July 17, 2015KR OnlineFiction

The Happy Day

From The Kenyon Review, New Series, Winter 1992, Vol. XIV, No. 1

The bride wants children in the ceremony: ring bearers, flower girls, a choir of pure bell-like voices. They stand soldierly in their deep green satin, vests and tunics, lined up rank and file, their parents off to the side tilting heads and smiling to see the artistry, Marty shaping them like clay—pinching a boy closer, wetting a finger to flatten a cowlick, raising a girl straighter by her chin, coercing them together by suggesting they are afraid—until their grouping pleases him. Beth thinks Marty has acquired a kind of permanent commercial Vaseline blur to his vision. The white gazebo, backdrop, looks like the plastic top of a wedding cake, greenery and baby’s breath poked into its latticework like that phony, inedible icing. “Whiskey,” he tells them on an intake of breath.

“Whiskey,” they shout. His shutters naps and he drops his hand, releasing his breath.

“Father of the bride?” Marty says flatly.

“Dead!” the kids shout back.

“Oh.”

From shooting weddings, Marty says he has learned that he will never marry. Beth is frightened to think she has discovered the same thing. She is too young, twenty-four. She lifts her Pentax, the color load, and catches a boy wiping his hand angrily beneath his nose. The abrupt way he does it reminds her of a fighter, someone knocked but not yet down. As Marty’s assistant, her job is to shoot the less conventional moments, what they call in this business the “candids.” Things gone tender or real or wrong, the off-center parts that lend the standard event its idiosyncratic patent. Back at the shop, they’ll go through the negs making two piles, keep or toss. Beth steals those shots the family would never purchase, those that cross the line. She’s papering her apartment walls with them: the bloated cheeks puffing up to contain an unseemly belch, the willful hand during its misplaced fondle, the thigh or shoulder giving an accidental tease of binding underwear, and the inevitable closed eyes—whole groups of people in their finery, tux and tails and slips and mottled plastic pearls, eyes shut, not one of them seeming able to bear what’s before them.

Today’s wedding is the second for both sides. Bride and groom are in their thirties, and share between them three children of those first mistaken vows. Beth cannot recall which of the little cadets has been pointed out to her as the sons of the bride and daughter of the groom. She’s heard there are optimal times in a child’s life for divorce and so assumes there must also be converse, disastrous times. Did such considerations enter into the plans? She watches for pettiness, jealousy, sulking. But maybe the children have given their blessings. Maybe this new snap-together family is just the thing.

Marty rounds up the bride and her grown-up entourage, grimaces at their varied heights and weights, the gap-toothed way their green gown hems meet. Their dresses are skimpy and they have goosebumps, noticeable nipples. June wedding, though in Chicago it is not safe to assume June weather. The party keeps looking hopefully at the clouds, as the fickle sun surfaces and retreats. Marty doesn’t care; he uses a flash with everything, indoor or out, unilateral unnatural light. It will be up to Beth to capture the real atmosphere of the day, which is part of that long, damp Midwestern transitional season neither spring nor summer.

“Suck in,” Marty prods the women. “Say, ‘Honeymoon.’”

“Honeymoon,” they say through locked smiling teeth.

“Oh, ladies!” Marty swoons. “Like you mean it!”

Honeymoon.”

Beth catches them just after Marty: their faces fallen, mouths open as they step away, complaining of the wind, the loud children, the way this peculiar leafy green is not only not their color but not anyone’s, narrowing their eyes at Marty, wondering if he’s a homosexual.

Marty nudges as if by accident into the pipe-smoking, smiling Jimmy Stewart-like friend of the family who’s been trailing around with a video recorder.

“Oh pardon me, brother,” Marty says rudely.

Taking Marty’s professional poses and using them for his home movie. Marty hates an amateur. Beth lifts the Nikon from around her neck, black and white load, and snaps a shot of her boss with his fist on his hip, pouty lip, pudgy fag. He’s a redhead and even his eyes are freckled.

But the video camera annoys everyone. And the man is not really respecting the wedding dress code, certainly not the bride’s evident preference for green. White Mexican shirt, khaki bermudas, those ubiquitous brown ribbed nylon old-man socks worn with rubber-soled hiking boots. His pipe makes him appear benign, avuncular, though no one seems to claim him. He turns sharply when Beth targets him, as if by focusing her lens she had created a vortex he felt on his back. He points his video machine at her, dueling photographers.

