The Ugly

Chapter one -The Arrivals

Lyle, Peter’s oldest friend and best man, was literally running on empty. Hardly had he gotten one group of passengers to the Boulderado before his cell phone would wheeze and it was time to scamper out to the airport to pick up the next. Fortunately he didn’t have to drive all the guests, as some rented cars of their own for transport to the hotel where Peter’s parents, Elisabeth and Giles, were personally greeting one and all. Yet whenever there was a lull at their end, Elisabeth would call Lyle to ask whose plane had landed and when they could be expected in town.

It was a grand affair, the Karmon wedding, with over 200 guests from all over the country attending. Jackie and Peter knew few of these distant relatives, parental friends and Giles Karmon business cronies, yet the guest list would have been even longer had not Jan Mayer put his foot down. This is a marriage, not a Kenneth Copeland convention, Mayer had said.

Jan Mayer was an acclaimed pro in the nuptial trade with a slew of celebrity events across the country in his portfolio. On account of Jackie’s family’s economic circumstances, Giles was footing the wedding bill but it was Jan Mayer who ran the show, an arrangement which suited Pete’s dad just fine as he had little interest in what he alternatively, but equally disdainfully, referred to as trifles and truffles. He just wanted to give his only son a damn good wedding with the best of everything: great American food (no frenchy dishes), the finest entertainment (no pony-tailed musicians) and an abundant quantity of decent liquor and California champagne. Damn the truffles, just make it the greatest wedding you have ever done, Giles Karmon would say to Mayer, ignoring the fact that trifles and truffles are a wedding coordinator’s raison d´être. For example, it was Mayer’s insistence on individual airport welcomes for all out-of-state guests, including lace-entwined roses for the ladies and carnations for the men that had Lyle spending much of the last two days on Highway 470 connecting Boulder to Denver International.

And now everyone was edgy, with the rehearsal starting in a few hours and snowstorms delaying guest’s flights. Among the missing was Peter’s stepsister and Matron-of-honor, Gabriella, who was flying in from New York with her husband, Garett. There were also worries that another late arrival, Giles’s third wife, Carmen, might turn up plastered, a condition the Karmons would rather Jackie’s family of non-indulging born-agains not have to witness. But as Carmen came late to everything and had no function in the actual ceremony, it was Gabriella’s whereabouts that had Elisabeth calling Lyle every twenty minutes and he was in the middle of one such call, standing in front of the airport information desk, when he felt a tap from behind on his shoulder.

—Gabriella! I’ve been paging you, said Lyle, presenting her with a bouquet of wilting roses and giving her husband his carnation. Hi Garett.

—Thank you Lyle, answered Gabriella. We heard our names being called, but my Garett here insisted on leading us in the wrong direction. He had us on our way to Barbados.

While Gabriella rummaged in her purse after baggage checks, Lyle remembered he still had Elisabeth on the phone:

—Elisabeth, are you there? They’ve arrived. Lyle handed his phone to Garett.

Both Elisabeth and Giles were shouting on the other end, asking about their redirected flight and if Gabby was all in one piece.

—I’m just fine, Elisabeth, called out Gabby over her husband’s shoulder. See you at the hotel in a jiff, darlings.

A skycap was recruited to help Gabriella and Garett with their bags and Lyle went to get the van. The slush on the pavement seeped into his sneakers as he forded the parking lot crossing. Snowflakes spiked with the stifling fragrance of jet exhaust crept in through the openings of his jacket. The garage boom attendant asked for eight dollars. Thanks a million, said Lyle, adding up all the gas and parking money he would never see again.

—You don’t seem dressed for the weather, Gabriella, said Lyle, when she and her husband had settled in the van. She smiled at the syllabicate tilt he gave her name. Lyle was a slim 23 year-old with hay-colored hair and a waxy complexion that matched the pale gray Colorado skies. Gabriella had known him since he was a child playing Pacman with Pete in front of the living room fire in Aspen.

—I assumed the wedding would be indoors, she answered, laughing.

She looked up ahead of them at the low shuffling clouds reupholstering the Rocky Mountains with a fresh cover of snow, and after checking for messages on her cell phone, glanced across at the boy who was folding their van casually through Denver traffic.

—Tell me, Lyle, she asked, do you still work for WPP?

—Hell no, he answered. I’m done with big companies. I wanted some quality time with myself.

—Great, said Gabriella. I suppose we’ll be flying in for your wedding in the not too distant future then?

Lyle looked across at her and said caustically:

—The kind of dates I go on don’t usually lead to marriage.

Gabby laughed as she squirmed out of her jacket, but she wondered if it was not possibly a touchy subject.

She was tall and formidably beautiful. Even more so than one could imagine from the photos that graced several of the magazines Lyle had browsed through while waiting for her at the airport. Jan Mayer’s perseverance in convincing Jackie to have Gabriella as her matron of honor was understandable – as was the crushing disappointment this arrangement must have been for Jackie’s closer girlfriends who might have expected that honor for themselves.

She took off her plum tinted sun glasses, laughed to herself that Garett had so quickly fallen asleep on the back seat and pulled a card from her purse:

—Lyle, call this woman and tell her I said to hire you since you are the most talented and least discombobulated, left-handed art director in America.

She checked her makeup in the sunshade mirror.

—Listen, I don’t need this, said Lyle. I am doing just fine. You would be depleting your goodwill in the industry for nothing.

—Weddings make me feel like hooking people up, said Gabriella, smiling brightly. Anyway, she will probably tell you that my opinion isn’t worth a hill of beans.

Lyle gave Gabriella a tight-lipped smile.

—Thanks, Your highness, he said, turning on the radio.

They sat listening to a country ballad about a man who, being diagnosed with cancer and with six months to live had taken up skydiving and bull wrestling. Gabby wondered as to Lyle’s offishness, but then again, she often intimidated men. It was a fact of life.

She took a folded paper from her purse and skimmed through Jan Mayer’s standard maid/matron-of-honor check-list. … haven’t done that … not that either … hmm, doubt if I’ll do that. Mayer had penned in a note about being conservative with the language in her speech. Oh well, a few anecdotes, a few superlatives, some lyrics from a Beatles song; that ought to do it. Uncouth bumper stickers on the cars in front of them were a reminder that she was out of her usual environment. Know your audience – she should follow the advice she so freely gave others. She had apparently already screwed up with Lyle.

The greeting committee was eagerly awaiting them when their van rolled to a stop in front of the Boulderado. First forward was Giles, pushing 80, painfully dressed in Navy Seal inspired skiing attire and a Daniel Boone trapper’s cap. He was supported by his current wife Tish, easily ten inches and two generations his junior, featuring imposingly erect breasts and glazed-doughnut lips. Behind them came Peter’s mother Elisabeth, her red apple face freshly tightened for the wedding and abundantly pasted with creams and powders, her hair molded in prefab wavelets the color of pistachio nuts.

They all hugged and kissed Gabriella frantically. She was the star of the family, with a career that had taken her from iconic fashion model to newly-crowned “Person of the Year in Advertising”.

—Garett tells me you’re not rushing back to New York, Gabby, said Elisabeth, escorting them into the lobby. That’s great. We have so much to talk about.

—No, said Gabriella, smiling brightly as she acknowledged the greetings of friends and relatives in the lobby. No rushing for us anymore. Gives Garett ulcers. He likes moving slow and I know that’s good for both of us.

Elisabeth nodded approvingly.

—Stress is our worst enemy, Gabby, she said. We have to strenuously avoid it.

—Well, stress doesn’t come naturally to Garett, I assure you. He’s the poster child for slomo living.

Garett smiled obligingly as they approached the reception desk.

—Of course, my wife, being in advertising, never exaggerates, he retorted. But you all know she is the maniac in our family. She’s got both our kids in anti-anxiety programs, and now there’s another crazy diet she is forcing us to submit to.

He shook his head and glanced at his wife, who looked back with mocking scorn. The others laughed heartily, for Gabriella’s engagement in therapy and health fads was well known.

—The GI diet! continued Garett. That’s the latest. Eating at home has become like driving down Broadway – there are green, yellow or red lights pasted on all the foods in our kitchen.

Gabby smiled over her shoulder as she handed the desk clerk her credit card. Though Elisabeth laughed knowingly, Tish didn’t catch the humor and Giles, completely out of the loop, had to ask:

—And just what is the GI diet, Gabby?

—The GI diet, Giles, exclaimed Elisabeth. You don’t know what the GI diet is? The gluten index, Garett, isn’t that it?

—Yes, or rather the glycaemic, said Garett. Anyway it’s about eating much of this and little of that. Gabby says it originated in Australia.

—Kylie Minogue was one of the first to try it, Tish chipped in, nodding her head enthusiastically.

Gabriella knitted her chin in feigned protest:

—There is nothing extraordinary about it at all. Garett only thinks it’s funny because GI makes it sound like a military thing.

—Well, said Elisabeth, better get up to your room. I’m afraid there is not much time for you to get ready for the rehearsal.

—I’m a fast changer, replied Gabriella. I’ll leave Garett here to amuse you while I’m gone.

—With her background I suppose she would be, said Elisabeth after Gabby had left them to follow a bellhop towards the elevator. And the kids, Garett … you’re not anxious about leaving them alone?

—We have a wonderful au pair now, he answered. Céline – from Geneva. She’s quite fantastic.

—I bet you can count on her like a Swiss watch, said Elisabeth, visibly pleased with her clever metaphor. Speaking of dependability, where did Lyle go? He should be collecting the attendants by now. He’s never around when you need him.

