Short Story: A FINE DAY FOR A WEDDING

Autumn has enfolded us fully; so why don’t we look back to the heat of summer for a little love story?

A FINE DAY FOR A WEDDING

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You’ll likely remember that Midsummer day when young Tom O’Riley got it into his head that he should propose to the apple of his eye, Amaryllis Jones. What a fine, hot day it was, too! The sun celebrated its own glow on the streets of our pride and joy Little Creek Bend, and that Tom O’Riley took to them like the stones had been lain in his name. Scarce is an individual who did not see good Tom on his way, head high and holding out that velvet pouch for all to acknowledge, the pouch that bore the jewel to sit upon his beloved’s finger.

Tom had put on his favorite checked shirt and pressed blue jeans, the ones that work had not worn down, and over his hair he wore that grand beacon of a hat, the color of raw chicken’s skin. He stuck his head up as high as it would go so even the merchants in their offices up top could see it bobbing on by. There was sweat a’plenty running under the brim and inside his best shirt, but Tom would not be stopped by anything, let alone the heat. His smile was bright enough to set you on fire if you looked at it too long. The air itself, perfumed so gently with Mrs. Bernard’s roses and the wildflowers in Farmer Leigh’s field, carried him along toward his divine purpose. Watching Tom O’Riley go to meet his sweetheart on that fine June morning was enough to melt the heart of the coldest miser, and make the mute sing praises. Even after the way it turned out.

Rare, too, is the soul who did not know beforehand of Tom’s intentions for sweet Miss Jones. They had been seen all over town, her delicate hand wrapped around his big young arm, gazing at each other like their necks had petrified. More and more did Tom’s demeanor turn on his fishing buddies down at the saloon – where once a burly and brutish bull had held court, there was now a twittery, pink-cheeked, thoughtful stallion who was always preoccupied by something he didn’t dare proclaim. Quite a thing to see, such a big boy broken up over a little flower. But she was, we all know, the loveliest flower that ever was, with skin like precious metal and hair that floated about her head like angel’s breath. Many a young soul – and, I might add, a few old ones – pined for the heart of Amaryllis. Not all of them were too pleased to see Mr. O’Riley toting that velvet pouch, either. He paid none of them any attention as he made his pilgrimage down the streets of our pride and joy Little Creek Bend. Even if he’d had a mind to look and see his competition, the brim of his hat would have prevented it. That hat, by God, was the joke of all the young folks around, for the way it overshadowed Tom’s face and weighed twice as much as his skull; but as he walked so tall and regal, his hat took on the aspect of the grandest crown.

At about ten after nine did Tom round the corner of Amaryllis’s street. Widow McNally gave him a shy little wave, and that good-hearted merchant Stalmouth tipped his hat in congratulations. Tom regarded them all with the most pleasant manly grin as he ascended the white steps of his beloved’s mamma’s veranda. He waited at the top, as if exploring all the phases of his life and all that could come after, the endless versions, and deciding that the one before him was the only one worth going for; so he rapped his hand against the door.

It swung on its hinges not into the bright and welcoming corridor that old Mrs. Jones always maintained for her guests, but a dark and gloomy one. In the dim light it was a challenge to see what was making smacking so, or to pick out the unnatural shadow at the foot of the stairs. Tom did something he had never done before – he faltered in his step. And he further surprised all us watching when he let out a high-pitched and desperate scream.

It took the watchers a moment to find the reason for his outburst, but when it slithered onto the porch, we all understood. A first impression reminded one of a tumor with the arms and legs of a soft-shelled crab, bearing an old man’s toothless face and four unevenly arranged, red-rimmed eyes; but the skin was too muddy, flecked with red, and after a good look, it was clear that the legs were covered in hair. Tom was confronted by this striking creature, in whose misshapen jaws dangled the well-chewed body of his intended. He staggered back and nearly fell down the steps as he gaped and tried to think of the proper response. The velvet pouch clattered on the veranda and was forgotten.

After dropping Amaryllis’s leg from its jaws, the creature said, “Who the hell are you?”

“T-t-t-Tom O’Riley,” the poor boy stuttered, always polite.

“Well, T-t-t-Tom, you’ve got real great timing,” the creature said. “Now, unless you’re here for a good reason, I’ll ask you to kindly go away.”

Now Tom, being a fine boy, did not appreciate being talked to in such an inconsiderate manner. He puffed up his chest and widened his stance. I daresay he felt foolish having left his pistol at home, but Tom, he was not one to shy from hand to hand combat, even if his opponent had seven to his two. “I came here today to make Amaryllis Jones my wife in the eyes of the Lord,” Tom bellowed. It wasn’t his fault that his voice cracked. “You have no right to keep a man from that.”

The creature shrugged its shoulders and lumps. “Not to be rude, but that doesn’t sound much like my problem,” it said.

“Hell it isn’t!” Tom yelled.

“I don’t like this attitude of yours,” it said. “And when a body is just minding his own damn business. How am I supposed to know you’re coming over here to do such and such bullshit? I didn’t even mean anything personal. This just happened to be the toilet that I crawled out of today. A body’s got to eat, you know. If you want to get all fussy with someone, why don’t you talk to the asshole that planned the sewers? He’s got more to do with it than I do.”

By this time, I’m sorry to say, the smell of the creature and the sight of the girl’s half-eaten flesh got to Tom, and he spilled his breakfast all over his shoes. “Now isn’t that pleasant,” the creature said in response.

But like a good boy, Tom puffed himself out again and wiped the spillage off of his mouth. “You got no right, doing this to a man,” he said.

“I’ll take you to court if you try anything,” the creature said.

Tom stepped up to his opponent, putting out his fists, avoiding Amaryllis’s head. “I want you out,” he said. “You got no right eating up a man’s wife. Get out of this house and go back to the hole you crawled out of! I see you around here again, I’ll really give you something to bawl about.”

All of us watching were real quiet while they waited to hear what the creature might say. It gurgled, twitched its hemorrhaged eyes, and then snorted in a nasty gulp of air. Something like a smile wriggled over its mouth. “Well, I guess you aren’t such a dope after all,” it said. “You smell real nice, as a matter of fact. I’ve been looking for a nice-smelling thing to keep me company. The sewers get real lonely, all that waste and bad insulation. Why don’t you come down with me, huh? What do you say?”

Sure as anyone, Tom did not have the slightest idea how to respond to that request. He just blubbered along and took a glance at his beloved, splayed out underneath him. But the creature was impatient, I suppose, and didn’t have a mind to wait around for an answer; so it reached out one of its arms and took hold of Tom’s collar, another latching onto his sleeve, then retreated into the house with Tom flailing behind it. “You’ll like it down there, a big guy like you; we’ll have a good time. And I got some new records, too…” Then they were down the hall, something splashed a few times, and there were no more sounds to be heard from either of them. His grand hat was left on top of Amaryllis, and the sparkling jewel lay soaked through in unmentionables.

Suffice to say that none of us expected it to happen in such a way; you never know, I suppose, how one day will turn out. You never know what’s going to pop out of your sewer, either. And it’s easy to imagine that folks in Little Creek Bend were confused for a long time at the outcome of Tom’s proposal. We don’t see much of that nice boy anymore, though sometimes you can hear him hollering from down there, in the bridal suite. But those folks did get what they expected, after all, even if it came in a different shape. After all, those hot days in June are fine days for a wedding.

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