Beth has an urge to cover herself; it’s as if she could see what he’s seeing, a boyish young woman also not dressed for a wedding, three heavy cameras slung around her neck like anchors. She doesn’t take the shot, with a blushing the bridesmaids wide green bottoms—huge spring buds—as the women step up through the sliding glass doors.

Beth could never make it as a professional photographer, the type that has to nose in and confront; she imagines a thousand hostile faces as seen through her lens, fingers and hands raised in anger . . . . Her inclination is toward the covert. Marty hired her because she didn’t know the first thing about photography. He got to fashion her, adjust her like any other subject. Beth eased into his direction as into warm water, following like a shadow on the periphery of his center-ring antics, grateful for a job with possibilities. When he looked at her work now, Beth saw his growing impatience, could almost hear him mutter about his hard times in finding good help. Her parents used to get fed up in the same way, asking why she couldn’t just finish what she started, find a direction—any direction, they finally allowed—and pursue it. They worried that she had no place in the world to link herself. “Skip art,” Marty has told her. “There’s a million artists out there. This is a paying job. I’ve seen art; you’ve seen art. Art is depressing. I mean, be honest, all the customer wants is to make a bunch of regular people look like royalty, like they got a divine right. Can’t be done with a Polaroid, so they call in yours truly.”

The longer Beth took pictures, however, the more obscure her work became: she was trying to keep track of something but she never knew quite what. Some exciting little logic would present itself and after it she would go. Last week she shot two rolls of nothing but the backs of heads, a ludicrous processional plastered chronologically, movie-footage style, along her kitchen wall. If you looked long enough, with sufficient abstraction and irony, the wedding party appeared an odd breed of human, having no eyes or nose or mouth, featureless heads of shrub-coiffed hair.

“Get the bride at her vanity,” Marty tells Beth. He mimics the application of mascara while batting his white lashes. Marty’s popularity as a wedding photographer has to do with his policy of insidiousness. He permeates a party like an oil slick. Where most will leave after a couple of hours, he stays until the end. The limo drives off at two in the morning—Marty catches its taillights, the dancing Coke cans. The father of the bride falls asleep at a table, head resting on his meaty, responsible arms, surrounded by ribbon and champagne corks and melted wax—Beth shoots his peaceful expression. But she’s also shot the best man, on his knees in a reception hallway, puking in a styrofoam ice chest. She showed up half an hour early today and caught the arrival of the bride’s paralyzed brother, wheeled prone into the house like a dead man and rolled like a log onto a living room couch. His stretcher disappeared down a hallway and he was draped to his neck with an afghan whose many shades of green made it appear, oddly, purple.

Beth couldn’t decide whether to use black and white or color: go for the hard-edged or the garish conflicting greens? Photojournalism or kitsch? Either way, it wouldn’t have been the candid Marty has in mind when he sends her prematurely to wedding shoots; this would have been one for Beth’s wall at home.

“No pictures,” the man had said.

Beth looked around the room, as if he couldn’t have been speaking to her, her color load at her eye. The room was empty but for them.

He said something else, something Beth caught the meaning of just as she’d smiled and said, “Beg your pardon?” trying then to swallow back the phrase.

“Fuck away. That camera,” he’d told her, inaudible linking words sitting between his lips.

She recalls with shame the way his body tried to move under the cover, the burrowing slow-motion turn of his face toward the couch seat.

“You don’t shoot crips,” Marty scolded her later. “Man, you gotta know you don’t shoot crips.” He thumped her knuckles with his broad freckled index finger.

She feels soon he will have to fire her.

A restrained rain has begun. Beth stands at a window of the bride’s home, thinking how equitably it falls, neither harder nor softer on those folks in rich Winnetka and those lowdown on the south side, down the el routes which are discussed, by everyone, as descents into hell; on those driving expressways to the zoo or mall or hospital; on those working weekend hours in the unnaturally quiet Merchandise Mart who, like Beth, might be distracted by the simple gray striation outside the window, watching briefly as it lifted like a sheet in the wind and then blanketed infinite Lake Michigan. Her thoughts are only variations of what she often thinks in Chicago: too many humans, dense as molecules, and as endlessly and pointlessly busy, marrying, conceiving, divorcing; bumping into each other and spinning away, scarred or not. She has come from an Indiana town where people often exclaim at the smallness of the world, but in her new city, wedding guests arrive and she knows not one of them. Small water spots mark their clothing and Beth knows this to be an invitation, of sorts, to intimacy. She could say, “Nice day for a wedding, huh?” but doesn’t.

