George whistled tunelessly as he switched off his alarm. 11:55 a.m. It was his wedding day.
He lay in bed for a moment, thinking over the day’s events. To get to the church, he would have to leave an hour before (forty-five minutes at the latest) to be able to be standing at the altar as the clock struck noon. For it would, undoubtedly, strike so; the church’s bells were loud.
Ceasing with thought, he rose, stretched, touched his toes, did four jumping jacks to get his blood moving and moved to the bathroom. His whistling stopped as he grimaced at the sleepy reflection in the mirror. Resuming his whistles, he turned the shower on, making sure the water was close to scalding before stripping and jumping in. George yelped in pain. He danced about for three minutes, waiting for his skin to acclimate. When it didn’t, he gave up and started to scrub.
He lathed his hair with shampoo and conditioner, his whistling turning shrill as he tried to do an octave jump. He took the sweetly scented soap Lara had given him as a pre-wedding gift and used it. He would smell like an Appalachian spring on his wedding day. He smiled and attempted a trill.
Getting out of the shower, he reached for the fluffy white towel Lara had also bought him. She had one too. They had coordinated their toiletries for the day, so that even though they couldn’t see each other, they would be thinking of each other. It had been Lara’s idea, and, George maintained, something of a good one.
He toweled off and stood in front of the sink. He spurted some shaving cream into his hand and spread it over his bristles. He took out his razor and, as he shaved, replaced whistling with humming. It was difficult to whistle when one shaved (Lara had once pointed this out) and George had been amazed at the reduction of cuts on his face once he had stopped the practice.
Rinsing and drying his face with a smaller fluffy white groom’s towel, he stepped back out into his bedroom. His old bachelor’s pad, he thought. He chuckled.
His whistling grew loud as he took out his tux and pulled it on. The clock said 12:20 as he struggled with his bowtie. He sighed and walked back into the bathroom to do it in front of the mirror, which didn’t help since everything was flipped. His whistling turned mournful as he wished for Lara’s delicate, clever hands.
He slipped on his shoes and was tying them when the clock turned 12:35. He patted his pocket for his cell phone. He took it out to make sure it was off, as to not have an embarrassing moment during the ceremony. Of course, anyone who would possibly call him would be in the church. Still, like Lara always said, better to miss it than risk it. He chuckled again, not realizing the phrase was a lazy rhyme.
Closing the apartment door and locking it, he skipped down the stairs two at a time, whistling all the while. He waved to Garrett, the guard at the desk. Garrett stared at him blankly before nodding. George shrugged at Garrett’s surliness and pushed the song he was whistling down a third into a new key. Lara said he was a baritone, not a tenor.
Stepping out onto the sidewalk, the sun beat brilliantly down onto the black of his suit. George stopped whistling and brought his hand up to shade his eyes. He frowned.
“Where…?” he said, turning in a three hundred and sixty degree circle to scan the street. He thought a bit and shrugged. He checked his watch. 12:40. The church was a fifteen-minute walk away from his apartment. The car had been Lara’s idea anyways. He remembered fondly her desire for him “to once, arrive like a man, not a bum.”
He started whistling “Here Comes the Bride” as he began the trek to the church. He smiled to watch the squirrels gambol in the grass, hear the birds scold each other in their trees, feel the zephyr bat at his coat tails. A fine May day, he thought and passed the little neighborhood community garden. Red flowers exploded along its outer edges.
He checked his watch. 12:50. He quickened his steps and shifted up the tempo of his whistling.
“Get me to the church,” he whistled wordlessly. “Get me to the church.” He climbed the church steps. “Get me to the church.” He opened the side door, which had a “Groom” sign in Lara’s handwriting posted on it. “Get me to the church.” He walked into the hall. “Get me to the church.” He turned into the back room the priests normally used to play poker, but today had been converted into his waiting room.
“Get me to the church.” He added a quick little trill to the song he was whistling; the door closed behind him as the clock struck one.
George dodged the bouquet of flowers thrown at him and felt inadequate.