She jerked her head about the room looking for Lyle only to discover that Giles was wandering off towards the lobby bar. She turned to Tish:

—Where is your husband off to, dear? He’s not having a drink now, is he? The Zuckors just drove up.

Hearing her, Giles called out over his shoulder:

—You and Tish do the Zuckors, Elisabeth. I believe Carmen has arrived.

Rehearsal participants were filling the lobby. Elisabeth, bustled about the room preping everyone for the departure to the wedding venue. When Gabriella, who, true to her word, made a speedy return, looking homecoming queen fresh, Elisabeth quickly took her aside:

—Be a dear, Gabby, and help out with Carmen. She must have sneaked in through a back entrance. No doubt stewed as a prune.

Gabriella had recognized Carmen’s laughter when she came down the mezzanine staircase. She nodded to Elisabeth, and taking Garett by the hand drew him with her in the direction of the hotel bar.

—It’s such a relief, said Elisabeth to Tish, that Gabby’s here … Oh, oh! Don’t look now, but I see Jackie’s Dad and Nurse Wilson are having words with the concierge. I hope it’s nothing serious. We don’t have time for that.

At a desk adjacent to the Boulderado entrance, Jack Diamond and a sternly profiled woman in tweed were arguing heatedly with the concierge:

—Are you trying to tell us that that woman you sent up to our room speaks English? asked Jackie’s Dad, a short, bulb-faced man with grizzly skin and a swarthy mustache.

—All our contracted sitters are English speaking, answered the concierge. We booked you with Bonita Diaz. I have spoken English with her on several occasions.

—Well, being a native English speaker myself, answered Mr Diamond, smiling menacingly, one would think I would be a better judge of that. How can Nurse Wilson here possibly take part in my daughter’s rehearsal if it means leaving my wife in the care of an illiterate, and for all I know, undocumented, immigrant?

Though Jackie’s mother had been inflicted with permanent puerperal insanity after the traumatic birth of their only child, her husband had sworn to keep her by his side forever, and Nurse Wilson had been brought in to both help raise Jackie and care for her mother. Mrs Diamond would, of course, be attending the wedding, but it was deemed unnecessary to have her at the rehearsal. The concierge, after overcoming a stint of speechlessness, apologized and said he would try to find a replacement for Ms Diaz. While he was thumbing through his Rolodex, Jackie and Peter’s groomsmen and bridesmaids were making a rather disheveled and noisy descent down the Boulderado’s renowned lobby staircase led by Lyle.

Jackie’s father, who had apparently been waiting for this opportunity, left Nurse Wilson with the concierge and corralled in the youngsters at the bottom of the stairs, inviting them for some iced tea in the lobby before leaving for the rehearsal. They laughed and the drunkest of them said she never took anything that strong so early in the day. Jack then ceremoniously handed each of them one of the pamphlets he had been carrying around in a satchel all morning: What Every Christian Should Know About Marriage.

By Doctor Ted Haggard, he said, smiling. It’s about God’s will.

His wrinkled red face broke into a broad smile, and the young ladies and men smiled back, waving the pamphlets gaily. A groom said:

—Thank you, Mr Diamond, I had been hoping to find something like this.

Jack Diamond bowed graciously and added:

—As Mary Magdalene said to Jesus: If I don’t believe, teach me to believe, for I want to believe.

Jan Mayer had now appeared and was rounding up guests for transportation to the rehearsal. Mr. Diamond, feeling he had won some ground with the youngsters, was about to expound on his own beliefs when a loud commotion further up the landing interrupted him and had the whole lobby gaping in astonishment.

A red-faced woman, dressed in pansy pajamas was dancing down the staircase, excitedly clapping her hands and shouting:

—Quadrilles! Quadrilles!

Close on her heels came the unfortunate Bonita Diaz, crying:

Mrs Diamond, Mrs Diamond, pleeez…

—Alright everyone, time to go, shouted Mayer in the lobby below, hoping to draw attention from the intermezzo on the stairs. Where are the children? The bus is filling up, we don’t want anyone left behind.

—There is room for three in the back, called out Elisabeth.

As Nurse Wilson rushed over to comfort Mrs Diamond, Jan Mayer turned to a cousin who would be reading a poem in the ceremony:

—Wendy, we are only making one bus trip today so we will have to pack you all in like sardines.

—I don’t mind, Jan.

—Good. Perhaps you would like to sit with Mr Bartell? said Mayer, indicating a puffy, pock-faced and beady-eyed sixty-year old, donning his overcoat in the hotel entranceway.

—It’s Burger Bob, whispered Elisabeth encouragingly to Wendy. He’s not only ridiculously rich – he sings like Dean Martin. Go for it.

The bus waiting outside politely honked twice to speed up the loading of passengers. Jan Mayer was leading a group of guests out of the lobby as Giles wandered in from the bar, smiling broadly.

—What are you up to, Giles? asked Elisabeth, anxiously. We will be the last ones. I hope you are wearing proper clothes under that skiing garb.

Giles, with a drink still in his hand, smiled at his ex-wife and answered:

—I’ve been Chatting with Carmen and Ponzy. Gabby and Garett joined us. They’re all coming now – if slowly.

Behind him Gabriella could be seen leading Carmen across the lobby floor. The latter, a woman in her fifties with strong Mediterranean features, was laughing heartily in a low key at a story which she had been telling Gabriella in the bar. She had thinly plucked eyebrows high above blood-laced walnut eyes and a wide mouth with tumid and protruding lips. The turbulent disorder of her long, Castilian black hair gave her a nervously sensuous look. She waved delicately with her well-manicured hands at Elisabeth. Her husband, Ponzy – a nondescript man, if one ignored his comical stiff-legged gait – walked alongside Garett.

—How wonderful it is to see you, said Elisabeth.

Carmen exchanged little pecking kisses with Tish and Elisabeth before noticing the scene at the bottom of the stairwell, where Nurse Wilson had finally succeeded in soothing Jackie’s mother. Bonita Diaz stood alone in tears while both the hotel manager and concierge were being dressed down by Jack Diamond. Carmen immediately forayed across the room to lend a hand.

—Oh, no. Must she get involved? said Elisabeth to Gabby.

Gabriella, bemusedly watching Carmen caught up in a bear hug with Jill Diamond, answered:

—It takes more than a couple of Bloody Marys to put that woman out of action.

—Well, I wish she wouldn’t, said Elisabeth. And Ponzy has had her at several clinics. But we must be going now. What should we do about the Diamonds?

The predicament was solved by Carmen, who insisted on her and Ponzy staying with Jack and Nurse Wilson. They could take a cab as soon as new sitter had shown up. When the others had left the lobby, Jackie’s father thanked Carmen profusely:

—Peter’s said so many wonderful things about you.

Carmen explained that if Elisabeth hadn’t given birth to Pete she would have had to, because he was just such a fantastic kid and would always be like a son to her, and oh, how happy she was that he and Jackie had found each other. She suggested they all move into the bar and have drinks while they waited. But the new sitter had already arrived and Jill Diamond seemed to take to her straight off. The woman spoke English with only a slight Polish accent which was acceptable to Jack Diamond. Ponzy already had a cab waiting and they headed off to the chapel. In the car Jack handed Carmen one of his brochures which she rolled up and used to point out the scenic highlights of Boulder.

The Rehearsal

Gabriella had given up on listening to Jan Mayer’s elaborate directions. She wondered how many of the others really saw much point in the military precision Mayer was demanding and just why they had to go through everything three times, and why so many people needed to be at this rehearsal in the first place. Serves them right for getting Mayer to do it, she thought. Lyle and the other groomsmen, who had been visiting the portable refreshment bar in the church foyer at every opportunity, had taken to clowning whenever Mayer’s back was turned, and Giles Karmon, who had a whale of a snore, had to be nudged awake in his front-row seat more than once by Tish. The only ones who seemed to wholeheartedly engage themselves in this rigmarole were Jackie, Elisabeth and the great wedding coordinator himself, strutting about, his hands conducting like a Toscanini, while Reverend Healy stood patiently thumbing the pages of a dog-eared and yellow post-it-petaled Bible.

Gabriella’s eyes, irritated by Mayer’s fidgeting figure, wandered above the chapel organ to a reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and she remembered a somewhat censored version of that same painting on her second-grade school lunchbox. Luckless artists having their creations contorted by whoever, whenever, like Thus Spake Zarathustra opening up auto shows, Modigliani selling yoghurt, or Beethoven’s Fifth accentuating face-offs in ice hockey games. Watching little Brittany twiddling with her practice bouquet and Kevin with his ring pillow brought back memories of a similar scene: She, holding the hem of her mother’s wedding dress, her brother Conny carrying that same velvet cushion, a large bald, brute of a man whom she hardly knew lifting her mother’s veil and … that awful kiss. But, of course, Tory knew what she was doing. Thanks to her marriage to Giles, Gabby could go to college and so would have Conny, had his and Tory’s car not gone over the edge of Black Bear Pass the day before he was to turn twelve. A shadow passed over her face as she remembered first, her opposition to her stepfather, but also the hurt when he chose Carmen to replace Tory so soon after the funeral. There could never be a loneliness like that loneliness, watching her brother and mother lowered one after another into the earth. And then there was that night – the night of her junior prom, when she woke to the pulling of her sheets and saw the dark haunting figure of a heavily-breathing Giles looming above her bed.

