Third prize winner of the 2009 Fortune Cookie Contest.
You'll go through many changes, before settling down happily
And the trapeze artist pirouettes mid-air. The stilt walker teeters, giraffe legs genuflecting. “Next, what’s next?” the crowd seems to say. A colourful clown, doing somersaults through the ring.
But the bride. Where is the bride? For a moment, there’s just a glimpse of her hand, that slip of a hand, hidden in the depths of her sister’s meaty arm; the sister pushes through the tableau of gawking wedding guests, dragging that tiny, frail bridal body behind. The bride’s head hunches down, avoiding the stares. Soft-pink fingernails digging deeply into her sister’s skin. One or two in the audience (from the groom’s side, no doubt) wonder if she might break in half from the stress of it. Bones torn asunder, blood slipping through to stain crimson the white wedding dress. Blood sports.
Her new husband—Bernard, never Bernie—isn’t with her
for the moment, but he isn’t missing either. No, no, there he is: poised up front, on the edge of the circus ring. Steps away from the lions and tigers that crouch in cages, waiting for their moments to begin. Big, beefy Bernard, and a few young women on the guest list imagine him wrestling those very animals, shirt off and muscles sheened with sweat. Instead, he’s arguing with the ringmaster—a real ringmaster, straight from a famous three-ring!—and for a short time the show stands still, the restless guests return to their tables even as the jealous young ladies continue to admire the groom. Bernard’s arms flailing, his big body refusing (always refusing) to stand still. But his simple black suit outshone by his parents, poised beside him now: her in a red-feathered skirt, him in a peacock-blue top hat. More appropriate for the occasion, one woman, somebody’s aunt, thinks as she hacks off another piece of prime rib. She’s wearing cream linen, for those who might wonder.
“More! More!” The crowd again. Until Bernard’s parents each raise one hand, each with a finger extended. Asking from the guests just a moment. Everything you’ve been waiting for is about to begin. This is their creation, this circus-themed event, a celebration for their third of seven sons, and it is—has been—everything they imagined. And so, as the crowd simmers some—returning to their rather lovely crème brûlées—Bernard’s parents begin to flail their arms as well and the ringmaster rearranges his face into an exaggerated grimace. He knows how to work a crowd.
Right then is when the bride arrives, hand still clenching her sister’s arm. She lifts her head and Bernard stops flailing. His parents, noticing, deflate as well. The ringmaster sighs, his whole body in it.
When they kiss, the groom hides his wife’s body with his own, only her hand on his back visible to the crowd. She holds on lightly, and the jealous young women sit down, dejected.