“But I didn’t know,” he protested to the vision in white that was his bride.
“An hour!” she shrieked. “An hour!” She tore off her veil and threw that at him as well. It soared through the air only to lose momentum mid-arch, and drift down like a dark night’s falling snow.
“I didn’t know,” he pleaded and stepped forward. His shoe caught in the lacy drift and he tripped.
She picked up the bouquet and threw it at him again. The tastefully bunched lilies hit his head with a soft thunk. He held his eyes wide open and the air stung at them, trying to make him cry.
“How could you?” she cried. “How could you? You know what mommy and daddy think of you. The mayor is here!”
She toddled over and kicked at his shins.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know.”
Her pale face flushed a deep, dark red. He looked up at her and clutched his shins.
“I didn’t,” he said to her. “I didn’t.”
She drew up to her full height of five feet four inches. Her face was like a piece of Roman architecture; timeless and unyielding.
“I don’t believe you,” she said, and taking off the diamond on her left hand threw that at him too.
Mrs. Weatherby held her husband back by the collar of his suit.
“You son of a bitch!” said Mr. Weatherby. “You misbegotten ass!”
His right fist swung wildly and glanced off George’s chin. Caught off guard, George stumbled and fell into the folding chair behind him. It collapsed and dumped him onto the floor.
“Your blood pressure dear,” said Mrs. Weatherby.
“I oughta…I oughta…I oughta…” Spittle grew and formed at the corner of Mr. Weatherby’s lips.
“But I didn’t know,” said George. “I didn’t. My watch…” He looked at his watch. His eyes grew round. 1:35.
Mrs. Weatherby’s eyes narrowed. Her face, tinted and powdered into refined elegance, loomed above her prospective son-in-law.
“You little bastard,” she said and let go of her husband.
George’s mother was weeping. His father cradled her in his arms as she cried into his Ralph Lauren dress shirt.
“This shirt cost four hundred dollars,” Mr. Lee said.
“Dad,” said George.
“I’m over here, son,” said Mr. Lee. George turned his body towards the direction of his father’s voice.
“Put some steak on your eyes,” George’s mother cried into her husband’s chest.
“Your mother said to put some steak on your eyes,” said his father.
“I can’t,” said George. “Lara’s a vegetarian.”
Mrs. Lee let out a howl. Her husband patted her on the back.
“Four hundred dollars,” he said.
George sat outside the door to the Women’s Restroom. Lara was locked inside.
“Lara,” he said, “Lara.” He touched his lip. He touched his eyes. He touched his cheekbones. In minutes, all were going to swell.
“Lara,” he begged. “Lara.” Time was against him.
He cocked his head as he heard the toilet flush. He sighed. She had been flushing parts of her wedding trousseau down the toilet every five minutes since he had locked her inside. A thought occurred to him.
“Stand on top of another toilet if that one overflows,” he called. Lara hated the water like a cat.
George twisted the gold ring on his left hand. He figured as soon as they restarted the ceremony, it’d be easier for all concerned if he were prepared.
“Lara,” he called again. “Lara, please.” He bowed his head and sniffed. He winced and then cursed as the blood began to flow once more.
Footsteps sounded on the carpet, which was the color of half-dead moss. A pair of shiny black dress shoes came into George’s field of vision.
Andy bent down to gaze at his friend. George met his eyes, bewildered.
“You know Lara left two hours ago and it’s her maid of honor you have locked in there,” Andy said.
George stuffed a corner of his sleeve up his nostril. It was soon completely stained.
Andy sighed. “Come on George,” he said and lifted his friend to his feet. He faced George in a direction and gave him a push.
“That way,” Andy said. “I’ll catch up in a minute.”
As George began walking down the hall he heard Andy unlock the bathroom and stick his head inside.
“Jen,” said his best friend, “you can come out now.”
Loud flushing sounds replied.
“How could he!” a female voice suddenly shrilled.
“I didn’t know,” George mumbled without turning around, and Andy sighed again as George was hit on the back of the head with a violet satin heel.