Wherever there is a mirror a guest stands before it primping. The bride has belted her train around her waist with a knotted yellow bungee cord. Two bobby pins hold her bangs in pin curls, the day’s humidity ruining her hairdo. Beth follows her from the study she’s using as a dressing room to the front hall. They pass her brother on the couch each way, still in the room by himself. Smaller chambers surrounding him are full but no one joins him. For this fact Beth feels an ungenerous glee. The bride says “Shit” when she sees the rain, and then stomps her foot for emphasis. “Chicago never once gave me a break,” she says.

“Should do it private,” her brother tells her with effort. His voice speaks of imperative, like a machine’s, batteries low.

“Yes,” she agrees, “that’s the kind of thing I always think of too late. But, you know, there’s no percentage in doing it privately.”

He smiles briefly, then warns Beth, “No pictures.”

The bride stops. “Of course we’ll get a picture,” she says. “Come here.” She motions for Beth to follow.

She sits squarely on the couch near her brother’s shoulder, pushing him back as she does so. “This is my day to be boss.”

“Every day.”

he tells him, “You know, the world was wondering when the next bitter war vet would show up.” As soon as she hears the word war, Beth realizes the afghan is precisely the colors of military camouflage. The chill of irony passes over her.

“This the. Real thing?” he asks his sister.

She leans down slowly and lays her cheek on his. “I hope so,” she says softly.

“Don’t take. My mug. Until real thing.”

His sister sits back up and pats her bobby pins, looking down at her dress bunched on her lap, shaking her head. “Not a pretty sight,” she says, motioning Beth to shoot nonetheless.

“Ugly face,” the brother warns.

“You are an ugly face. Or maybe you mean my face?”

He says, “No,” painfully, conceding.

Beth looks through the viewfinder as the bride lifts her brother’s head awkwardly onto her thigh and kisses his brow. His mouth moves just slightly when his sister makes contact, as if her lips were hot.

“Not in. The album,” he says. “Bet anything.”

“If you had anything to bet,” the bride says, leaving him.

“You. Looking at?” he demands of Beth, all compliance gone.

Startled, she says, “I don’t know.”

When the bride and groom are in the room together, they make an obligatory show of shielding their eyes, of not seeing one another. Along these same lines, the bride wears not white white but jade-tinted white. There seems to Beth a kind of unintentional comment in every piece of the day, thrown in like comic relief for those canny enough to catch it. The event obviously needs a chain of command, someone to give orders, subordinates to carry them out, but the flustered widow, owner of the house, makes a feeble general at best, herding people from the front entrance straight through to the back as if her job were merely to keep open a fire lane. Once outside people stand under a few umbrellas, waiting for the caterers to finish setting up chairs.

“You can’t leave these in no rainstorm,” one of the hired men says, rolling his eyes and tucking his lips primly. “These seats is padded. It’s in the contract, foul weather clause.”

“Yo, woman,” another adds, when the widow glides by without a glance.

Beth sits in a chair which sits on an incline and braces herself. She shoots
the backyard, the oddly-placed gazebo and the early guests seated by themselves across the makeshift aisle. She contemplates shooting the black umbrellas that remind her of funerals. The children chase in and out of the gazebo, rocking it because it has no foundation. A tiara flies off a girl’s head and lands on the grass. When the children have disappeared back in the house, a squirrel moves in, dashes across the lawn to the tiara, sniffs it, lifts it, considers it, drops it. The guests turn at the sound of Beth’s motor drive.

Marty sits heavily next to her.

“See that squirrel?” she asks him, laughing at her luck. This is a picture the widow will buy.

He says, “Been consulting with the matron of honor. Groom’s parents won’t show.”

“Why?”

“‘Breach,’ she said, ‘of etiquette.’”

“Huh?”

“Irrelevant,” sighs Marty. “Weirdo Martians with their green wedding. Did I mention I wasn’t ever getting married?”

“It’s come up a time or two.”

“And that crip. Man, I definitely don’t like that guy. Asked me if I’d bring him something to spit in, got allergies or some such. ‘Just . . . a. . . drool . . . cup,’ he says to me. Too much. Makes me want to go back to natural disasters.” Before Marty shot weddings he shot hurricanes, floods, fires. He fell into it by witnessing an act of God on his father’s farm in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, a tornado touching down like an inquisitive finger in a wheat field. After that, he chased upheaval, recorded its effects, sold photos to home owners, insurance companies, wire services, rubberneckers”. Back when I wanted to die, anyway,” he’d explained to Beth. “What’d I have to lose? Figured I might as well come face to face. One step and I was in lava—a Mount Saint Helen’s.”