Gabriella gathered that the rehearsal proceedings were nearing the end for they were playing that march for the third time – at least Mendelssohn could imagine what would become of it – and Mayer was directing everyone out the chapel door in the reverse order they had entered it. Strolling arm in arm with Lyle, she put her grim memories aside. Once the procession members were all outside, great applause greeted Jan Mayer, the most vigorous clapping coming from Lyle and the groomsmen.

The rehearsal dinner, where the actual participants were now joined by fifty or so family members and other VIPs, was held at an Italian restaurant in downtown Boulder. Gabby was seated between Lyle and a groomsman, Ivor Molly, who had several years ago attended one of her Ethics in Advertising seminars. He combed his long hair over his left cheek, hiding – or elaborating, depending on the tilt of his head – the maroon birthmark she thought looked like a map of New Zealand. He wore a Greenpeace button in the lapel of his jacket.

When they had taken their seats he said abruptly:

—So Mz. Media Star, what are you currently doing to to change this world for the better?

—Pardon me? What am I doing? said Gabby, fearing he might be serious.

He nodded with burlesque graveness.

—You mean; what am I personally doing? she asked.

—How Will You Change The World Today? recited Ivor Molly loudly, turning his eyes upon her.

Gabby didn’t react, and he continued:

—I know you’re the genius who masterminded that Lehman Brothers campaign. Have you no qualms about that?

—Why? asked Gabriella, forging a smile.

—Well, I’m disappointed, said Ivor chiddingly. To work for a company like that. I didn’t think you were such a mercenary.

Asshole. Yes, she had designed that campaign, pocketing her agency a small fortune, though the thrill of doing something on such a grand scale – and so successfully as well, meant more to her than the money. She loved to see the commercials on TV and come across her ads in newspapers and magazines. She was fed up with detractors like Ivor. She told him indignantly that life was all about doing a good job – and putting your heart into it. If everybody did that, then this wouldn’t be such a bad world to live in. But some people screw up and do a lousy job and some people cheat, and some steal. And that’s lamentable, or deplorable or maybe even punishable by a few years in prison, but it doesn’t automatically condemn whoever worked with them. Everybody at Lehman Brothers wasn’t a crook, she reminded him, and she wasn’t either.

From then on Gabriella pointedly confined her conversation to Lyle. But as the main course was served, Ivor Molly took her hand in a warm grasp and said in a reconcilatory tone:

—Sorry, I was only jiving you. Can I pour you more wine?

He then spoke of how he had seen on the Internet a critique of Rawl’s Theory of Justice she had written in college. He thought it was really fascinating. His face lit up:

—Gabriella, what would you say to coming with us to Burning Man this autumn? You should come. I’m sure Garett and your kids would love it. Garett is a spiritual person, right?

—To a reasonable extent, said Gabriella curtly.

—It is not as impossible as it sounds, said Ivor. I’ve a huge tent.

—The fact is, said Gabriella, I have a pretty heavy schedule.

—Doing what? he asked.

—Well, you know, a little dab here and a little dab there – trying to make ends meet.

—Like what? he persisted.

—Like looking after the two hundred employees of our ad agency. Like twenty-something speaking engagements. Like trying to finish my second book.

—Why do all that instead of finding peace within yourself? You’ve already had one breakdown. I read about it.

—Well, said Gabriella, it’s partly because I enjoy my work and it’s partly to make a living, but it’s mostly none of your f– she checked herself – business.

—Does all that activity provide harmony for your own inner self? persisted Ivor Molly.

—Actually Ivor … (she leaned over and read the name on his place card) … Ivor Molly, omphaloskepsis is not really my thing.

Gabriella glanced right and left to the others at the table for someone to intervene, struggling to retain her good humor. Molly’s face was flush with excitement and New Zealand was glowing.

—Are you sure you know yourself that well? he continued.

—If you don’t mind, said Gabriella, I’m extremely uninterested in your new age proselytism.

—Sorry, said Ivor Molly.

Gabriella did not answer.

—I didn’t mean to … I was just trying to be helpful.

The seven-piece band brought in for the rehearsal party had begun to play. Giles sailed straight for Gabby’s table, smiling magnanimously.

—But you might give it some thought, said Ivor, as Gabriella got up to dance with her stepfather.

She did – she thought about what a dickhead he was. Best to make sure he got nowhere near her for the rest of the wedding. The band was playing a song called Animal Crackers, and guests, many of them only a months away from walkers or wheelchairs or worse, hopped about the cramped dance floor imitating birds and apes. Giles was content to just waltz Gabriella to the three steps he had learned in childhood dancing lessons and never varied upon. Her obnoxious table companion sailed past, twirling about a bridesmaid in some retro-fifties-be-bop charade:

—Mercenary!

After a few dances with those bold enough to ask her, Gabriella retreated to the darkest corner of the restaurant’s bar, where Carmen’s husband Ponzy was quietly sitting. He had a slight drawl like his wife and he sputtered his p’s. Gabriella told him how happy she was to see Carmen, who had meant so much to her as a child after the loss of her only real family. She asked if they were happy together and Ponzy assured her that they were, and while he exemplified with some particularly happy details, Gabby tried to rid her mind of the obnoxious Ivor Molly. OK, maybe he believed in his inner light, kagi meditation, zen yoga bullshit or whatever it was they did out there in the desert, but, my god, he should have the good manners to keep it to himself. Maybe she could have handled it better, cut him off earlier. But the impudence of him calling her a mercenary, even in jest, was just too much. She had had enough of envious people trying to pull her down to their own level. He with his squirrelly eyes.

Garett made his way towards her through the dancing guests and, after nodding to Ponzy said close to her ear:

—Gabby, Elisabeth wants to know if you have tomorrow’s speech all figured out?

—Oh my god, said Gabby. Tell her to cool it. It’s not that big a deal.

—Mayer is having everyone else go first so you will be the closing act, said Garett.

—Were you dancing? asked Gabriella, changing the subject.

—If you can call it that. I’m obligated, I suppose. What was the thing with Ivor?

—Nothing. Why? Did he say something to you?

—No. Listen sweetheart, they’re asking that Burger Bob creep to sing tomorrow night. And they want me to accompany him. You’ll save me from that – won’t you?

—Ivor thinks we should all go and live naked in the woods, said Gabby, eating bark and worms – and mushrooms, I suppose.

Her husband clapped his hands, playfully.

—Oh, great idea, Gabby, he laughed. I always wanted to be Carlos Castaneda.

—You can if you like, said Gabby, coldly.

He looked at her for a moment, then turned to Ponzy and said:

—Now, there’s a good sport for you, Ponzy, and walked off.

When Garett had left, Ponzy, warming to the subject, went on to tell Gabriella that science has proved that civilization developed on the plains and savannas, because you couldn’t throw spears in the woods and throwing spears was the origin of speech.

Gabby shook her head enthusiastically, without taking in a word he said. When she saw Carmen coming over to be with her husband, she left the barstool free for her and made for the ladies room where some Geritol-set dancers who had run out of steam were panting heavily and mopping up their faces, all the while congratulating each other on their youthful looks and athletic fitness. Gabriella was thankful for the solitude of the stall. Her agitated fingers tapped the metal top of the toilet paper dispenser. How nice it would be to be somewhere else.

Above the dispenser, written in lipstick were the words – EAT SHIT. Could it have been someone in the rehearsal party who wrote that? What people did – what people thought in the dark? One of those octillion-year-old aunts, maybe. Think of all the thought-tormented people in the world posing as normal and happy. Perhaps it was a personal message to her from that bridesmaid, Tracy, whose role as maid-of-honor she had usurped. Gabriella, using her Chanel Passion Red No. 3, abutted YOURSELF!!! to the existing message. She tried to think about her speech, but the repugnant face of Ivor Molly kept breaking in on her thoughts. In her purse she had that little souvenir voodoo doll Garett had bought her in New Orleans and she took it out and stabbed its belly repeatedly with a bio-gel sculptured fingernail. Enjoy this, Mr. Ivor Navel-Fucking-Gazing Molly.

Wedding Day

In the cozily-heated and lavishly catered pavilion set up outside Boulder First Presbyterian, a lithe young soprano accompanied by a string octet from the Denver Philharmonic had reached the closing lines of Eternal Flame as Jack Diamond and Giles, gallantly escorting a rather disorientated Mrs Diamond between them, made their entrance, followed by Giles’ wives, past and present: Elisabeth, Carmen, and Tish, and behind them, Ponzy and Nurse Wilson.

Jan Mayer requested silence from the assembled guests and Giles, in a strong basso grosso, welcomed everyone to the glorious event about to take place, adding that though he had considerable first-hand experience with occasions of this sort, today was truly something special that would, if he had any say in the matter, only happen once in these children’s life. You know, though weddings might cost fortunes, divorces can wipe them out, he quipped.

Amidst the ensuing laughter, he pulled Jack Diamond under his arm and confided that at the rate their friendship was developing Jack was either going to have him talking in tongues or Giles would see Jackie’s father under the table with half a quart of sour mash in his belly. But seriously, folks, though we might have our differences, Jack and I, we did reach one agreement straight off the bat: That our two wonderful kids both knew what true love looked liked when it finally stared ‘em in the face … and they reached out for it and they grabbed it – and, by god, they are going to keep it. Ladies and gentlemen, a toast to love, happiness and the eternal flame of Jackie and Peter Karmon.

The speech was received with applause and cheers, and as the lithe, young soprano launched into Killing me Softly, Carmen moved over to her ex-husband and took his hand.

