What did you expect, here in your little black dress? When the invitation arrived, red-speckled like debris from a gory car crash, you trashed it. How dare they? But here you are, having scratched off globs of hardened banana from the card stock to make out the address. The bigger person. Curious. Self-destructive. Tom’s wedding is outdoors, tented like a circus. Pity about the ominous rain clouds. Did they stay up all night making pinwheels to line the walk? Did they make up rhymes to decorate their place settings? We fit together like clothes and peg: Tom and Meg. No, they did not. Her name is Sunny. Sunny does not rhyme with peg.
And there he is, slightly hunched (apprehensive?), under an arch dripping with pink and white carnations—carnations—in his tux, handsome as always, but unsexed now, like a kindergarten teacher. He’s a little bulky to look good in a tux. This man could’ve killed you in your sleep. And here you sit, in the miscellaneous section next to his barber and barista, tugging at the hem of your dress. When plotting wardrobe you forgot this is not a sitting dress. Luckily, no one here knows who you are. Tom’s new life, Tom’s new friends. Your old couple friends stopped calling either of you after the divorce. There is no greater threat to the institution of marriage than a defector at one’s dinner party.
You introduce yourself to the barber as Tom’s masseuse. He likes it rough, you say.
He likes a close shave, the barber says.
You cross your legs toward the barber. He’s cute. Pomades sparingly. More appropriate for you than Chad, the waifish twenty-two-year-old you met a few weeks ago at the library. Chad claimed to be studying linguistics, but when you asked if he’d read any good Chomsky and he said either No? or Noam?you didn’t push. When you frequent his cereal-crumbed futon, Chad touches you tentatively, like a Braille reader, like he’s afraid to break you. You did not bring Chad today because boyfriends escort people to weddings. You don’t have boyfriends. You are a strong, independent woman. No need to marry the first thing that comes along.
Your conversation with Tom’s barber about the comeback of carnations is interrupted by Pachelbel’s Canon. You turn to him and whisper, Original, followed by a snort. Yes, a snort, a loud one, at Tom’s wedding, and you know he’ll know whose nose and throat it emanated from because he knows you that well and you slap your cheek and ear and shake your head to stop your thoughts from edging toward missing him, someone you felt comfortable enough to snort with, and realize on account of the snorting and self-hitting you have ruined any chances of bagging the barber.
Sunny strolls down the aisle in a tiered strapless satin number, like an aged Anne Geddes baby swallowed by a hydrangea. She couldn’t be more different from you. Obviously a rebound. Because you were so right for him. What were those six years of your life about, then? You still don’t know what he saw in you. Someone willing to take him on. Maybe that’s all it is. Someone insecure enough to believe they deserve you at your worst. Someone to hold your hand at other people’s weddings. Clearly, you are above all this. You’re the winner.
Sebastian sits up front beside Tom’s mother. Here in his little black suit. It makes sense he’s not with you. He’s here for Tom. This isn’t your day. You don’t like the way Tom’s mother hovers over Sebastian, nitpicking. Moving his hands into his lap, brushing his hairs back into place, licking her finger and smudging peanut butter from the side of his mouth. She barely knows him. She didn’t make the trip from Ottawa to attend your wedding. Some sort of work emergency. You’ve met her a total of three times.
Sebastian looks back and you catch his eye, wave, force a smile. He waves back, forces a smile. Pity? Pity. From your eight-year-old son. The things he’s come to understand. Transition days, Mom’s house, Dad’s house, special friends, girlfriends, second weddings. That love could be anything but unconditional. Does he worry you will stop loving him too? You want to run over and hold him. Tell him you do still love his father. You do. If only he weren’t such an asshole. But you’re here. How could you not be? To refuse the invitation would be to admit you’re hurt. And you’re not. You are happy for him. Him and Sunny. Tom and Sunny. Sunny and Tom. Sunny and Tom. Sunny and Tom.
Sunny and Tom say I do and everyone cheers and Tom unveils his bride. You want to yell, Surprise! but nobody here would get your joke. You don’t even get your joke. Despite your best interests, you watch them kiss. How cute, the way she reveals her tongue before slithering it between his lips. What brings bile to your throat is the way he looks down at her. He smiles and holds her jaw and you know she is protected.
Truth is, you envy Tom the ability to settle down. Is he not terrified of being wrong again? Discovering he’s the defective one? He must think it was all you. One day you lost your mind. You woke up curled on the kitchen floor with nothing inside but a ball of twine to tie you to others. You had lost your mind, your bearings, yourself. Or maybe you never had them. But you couldn’t find them with him. He was too big. Charismatic, like a Hollywood heartthrob or a dictator, depending on the weather. Are you with him or against him? Him and his assured dreams. Your wispy, ungrounded desires were no match. He had swallowed you and the only escape was to cut him open. Now you stick to small men with small mouths.
