents as ridiculous after, seeing as how all the bills had reached them just fine. The recall notice concerned hyper acceleration and asked that all owners of the make and model and year bring the car in for a free check.
The parents would become angry and file suit. It would be a large suit. They would become quite rich, and they would become angrier that they had to become rich in this way. 
His mother’s foot would heal perfectly, and she would walk with only a slight limp to the two graves that sat alongside the back of the yard by an old, abandoned house that the city was unsure what to do with. The family would gather here on the anniversary of the couple’s wedding, and they would sob and laugh and smoke cigars. They would talk about the circumstance of death and fate, what lined up in order for it to happen on their wedding day. The family would come to know that it was not the dealer’s or manufacturer’s fault alone. The car had surged when he hit the brakes; the driver of an SUV had been taking over the lane at the wrong time.
The family became rich, so incredibly rich, but it didn’t matter. The money did not reconcile the odd chain of events, that slight hit that sent their small car spinning into the median strip. It was instantaneous for him. It was drawn out for her. She had that brief window, a chance to say goodbye. She’d told her sister that she knew, somehow, that she had thought it was just cold feet, but she knew.
The family was smaller now. The sister was alone. Her mother fell ill and no longer painted. The nieces and nephews were teenagers, unreachable. Her sister became pregnant after a fling.
Prince would live with the sister and would rest his wrinkly head on her belly as she daydreamed about finding love. He would comfort her when she came home with child, when she spent hours staring at the floor, unable to sleep. He would mind the child and growl at men she would bring home.
Until his final days, Prince would continue to comfort her sister, but he would never jump up and down. Instead, he would conserve his energy and spend his every night at the door, waiting, unable to believe in fate.
* * * * *

After the Gazebo was introduced in Ardor and is also included in Jen Knox's short story collection After the Gazebo.