Contest #144 shortlist ⭐️

What You Don't See

Submitted into Contest #144 in response to: Write a story about a wedding photographer.... view prompt

30 comments

Fiction Contemporary Drama

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

I am your wedding photographer. I see it all.

Decadent guests arrive in clusters. Heads turn and take in the grounds, the décor. Women fawn over flowers and dresses. Children fight to break away from grownups’ grips.

The deep hum of a cello hushes all chatter. Tuxedo-clad men line the stage, shifting and fidgeting. The groom watches the door and wrings his hands.

Music crescendos and the audience stands. A confection of white appears, a spray of roses bloom at its center. Chiffon rustles as an angel glides toward a man. Dewy eyes are mesmerized by the ephemeral moment. 

Hands join and quivering voices recite their lines as vows are exchanged. Rings slid into place, lips meet and cheers erupt. The violin joins the cello in celebration.

Guests rise and flow into the garden, into the heat of the day. Familiar faces find one another, outstretched arms embrace as kin welcomes kin.

Grandparents squeeze and pinch. Cousins, now grown, introduce girlfriends and boyfriends. Uncles shake hands. A new baby cries; an aunt coos. Estranged spouses exchange stiff smiles.

The sun burns bright. I adjust the exposure to capture practiced smiles. Sweat trickles and tickles my skin. I discern bloodlines, matching families, and lovers, and plus ones to arrange the generations around the newlyweds. Arms loop through arms, hands on shoulders. I will freeze this moment.

Men straighten, women curve, suck in their stomachs. Fingers pick at spray stiffened strands and smooth imaginary wrinkles, prolonging my shot. Smiles waver. Sweat gathers on foreheads.

Click. Click. Click.

I am your wedding photographer. I hear it all.

Family greets one another, always the same.

“You look great!”

“Let me see that baby!” 

“Is this your lovely wife?”

“It’s so good to see you.”

“Your wedding next?”

I move through the crowd, invisible behind my lens. I collect truncated synopses of a dozen life events. Greetings begin with compliments and shared memories, end with career updates and personal accomplishments. I gather an uncle has made partner, a sickly aunt is now on the mend, a rascal bachelor has finally settled down, become a husband. The youngest of one family is all grown up, makes six figures. Another couldn’t come; she just had a baby.

Some news is shared with breathless pride, some with shifting eyes and scuffling of shoes. A wayward son lives somewhere out West now. A married couple of seventeen years has separated, the kids aren’t taking it well. Gray haired relatives inquire about education. A young man explains he no longer wishes to be an engineer; he now works in retail. The subject shifts—what a hot day it is, everyone agrees.

Seated at the fringes, friends and acquaintances exchange, “how do you know the bride or groom?” in lieu of “hello.” Location and occupation dominate the topic of conversation until commonalities build camaraderie. Chatter swells at the outskirt tables, laughter flows like champagne.

Click. Click. Click.

I am your wedding photographer. I know it all.

The bride drapes herself over her husband’s arm, slurs a loud greeting to the nearest table. She teeters in her bedazzled stilettos. I attribute her discomposure to the Xanax she borrowed from a bridesmaid.

The coordinator is pleased that the ceremony went according to plan. I learned the latch on the dove cage had stuck right before the scheduled release, but a guest with a pocketknife came to the rescue. And the birds defecated on no one—another success.  

I steal away with the wedding party for more photos. I pose and rearrange them like life-sized dolls. Dress shirts dampen under rented jackets and mascara smears in the heat. Everyone is starving.

A bridesmaid giggles at a groomsman and bites her lip. He reciprocates with bedroom eyes, finding it hard to believe she is single. His last relationship had ended a year ago and the festivities are amplifying his loneliness. Tonight, he just wants to have a good time. I know she knows this too.

Returning to the reception, I find the caterers are relieved; a timer set in error nearly ruined the entrees. Disaster avoided, they remain on schedule and prepare to serve the guests. Waiters squirm under stress and heat, the kitchen more stifling than the humid summer air. 

Guests mill about. Two women wore the same dress, but they laugh and praise each other’s style. They ask me for a picture.

Click. Click. Click.

