The marvelous, temporarily spit up free Chuck Wendig has issued a challenge to the Flash Fiction Friday folks, 1000 words using three of the following words: vitamins, squid, ballroom, razor, carnival. My entry is called "Too Late For Love".
I didn't want to be there. A sick colleague brought me in on a Saturday to the Independence Ballroom to tend bar for a wedding reception. The rhythms were familiar. I served drinks, mixed the cocktails, prepared Shirley Temples. I hustled, and bantered, and joked. It wasn't a hard gig, but it was mental work, tracking faces. Old people trying to look young, younger people trying to look old. Wedding party members in the full blush of youth, knowing their power.
The big partying had been done, all the ceremonial bits you expect, the wild carnival of two families forming a third. The garter had been peeled, the bouquet thrown, the first dance completed, the speeches made. Meals had been served, and guests were starting to sneak away. I kept the drinks flowing.
One of the bridesmaids, a pretty brunette with a dark, serious face like Natalie Merchant, made her way to the bar. I watched her approach. She wasn't drunk, but she was definitely headed that way. She was in the dark blue dress that they all wore. There was a little more girl than there was dress, and she carried her heels in one hand, holding a slim clutch in the other. She walked up uncertainly and put a wrinkled bill into my tip jar.
"Thanks," I said. "What can I get you?"
"An excuse to go home," she said, and chuckled sadly.
"Too much, huh?"
"Way too much," she said sadly. "I'm exhausted, and it isn't even my party." She looked down. "White wine, please?"
"Sure," I said. I poured it.
"It's her day, right? So I have no right to complain."
"You don't need a right to complain."
She sighed. "You do a lot of these?"
"Weddings? Too many," I said. "I haven't had a weekend off since Opening Day."
"That sucks," she admitted. "I've spent the last four weekends helping Stacy get ready for this nightmare. If I knew it was going to be this much work, I never would have made friends with her in sixth grade."
"A real Bridezilla?"
"Oh, God," she said. "The worst." I handed her the glass and she took a sip. "I better take my vitamin," she said, smiling. She reached into the clutch and opened a tiny vial with Hello Kitty on it. She took out a small white tablet and swallowed it, chasing it with a mouthful of wine. It didn't look like a vitamin. There was a series of angry red scratches on her upper arm, like she was a prisoner marking off days of her sentence. I had seen scratches like that, on another woman's arm, at another time. She saw my eyes noticing it.
"I cut myself getting ready," she said too quickly. I nodded, moving laterally to pour a beer for a glaring older man with a mustache.
After he left, she turned her brown eyes on me. "What do you do when you're not, uh...tending?"
Not much, I thought. "I write some. I have a novel that keeps getting rejected. What do you do?"
"Still in school," she said. "Professional student." She took another swallow of wine. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to bother you. You're working."
"No, it's fine." Some human interaction was welcome.
"It's all about Stace, and that's fine, but it's still....annoying. You're just expected to give, and give. I get sick of it."
"Even though you know better. You know it's not about you, but you're human, too. "
"Yeah." She drained her glass. "I'm not drunk, you know." she said.
"I know," I said.
"I'm not," she said more forcefully. Saying "I'm not drunk" is kind of like saying "I'm not racist." If you have to say it, it's probably not true.
I didn't say anything.
"When you're a little girl," she began, "you dream about a day like this. All the dresses, and the makeup, and the hair, and the shoes, and the food, and all the people. You dream about all these people coming together to celebrate. And it's really just this huge excuse to get drunk and behave like idiots. It's this big party that proves that you can throw a big party. It's nothing, on top of nothing, with stupid shoes that hurt your feet. It's phony, every bit of it. It doesn't make people stay married, or people be more in love. It's just a party. And I'm never going to be that special, that kind of person who makes a whole day all about them. "
She looked at me.
"It's OK. Why do you think you're not special?"
"It's a long story," she said, choking on the words. "I'm just not. I'm not the marriage type. I can't love someone like that."
"I don't think that's true," I said.
"It is," she shot back. "I'm broken. I just don't get other people, I don't get how they work. I never understand what anyone means. I'm lost, all the time."
She looked at me again. Her eyes looked watery. "I hate all the small talk, all the fake smiling, all the rituals. All the girl stuff, all the stuff I have to act like I care about to fit in. I hate all the effort. I hate pretending. It exhausts me."
"At least it's over now, right?"
"Yeah. Now I can go home and cry. It's hard."
"Being in a wedding?"
"Being me," she said.