She invited you. You know it was her idea. And it makes you feel so insignificant. A benign cyst. You take comfort in reverse psychology. She invited you so you would think she thinks you’re harmless, because in fact you’re the furthest from it. What is her opinion of you? What picture has Tom painted? Why should you care? You’re fucking a twenty-two-year-old. You should’ve brought him. She could see how far beyond Tom you’ve grown. You’re the winner.
A gaggle of Sunny’s clown-faced friends herd the crowd with exaggerated circling arms toward a corral of tents for the reception. Tables clothed in stomach-acid pink, places set with named chocolates. No rhymes. No Together now but not sure how long: Sunny and Tom. No Together forever, really, it ain’t funny: Tom and Sunny. Yours holds your maiden name, which you do not go by. You are seated not at the cool-singles table, which holds the barber, the barista, the candlestick-maker, but at the pathetic, perma-singles table. Grey-rooted redheads and wild-bearded men wearing ties encrusted with soup from the last wedding they attended.
After the final bite of your vegan, gluten-free meal which you know she ordered from the caterer in order to seem like a martyr—you would’ve been fine with plain rice—Sunny sits between you and her cousin Jim from London. Ontario, not England, hahaha. She says, I’m so glad you came, and squints in a way you can’t quite read. Fear? You want to offer a shoulder to cry on when times get tough. You know how he can be, you’ll say, and to the confused scrunch of her features you’ll raise your eyebrows and say, Oh, and watch her cheeks drop.
But you don’t want to be that person. You’ve been reading books with path in the title. You’re supposed to love everyone. Give without receiving. Equanimity. Happiness in others’ accomplishments. Good for you, Tom. You found a desperate simpleton who has no style but only because she exerts her energy into being a good person. No. Good for you, Tom. You found someone empty enough to receive your overwhelming love. No. Someone open enough to receive it.
Thanks for inviting me, you say.
Of course, she says. It felt right.
So you’re here for closure. You are a symbol, an object of the rejected, what they are moving past on their path.
It was almost as good as our wedding, you say, and immediately regret it. Sunny stares at the table, what else could she do? You clear your throat. But, you know. Bad wedding, good marriage.
How to stop yourself? Is it possible to speak with her as any other human? No, it is not. This is not a human you would ever speak with in any other circumstance. Ever. Not of your breed, your ilk. Equanimity, Meg. Equanimity. What can you say? I can tell you make him happy. Too superior. Better luck this time. No, obviously. All you can say is, I love your dress. This pleases her. She explains the dress-buying process down to the Latvian tailor who almost mixed up her bust and waist sizes—Can you imagine? A twenty-four bust and a thirty-six waist—and asks about yours.
I wore my grandmother’s, you say. I was going to have my tailor cut neck and arm holes out of a white pillowcase, but I wore my grandmother’s dress.
Maybe I should be quirkier, Sunny says.
Tom likes things simple.
Sunny slouches, which, in that dress, makes her décolletage wrinkle up like an uncertain pug. There are some people you can’t have a conversation with.
It takes the sight of Sunny dancing with Sebastian—her arms around your son, your son—to propel you to Tom. You tap his shoulder. “Stairway to Heaven.” Last dance.
Surprised you came, he says.
He dances like a twelve-year-old, his eight fingertips to your shoulders.
You pinch the pockets of his jacket and say, You put on a good wedding. You wait for him to reference your wedding, any sign you’re still there, somewhere, but he does not. Equanimity, Meg. This isn’t your day.
This was harder than I thought, you say. There are so many things you want to say. This could be the last time you hold his attention. I’m sorry for turning my back to you so many nights in bed. I’m sorry we created a life we couldn’t protect. I’m sorry I grew up without you. What you do say is, Forgive me. He looks down at you. He smiles but does not hold your jaw.
“Tom’s Wedding,” was originally published in print form in the moth: art and literature, issue 36, Spring 2019. It was also published in Susan Sanford Blades’ debut novel-in-stories, Fake It So Real (Nightwood Editions, October 2020).
Susan Sanford Blades lives on the traditional territory of the lək̓ʷəŋən speaking people, the Xwsepsum/Kosapsum and Songhees Nations (Victoria, Canada). Her debut novel, Fake It So Real, won the 2021 ReLit Award in the novel category and was a finalist for the 2021 BC and Yukon Book Prizes’ Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Her short fiction has been anthologized in The Journey Prize Reader: The Best of Canada’s New Writers and has been published in literary magazines across Canada as well as in the United States and Ireland. She can be found at susansanfordblades.com