I am the wedding photographer. I hear it all.

Lackluster “oh’s” as dinner is served. The diminutive portions juxtapose with the grandeur of the event.

Knives clink against forks as gossip hovers over each plate of lukewarm chicken cordon bleu. Speculations circulate over who is to blame for the failed seventeen-year marriage, or why an uncle not in attendance has declared bankruptcy. Clipped voices judge the decision to let junior take over the family business.

One table over, jetlagged bridesmaids confide in one another, unanimously overwhelmed by the cost of being in the wedding. The honor of being included has no bearing on the price tag of airfare and silk dresses. They fan themselves in the heat.

The groom leads his wobbling bride toward a table of relics—bent, white-haired grandparents and great grandparents who may never attend another wedding. He wants to introduce her to someone, but she whines—she needs a drink first. She pulls him away, toward the sound of glass clinking against glass.

At the bar, a drunken groomsman flirts with a cousin. She mentions she’s in high school and he chokes on whiskey.  

Distant, silent, the groom’s mother remains seated, watching her boy with his lively new bride. She barely speaks to the others. Her husband is skeptical. “She’s a gold-digger. A fake,” he hisses into his glass. He thinks his new daughter-in-law looks suspiciously well-endowed.

Someone announces it’s time to cut the cake. Everyone crowds around the seven-tiered architectural masterpiece of sugar and flour. A bouquet of frosted flowers pours over the layers like a waterfall. I bend near the hands, joined over a gold plaited knife, as they slice into a cloud of buttercream.

Click. Click. Click.

I am your wedding photographer. I see it all.

The groom forks a dainty bite and poises it near his wife’s lips. His smile—gleaming white against a summer tan.

She wavers, unsteady. Glassy eyed with mischief in her smile, she plucks a red icing rose from the top layer of the cake, and mashes it into her new husband’s teeth. He reels, shocked.

Napkin to mouth, he composes himself. He dabs a finger into white frosting and taps the tip of her nose—plays her game. The setting sun offers ideal light for capturing the challenge in her eyes.

She sinks her claws into the grandiose cake. Glossy French tips tinted scarlet, she grinds the glob into his waistcoat, dragging it downward toward his belt-line.

And she laughs.

He stares, slack jawed.

The guests suck in a collective breath.

 A waiter intervenes, waving damp towels like white flags on a battlefield. The groom wipes his face and vest with gritted teeth.

Two groomsmen elbow each other in the ribs, hands over their mouths. A bridesmaid shakes her head and leaves.

A toddler, maybe two or three, mimics the bride and thrusts a clammy hand into the base of the cake. His mother shrieks in horror, apologizing profusely.

Click. Click. Click.

I glance down at my screen and chuckle. Got it.



I am your wedding photographer, and I experience your wedding day in ways you never will. But when I send you the photos, you’ll ooh and ahh and gasp at the crisp scenes, the soft light, and bright complexions. You’ll be pleased with yourself for choosing such perfect colors and will be pleasantly shocked by how good you look. You’ll point to guests in the background you forgot were there and will wish you’d had more time to talk to them. But it’s alright, they look like they had a great time. You’ll spend hours poring over each picture, trying to decide which one you should frame and hang over the fireplace. What a magical day. Perfection.

When you see your pictures, you’ll be blind to reality. You won’t recognize the gross display of vanity that was your special day. You won’t remember the dysfunction. You won’t see the exhaustion on your friends’ faces, won’t recognize disapproval. The concern, the uncertainty in the eyes of those older and wiser, will not register in your own. You won’t see eyes reddened by alcohol. You won’t perceive humiliation in the visage of a groom covered in wedding cake, disappointment in the droop of his lip.

You won’t see the mortified face of a frazzled mother reaching for her pillow-cheeked toddler as he gazes in wonder at the monumental dessert stretching above him.

And you’ll never know what a blazing hot, miserable scorcher your wedding day was.

Because I am your wedding photographer.

And I’m a damned good one.

May 07, 2022 02:04

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30 comments

Thom Brodkin
14:06 May 12, 2022

Aeris, I think this is the first story of yours I've read and I am impressed with how you crafted it. You showed details of weddings guys like me often miss and like Zack said the sentence structure made it what I call downhill reading. It just pulls you along. It was an easy read. Congrats on being a recommended story. You deserve the attention.