George stabbed at the invoice on his desk with his pen. The end went through with a crunch and made another squiggly circley tear in the corner. A bit of blue stained the edges. He closed one eye, and then the other, to look at it. Lara’s eyes were green. Green like a leprechaun. Green like a cabbage leaf.
He took another nip from the keychain flask Andy had gotten him in London. The scotch burned on its way down. He hiccuped.
A knock sounded on his open office door. George ignored it and brought the keychain flask up to his mouth again.
“George.” It was Jonas, the intern
Jonas coughed a bit and shuffled. “Uh, George.”
George lifted the keychain flask to salute Jonas. He drank to the very best intern.
Jonas averted his eyes. “Mr. Minos wants to see you in his office.”
George rose to his feet and was surprised when the floor moved with him.
“What was Newton’s third law?” he asked Jonas and tripped and hit his head.
“George,” said Mr. Minos.
George nodded. Mr. Minos’s face, thin and angular and chapped and red, reminded him of the Lincoln bust in Lara’s front parlor.
“You have to understand,” said Mr. Minos. “You have to know your performance these past few weeks has been…well, it’s been. You know.”
George did know. He thought.
“Besides, Lara is my niece,” said Mr. Minos. “And I hate to kick a fellow when he’s down, but…my wife…well, you understand.”
George nodded and grinned.
Mr. Minos studied him and sighed. “I’m sorry, George, I am, but…well…” Mr. Minos fiddled with the gold pen on his desk. “How could you forget?”
“I didn’t know,” George said.
George kicked the soccer ball one more time. It bounced off the wall, to add another grayish imprint to the series of grayish imprints that dotted his living room walls. It came back to him. He kicked it again.
The ball bounced against the wall to ricochet off the wood floor at a sixty-five degree angle and knock into the lamp next to his couch. The lamp teetered and then fell with a crash as the ball dribbled off to rest under the coffee table.
George looked at his living room and picked up the ball. This time, he punted it. It went through the only unbroken window in his apartment.
“Out!” screamed Mr. Vasquez.
George lifted his beer to his landlord. “Want one?” he offered.
“Look at this place!” Mr. Vasquez yelled. “It’s practically ruined for the next tenant! You can’t do this!”
George nodded. “Probably not,” he said.
“I’m suing you for damages!” said Mr. Vasquez.
George nodded and thought of Lara.
“And you owe me four months rent!”
He loved her so.
“I’d understand,” said Mr. Vasquez, “if she left you. But you…you…How could you forget!”
George took another sip of PBR. It truly was disgusting.
“I didn’t know,” said George.
“Out!” screamed Mr. Vasquez. “Out right this minute!”
“I’m sorry George,” said Crenshaw. “You have to understand. We just can’t give you the loan right now.”
George didn’t understand. He fiddled with the free pen they had given him at the door.
“You have no prospects,” said Crenshaw. “No job, no savings, no home to put up for collateral. You’re just not a good investment at the moment.”
George was rather offended. Lara had believed he was a good investment. She’d said yes. He smiled dreamily, remembering the moment. It was rose-tinted.
George turned his attention back to his banker.
“—you have to understand,” finished Crenshaw. He took out a pocket-handkerchief and wiped his baldhead. George was confused as to why Crenshaw, just shy of twenty-nine, felt the need to shave his head.
“Did you hear what I said George?”
“Lara’s such a lovely girl,” Crenshaw said. “We dated for a while in college.”
George hadn’t known that. His eyes narrowed.
“I think, George, you may have to think about filing.”
George’s eyes narrowed even further.
George’s eyes popped open.
Crenshaw stood and reached over the pluck the pen out of George’s limp hands.
“Sorry George,” he said. “The pens are for people who are opening accounts.”
George mumbled blearily in his sleep. He shifted so the church’s brick wall would poke him in his right shoulder blade instead of his left. He slept.
Someone shook his boot. “George,” said a voice. “George.”
“Fuck off,” said George. He drifted back into Lara’s hair, her dulcet voice, her cinnamon and violet perfume.