—Wow, is she good, Carmen whispered. What an exquisitely beautiful voice. And as for great performances, Giles, that was a very sweet talk you gave. We might still be married today if you had practiced what you preach.

Giles murmured something about why they were no longer married and Carmen quickly released his hand from her grasp. Jack Diamond gave Giles a big pat on the back, thanking him profusely for the speech but leaning closer to his ear, said:

—Just one detail, Giles. We don’t speak in tongues in our church.

Giles laughed so loudly at this information that Tish had to turn to the men reproachfully:

—Shush you two! Listen to this woman sing, will you. All I can say is I’ve never heard such a wonderful voice. Is she famous?

—Neither have I, said Jack Diamond, but I don’t think the song is appropriate to the occasion.

Giles shrugged his shoulders as the parents made their way towards the chapel entrance:

—You are probably right Jack, but I wouldn’t mind her strumming my back with anything she chose.

—I envy those people, said Tish as they stood in the chapel foyer waiting to be seated. They are the greatest artists. They have rhythm and they have grace. God bless them.

She turned to the others for affirmation, but saw only embarrassed smiles and look-aways. Her husband was covering his eyes with his head down.

—Face it, they can dance better, sing better, and play most sports better than we can, she continued. Just look at the Nuggets.

—My dear, said Jan Mayer, you must be careful how you phrase things. You don’t want people to think you’re a racist.

Tish turned on him defiantly:

—I may not have half the education of the rest of you, but I think I know what racism is, Jan, and it certainly isn’t admiring people for their talents and skills. And no one’s going to slam me for thinking so.

She had worked herself up considerably and might have continued arguing right into the chapel. Jan Mayer remarked that this was an extremely inopportune moment for a nature-nurture debate.

—We know you mean well, Tish, darling, but we must be careful how we phrase things, because if it is a racial trait to be a good dancer or excellent singer, then some unkind person might say it’s a racial trait to steal or beat each other up.

The ushers were patiently waiting to seat them but Tish was not pacified.

—Well, I haven’t the slightest what nurture-nature means, but there is such a thing as respect – I beg your pardon! And I certainly didn’t say anything about stealing. I believe in respect for other people’s opinions and I am pretty sure Reverend Healy would support me on that.

—Most certainly, said Jan Mayer, in a last-ditch attempt to calm the waters. And I for one think your theory that all positive traits are genetic and all negative ones socially fostered is brilliant.

—You are mocking me, said Tish, almost in tears.

—No, Tish, we love you dearly, said Jan Mayer, giving her a big hug. And I believe this nice young usher here is more than ready to show you to your seat.

After taking Jack to his daughter in the chapel atrium, Jan checked in on the attendants in the front office. Here, chaos prevailed. Ivor Molly lay flat on his back, Kevin’s ring cushion propped under his head. Lyle, who by now should have been at the head of the church with Pete and Reverend Healy, was attending him.

—You are going to be just fine, Ivor, said Lyle. Take it easy. We’ve got plenty of time.

—Actually we don’t, said Jan Mayer. Can you pick yourself up, man?

—I don’t think I can do it, said Ivor. I don’t think I can move.

—Relax Ivor, you’re hyperventilating – what happened? asked Jan Mayer.

—I’m so sorry, said Ivor Molly. But it feels like I’ve got daggers piercing my guts.

—We will get you a doctor – God knows there are plenty of them here, said Gabriella.

—No. No doctor. I will be OK.

Gabriella ran out and called to one of the wedding photographers standing in the foyer:

—Find out where Dr Gogarty is sitting and discretely inform him he is needed here.

Ivor, after an attempt at getting to his knees, was down again.

—March on in there and don’t mind me, he cried. Please. I can take care of myself.

—Well, you are going to have to find yourself another pillow, said little Kevin.

—God bless you, boy, said Ivor, laughing weakly.

After a moment’s self-deliberation, Jan Mayer told Tracy there would have to be some changes. Without her groomsman he couldn’t let her march in the procession. It was a matter of symmetry. She would make her entrance through a side door. Otherwise they might think you are the Maid of Honor he told her. Upon which Tracy exploded into tears and informed him frankly that she should have been, and another of the bridesmaids said that if Tracy couldn’t march, then none of them would, and that he could stick his symmetry up his pompous ass.

—OK, OK, everybody calm down, said Jan Mayer. Sean, go in there and find us a new groomsman, preferably somebody wearing pants the same color as yours – quick! … Ivor, I am afraid we’re going to have to borrow your jacket. Where in the hell is Gabriella?

—Here I am! cried Gabriella. Ready to rock and roll.

Leaving Ivor Molly in the care of Dr Gogarty processional members took up their foyer starting positions with Reverend Healy in their sights 150 feet ahead at the altar end of the chapel. Mayer, after counting through exactly 16 bars of Coro a Bocca Chiusa, exquisitely hummed by a CU Choir, launched the first pair of attendants with the commandment: Go with dignity, composure, and grace, but for god’s sake go slow … start … now!

And off they sailed down an alleyway of twisted necks, dewy-eyes, sentimental smiles, and the cellphone photo flashes strictly forbidden by Jan Mayer. Soon all the attendants were in motion or had already taken their x-taped positions on the podium. Traditional bride-or-groom-side seating conventions had been abandoned due to the overabundance of Karmon invitees, and multiple-procedured ladies decked in gold, silver, diamond and pearl could be seen on both sides of the aisle, their headgear resembling celery stalks, peeled almonds, and custard dishes bobbing as they elbowed their stern,  Zegna-suited hubbys into showing a little more enthusiasm.

Gabriella’s entrance was, as expected, the procession’s show-stopper, though she pointedly ignored the oohs and aahs and retained her most modest composure, not wishing to upstage Jackie, though the sight of Tracy’s new partner, Garett, ahead of her, uncomfortably squeezed into Ivor’s tuxedo, almost had her giggling. Kevin and Brittany were incredibly cute and adorable, of course, and last but not least, Jack, proud as a goose escorting his radiant Jackie, whom two stout distant cousins that had just barely made the guestlist cutoff proclaimed to be the most beautiful bride they had ever seen.

— Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God, under the wings of angels, said Reverend Healy and continued on with many beautiful metaphors and words of wisdom before asking: Who gives this woman to be married to this man?

—I, said Jack Diamond, beaming like Fourth of July fireworks.

Reverend Healy then asked the young couple before her:

—Do you promise to love, comfort, honor … better for worse, richer for poorer … in sickness and in health, forsaking all others … to be faithful, so long as you both shall live?

—I do and I do, said Pete and Jackie when each their turn came.

As the bride and groom exchanged these promises of love and fidelity, Lyle went to them and draped an azure blue silk unity sash over their shoulders. This was a Jan Mayer innovation. He had also suggested that Reverend Healy anoint the bride and groom’s foreheads with vermilion, a Hindu inspired rite currently in vogue at trendsetter weddings, but Elisabeth had objected, saying that plain Christian traditions were good enough for them, and that went for Comanche prayers and liberated doves as well.

… love is patient, love is kind …

Gabriella caught Garett’s eye. Just the two of us and that sweet little Mexican priest in Santa Lucia, and Garett had surprised her with the mariachis, and then the buggers would never stop singing.

… a season, a time, a purpose …

Everybody was furious when they found out, as if there weren’t enough big weddings to go around.

… faith cough and faith alone …

Yes, she thought, faith made for miracles. Creating faith was her job. Blind faith – brand faith – bingo! When you reached that level you could forget price sensitivity, cyclical trending, demographic fall-out. You could forget the competition. You could forget all of that.

Reverend Healy was having a coughing attack. Too bad – serves her right though, puffing away like that out in the back. Beautiful woman nevertheless. Little Kevin held his cushion splendidly high.

… love cough conquers all.

She wondered if Reverend Healy would ask the iconic question we all still love to hear, even if the movies have run it into the ground. Ah, yes, here it comes.

… speak now or forever cough hold your peace …

Reverend Healy’s coughing problem was escalating in severity. Lyle came forward and gave her three solid backslaps. She took a drink of water bottle kept in her pulpit.

—I now cough pronounce you cough man and wife. You may, cough, cough, cough … Unable to continue, she indicated with her hands that the bride and groom could kiss, which they did, and Mr and Mrs Peter Karman was a done deal.

As the bridal procession left the chapel Mendelssohn’s indefatigable march was relayed from the church organ to the octet playing in the pavilion where the guests had returned to wait out the inevitable marathon photo session. Eventually the little orchestra shifted into Mozart who Burger Bob praised as the greatest composer that had ever lived. Isn’t it strange that they’ve never been able to write music like that since? said Wendy. Carmen was following their conversation.

—Why is that music so great, Bob? she asked.

—Because it just is, answered Burger Bob, categorically.

—Because, Carmen continued testily, I would just like to know how you can be so sure of that?

—Well, if I remember correctly, it was Mozart along with Beethoven and Bach that NASA sent up into outer space, said Burger Bob. They only sent up the best our civilization has to offer.

—Did they send up a sixteen-ounce glacier-iced Fortaleza margarita? asked Carmen to appreciative laughter.

Jan Mayer told a story about the NASA committees chosen to pick out the best the human race had ever produced. There was a professor on the music panel who kept quiet while everybody else argued for this composition or that, and when they finally got around to asking him he suggested a piece by Dicky Do and the Do-nots. What Professor? his colleagues asked. We couldn’t hear you clearly – what are you recommending? And he said, I vote for My Baby Gets the Hiccups Every Time We Start To Kiss by Dicky Do and the Do-nots. He said that it was sufficient to just send the first verse if there was a shortage of space in the capsule.