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Aeris Walker
17:22 May 12, 2022

Hi Thom! With all the gratitude I can convey in this digital platform, thank you so much for reading and for leaving such kind feedback. Fellows writers (and past winners like you and Zack) are such an encouragement to this newbie, making me feel like a kid at the grown-up table at Christmas dinner. I didn’t know recommended stories were a thing? But wow! Cool :) And I think details at a wedding are easy to miss anyway, no matter who you are. People throw so much energy and money at all the “extras” that people often don’t even notice, bec...

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Zack Powell
06:27 May 10, 2022

Great job with this one, Aeris. There's a lot to like about this story, and a lot of good writerly things I noticed going on. My favorite part of this is the formation of the sentences here, with the way you've done the syntax. The writing style for this story is very clipped. Most of the sentences are declarative, with a subject-verb-object construction, which gives the piece a nice, even, steady rhythm. I think that's pretty fitting for a story about a wedding photographer, because it feels like it mirrors the pictures being taken. It's l...

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Aeris Walker
08:58 May 10, 2022

Hey Zack! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment—I still feel surprised and thrilled by that little yellow dot and the feedback from strangers actually reading my writing. Can’t imagine the high a bestselling author must be walking around with. Yes, that’s exactly the vibe I was going for you. I imagine a wedding photographer is taking in so much, that he/she doesn’t have to time to process the meaning of everything, but stores the information away in pockets of complete thoughts, hence the lack of long sentences with ext...

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Zack Powell
16:07 May 13, 2022

Congrats on the shortlist, Aeris! It's well-deserved.

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Aeris Walker
16:36 May 13, 2022

Hi Zack, thank you so much!

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Zelda C. Thorne
06:24 Jun 02, 2022

Oh my god! How did this not win? "And the birds defecated on no one—another success. " LOL The repetition of " I am your wedding photographer... "was brilliant. End line, perfect. I am working weddings atm, today actually haha, part of the catering team. Everything was very realistic and so true. I cringe very often. Last week, I compared the evening degeneration of the guests as akin to watching animals in a zoo - one guy went full rambo, took off his shirt, wrapped a tie around his head. - a couple were seen shagging in the surroundin...

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Aeris Walker
11:02 Jun 02, 2022

Hi Rachel, thank you so much for reading my stories and leaving such kind comments ;) Oh my gosh what a wedding! A zoo— hahaha!! It’s like the stress of wanting everything to go perfect gets to peoples’ head and you end up with bridezillas, and everyone drinking and acting foolish. I definitely look forward to reading your story if you had one for that week’s prompt!!

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Avery Mossop
23:58 May 26, 2022

You did such a great job capturing all of those wedding day moments and mishaps that you had me wondering whether you were actually a wedding photographer (I checked your bio)! Great character insight/development! Thanks for the fun read!! :)

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Aeris Walker
00:24 May 27, 2022

Aw, thanks for reading and commenting! Nope, not a photographer, just very lucky that this prompt came immediately after being IN a big, exhausting wedding ;)

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Aeris Walker
00:26 May 27, 2022

And I really enjoyed your Overalls story--so original and beautifully written. Congats!

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Laura Eliz
21:40 May 17, 2022

You really captured the feel of a wedding. It could be any of the number of weddings I've been to. Nicely done!

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Aeris Walker
22:28 May 17, 2022

Thank you, Laura! And thank you for reading my story :)

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Rebecca Miles
19:44 May 16, 2022

Sentences as a series of shutter shots; you knew- particularly in the first half- just how to frame each line. The strong voice at the end was a perfect flourish; I could just sense the lid being lifted from your narrator's angry seething pot of rage (I liked how you'd lengthened your syntax at the end to capture the rant). If I was going back over this, I would consider a new title. It is good but I think your writing was so strong it could have been even better/more unique. I'll look forward to reading more!

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Aeris Walker
10:55 May 17, 2022

Hi Rebecca! Thank you so very much for reading my story and for your sound feedback, I really appreciate it. I agree—the title doesn’t quite jump out at you, kind of a string of unexciting words.

