The following is an excerpt from a larger work of fiction that I have been pecking away at for quite some time. Alas, it still waits to be complete. The larger work is more from the science fiction genre, but like all those works, some reality slips in. I felt like sharing this excerpt now because, well, I wanted to share something light. I hope you enjoy…
Pastor Cary looked at the bride and groom in front of him, standing with family and friends, bridesmaids and groomsmen to rehearse the day they hoped would be a “perfect day” for both of them. He looked around at the ornate sanctuary they were standing in, fiddled a little with the microphone and said, “It is my tradition to ask the groom to keep looking at the front of the sanctuary until I let him know it is time to turn and see the bride walking down the aisle.”
“How nice,” the bride beamed.
“Perfect,” the groomed whispered.
“Yep,” said the pastor as he recalled the time he started this tradition at his very first wedding:
It was twenty years before and Cary stood at the front of the church and checked the stole hanging around his neck for the seventeenth time that afternoon. Just like it was sixteen times ago, the stole was straight. But unlike then, it was now soaked with perspiration from his neck. The heat from the August sun was warming up the little country church and the ceiling fans could do little more than stir the humidity that settled on everyone gathered for the wedding.
The groom stood off to Cary’s left looking cool and calm despite both the order and stickiness of the day. Perhaps his military training was helping him in this particular instance. His dress uniform helped Stephen look both at ease and at full attention at the same time. His shoes were so shined that Cary couldn’t help but notice them and in doing so, managed to steal a glance to make the eighteenth check of his stole. “Still straight,” he thought to himself.
He glanced over at Delia, the pianist, and thought for a moment how very old she was and how many weddings she had seen compared to him. “She’s quite possibly older than the trees that went into making that piano and probably played more weddings than there are keys on it,” he thought. Of course, Delia wasn’t actually playing the piano as much as strumming it. She was finding the first note of a chord and then letting the rest of her fingers fall not so gracefully into place giving the illusion of a song rising out of the instrument. She opened her eyes, which normally stayed closed during her playing, and looked at Cary as he gave a little nod to signal her to start the procession for the bride. She never even noticed but kept right on playing, no strumming, the old Gospel hymn she had decided to torture for the moment.
Cary waited a cautious minute and then hazarded a step to his right towards the piano. That got her attention. She stopped mid chord, leaving an already unresolved melody quite unfinished and said, “Now?” much louder than Cary had hoped.
“Yes. Please.” He responded with a calm smile settling on his face even as another bead of sweat found a home in his stole. He tugged at it again, this time not even caring if it was in place or not.
The old company building that had been used for generations as a gathering place for the Methodist people lacked almost as much architectural adornment as it did practicality. It was pretty, but in the quaint way pretty is used to describe something plain, like the side of a barn or an old Plymouth. Cary always thought of it as a worship space that provided the bare minimum anyone needed to know that there might be some creative force in the universe. Whether it spoke of an Almighty God or an employer that wanted those who gathered to remember who was really in charge was a really good question.
The front doors of the church were located at the top of maybe a dozen steps leading straight from the weeds that were only somewhat infested with gravel in the parking lot. Cary had seen earlier that the bride, Roberta, had arrived and was thankful she had the good sense to get prepared at home and make the trip to church. The little nook that served as a narthex inside the front doors left very little room for anyone to wait in the best of weather, let alone the West Virginia August heat. Cary had greeted her in that narthex along with a few members of her family. Those kinfolk, with the exception of two cousins who had been serving as ushers, took their seats and Cary made his way through the basement of the church to lead the groom to their present location of sweating.
Just as Delia ended the silence that had settled over the congregation with her own question of timing, the interior doors of the narthex opened with an equally non-musical flourish. “Thing One” and “Thing Two,” what Cary had taken to thinking of the ushers after he failed to recall their names, opened those doors with great gusto. The door on the right, which swung quietly on its ancient hinge, was positioned so that it could never fully be opened, yet another tip to the impracticality of the building. Somewhere near the eighty degree mark of its swinging arc it made contact with the last pew on that side of the church. Thing One had no idea this was about to happen as he pushed the door open so it crashed loudly into the pew holding the entire Smith clan. Several of them started at the sound of wood on wood and all of them moved forward. Cary simply closed his eyes long enough for a trickle to go from brow to eyelid and then he reached up and wiped it dry.
Wishing the damned sweat had been some form of acid that would have temporarily blinded him, Cary opened his eyes to see Thing 2 standing against the back wall of the church trying to figure out what to do with the door on the left, which only barely reached a ninety degree point when it was completely against the wall. However, with a bride about to make her entrance, there was little room for both door and Thing 2. Cary watched as the usher extended his fingers and arms to an almost ridiculous length and then flattened himself against the wall preparing to be frisked by the nearest available officer of the law. “Door stops,” Cary thought. “What this place could use is a couple of good door stops.”
By this point Delia was well into the butchering of the wedding march and the bride, who seemed completely unaware of the commotion caused by her cousins was making her entrance. The groom, however, had missed it all and was looking at the pastor with both confidence and expectation.
On this first occasion of Cary’s master plan, the groom turned on cue after Cary invited the congregation to stand and he was greeted with more than half a dozen older members struggling at best to rise to their feet and turn towards the center to see the bride. One of them, a retired pastor, stumbled into the center aisle and appeared to be lurching towards the bride when his wife just managed to pull him back by his belt and keep him from falling. The groom also got to see Mr. Smith, who turned out to be a distant relative of the bride but a closer relative of the ushers, smack Thing One across the back of his head and shake a finger at him for opening the door so carelessly. And to place a perfect little topper on the layers of Pastor Cary’s master plan the groom also got to see bride framed by the image of Thing 2 still struggling to hold the door open and giving the appearance of making love to back wall of the church.
Delia kept up her slicing and dicing of The Wedding March until the exact instant that the Bride arrived at the front of the church and without even a hint of finishing the chord, let alone the phrase, she stopped. Pastor Cary grimaced, pulled at his stole and collar again, and asked the congregation to be seated. Between the creaking of old pew and sighs of people finding their seats, Cary was quite certain he heard someone, somewhere break wind. Still, he opened his little Book of Worship and said words he would say hundreds of time till today, “Brothers and sisters, just as Jesus graced a wedding in Cana of Galilee…”
Although he was looking down at the small print in his book, he knew without looking something else was happening. At the very extremes of his field of vision he saw the bride’s dress shaking and the groom nervously tapping his foot. He stopped after he said, “so may Jesus be present as Stephen and Roberta come this day to give themselves to one another,” looked up, and saw that both bride and groom were doing all in their power to fight back laughter. The dam burst when in the silence they looked up from the floor, caught each other’s eyes and they both burst out laughing bumping military shaved head into veiled head as they bent over in the pain that such a release of joy brings.
Pastor Cary almost attempted to say something to bring back the somberness of the moment but Delia’s “Oh my!” as she banged on at least a third of the piano keys sent the rest of the congregation, save Things One and Two, right into the throes of laughter themselves. The ushers appeared to busy nursing a sore noggin or creepily studying a section of the back wall to even notice what was happening around them.
Coming back from this blessed memory, Cary said, “Yes, I just want to make things perfect for you both.” Try as he might, he had not been able to recreate that perfection again.
Chautauqua Lake, NY
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