—Sounds like a bad joke to me, said Burger Bob.

—Sounds like a crock of manure, said Mr. Diamond, on temporary leave from photo duties.

— I’ve heard that story too, said Ponzy, but he then said they only needed to send the first note of that song, because all the music that ever was or ever would be could be found in that note. And that we should let the outer space folks enjoy figuring out the rest for themselves.

—What note was that? asked Mr Diamond, and everybody laughed.

—How about the best art? Da Vinci or a dab of paint? asked a groomsman. And did they choose the greatest literature or just send up the letter ‘A’?

—Don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they sent up The Dead, answered Ponzy, many people think James Joyce’s The Dead is the greatest short story in the English language. Not sure if it made it onto the space capsule, though.

—Why is that such a great story? asked Burger Bob.

—Well, I’m no expert, answered Ponzy. But perhaps it’s because great art is like great lovemaking — You just can’t go for the climax straight off. You’ve got to diddle around first and “The Dead” has great diddling and a great climax.

—Strange, said Burger Bob. I’ve never heard of it. What’s wrong with O’Henry, Mark Twain? Zane Grey?

—Hey, I saw The Dead, said a groomsman. It’s a movie. There’s no sex. After this big Christmas party, this guy’s wife remembers some kid she used to be in love with who died and the husband gets all jealous. There is no sex whatsoever.

—I didn’t say there was sex. I said it was like it, said Ponzy. It’s not the same thing.

After every conceivable combination of bride, groom, attendants, family, dignitaries and the three Karmon dogs brought in by envoy from the ranch in Aspen had been photographically eternalized, Jackie and Peter were sent off with cheers and rice and confetti showers in a four-horse carriage, and the guests were transferred to the Boulderado in buses to prepare themselves for the reception dinner. It would be a full evening and then some, and after all the feting they had already done, Giles hoped Jack would still be game for it.

—Well, I believe, said Jackie’s father, that I’m game enough for anything because, you know, I’m the Jack of Diamonds.

Gabriella’s Reception Dinner Speech

The reception dinner was zipping along noisily but smoothly in the Boulderado’s renowned 2nd floor banquet hall. Gabriella was doing her best to patch up relationships with her fellow attendants, telling racy jokes, complimenting the bridesmaids on their performance in the wedding and inviting one and all to visit her and Garett on Long Island – anytime, but she had caused new ire amongst the girls by changing out of her Rockies inspired bridesmaid’s dress into a more becoming Phoebe Philo overall. At the parents table, Ponzy was saying how surprised he was by all the beggars in Boulder.

—Beats me, asked Mr Diamond incredulously, that someone can live off the fat of the land like that without doing a day’s work.

—I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘fat of the land’, but it does seem as if people are pretty generous towards the homeless around here, said Jan Mayer. Not like in San Francisco.

—I hope they’re as generous towards their church, where their money would do some real good, said Jack Diamond.

He wondered why people would stoop to begging on the streets in the first place. He’d seen some pretty tough times himself, but he felt firmly that in America there was always an opportunity to better your lot if you were prepared to roll up your sleeves.

—That doesn’t seem to always be the case, said Carmen.

—Well, of course if you’re lazy, said Jack Diamond. Or you haven’t got the guts.

Giles said he’d worked hard for every penny he’d ever made and never asked for a handout in his entire life. The more you give to those people the less incentive they have to do something useful with themselves. Carmen countered that it was absurd to think that all peoples’ misfortune was of their own doing. She turned to Tish for support but the poor thing, still crushed from her faux pas earlier in the day, had made up her mind to avoid voicing opinions altogether.

—Carmen has a point, said Jack, and charity towards those in need is in keeping with God’s wishes, but I believe it should be organized through the church and other trustworthy organizations like Operation Blessing.

—The homeless, said Jan Mayer, serve to remind us of life’s imperfections and should make us thankful that we are here in this wonderful setting and not out there sleeping on the streets.

As the subject had grown contentious it was soon buried in more congenial table-talk. Though, at one point, Ponzy could be heard saying to Giles:

—Some of those street people drive Cadillacs and have millions stashed away.

After an abundance of food and drink had been consumed and acclaimed by the guests, and a great many speeches of uneven quality given, Giles stood up and invited everyone to fill their glasses with champagne, or carrot juice if they so chose, and to give their utmost attention to the next and final speaker, his little pearl, who, as long as he was on this earth would not want for anything she desired – though at the rate her career was skyrocketing and his stock portfolio nosediving – he sincerely hoped she would return the favor. Gabriella pushed back her chair and stood up to a great deal of applause. She blew Giles a kiss of appreciation.

Placing her confident hands serenely on the back of her chair, she composed herself, taking in as many of the 237 expectant faces as possible. The orchestra, which had struck up Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, concluded with a snare drum roll and the Boulderado servers discreetly retired to the back of the room, but no further, choosing to hear, despite a professionally conditioned aversion for banquet speeches, this elegant celebrity rather than take the opportunity for a quick smoke out on the snow-covered kitchen landing.

She began:

—Reverend Healy, Jackie and Peter, family and friends.

—Since each of the preceding speakers has spoken with such ardor and so expansively of these two newlyweds one might think that all has been said there is to be said, but in truth – not. So, put down your glasses and lean back in your chairs for this might take all night … had you scared there for moment, didn’t I? Fear not, I’ll be brief.

—No, no. We want to hear it all! shouted Mr. Diamond.

—Then you’ll have to discuss that with my agent, Jack, said Gabriella and when the laughter had died down continued: As some of you might know, I work in advertising, which might lead to the assumption that my talent is pulling the wool – or the bull – over your eyes … Perhaps, but that’s my day job, folks. On an occasion like this, I tell it straight from the heart.

—Karmons and Diamonds, this is the first, though certainly not the last, occasion our two clans have gathered thanks to the abundantly generous hospitality of the parents. Will the parents: Giles, Elisabeth, Tish, Jack, Jill, Carmen, Ponzy all please stand up? You too, Nancy. As everyone has well noticed, there are more of these parents than we can keep track of … or the laws of biology can allow for. Hopefully Jackie and Pete know who did what.

Gabby made a sweeping bow to the parents now standing and accepting the enthusiastic acclaim of the guests. Then her voice toned down and her face grew serious:

—And, let me tell you, if my dear mother, Tory, bless her heart, was still with us today, I know she would have sat at that table as well, for though a woman might leave Giles Karmon, she can never stop loving him.

—There he is: my stepfather, Pete’s dad, a man whose autograph is now gratefully treasured by more than half of the wedding vendors in Boulder County. Ladies and Gentleman, the great Giles Karmon!

—And, by the way, that these wonderful people were all seated in the first row pew today is not your standard wedding procedure, but one of the hundreds of creative details thought up by our distinguished wedding coordinator. Will the fabulous Jan Mayer please take a bow?

—Wonderful job, Jan, but next time, please find my husband a tux that fits him?

—Incidentally, the latest report from Saint James is that Ivor Molly is rapidly recovering from his acute pancreatitis attack. He sends his best wishes to Jackie and Pete, and to all the rest of us.

—Dearly beloved we are gathered … isn’t that a beautiful phrase? Is there in this callous iconoclastic age any tradition more worthy of our respect and reverence than the American marriage? … and didn’t she do a beautiful job? Didn’t she shine? Folks, give it up for Reverend Healy. Praise the Lord. Stand up, woman!

When several guests interjected ‘Hallelujahs’ into their applause for Reverend Healy, the one and only Afro-American in the room, Gabriella wished she’d skipped her ‘Praise the Lord’ ad lib. She then turned her head slowly to face Jackie’s parents.

—Mrs Diamond … Jack … Nurse Wilson.

—I am sure by now most of us have had an opportunity to speak with Jack – those little bible pamphlets in everyone’s pockets are witness to that. And if you get the chance, ladies, I would also recommend a chat with Nancy Wilson, who, I have discovered, knows needle-point like none. Folks, I give you West Kansas Needlepoint Champion three years running, Nancy Wilson … and sitting in between them, supported by Jack and Nancy’s loving, unselfish, tender devotion, a beautiful woman – her presence here tonight bearing witness to life’s flickering, fragile, but imperishable flame … Jill, I know you can hear me. I know what is in your heart at this moment, the pride, joy and happiness you are feeling for your daughter on this magical day. Jill, we love you.

—God bless you, Gabby! said Jack Diamond, loudly.

—And God bless you, Jack, she replied. An exaggerated perplexed look came over her face and she theatrically reached for her glasses and her notes on the table … Let’s see, have I forgotten someone? Ah, now I remember. She put down her notes and turned to the bride and groom.

—Look at them. Look at these two beautiful people. Stand up kids. Let’s hear it for them. Don’t sit on your hands, my friends. Don’t be shy. Show your love for this perfect couple – this marriage made in heaven. Rejoice in their happiness. Bask in their sunshine. Celebrate them, people. Celebrate!

Giles asked someone to make sure the video cameras were rolling.

—What a pro she is, said Jan Mayer.

Giles nodded, rocking his bulbous frame back and forth in his chair. Elisabeth’s make-up was dissolving in a flood of tears. Gabby paused until the room grew silent.

—Dearest Jackie. My adorable brother, Peter.

