"Do you take this woman to be your lawfully-wedded wife?"
"I most certainly do not!"
And with that little exchange out of the way, I lifted her veil and tongue-kissed her in full view of the holy host.
It was a lavish reception.
The two of us danced, alone, while a string quartet played waltzes.
We ate like king and queen. The finest prime rib. Truffles. Caviar. And, of course, the cake.
It was a towering ten-tiered affair: a mountain of sugar, a monolith of caloric death. I had a small piece. She ate three generous helpings. She loved cake.
We didn't drink a drop of alcohol, despite there being several bottles of fine champagne. It's not that we never drank, we just didn't want to sully the memories.
And all throughout, my mental Polaroid kept clicking away.
We flew to Nassau on the red-eye. The flight had been practically empty, allowing us to stretch out across several seats in economy class.
I think that was the first time I'd ever really slept on an airplane.
Dawn found us on a beach in the Bahamas, a massive international hotel towering behind us, and the full glory of the sun leaping into the sky from an azure horizon.
And still we didn't make love.
We spent the morning on the sand, draining the urban living from our psyches. Lunch was served by dark-skinned men and women wearing blinding white uniforms, and I was briefly reminded of her, resplendent in her bridal purity.
We took siesta in the room, and slept the afternoon away.
The evening brought entertainment in the form of an open-air jazz concert. It was off-season at the resort, and we were alone in the pavilion as a professional pianist rolled through the standards.
We hadn't spoken since I'd told her, and God, that I wouldn't join her in holy matrimony. Our exchanges had instead consisted of stolen glances, funny faces, smiles, and grimaces.
We were happy.
I left her around midnight. No note, no apologetic kiss across her sleeping brow.
I'd see her again.
"There is a certain…" I said, pausing for effect, "assurance about the inevitability of things."
She gave me one of those what-the-hell-is-that-supposed-to-mean looks before responding. "If you're going to start lecturing me on life and death, save your breath. I got more than enough of that from my last lover. And he was a philosophy major. I've made up my own mind about things, and none of what I've decided includes anything inevitable. I simply do not believe in destiny."
"A safe position to take!" I was trying very hard to ignore her barb about not being a professional thinker. The fact that she had said last lover gave me a lot of hope, although I knew it was dangerous to read too much into someone's grammar. I continued: "After all, who would want to give up their sense of free will to a belief in a pre-determined existence?"
"Again you show your ignorance, Jack." She sucked on the cigarette that had been burning away between her fingers. "Just because someone doesn't believe in destiny doesn't make life any less pre-determined. It's accepting that while you have choices to make, those choices are all decided by external factors. Thus, there is some measure of pre-determination."
It sounded like rote repetition, as though she was reciting something from memory. Her last lover's words, perhaps? I paid the tab, and we left.
The preparations had all been made, and all the rehearsals run. I'd studiously observed all the little policies and regulations surrounding the ceremony, and everything ran without a hitch.
She entered the little church we'd chosen, looking glorious and angelic in the frothy white lace and tight silk that she'd finally decided on after hours and hours of trial and error.
It was precisely noon. The sun shafted directly down onto the narrow aisle that she now walked, igniting the dress in a dazzling blast of the purest golden ivory, blinding all who beheld her beauty.
The strains of "Here Comes the Bride" issued forth from an ancient pipe organ, throaty and deep. I wouldn't have had it any other way.
There was only one witness. Neither of our families knew what we were doing that afternoon.
I felt a tear coming and I choked it back. I'd promised myself that I'd look strong and commanding on the day of my wedding, and I wasn't about to break that vow.
Her satin-clad toes reached the predetermined mark at the head of the aisle just as the last note of the song rang out. We were within arm's reach of each other. I could smell her, a sweet jasmine scent mixed with the green tang of a spring breeze. Again the tears challenged my resolve, and again I beat them back.
I was beginning to understand the true purpose of the ceremony, and why people did it. It was an emotional rush. A euphoric, almost drug-like experience. An engagement in mental intercourse. A memory-maker. I felt snapshots reeling off in my mind, already developing, Polaroid frames drying in the light, images swimming to the surface from pools of dark emulsion.
The minister began to minister.
We'd decided to go with the traditional vows, the default settings all the way. Nothing radical, nothing fantastic.
"I could take you away from all this," I said, more of a statement-of-fact than an offer to be taken seriously, "but it's not what you'd want." There was a moment when her eyes unfocused, perhaps indicating that she was considering a life far-removed from what she'd been doing for the past twenty-odd years.
"You're very clever, Jack. You know many things. But there are some things that even your big brain can't quite figure out." Her eyes refocused, their intensity returning even harder than before.
I could tell she wanted to play a little. "Go to hell," I said. I wasn't interested her game. "I know all I need to. If anything remains hidden, or secret, it simply isn't worth knowing."
Now there was anger in those blazing eyes. She tried to speak, but all that came out were grunts and gasps. And she went, whether to hell or not I'd never know. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was.
After all, it was what I'd wanted her to do in the first place.
"What do you do?" I asked.
"I spend my husband's money," she said. "Aside from that, I simply exist to pleasure and serve him. Isn't that a wife's duty?"
"I suppose," I said. I didn't, really, but I wanted to humor her. I needed to find out how deep that devotion really went. "What if you discovered that he'd been unfaithful to you?"
"Unfaithful?" Her puzzlement was genuine. Her heavily mascara'd lashes batted in bewilderment.
"You know. Cheated. Had an affair. Slept another woman." My prodding was rewarded with shock and awe, though I was unsure if it was my insistence or the mere suggestion of adultery that had blown her mind.
"Never," she sputtered. "He would never do such a thing. Why would he? He has everything he needs in me."
"He is a man after all, isn't he?" I asked. "All men at least consider such things, regardless of how much of a goddess their wives are."
"I don't believe you." And she really didn't. What I was telling her was inconceivable, and it warmed my heart that at least one person in the world was actually true to their ideals. It was a shame her husband wasn't. I entertained the idea of trying to capture her as a prize for myself, but only briefly.
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