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Romance

I always wanted the fairy tale. Hundreds of guests lining the aisles -- some friends, some frenemies, maybe a few wedding crashers trickling in. An extravagant chapel, a brilliant array of colorful patterns bursting from every corner. It’s elegance only rivaled by the crown jewel of the event: me in my brilliant white chiffon Marchesa gown. Bodice with enough puffs and frills and glitz to send you in a hypnotic trance of ecstasy. An ethereal skirt that fluffs and flutters around my legs. An elegant train that stretched bag to eternity. A gait so seamless, I glide to the altar.

That was my dream. Catching my mother passionately kissing the groom was never a part of that dream. 

When I took a wrong turn into a broom closet, upon seeing two figures engulfed in one another -- the wives tale of it being bad look for the groom to see the bride came to mind. How much worse must it be for the bride to see the groom engaging in makeout sex with her mother? 

“I love her,” I remember that slimy Ahmad saying. I was there and not hallucinating. Saw it flow from his mouth with such purity, it was like the word of God to life. Of course, we were sitting across from an immigration agent who was under the suspicion that this was all a marriage of convenience. He probably read too many romance novels of the same sort. I know I had.

But no, As demonstrated in the undeniable conviction in his tone, he wanted to marry and I want to marry too. I always wanted to marry. I didn’t always want to marry him. It was always this faceless apparition meeting me at the top of the aisle, kissing me and sending me to heaven.

My mind scurried back to that day I met him. Was he setting a trap from the beginning? Was it always a joke to him?

I remember sifting through the various bouquets at the local flower shop when his voice called from behind me.

“I think I figured it out,” he said.

I turned to see a tall dark man with a kind face. Not wanting him to know I was instantly hot for him, I played it cool.

“Figure what out? The perfect bouquet.”

“You come here every week looking for flowers. Never Gladiolis or Chrysanthemums like for a funeral, but always Gardenias and Peonies. So I narrowed it down.”

“That is an unsettling level of precision about my spending habits at flower shops,” I joked, “but please explain what you have narrowed ‘it’ down to.”

“You’re either a weekly divorcee or a wedding planner. And I doubt anyone would be convinced to divorce you after only a week.”

“You haven’t had my cooking Mister.”

“No, no Mister. Ahmad.”

As it turned out, Ahmad was interested in a business venture. He would provide discounts in exchange for referrals. It was as we were working out the details one day that he seemed distracted.

“What’s wrong.”

“Oh, nothing, my green card just got rejected. But I’ll figure something out.”

“Figure something out? What do you mean?”

“Just drop it. It doesn’t concern you.”

I was a little hurt and shot back, “If my business partner is about to get shipped overseas I think it damned well does concern me.”

From there, I’m not saying we explicitly came up with a plan, but we shared coffee and I told stories of why I got into planning weddings. How, as a little girl, I was bullied.

As a young girl, fat and tomboyish -- living on the edge of society -- told, rather derogatorily I would “become a lesbian”, I wanted to spit in the face of a world of Brittneys and Donnas telling me I was not worthy of adulation. I wanted to be Ariel, Belle, Cinderella. I always had the plan. 

All that was missing was the groom. A charming man with strong hands and an artful way with words. A man with a wide wingspan to wrap me up and protect me from the world. An man who can disarm the neighbors, the realtors, and the snotty Janices who turn their noses up at me. A man who can charm my sisters, brothers, and mother -- that son of a bitch!

All this time I thought he was being nice to my mother to get on my good side. But all the fawning, all the intimate hugging, all the talk about how sexy she was. You would never get away with using these comments on your fiance’s sister, friend, or daughter. But when it’s mother it looks like she’s being humored.

Then more memories came flooding to my mind. My mother’s somber silence replaced by subtle smirks and side grins. Her bursting out of the back humming an obscure Middle Eastern tune. The sporadic moments at dinner where she had trouble maintaining eye contact.

They were going behind my back. But when did this deceit begin? Part of the answer came with an exchange I had with Ahmad. After rambling on and being tired of it being a one-person conversation, I tried to test him.

“I am going on about myself,” I told Ahmad. “Tell me about you.”

“Me,” he said, being unusually shy. “There’s nothing to tell.”

“Come on,” I demanded. “We’re going to be husband and wife. They’re going to ask us a ton of questions. So, I have to know.”