—So many decisions to make. So many choices. So many forks and bends in the road ahead. But the highway is wide open. And the fast lane is yours for the taking. And through teamwork – and Jackie, make damn sure you’re in that driver’s seat at least half of the trip – through teamwork together you’ll get where you want to be. To where only love can take us … This road is not perfect. There are potholes, and detours, traffic jams and speed traps. Accidents can happen, and believe me, they will, but, oh God, then there are those moments when you just sail along with the top down, the wind blowing through your hair, under a blue-sky’d, sunlit heaven, your favorite tune blasting away on the radio, and nothing, nothing, nothing can slow you down or get in your way … that is, until you run out of gas, and have to make a road stop, and end up drinking some of the worst coffee in America.

When the laughter had died down, she raised her glass on high, taking in the entire hall with one final sweep.

—Let us drink a toast to the stars of this show and while we’re at it, why not a toast to ourselves for our great fortune in being here, knowing them, loving them and sharing in the most wonderful moment of their lives.

The band, having missed the cue prearranged by Gabriella, had to be prompted by a wave of her hand. The piano player hit E-flat and the wedding singer began:

There’s nothing you can say that can’t be sung

There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

There’s nothing you can say … it’s easy

Swinging their glasses wildly, a boisterous, jubilant chorus of voices joined in.

Love, love, love

Love, love, love – it’s easy

The 7/8 cadence of the bridge caused some false starts and nervous laughter and then the mighty chorus was upon them.

All you need is love

(Brr-rump-di-dum, filled in the more vocally bold)

All you need is love

(Brr-rump-di-dum, repeated the more vocally bold)

Love is all you need

The jubilation that ended the song shook the banquet hall floor like a tsunami. Carmen, also in tears, said she needed a Ketel One straight-up right away. And Jack Diamond and his daughter took their places on the dance floor.

The Party’s Almost Over

The Boulderado, weary from all the food, drink and dancing, was ready for bed. In the banquet hall servers grew bolder at clearing tables, picking off what they could around lingering guests.

—I suppose we should be moving out of here, these people all want to get home, said Ponzy. Where’s that Jack of Diamonds?

—He is down in the kitchen, answered Jan Mayer. Doing missionary duty amongst the Latinos, I suppose.

—Doesn’t he ever give up? asked Elisabeth, frowning.

Jan Mayer laughed:

—Why? He’s winning hearts and saving souls right and left. We should send him to Afghanistan. Convert those Talibans into well-behaved Christians.

—Good idea, said Giles. He looked at his watch, muttered something about forgetting his medicine, and left the table.

Tish called after him as he started down the stairs:

—Don’t forget your Creatine.

At that moment the serving elevator door opened and Jack Diamond appeared, shepherding in front of him a bewildered little man in a green apron and red headscarf. Jack presented him as his new friend, Pablo, and had Pablo shake hands with everyone before letting him return to his dishwashing duties.

—Can you believe it? That man and I belong to the same church, exclaimed Jack. And I who thought they were all charter members of the Hail Mary club.

—I can’t find Garett, said Gabriella, coming up the lobby stairway.

—He’s doing his thing … back there. Elisabeth pointed to a darkened corner at the far end of the hall from where they could hear a piano playing.

—Oh, he found his sanctuary. Or is he playing for someone? asked Gabriella.

—Don’t think so. Everyone’s gone, said Tish.

—Actually, said Jan Mayer, Burger Bob is over there too, and if I’m not mistaken, so is Wendy.

—Well someone ought to go get them if they’re going to do the town with the rest of us, said Carmen.

Jan Mayer glanced from Gabriella to Carmen and delicately covering a yawn with the back of his hand said:

—Hard to imagine how you all can keep going. More celebrating after all we have been through today? Amazing.

—Well, first we’ll need some good hot coffee to put us back in the groove, said Carmen. I’ll see if I can find someone to make it for us.

—What was Tory like? Tish asked Gabriella when Carmen had left. I know from pictures that she was a very beautiful woman.

—Very, answered Gabby, but above all she was a dedicated mother. She wanted us to become something important. I hope I would have passed her test.

The others all laughed.

—How did she meet Giles? asked Tish.

—She worked in a coffee shop where he was a regular. Giles ate the same breakfast every morning, sitting in the same bar stool with the same paper, and the same waitress – my mother. She knew little about him, though she’d seen him park his Ferrari in the lot.

—I believe it was a Maserati, said Elisabeth. His wife at the time, Margaret, had a thing for Maseratis.

—Well it wasn’t a jalopy like mom drove, said Gabby, laughing. One day Giles, after a year of ‘the usual’ breakfasts, completely out of the blue, with a fork-load of eggs still in his mouth, asked my mother out. And she just stood there staring at his wedding ring. Once he’d explained that he was in the final stages of a divorce, she agreed to it.

—How romantic, said Tish.

—Amen, said Gabriella. So Tory went out and bought a killer dress, which meant putting a big dent in our cookie jar, believe me. She had him pick her up at the coffee shop because she didn’t want him to see that we lived in a trailer – or perhaps hadn’t told him she had two kids. The other waitresses were sick with envy when she got into his car.

They all smiled at the thought of it.

—But Giles has always loved children, said Elisabeth. It wouldn’t have mattered to him.

—He was taking her to Delmonico’s, continued Gabby. And, well, I can just imagine her sitting next to him in that car with that dress barely Mom had legs, let me tell you, and just looking and smelling so good. Giles could have run over half a dozen pedestrians and never known it.

Gabby did a little pantomime of Giles driving like a fool while ogling her mother.

—At the restaurant, when the cocktail waitress came over to get their drink orders and Mom looked up from the menu, she saw her dress – the very same dress the waitress was wearing – it was, like, the Delmonicos’ uniform and, Tory, she died. She told Giles she had to go to the Ladies and she ran out the back door and walked home in her heels, four miles, crying all the way. The next day Giles got her number from the coffee shop, called her up and asked her to marry him. And he didn’t balk when she told him about me and Conny.

The laughter which followed Gabriella’s story was interrupted by the return of Giles and Carmen with a waiter balancing a tray of Irish coffees.

—Charge your batteries, said Carmen. Everyone’s gone to the ‘Four Quarts’. It’s on Arapaho. The bellhop is ordering us

a cab.

—Well, you go ahead, we’ll get the next one, said Gabriella, hoping to avoid going at all. Garett has found a piano, and you know how he is.

—Yes, you better get started, said Elisabeth, before Ponzy mistakes his cake plate for a pillow. But I’m afraid it’s already way past my bed-time.

Giles also demurred, though he encouraged Tish to go if she wished. Tish said that as long as they had taken a room at the hotel, they ought to spend some time in it. Ponzy was helped down the to the lobby by his wife – who could have used some help herself – and together with the inextinguishable Jack Diamond they got into the waiting cab. There was a good deal of confusion as to just where the Four Courts was located. The driver, a chemistry student from Minsk, who had apparently been hired without having the vaguest notion as to the street layout of Boulder, drew a blank at the directions Carmen and Ponzy, which were conflicting in any case, were giving him. The bellhop, seeing their difficulty, came over and attempted to speak Spanish with the Belarusian.

—Conózcale Arapaho? he asked through the cab window.

—No. I’m Dashkevich, answered the driver.

—Whatever is going to become of this country? said Diamond.

—You asking me? said the driver.

—Look, said Carmen. Just drive straight on until I tell you to turn.

—Yes, Ma’am, answered the driver.

He punched both the meter and his gas pedal enthusiastically.

Upstairs in the banquet hall Gabriella sat with Tish in silence. The man playing the piano in the dark – she could not see him, but she recognized the rivulets of black notes and accentuated arpeggios that he loved to immerse himself in – her husband. He was playing so quietly that Gabriella had to strain her ears to listen against the commotion of waiters folding up the last of the serving tables. Then she heard the voice of a man singing. It wasn’t Garett. And the piano playing shifted into a stumbling sequence of rusty bar-piano chord progressions. The spell was broken.

Garett wasn’t much of an accompanist. He preferred just playing for himself. He always said music was a mystery he never wanted to solve. It certainly had been a mystery to her, a gap between them she could never breech. He had been talking lately about doing a new album though he hadn’t been in a recording studio since they had adopted the kids. She hoped he would go through with it. What fun to promote it for him. If he’d let her, she’d name it Music from Distant Worlds.

Giles, Elisabeth, Ponzy, and Jan Mayer, still laughing after waving off the taxi, returned to Gabby and Tish at the table.

Poor Ponzy, said Jan Mayer. How she does drag him around. Carmen might as well have him on roller skates with a leash.

Gabriella said nothing, but held up her hand for them to be silent, pointing off to where her husband was now accompanying the unfamiliar voice.

You’re lovely,

Never, never change

Keep your breathless touch

Darling please arrange it

’cause I love you…

—O, exclaimed Jan Mayer. It’s Burger Bob singing and he wouldn’t perform all night. Only now when everybody’s gone. Isn’t that something?

—Well, we’re still here, said Tish. Let’s go listen.

Before they got halfway over to the piano the singing and playing had stopped and Garett, followed by Burger Bob and Wendy, came walking towards them.

—That’s a shame, said Elisabeth. We were just coming to hear you. It sounded really great.

—Hey, you guys, Tish chimed in. What meanies you are to stop.

—Everyone has been after you two all night to perform, and you have made so many poor excuses, said Mayer.

—And now when there is no one to hear you said Elisabeth.

—We weren’t putting on a show, grumbled Burger Bob, curtly, while Garett looked the other way.

—Well, said Elisabeth, those who are going to catch up with the others had better get a move on it. And make sure you have some wraps. It’s cold out there.

