WRITERS READING: TONI JENSEN

Wedding Song: A Story in Four Parts

  1. The Maid of Honor

The man before me was shouting about divorce, which would have been fine if we weren’t in the middle of a wedding. If The Shouting Man wasn’t the minister. If the Shouting Man wasn’t also the groom’s father. My best friend was the divorcee bride. We were surrounded that day by roses—a whole battalion of them—and up until the divorce talk, bees had been our biggest concern. One of the bridesmaids was allergic, had tucked an EpiPen into her bra, just in case.

No one should enter into such a union lightly,” the Shouting Man was saying. A sleek, slim bee hovered near his sweaty brow, and though I was not particularly religious, I prayed for a big, allergy-inducing landing. Anything to get us to the I Do’s and the liquor. Oh, Lord, some quick I Do’s, and then a Scotch, neat. Oh, Lord, let us have some order to this day. Amen.

The Shouting Man, The Preacher Man, the Father-in-Law-to-Be raised his voice past the flowers, the trees. It was fall already. The flowers, the lush leaves would be wilting and spiraling down to the ground soon. And before any of us knew it, the stems, the trees would be laid bare.

Oh Lord,” he said again, his voice shifting and rising. The sleek as a bullet bee flitted off toward the highway. Oh, Lord, I thought, to have followed. An escape route. A car. A plan.

But then The Bride turned her head away from The Shouting Man. And then the Bride turned her face toward me: the frozen smile, her up-do starting to unravel, the tears forming, threatening to ruin hours of professional make-up. The bee was long gone. I squared my shoulders. I gripped my bridesmaid’s roses tighter. And then I stepped forward.

  1. Groomsman Number Four

In The Bride’s first wedding, I was The Best Man. Husband Number One had been my best friend. I had introduced him to The Bride, who was also known as my sister. Here, in Wedding Two, I was further down the groomsman line. I had a tasteful rose in my lapel, but already, it was starting to wilt.

Husband Number Two wrote screenplays and used words like development and treatment. Husband Number Two was tall and blond and came from a family of born-agains. The screenplays he wrote were for children under ten, and myself, I was a fan of movies where things blew up or people got naked. Action. Which was why his daddy, The Preacher-man going nuts was a turn I appreciated. “All too many marriages end in divorce these days,” he was saying, for like, the third time.

I had been rooting for the bees, but this was infinitely better. And then I saw it, The Bride, my sister, with tears in her eyes, and I forgot about action, about Wedding Number One. I opened my mouth and stepped forward.

  1. The Groom

I had plotted this all out, and now my father was ruining it. We were nine-and-a-half minutes into the show, and he should have been comparing this garden to the Garden of Eden, the beauty of the roses to our love. Then he was to phase himself out so the singing could start. He had the script I wrote in his left hand but was using it to wave off a bee, to emphasize the words divorce and evil. Love, not evil. For a minute, I got caught up in how most of those letters were the same. I wondered if that was how this all started, with Dad, I mean. If he noticed too, then got carried away by the similarity. I was trying to remember if it was Mom or Dad who’s allergic to bees, trying not to feel bad for hoping it was Dad when I saw it—tears forming in My Future Wife’s eyes, her mouth set in that tight smile that meant, oh God, I’m in trouble, and I opened my mouth and stepped forward.

  1. The Organist

The first chords startled; then my voice rose over the organ and the growing wind, and everyone stared. “Amazing Grace” was not the song the soloist was supposed to sing, but it was one I was betting we all knew. The Short Groomsman was the first to stop moving forward, to join his voice with mine. The Maid of Honor was next, then The Groom who had been advancing, arms straight out as if in a zombie movie.

Look, I’m on my third husband. And I had another wedding across town in just under an hour.

I pushed the crescendo, up and up, so the notes swelled into the trees, whose leaves had been green when we started all this—I would have sworn—but now seemed to be turning and falling and turning and falling some more.

I leaned into the next verse—“When we’ve been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun”—and everyone was joining in now, even That Pastor, who had stopped scowling and had started waving his arms as if directing a choir.

The Bride’s smile unlocked, her face soft again and young like mine once was.

Everyone stopped their stepping forward. Everyone raised their voices, harmonious at last. We mixed right in with the drone of bees, the falling of leaves, the snows of winter and the rains of spring, the years that would tumble forward like rose petals from a bouquet—gripped too tight and beautiful, still. 

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ToniPictureColorToni Jensen‘s first story collection is From the Hilltop. Her stories have been anthologized in New Stories from the South, Best of the Southwest, and Best of the West: Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri. She teaches creative writing at Penn State University.