“George.” More boot shaking. “George!” Someone kicked his ankle.
George opened one eye. “What?” he asked.
A thin, pale face bent down to scrutinize him. “It’s me. Artie,” explained the face.
George nodded and closed his eyes.
“George!” This time the kick landed on his shin.
“Ow!” George looked up in irritation.
Pale face thrust a paper bag at him. “I brought you McDonalds,” he said.
George looked at the bag. “Fuck off,” he said and went back to sleep.
In the darkness, he heard a gusty sigh. He felt the bag being dropped into his lap. “For later,” a voice mumbled, followed by receding steps.
George’s hand curled around the bag as he dreamed of Lara’s eyes.
“You see,” said George as he munched on a fry, “I didn’t know. I didn’t.”
Artie nodded and took a sip from his Coke.
“And,” said George, waving a second fry, “I really thought it was twelve. Truly, I did.”
Artie nodded and looked down. His fingers groped inside an empty fry sleeve.
“Here.” George generously pushed his fries to the center of the table. “We’ll share.”
“Thanks,” said Artie and took a fry to munch.
“But no one would believe me,” George said. His eyes fixed on the blond woman ordering at the counter. The child clinging to her knees demanded his Happy Meal toy at the top of his lungs.
“Why would they,” George continued, watching as the child smacked its mother’s thighs. “It’s not the sort of thing you forget. I mean, really.”
Artie nodded and ate more fries.
“But I did,” said George, looking Artie straight in the eyes. “I did.”
“I suppose there’s some meaning behind it,” said George, taking another fry. He stared at it. The ends were burnt and sharp. “I keep racking my brains and racking my brains. I only love three things in this world completely, and one of them is her.”
“What are the other two?” asked Artie.
George popped the fry into his mouth and chewed. He hated the crunchy ones.
“Maybe,” said Artie, reaching over for another fry, “you just forgot.”
George fiddled with the straw of his drink. “Can I have a sip of your Coke?”
Artie pushed the cup over. “Knock yourself out.”
George picked up the soda. It sweat into his hands. “We’re still engaged,” he said and then finished the drink.
George sat hunched against the church wall, eyes closed. He pondered. The coolness in his right hand spread throughout his entire body, until he felt like a dirty, homeless ice cube.
He sat very still, as still as possible, since friction caused ice to melt. Ice could be dark, he thought. Dark and clean and still, like an Arctic sea on an Arctic night in an Arctic winter.
He could be cool, he thought. He could be cold. He would be the icy heart of a frozen world.
He shouldn’t have said, “Fuck off,” to the kid. He had been taken to McDonald’s.
Stillness, he thought and froze his right hand. Statis. Gravity to the nth degree, to form a singularity, to form—
The image burst upon his brain as the sun crowns the Alps at dawn.
George shuddered, clutched the gun in his right hand, and wept.
George sat on the altar and touched his right cheekbone. He winced. He touched his left cheekbone. He winced again. It was his wedding day.
“Here.” Andy sat next to him and handed him a plastic bag stuffed with ice. George nodded his thanks and brought the bag up to cover his face.
“You look weird,” said Andy.
George nodded. It was starting to hurt too much to talk.
“You see, Lara—” said Andy.
George bit his split lip. He let out a shriek of pain.
Andy patted him on the shoulder. “I know man,” he said. “I know.”
George sighed gustily through his ice. His eyes could barely register the golden afternoon light streaming through the church windows. He squinted, and was confused. He pointed.
“Whyzzitthluantink?” he asked.
“Stained glass,” said Andy.
“Ah,” said George. “Ifergottheesaltic.”
“That’s a pretty big thing to forget man,” said Andy. He gave George a hard look. “Apparently not the only thing today.”
“Idinnoo,” said George. “Nooo.”
“Sure George,” said Andy and patted him on the shoulder. “But,” he said, and pulled out the collar of his shirt, “I don’t think she’ll let you come back.”
George put the ice down and turned to stare at his friend. Andy’s tie hung loose and slightly crooked, a look that managed to convey a rumpled sexiness. George loosened the bowtie on his tux and looked slovenly.