—Typical Colorado weather, said Tish.

—Yes, the kind that gives us colds, said Elisabeth

—Actually, it is not typical at all, said Giles. It’s a record breaking winter. On television they say that most of the central western states are covered in at least ten inches of snow.

They’re generalizing, said Burger Bob. It’s raining in Las Cruces.

—Well, the snow certainly made a wonderful backdrop for the wedding, said Wendy. It couldn’t have been more romantic, if you ask me.

—Bob doesn’t like a lot of snow, because then people won’t visit his drive-thrus, said Elisabeth, smiling.

Gabby would have given anything not to go anywhere, to just be alone with Garett, but she had promised Elisabeth to look out for Carmen and get her home safely. She wondered why Elisabeth was so concerned about Carmen whom she obviously didn’t like, and hardly ever spoke to. Garett stood aloof. Lost. In another world as usual. Distant Garett. Beautiful, distant Garett. She went to stand beside him and took his hand.

—Bob, Tish asked, what was the name of that song you were singing?

The Way You Look Tonight, said Burger Bob. I thought everybody knew it.

The Way You Look Tonight, she repeated. I guess it’s from before my time.

—A classic wedding reception piece, to be sure, said Jan Mayer.

—Don’t get on his case again, Jan, reprimanded Giles.

They wandered together down into the lobby. Burger Bob asked the bellhop to order another taxi.

—Well, good night, Giles, and thank you for a terrific party, he said.

—Good night, Gabby. Good night Garett, and don’t get into trouble at that club.

—Good night, Elisabeth, it’s been wonderful. What do you say, Tish? Not too late to join us.

—Oh, my place is here with Giles, she answered. It’s bedtime for me.

—Good night, Gabby, Wendy.

—Your shoe is untied, Garett, said Elisabeth.

—Thank you, Elisabeth, said Garett.

—Good night, everybody, said Giles.

—Good night, we love you, said Tish.

Epiphany

The Four Quarts, a dark, dull-yellow-lit, low-ceilinged basement club lacking in both headroom and a life-sustainable supply of oxygen was jammed to the walls with college students and many of the younger Karmon wedding guests. Burger Bob and Wendy had hardly gotten down the stairs before falling into a rhythmless clutch – a dance without legroom, his right hand tapping paradiddles on her butt, their eyes and ears blissfully shut to the strobelight dissected discjockey menacingly waving his vinyl orbs in the misty smear of a fog-machine. Garett shuffled off towards the bar to get beers none of them really wanted.

If Carmen, Ponzy, and Jack were tucked in here somewhere, Gabriella couldn’t see them. Other wedding guests came up thanking her for her speech, or so she assumed, for no matter how loud they shouted (and spat saliva) into her ear, it was impossible to fathom a word of what they were saying.

Garett returned with four Tecates, looking lost and distracted as usual, and as usual, the lost women in the room were distracted by her beautiful Garett like flies sizing up a particularly sweet variety of flypaper. She wanted to grab him and yank him out of here. She shut out the clamor and unpleasantness of the club with memories of their life together: lying in bed with her laptop on her knees reading his first email. He had typed only a solitary ‘?’. This guy thinks he’s Victor Hugo, she had laughed to herself, and mailed him back the ‘!’ he had been hoping for … On the beach at Rarotonga under a parasol of palms, brushing sand from his browned shoulders, both laughing at the sight of that hermit crab running about in a Coca Cola can … Out front of a bar in the California desert on a starry, hot, pungent night, watching a motorcycle gang romping it up on their Harleys, doing wheelies and guzzling tequila from half-quart bottles, and true to form Garett had called out to one of the bikers:

—Does it go fast, buddy?

But the biker could not hear him over the roar of engines, which was fortunate, for they might have thought he was messin’ with them.

What he knew about her, what she knew about him, what no one else could ever know. These secret thoughts illumined her memory. She longed to remind him of those moments, their moments of brilliance and ecstasy. They were not done, of course – there was more to come. But sometimes she felt there were no more words, as if they had used them all up.

She longed to be rid the stifling air of the club, she wanted to be in bed with him beside her. She shouted over the cacophonic ocean of noise:

—Garett!

He did not hear her. She grabbed him by the arm and motioned with her head towards the door. Wendy and Burger Bob saw this and followed them out.

A Victorian horse and carriage, complete with costumed driver and cozy plaid blankets, waited invitingly outside the Four Quarts, but Gabby told the driver: Sorry, but after all we are living in the twenty-first century, and together with Wendy and Bob they hoped into a heliotrope-colored, neon-light festooned, disco-taxi. Gabby took the front seat and for once was glad for loud music, for Garett had an annoying compulsion for chitchatting with cab drivers.

But the music wasn’t loud enough. Soon after leaving the club, Garett shouted from his backseat to the driver:

—How tall is that Earl Boykins, anyway?

—He’s five foot five, the driver shouted back.

—Jesus, how does he do it?

And Garett pointed out for Gabriella a bus stop shelter billboard promoting the Denver Nuggets. Rising from a socle of white snow, four deadly-serious afro-American giants dwarfed a fawn-eyed boy holding a basketball. Gabby waved to the fawn-eyed boy.

—Good-night, Earl, she said, wistfully.

When the cab drew up before the hotel Gabriella, outdrawing Burger Bob, handed the driver a twenty and keep-the-change, and he ought to offer earplugs if he couldn’t turn down his sound system.

—That’s a good idea, Ma’am.

—You’re welcome to it, said Gabby.

Garett helped her out of the cab. He held her hand lightly as when they had danced at the reception. She had felt proud and happy then – and loved. This touch aroused her once again. She pressed his arm closely to her side. They were nearing their freedom, approaching the end of their escape tunnel. From the street she could see the light left on in their room. Refuge from all the Burger Bobs and Ivor Mollys and religious fanatics and hypocrites and everyone in general. Everyone who lacked wisdom, courage or taste … so many genuinely unattractive people. As they stood at the hotel entrance door, she rubbed his cheek with her nose.

The lobby was dark. The bellman dozed on a chair and Wendy and Burger Bob tiptoed to the elevator waving silent, preoccupied good nights. Garett, who had come to life in the disco-taxi, zigzagged up the stairway in goose-steps, dribbling an imaginary basketball. She couldn’t resist tripping him up with her hand, and he fell to one knee, giving out a cry, waking up the bellman. They apologized profusely. In the hallway on the second floor, the door lock reproached them with flashes of red when Garett fed it his plastic key-card. A thumping noise and guttered gasps could be heard from within. Gabriella and Garett giggled like little children. The next lock they tried two doors down was more obliging.

Their bed was turned down and there were chocolate mints on their pillows with a handwritten note from Juana, their room maid, who was delighted to continue serving them.

—’After Eights’! What a considerate woman Juana must be, said Gabby.

Garett turned on the TV. Animated snow crystals were falling over the Rockies.

—We don’t need the media to tell us it’s snowing, dear. We can see that well enough just looking out the window. Extinguish that contraption, like a good boy.

She hanged the “Do-Not-Disturb” sign on the outside doorknob and turned off the overhead lights.

Garett unhooked his tie while looking at himself in a full length mirror. Gabriella threw off her jacket and crossed the room to the window where flakes of snow dashed and dissolved on the pane. She turned away, with her back to the lights of the street, and removed her blouse. Softly, she called to him:

—Garett!

He turned away from the mirror and walked towards her.

—You’re not too tired to help me with my bra, are you dear? she said, turning again to look out over the wintry street.

—I suppose I can muster some last little joule of energy for such an agreeable task, he answered, yet in a more mechanical than earnest tone.

—Well, you know what I’ve taught you about keeping a woman waiting, she said.

—Yes, you said, never keep a woman waiting, he answered with a smile.

He loosened the clasps of her bra, and parting the straps gently across her shoulders, let it fall to the floor. Both could see their reflections in the hotel window, the dark brown of her nipples crowned her snow white breasts. But his eyes were focused past the window pane to the streets below. Her hands, which had been fingering his belt behind her, fell to her sides and she glided away from him to the arm of a stuffed chair.

—You know what, Garett?

—What?

—Carmen, she answered. I promised Elisabeth to watch out for her but she wasn’t at the Four Quarts. I have no idea what happened to her. What if…

—They probably ended up in some other bar. Carmen wouldn’t have know the difference.

—Can you believe she told me today I was the main reason she married Giles? To protect me from him? Amazing, if it’s true. I wonder who she thought she was protecting when she married Ponzy? What a dullard.

Garett nodded in agreement, still looking out the window. Irritation with his complacent, vacant, presence rose within her. Is this about me or is it him? She felt invisible and ignored. Desire me, stupid. Am I not desirable?

—She didn’t stay with Giles very long, did she, he said. She discovered you weren’t so defenseless after all, or maybe she just got tired of being called Carmen Karmon.

Why were they talking about Carmen? She didn’t want to talk about Carmen or Giles or anybody. But she said:

—Yeah, I learned to look after myself.

She moved to the desk and sat down brushing her hair with aggravated strokes. She didn’t hear Garett come to her from the window, bending over, cupping her thighs with his hands and gently kissing the nape of her neck.

—You’re strong Gabby and you’re so beautiful, he whispered.

She reached up and held his head to hers. He is such a slow starter, she thought – of course he had been longing for her. Of course. How could she have ever doubted it?

She turned around rising from the chair. Then, slipping one arm swiftly about his waist and drawing him towards her, she said:

—Garett, where in the hell have you been all night?

