Once upon a time, not too long ago or far away, there was a town and a man. The town, nestled between three hills rising in the flat forests of Indiana, was called Gargantuan. The man’s name was Jack, and perhaps he was the only thing gargantuan about the town. He and his fiancée, Goldie.
This story necessitates that we take a step back in time, back to the day when Jack and Goldie got married. It was a bright June day, 1999. The world poised on the cusp of a centennial birthday and Y2K, but the sleepy town of Gargantuan was unruffled. The only buzz was the bees, the hum of the power wires and cicadas, and the wedding of a generation.
The town football hero, Jack—who was scouted by Notre Dame before tearing a rotator cuff—had proposed to the town sweetheart. He had done it, inspired by a country song, in “letters three feet high” on the broadside of his family farm’s barn. She had accepted by flaunting the ring up the single aisle on Sunday morning, up to her spot in the mayor’s pew. Thank goodness a few of the windows were open to the stifling summer day, letting a ray of sun glint off the diamond as Goldie sashayed in her floral print. The same sun also glinted off of a bead of sweat making its way down Chris David’s strong, smooth jawline before a muscle tightened and the drop fell.
Volunteers in plenty, the wedding was conceived of, planned, and executed in less than two months. The prematurely hot spring gave way to an even hotter summer. Goldie again stood at the top of the aisle. The windows were again thrown upon to a lame wind. A bead of sweat again clung to Chris David’s jaw as he stood to the right of the minister, to the right of Jack. If looks could kill, his unseen stare (for everyone stood and turned in one big shuffle and swish and bumping as Goldie entered) would have shot down Goldie in that priceless, perfect moment and our story would have ended there.
Instead, the minister married Jack and Goldie. The congregants filed out with fans and programs and lips a-flapping. The smell of exhaust and the rattle of motors filled the air just as the rice cleared and everyone drove from the church to the mayor’s house. Guests cluttered in clumps under the great, wide, plastic tent offset from the rambling house, and straggled into the field of ticks. Dress hems flicked in the white scorch of sun as girls ran and teens fled. Music lifted with the drone of parched, lovelorn frogs.
Jack sat at the top of the tent, with Goldie on his knee. A folding chair had been placed near the deejay in the space meant for dancing. Soon, Jack and Goldie would have their first dance. Soon, Jack would arch the bouquet up into the air and ladies would come crashing together in desperation to nab it. Soon, some prepubescent boy would drool as Jack slid Goldie’s garter off one long, shimmering leg and over her slender, stockinged toes while Goldie reddened deeper under her blush. But before that, the guests tinked on the side of their plastic cups until Goldie sat on Jack’s knee and gave him a look no self-respecting Sunday school teacher would dare make, as she wiggled into a kiss.
Then there was a crack like lightning striking the earth.
Goldie jumped like the Old Scratch was on her back. Her doe brown eyes went wide and Jack’s arms circled around her. It took several seconds of confusion before a murmur bubbled up from the crowd and all eyes settled on a man standing in the cleared dance floor.
He was a man in black, the man in black, but not, in fact, the Old Scratch. You could hardly see his face through the dimness his broad-brimmed hat cast across his hewn, stubbled, olive face. There might have been some bruising, too, and deep shadows under his eyes, and long, thick lashes around eyes that must have been black to the core. He was not unhandsome, and was solid right through, but he also had an unnamable quality that drew the life from the room.
“Dad?” Goldie said.
The town took a solitary breath inward, one so big and universal that all the oxygen was sucked from the dance floor and a common house fly fell dead on the spot. The mayor flinched to move forward, but his wife put out her arm to stop him.
Tammy jumped out from one side of the circle of guests, her flimsy arms flailing and her aqua stilettos not holding her back one bit. “Now don’t you dare!” she spit at the visitor. “Don’t you dare!” She edged toward him, but with her arms and hands outspread as if to shield something behind her. Perhaps Goldie and Jack. Or the deejay. Or Goldie’s regal parents. Or just Goldie. “You just turn yourself around right now and get on outa’ here!”
When the stranger didn’t move, not even to breathe, Tammy reluctantly shooed at him from five feet away. “No one wants you here.”
Goldie stood, leaving Jack behind like one-half of a statue. She walked across the floor and gently lay a manicured hand on Tammy’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Tammy.” Tammy glanced over her shoulder and let her eyes meet Goldie’s. Tammy softened her posture, and her flashing eyes became apologetic eyes, sad eyes. Goldie’s eyes were reassuring and sad. Goldie’s hand slid down Tammy’s arm, over the poufy sleeve of her bridesmaid dress, over her birdlike wrist. There, Goldie’s hand wove into Tammy’s, and the two turned to face the man.
It was superfluous, all of it. He said, “I didn’t come for you, Goldie.” It was a mere grumble, but everyone heard it. The tent top rattled with a hot wind until one of the stakes came loose and a nylon cord whipped up like a snake which bit at Sissy’s shoulder as she stood with her arms crossed at the far edge of the crowd. She didn’t flinch as a line of blood welled across her pale skin and a drop traced her collar bone down to the edge of her own poufy sleeve.
Goldie winced. Her grip tightened on Tammy’s hand. Then Tammy yanked, pulled them backward to dissolve into the edge of the spectators.
“I came for you, boy.”
To be continued each Monday…