“All you have to know about is my mother. She was a wonderful soul. When she was dying of cancer, I rushed her to the hospital on the other side of the wall. But I also had to take care of my brother -- make sure he stayed out of trouble.”

“When I heard my mother was on her last breaths, I went to be by her side. But I was delayed at the checkpoint between Israel and Palestine. It was longer than usual and by the time I arrived, my mother was dead. All that was left was to bury her body. My brother became consumed with rage and we do not talk anymore. But I pray every day for peace in Palestine and Israel. A day when people can visit their mothers with no fear of checkpoints. But ever day, I also fear that day will not come.” 

When I heard this story, I was grateful for my mother. Grateful for being able to live in such a free society. Grateful for my privilege. But the unintended consequences of his story was that it made my own problems seem silly and insignificant. Like a school girl’s quibble. They did not disappear, but I felt like I was on an island.

“You know, I pick arrangements for a lot of funerals.” I remember being aghast as he said the next statement at the dinner table, “Moonflowers. That’s an interesting choice.”

“Ahmad!”

“No, he’s right. It comes with an interesting story.”

“You want these white folk to respect you. You gotta play their game. White men love a man in uniform even if he’s black. So he did. He became a soldier. Went to war. And boy, the fellas in France loved the black soldiers. Treated them like gods. The women swooned over them -- I even suspect he may have been a little disloyal.”

“So, in order to prove his equality,” Ahmad surmised, “he had to come back in a coffin.”

“Oh no. He came back in one piece -- but he forgot where he was. Overestimated how much America had changed. He stepped into a whites only coffee shop thinkin’ he would get the French treatment.

“They hung him from a tree in the middle of the woods. They say by the time they found his body the skin had already receded. He was almost unrecognizable as a black man.”

“But you could still recognize his uniform.” 

“Moonflowers and morning glories, he told me, were symbolic of extinguished hopes… uncertainty. I can see the hope in his eyes as he talked of a better future. A future I never thought possible sprouted into the realm of possibility because of that look. That future isn’t here yet... ”

She smiled graciously at Ahmad as if just now noticing his presence, “But I’m sure you know all about that.”

“Your husband gave you hope,” and I remember he grabbed her and looked in her eyes. “And your hope gives me hope.”

That was the moment they knew. And that’s what allowed him to fake it so wonderfully during the interview as he glanced down at the moonflower in his hand and then into the eyes of our interviewer. I’m sure he saw my mother’s face as he said, “I love her.”

They never noticed as I slowly shut the door to let them continue with their romantic rendezvous. It has been many years and I never spoke of the rendezvous, the lying, and the deceit. Truth is, seeing the beauty of their relationship softened the blow. I got my beautiful wedding after all and a sem-beautiful platonic marriage.

Yes, I hurt, but there were days as I saw my mother going out to “nowhere in particular” with blazing red lips and pearls and as I’d sipped my wine and flash Mona Lisa’s smile at the joy she had regained. 

Life is no fairy tale. So neither relationship lasted. But life is no constant tragedy either. So it did not end abruptly with blood and screams. Instead it declined over the horizon like a sunset and came to rest warmly in the hidden regions of her soul. Manifesting itself in newly formed accents at the edges of her smile. There were no vocal confessions. No apologies expressed. Just a nod and a smile A wondrous coalescing of souls made new through horrible parts taken away and the beautiful pieces added. A fond ambivalence between mourning and longing, beauty and bliss, moonflowers and morning glories. 

August 01, 2020 03:10

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4 comments

09:11 Aug 01, 2020

That the main character said nothing of the deceit but just focused on the mother's happiness is something worth thinking about. Although honestly, I'd take a more extreme turn, I marvel at the beauty of your words.

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Courtney Haynes
22:06 Aug 01, 2020

I agree. I didnt give enough space to explore all the differing emotions. Wanted to give more ink to the feeling of betrayal.

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Keerththan 😀
05:55 Aug 10, 2020

Nice story. Your writing style is unique. Loved it. Keep writing. Would you mind reading my story "The secret of power?"

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Aditya Pillai
15:24 Aug 08, 2020

The writing style is beautiful and the diction is great. The characterization is really interesting and unique, especially the protag's reaction to the betrayal. But unique is good. It's always refreshing to see something that's not run-of-the-mill or commonplace. Great piece. One small thing: "But no, As demonstrated in the" Here the a in as shouldn't be capitalized, a careless error! Wonderful read, would love to get your feedback on my work :)

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