“Look here George,” said Andy, and gently lifted the ice back up to press on George’s face.
George smoothed the hair on his head one more time. He glanced quickly at his reflection in the puddle on the doorstep. His hair was black again. He grinned, then grimaced. Then grinned. Then—
The door swung open and George swung his gaze upwards. He stared at his fiancée. The May sunshine caught her blond hair and crowned it. George gaped. Morning glory.
In her arms the two year old wriggled without mercy.
“Come in,” said Lara and stood aside. George carefully wiped his shoes on the doormat and stepped into the house.
The hall was cool, despite the light streaming in from the front windows. The sunshine spread against the polished oak floor, warming the brown to gold.
“Would you like some coffee?” asked Lara as the child spasmed against her hold. She set it down.
“Up!” it clamored.
She picked it up. It wriggled.
“No, thank you,” said George and clutched the paper in his hand.
They stared at each other over the blond mop of curls.
“I brought you,” said George and held out the paper.
“I saw,” said Lara.
The child ceased to wriggle, subdued by its mother’s tone.
George’s hand dropped down to his side. He fidgeted.
“Do you want the ring back?” asked Lara.
George was confused. “I don’t—”
“Because I sold it. I can give you the name of the pawnbroker,” said Lara.
“Oh.” George furrowed his brow.
“Don’t,” said Lara.
“Sorry.” George schooled his face. “It was for you,” he added.
“You told the reporter,” said Lara.
George was surprised. “You saw the news report?”
“It was on the six o’clock news,” said Lara.
“Oh.” George fidgeted. The child stuck its thumb in its mouth and stared at George. Its solemn hazel eyes had gold flecks in them.
“It was nice of you to save that convenience store,” said Lara stiffly.
“Oh. Yes. Well. Thanks,” said George.
“Those people owe you their lives.”
“Lucky you had that gun.”
“Lucky,” echoed George.
“Lucky,” piped up the child.
Lara absently stroked the blond curls. George’s eyes lingered on the gesture. His scalp tingled in remembrance.
Steps sounded down the stairs and turned into the hall. Andy came to stand behind his wife. The gold flecks in his amber eyes seemed to somehow too catch the sun.
“George,” said Andy.
“Hey Andy,” said George. He looked at Andy’s tie. It was loose. He touched the knot of his own.
“You’ll just look slovenly George,” said Lara.
Their eyes met in perfect accord.
“Please don’t call my wife your fiancée anymore George,” said Andy. “Especially not to The New York Times.”
“The neighbors.” Lara’s arms tightened. Her lips thinned. The child howled.
“Your parents,” said George.
Her eyes snapped against his. “Yes,” she said.
“Do you want—”
“No,” said Lara.
“Let me take Ian,” said Andy.
George looked at Lara, surprised. Andy carted the child off to another part of the house.
Lara walked past George and opened the door. George nodded at her and left the paper on the hall table. She picked it up and gave it back to him. He nodded again.
She dug into her right pocket and unearthed a handkerchief.
“This is yours,” she said.
He took it. The cloth looked all the whiter against his sun-browned skin. His thumb skimmed over the monogrammed initials.
“I liked the name,” Lara said suddenly. George nodded and turned to walk out.
“George.” A slender, manicured hand pressed gently on his shoulder. He stopped.
“Why?” she asked.
He looked at her. Hazel eyes and blond hair and Gap chinos and a pale blue sweater set. In the spring light, her porcelain skin looked unearthly.
“I don’t…I don’t know,” said George. He licked his lips. “I think…” They were dry. “I…forgot.”
Lara nodded and took her hand off his shoulder.
Her voice was silver birdsong.
The door pushed him out into the spring day as it closed.
George looked at the glory of the lawn in May. The grass was very green. He loosened his tie. “G.I.L.,” his fingers traced. He took a step forward. Stopped. The zephyr blew through with gusto and ruffled his hair.
He went to step. He stopped. He went to put his foot back down it its place. He looked slovenly.