“But now you want to live?” Beth had asked, getting to what she thought was the heart.

He shrugged, indifferent. “I guess.” He calls weddings unnatural disasters. Today he confides what has just recently been confided to him: that the bride used to be married to the groom’s brother.

“That’s why the other parents won’t come,” Beth deduces, immediately wondering if she’ll catch both brothers and their shared wife in a photo together. “How ironic.”

“Yeah,” Marty says, sighing unhappily, “and I hate irony. It’s so common.”

“Common?”

“Like dirt. Think how much rarer the life is that doesn’t have it. And here’s the matron of honor, dying to tell me how weird her family is. Mr. Crip on the couch? He wasn’t blown apart in Nam; he was blown apart the year after he got back, being a camp counselor at YMCA Winnehaha. The widow’s husband drowned in a hot tub two weeks after a triple bypass. Of course the woman’s marrying her brother-in-law. Who else? Dime a dozen irony. There’s so much of it here you’d need two magnets to pull it apart.”

“I like it,” Beth admits, looking again at the umbrellas.

“It’s a stage,” Marty tells her, “not unlike puberty.”

From inside comes first electronic distortion, then organ music, the bride’s aunt warming up.

“Recess is over, sweetie.” Marty pats her knee.

Beth shoots the woman’s chunky pink hands, skin as smooth as plastic. She adds accompaniment options, oboes and violins and timpani. Soon a thickly layered canned orchestra rhumba-rhythms through the house. The woman smiles clownishly in her makeup, her hair a sprayed helmet upon her head, pumping her bare feet on the pedals. Beth grins, shooting those yellow feet—rough as rhino hide, bunions on each like sixth digits, the toenails opaque as tusks.

“Ten minutes,” the widow says to them as she swoops through.

Beth wanders upstairs, peeking in doorways. The house is messy in the way hired help cannot fix. Paper clutter, personal matter that can’t be wiped clean and done with, things over which decisions must be made. Beth prefers home weddings. Her private interest in those things discarded—shoes, smeary lipped drinking glasses, wadded tissue—guides her. She shoots the artful disarray on the bathroom sink, the forgotten Baggie of marijuana beside the open Colgate tube. Snaps the hallway shrine of school photos, births, previous weddings. There’s today’s bride ten years ago, her father on her arm, her first marriage still before her like the red runway she walks on. Her father’s death, too, waiting ahead. Beth steps away from the wall, including in the composition the surrounding frames. Diplomas, baby announcements, vacation poses with everyone holding up the Leaning Tower, a spray-painted child’s hand print in plaster of Paris. She wonders if today’s wedding picture will supplant the old one or complement it? It would be Beth’s temptation to slip the new bride and groom right over this photo, like changing the month on a calendar or inserting a new name on an apartment mailbox, but she’s certain the family wouldn’t embrace such callousness.

From down the hall she hears something, a scuffle like unwatched pets. In a far bedroom where the silver-wrapped wedding gifts sit reflecting light, two toddler girls, too young to be by themselves, stand holding up their green skirts. Surrounded by palatial opulence, they crunch their heels into plastic mail-package bubble wrap. Perfectly dedicated, listening as each pocket of air pops. Through the window comes the surf-like murmur of the crowd on the lawn, the wafting organ music.

Crouching to catch their knees, the excess pocket of dirty white hose that sags beneath each, Beth asks them what they’re doing.

One hesitates, looks to the other who looks right back, wrinkles her baby brow. Annoyed by having to think about it, she finally says, “We don’t know.”

“I see.”

Beth tries to decide how to present the room’s essence, the U-shaped arrangement of surfaces covered with the excessiveness of wealthy bad taste. The grotesque rococo ornamental quality. She thinks of gold-capped teeth, flashy pimp Cadillacs, Liberace from long ago. This room nudges itself toward that class of spectacle and, further, the real photograph would have to make you feel as if you’d eaten a pound of cheap candy.

Suddenly she realizes one little girl has wrapped the other’s face in the plastic wrap. The backdrop is a silver platter like a mirror, like armor, the bride and groom’s last name etched on the rim, the same name, Beth thinks vaguely, as the first husband’s. In the foreground, for an astonishing second, the child in front of her is suffocating, eyes and mouth open behind the seal. When she takes the photo before thinking to save the child, Beth wonders if this shouldn’t be her last wedding shoot.