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Rebecca Miles
11:27 May 17, 2022

But easy to fix I would imagine ,-)

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Joshua Lee
00:07 May 14, 2022

Aeris, this story is amazing. I love the line "I am you wedding photographer" being repeated. I love how you can juxtapose every part of the story after that repeated line. I also love all of the imagery in your story that I can clearly imagine in my mind. I also really like how your story is also poetic too! I'm looking forward to reading your future stories too!

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Aeris Walker
00:45 May 14, 2022

Aw, thanks so much Joshua! I was just leaving a comment on your story too ;) Thank you VERY much for reading it, and for leaving such positive remarks, it really makes my day. I feel like photography is poetic in its own way, and the flow of the story was meant to capture the completeness of individual “snapshots” in time, with concise language and vivid description. It also helped that I was literally just in a wedding… Thanks again, Joshua!

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Faith Ogedegbe
22:58 May 13, 2022

Great job! Aeris

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Aeris Walker
00:46 May 14, 2022

Thank you!! :)

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20:31 May 10, 2022

I love this story! I really enjoy your exploration into the true stress and pressure that really makes the wedding industry. You do imagery so well in your stories! I can’t wait to see more of that! The tone in this story is so great. The POV of the photographer talking to the audience was creative and really well done! I really liked this story and I can’t wait to read more of yours!

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Aeris Walker
21:38 May 10, 2022

Hey, Ella! Thanks so much for reading. I really appreciate your kind praise. I think weddings celebrate something truly beautiful, but can become so stressful when more focus is on the “show” aspect. Now it’s your turn! Keep writing—I look forward to reading another story of yours :)

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Sharon Hancock
01:45 May 08, 2022

Hello! This is exactly how every wedding I’ve ever been to looks like.😂 you nailed it! I especially love the toddler for shoving his hand in the cake…something we’ve all thought about doing ourselves. The build up to the end was fabulous and the ending itself was spot on. Great job! I enjoyed this a lot.😻

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Aeris Walker
23:46 May 08, 2022

Hi Sharon! Thank you so much for reading my story, and I’m happy to hear you enjoyed it! I was recently in a wedding that felt like more hassle than pleasure, and grew into a stress fest by the time it was all said and done (the bride at this one didn’t get tipsy and smear cake on the groom’s tux, though I’m sure it’s happened at some wedding somewhere). I love love, and support marriage, but the wedding industry has turned the celebration of matrimony into something vapid and overwhelmingly expensive, so maybe this story was me expressing ...

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Sharon Hancock
01:23 May 09, 2022

I agree! 22 years ago when I was planning my wedding, the coordinator said we needed a 250$ fruit display and I almost fell out of my chair. We decided to not use that coordinator or her overpriced fruit😂. And we are just as married as we would’ve been with all that.

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Aeris Walker
00:21 May 10, 2022

Geeze, $250 for fruit?! That’s crazy. All for people to pick off a few grapes (or not eat it at all I guess if it’s just a display lol). Yup, I agree. Still married, with or without all the extras!

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Michał Przywara
23:34 May 07, 2022

Great opening line on this one, really set the tone. Almost ominous, but the story didn't turn out sinister. I like the portrayal of the "invisible people" that make these kinds of events work. That pairs real nice with the closing lines. A real professional, though it sounds like they're a little cynical? Maybe just a realist. It's amazing how much of life is illusory, and how much work we put into maintaining those illusions.

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Aeris Walker
23:55 May 08, 2022

Hi Michal! I totally agree—especially with the rise of social media and online personas, it’s hard to believe what we see. Maybe that picture perfect Instagram influencer has 120k in debt, maybe that guy leaning against his Tesla can’t keep any meaningful relationship, or maybe those sparkly newlyweds are doomed to fail because they want the appearance of a happy marriage more than they want to put in the work to build a strong one. Rant over. Lol. But as always, I truly appreciate your comments. Sharing stories with the world is still new...

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Michał Przywara
22:16 May 15, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Aeris Walker
15:42 May 16, 2022

Thank you so much 😊

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