He did not answer, his body stiffened. She asked again, imploringly:

—Tell me, Garett, what is the matter?

He looked away at a lithograph of the Matterhorn hanging over the bed.

—It’s nothing. I was playing on that really nice Bösendorfer, and he just walked up beside me and started singing, right out of the blue, and I had no choice but to accompany him. He just broke into my music and … I felt like I was being raped. He was assaulting me with his The Way You Look Tonight. What is it with that guy, just because he owns Burger King?

He turned away from her, shaking his head, and walked over to the bed. Gabriella, appealing with her eyes to an invisible audience, followed him. She caught sight of her bridesmaid’s dress, lying limply on the armchair where she had thrown it when changing for the reception – a puzzling expression of prairie schooner billows and slick city cuts in lime green that some inept designer friend of Mayer’s had ripped off Giles with. She thought of leaving it for Juana – a trade for the After Eights. She stopped just short of the bed and said:

—Nobody owns Burger King, Garett. It’s a corporation. Bob just owns a lot of franchises. He only wanted to impress Wendy with his vocal talents. What does that have to do with us? Did that have to ruin our evening?

He looked up running his hand through his hair, but offered no answer. Gabby, in a voice she would have used with her children, repeated:

—Garett, what is going on?

—I was just thinking about the UK.

—OK, so now we are thinking about the UK. Great. You know I was hoping we would get around to discussing the UK. That’s all we needed to make this the perfect evening.

—I was thinking about this time I was hitch-hiking to London from Belfast, he answered, as if oblivious to the irony in her voice. The ferry gets off in Stranraer. It was a long time ago. Long before you and I, of course.

Gabriella sighed heavily. This was her Garett in a nutshell. She contemplatively eyed her pillow.

—Hitchhiking, she repeated, slowly.

—Outside of Stranraer, I got let off at some crossroad and there was another hitchhiker there, holding up a sign for London on a piece of cardboard.

Gabriella said nothing. She assumed silence was the best way to minimize his narrative.

—We teamed up and hitched together. I just happened to think of her – the look on her face when I left her in London. You see: the way she looked that night.

—Her? said Gabriella, coming to life. OK, so this is not about the UK or about hitchhiking – it’s about a girl. You are not thinking about England, you are thinking about some English bitch who you were screwing in your salad days.

—No, I didn’t have sex with her. And she was Scots. We just hitch-hiked together – from Stranraer to London – that’s all.

Something clicked in Gabriella’s head.

—So that’s why you told Elisabeth you wanted to go back to England?

He looked at her in surprise.

—For what?

She shrugged, sleepily:

—How would I know? To see this girl again.

He shook his head slowly, sighing:

—Hardly. How can you get worked up over some seventeen-year-old from my distant past, whose name I can’t even remember?

—So what is the big deal, Garett?

—She was from the Gorbals in Glasgow, he said. Do you know it? It is quite a famous slum.

A famous slum? However she had seen herself in the wedding, marching down the aisle, giving that stupid speech, floating about the banquet room, not once doubting her own self – her charm and her beauty, not once doubting her ability to bring men to their knees – now, the one man who she allowed to share her life, the one man who mattered, was pushing her down with lovers from the past. Pop goes the balloon and it took just one little pinprick and it came from him, her husband, her man. She walked into the bathroom lest he see the devastation in her face.

She struggled to keep her voice indifferent:

—No, Garett. Sorry. I’m not familiar with all the famous slums in the world. And I think you are about to tell me you were in love. I think you were balling this gorgeous Gorbals girl, Garett.

—I didn’t … and she wasn’t “gorgeous” – she was ugly. She was plain, skinny … ugly. That’s the thing, you see?

His voice had modulated gradually into a sadder tone. Gabriella, beyond exasperation, peeped around through the bathroom door and recited slushingly, her mouth full of toothpaste:

—She was just a young thin pale soft shy slim slip of a thing then.

—Where in the hell did you get that from? He stared at her frowning.

She continued brushing, her naked breasts swinging in counterpoint to the vigorous strokes of her arm.

—After a lorry ride or two, we were left off at some café and we had tea together. She had a thick, comical accent like that janitor in the Simpson’s, only for real. She was running away. Things were not good at home. It had something to do with her father; I think he drank and he beat her. And she didn’t have a job – or maybe she had a job but it was a lousy job that she was sick of, and she had quit school too early, and there was no future in Glasgow for anyone, especially not for her. That was her story more or less.

He paused, studying his hands before continuing.

—And she listened rapturously to all my bullshit; about being born rich and leaving it, traveling all over Europe and Africa, singing in clubs and working on films. And she said that I was the most exciting person she had ever met. And she wasn’t putting it on. She was, like, hopelessly defenseless. And I felt ridiculous for it.

—Why? You were born lucky and you ran with it.

—Yeah, but it was all so circumstantial. I was so circumstantial. And such an asshole. When we got in cars, I would have her sit in the front seat and converse with the drivers. She would refer to us as a ‘we’, but I had to make it clear for everyone that we had just met and that we were not a ‘we’ at all.

He paused again, looking to Gabby for a token of understanding.

—I had to distance myself from her because she was ugly. I was too weak to see past that. I was so shallow, so false. She was sweet, smart, brave; she had nothing in London at all – one friend who worked in a pub and she wasn’t even sure of her address. I could have helped her, but …

—Maybe you should have told her to go back to Glasgow, suggested Gabriella.

—She offered me friendship – OK, love perhaps. She said that we would look out for each other in London and whatever happened I could count on her. She meant it – goddammit, I know that – with all her heart.

—Go on.

—As we got closer to London I worried that I wouldn’t be able to shake her off. But when we were dropped somewhere on the outskirts, well, we just said goodbye. She didn’t try to hang on. She knew. I never saw her again. I was such an asshole – such a shallow, phony, chicken-shit, asshole. Do you understand now?

He lay flat outstretched on the bed in his Jackie & Peter bomboniere boxer shorts, and when he closed his eyes, two perfect little tears squeezed out onto his cheeks. She sat quietly for several minutes watching the rise and fall of his chest and then walked over to the mini-bar to get herself some vodka. She drank two Stolly miniatures straight from the bottle, fuming in silence.

When she returned to the bed, he was apparently fast asleep.

She stood above him staring at his face, his Asturian nose, chin tucked into his shoulder. Some girl with a sign on a cold motorway. An ugly girl. She followed the shape of his figure downwards. His legs were spread innocently, innocuously wide, his toes slightly curled. Such a pose.

She felt no jealousy now, only indignation, and anger. Her eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown her clothes. The strings of her slip dangled to the floor. His shoe lay on its side beneath it. She picked it up, balancing it in her hand lightly before smashing it into his unprotected crotch. He woke with a scream, pulling his limbs together in fetal contraction, cupping his numb-dumb member, his face contorted in pain.

—Gabby! What the fuck!

—Shush, my darling, she said with her finger to her lips – you’ll wake up the entire hotel.

—Gabby?

—Sorry, baby, gut reaction. But now you know how it feels.

—How what feels? his voice still trembling from the pain.

—Well, for starters: here we are, you and I, alone together in a relatively nice hotel room, if one can ignore the botanical wallpaper, without the kids, just the two of us, finally free from all that shit out there. And tonight at the reception when they played A Thousand Miles Away and we danced with each other and I thought to hell with all these assholes because it’s after all just the two of us … and twenty minutes ago I was feeling pretty horny – I can hardly lift my eyelids, but I was keeping them up for you, baby – I was feeling love for you, and that was the only thing keeping me awake and you, it turns out, are a thousand miles away, or ten thousand, thinking about some girl you couldn’t get it up for twenty years ago. You get it now, Garett?

—But it has nothing to do with us.

—Oh, really? Nothing to do with us? Aren’t I the one who is shallow, cowardly, circumstantial? The phoney, the faker, the hypocrite? Isn’t it me you mean?

—No, not you Gabby.

—What are we, Garett? We are what we see and smell and touch: That’s our world. And beauty – it’s our judge and our judgment. And it also happens to be how I make my living – our living, I might add. I work on that shallow, superficial, skin-deep surface you are slamming. Appearances, packaging, that’s my trade – and guess what? It’s for real. Reality exists on that surface. And all that da da da fire sermon shit is a bunch of pretentious, hot-air crap; an abyss – a void. You can’t go there and you can’t live there. We ain’t Buddhas, baby – we’re consumers. We consume and then we die. In the profound words of the waitress: Enjoy! And for God’s sake, stop moping about it.

She sat on the bed, plucking at a strand of hair on her thigh, a lone wax job survivor. Garett stared at the ceiling. The tears now rounding his cheeks, falling to his pillow. My poor darling Garett, we are all circumstance – by birth, by fate. Of course it’s not fair. Power’s not fair. Wealth is not fair. Beauty? No way José. Only death is fair. Death evens us all out. But what’s the big deal, Garett? We’re only snowflakes, only butterflies with our little ephemeral moments of glory – our circumstantial, ephemeral moments. And then …

She laid herself flat-out on the bed so close to her husband that she could feel his warmth but not touching, and closed her eyes. Slumberous flakes of snow, silver and dark, fell over her body, Garett’s body, and all the sleeping and sleepless bodies of the Hotel Boulderado. It truly was snowing everywhere. Snowflakes from stars and moons everywhere, falling like comets or dust or nothing. Falling on us all. Falling upon the beautiful and the ugly, the true and the counterfeit, the living and the dead.

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