“I was just teasing!” the bigger girl wails as Beth yanks her hands away. The smaller child stands still, breathing, tasting injustice.

“Let me get your picture,” Beth suggests, breathing a bit shallowly herself. It occurs to her that she may have just saved what could now go on to be the happy day.

The children clasp hands, instantly recovered, squeeze their cheeks up against their eyes as if smiling for the camera was the act of diminishing their vision.

Beth has not one photo of herself in her apartment, not of anyone she knows, not of those events she tags as milestones in her life. They would be images so close up as to be unrecognizable: the crucified form of her boyfriend lying face-down on a bed, crying; his curled—pubic? chest?—hairs like question marks on her own belly after making love for the last time; when he slept, the sweaty cave composed of his neck and hair and ear against the pillow. He is gone, home to that same Indiana town, so who now would understand? She imagines bringing one of these guests to her Wrigleyville apartment, leading up the stairs, explaining her neighbors as their noises gave them away, the salsa music, the parakeets, the man who reads aloud to himself, the endless succession of el trains that shake the building. She imagines taking the bride’s brother up the freight elevator and through her door, imagines asking him in the reciprocated shorthand of his language, “Warm? Hungry? Happy?”

Marty would argue there is substance to color and flash and posturing. Having climbed back from the brink of a deadly fall, he finds the institution of life, as a member of its audience, engaging. He likes to dress it up and show it off. Beth can appreciate his point of view and still disagree: even untouched (unretouched, in this biz), life seems daunting. For now she watches it in black and white, in natural light, in candids, in irony. She looks forward to the stop bath, to standing alone in the darkroom tonight waiting for her own confusing and peculiar truth, that awkward unphotogenic creature, to show itself beneath her fingers.

In a move Beth admires, the bride has requested no photos during the actual wedding. Marty chooses to smoke and read coffee table books in the living room, but Beth sits like a guest to watch the ceremony, wishing she had at least worn a dress.

The procession begins, organ beat dictating the cadenced step of the grown-ups but having no effect on the children, who hurry, then slow, look to one another for instruction. The flower girls clasp hands and so cannot drop their petals on the walkway. When they reach the end and discover their baskets still full, they squat and begin scooping great handfuls, making a pile. The guests chuckle warmly. When the rest of the wedding party has joined the girls and the organ ceases, all the children except one clump together and run to the gazebo, where they are to wait quietly until after, when they will sing. They leave the boy who bears the rings, who looks longingly after them. Their shiny black shoes sound like taps, their strained whispers like hissing steam. The judge clears his throat and reads.

A strong wet wind blows up and water shakes down from tree limbs. The canopy over the catered food sways treacherously the caterer swag their disapproving heads. An umbrella snaps inside and out and an unoccupied chair blows over. Beth imagines this all taking place on a large screen right in front of her, happening in slow motion. She’s always employed slow motion when things bordered on going astray, casting grace and intention where otherwise there is nothing but clumsiness and accident. It is this, she realizes, that has made photography easy for her.

Smiling, intrepid, the judge pauses, his thin hair blown vertically from his head. He looks serenely out as if sharing a familiar anecdote, one whose ending his children, this crowd, all know to be secure.

When the gust dies, he says, “Now, Todd, do you promise to be her sweetheart?” The word, so secular and dear, hangs in the air like a thin-skinned pink balloon. Generally Beth likes the kiss best, the open eroticism not only tolerated but encouraged, yet this appeals, this notion of a sweetheart, as innocent and alluring as childhood.

Perhaps because he’s rehearsed, Todd is not thrown by this clause and agrees, he will be hers. The judge asks the bride, “Eileen, do you promise to be his sweetheart?” Beth searches the woman’s face for the real answer. After all, Todd is her first sweetheart’s brother. When Eileen whispers,” Yes,” Beth feels every consciousness in the yard lift, for an instant transcendent, above any mere piece of weather. Beth wonders if she will faint, disoriented as she is by the palpable faith of the group. She puts her head between her knees. Unbidden, she thinks of the way her boyfriend used to kiss her by licking her lips, the way her lips were always chapped. When she straightens she finds one hundred people facing forward, the power of their concentrated gaze propelling a man and a woman toward a more standard kiss. Those two, and the rest, despite whatever evidence to the contrary, must believe their love will sustain them.

Then an amateur, shooting illicitly, runs out of film. His automatic camera begins rewinding itself, whirring like white noise, grounding the ceremony once more as he turns red. Beth catches for posterity his futile attempt to muffle the mechanism in his jacket.

“Cheap champagne,” Marty complains.” Spend a thousand bucks on film footage—fucking hemorrhage money on egg rolls and fondue and buffalo wings—and skimp where it counts. Tell me how to make sense of it all. Plus, what good are we with Joe Video on the job?”

Beth’s wondered herself. The video man lurks just behind Marty and Beth, appearing to be documenting the documenting of the day. As a matter of fact, he has just filmed this exchange about himself, standing in the doorway watching through his screen, giving not the slightest indication of having taken offense.

“The man’s amazing,” Marty says. “Someone should cut him in.”

Beth goes to catch the bride distributing hostess gifts to the children. After the kiss they had sung three touchingly unmelodic songs and as a reward receive water toys that make Beth snort: for the boys, pistols, and for the girls, huge circular wands that create long tube-like bubbles. They are relegated to the outdoors, while the grown-ups all escape the murky elements. Beth, intuitively, sticks with the kids.

They play well for a time, boys shooting boys, girls dipping their wands into a tub of soapsuds, then running, leaving great blimps of logy bubbles lumping behind them. But the suds sink and the boys chase the girls and the girls cry out and a boy dumps the suds onto the lawn and another slips, soaking his official green suit and pink face. A girl, the young one whose cousin wrapped her in plastic earlier, laughs. She laughs so genuinely she must quit everything else, consumed by it. She has forgotten the bubble wrap incident and Beth smiles, though sadly aware of the adage that true humor always comes at somebody else’s expense. She takes the girl’s picture.

But the boy, pride wounded, retaliates, fills his gun with the last of the soapy, now-brown water, approaches and fires into the little girl’s face. She screams and the children stop, freeze dramatically in place, like a startled forest. When she doesn’t quit screeching, they look toward the house, toward Beth, forming a tentative ring around the pair as if to contain them until authority arrives. Beth steps closer as other adults emerge from the house and run to the children, suddenly aware that once more she could have interceded earlier.

Water drips from the boy’s face, slides along the plump contours of cheek and chin. He is furious, volatile, gun still in hand; the girl continues to scream, clawing her eyes. The hose is retrieved, her eyes bathed. The boy stands clenching whatever of himself he is able— forehead, thighs, fists—rigid, a frightening childish parody of the man he might become. Beth imagines the time-lapse pictures that could chronicle it, like that superhero who turns from man to monster, bursting his suit seams. Where the boy’s anguish rivets him, vibrating, the girl’s makes her limp as rags, rich satin dress circling her like a sofa cushion, the dark streaks down her bodice like blood from a tender wound. Her dimpled fingers cover her features; the tiara sits sparkly and askew in her damp hair. Beth shoots the shiny black patent leather shoe that lies unbuckled beside her.

When she looks up, the video man is next to Beth, watching her. He says, “Huh,” as if he’s made a discovery. His pipe has gone out—or maybe it was never lit—and he has finally stopped filming. “Outta tape,” he explains, stretching. His machine rests on his shoulder and he blinks his eyes, still watching her. “Smile,” he orders Beth, showing his own weathered teeth to illustrate. “Like this.”

Now that it’s superfluous, the sun has emerged and attached long shadows to everything. Beth moves away from the video man before he can quote the fact that it takes fewer muscles to smile than frown. She keeps shooting, black and whites, the ones that will last. Sunny ugly snapshots at the end of a Saturday afternoon, one that is ending all over town, up in Lake Forest, over at the Brookfield Zoo. It is too much. She watches her sector of the planet from the future-images coming to fruition in the wrist-temperature developing bath, the adult faces straining forward like boxing match fans, hostile boy and pouting girl-while in the present the responsible parties prod their offspring to action. The ring bearer must apologize. The flower girl must forgive. But she won’t get up, he won’t come forward; she is limp and unforgiving, knees grass-stained and face sticky with soap and cake. And he is angry, glistening as if with sweat, unrepentant. She is lifted beneath the arms, a parent on either side; similarly, the boy is brought.

“Say you’re sorry.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Tell him it’s okay.”

“It’s okay.”

At the insistence of his parents the boy tilts his dripping face toward the girl’s; her burning eyes say she flinches. Beth chooses this moment: he is not sorry; it is not okay. One of the grown-ups says, “Go on now, kiss her.”

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Antonya Nelson teaches creative writing at the University of Houston, and is the award-winning author of three novels and four short story collections. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Best American Short Stories. She divides her time among Texas, Colorado, and New Mexico. See more at: http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Antonya-Nelson/1077091.