Outside the hospital is a reed-thin man wearing a porkpie hat atop a wild afro and a sagging, black trench coat, weights tugging at the pockets. He’s playing a saxophone badly, his feet tapping a percussion accompaniment I’ve never heard before and that’s not required now but it’s La Vie En Rose and I pull a dollar out of my pocket and go close enough to drop it into the packing-tape-reinforced box at his feet. He nods so the music changes, its rhythm undulating with his gesture. It doesn’t ruin his performance though – in fact the flutter might be an improvement. None of the people milling around, watching perhaps out of curiosity, none of them are interested record executives, entranced and waiting their turn to offer a contract. Like me, they might just be drawn in by the memories his music recalls, however lacking his rendition. And maybe Porkpie Hat doesn’t need a contract. Maybe he’s an angel sent to elicit my memories.
La Vie En Rose. Life in pink. A rosy life. I don’t even dream of roses anymore.
Last night, instead of dreaming, we had a fight. It was about church. The same fight we’ve been having now ever since I started going back to service. Well, that’s not quite true. The first few months, Junior entertained the notion of us being a church-going family. At Zach’s dedication ceremony, it was Junior who held our son during the baby blessing. His suit lapel still bears a baby-vomit shaped stain no matter how many times I’ve tried to clean it.
But when it was Trudy’s turn at the altar, Junior had some sort of a panic attack. No matter how many times he blamed it on Zach, it was Junior’s face that bore the mark of relief when he grabbed the not-yet screaming toddler and barreled down the aisle, the sea of our family members’ faces (I can only assume since most of them sat behind me) registering their disapproval at the sight of my husband abandoning me at the altar just as the pastor took his position to start the service.
Our wedding was just the first in a long line of disagreements about church. I wanted us to marry in church. Back then, Junior would probably have acceded except my church wouldn’t marry us. Junior wasn’t a member so the organization, despite their official statement supporting families and people doing the right thing and what-not, refused to join an unequally yoked couple in what they couldn’t pronounce their full blessing on.
See, a dem things I man can’t penetrate, you seet? Ah nuh so God do things, you feel me? If a never fi di immigration man, you coulda just come live wid me, you seet?
I didn’t answer. Junior’s Jamaican dialect and the Rastafari words he injected in them, he only said them when he talked about “the system”. Babylon, he called it when I asked him to explain. I didn’t anymore.
His voice was gruff but his words went over my head, literally since he stood a good seven inches taller than my five foot seven so I leaned my head back and let him kiss me. His Jamaican tongue was heavy but sweet and I knew that the kiss would end the argument before it began. The space below my stomach stirred. The baby, sensing, perhaps the intimacy that created him.
Junior’s hands surrounded me before I could answer, his earthy smell enveloping me, sealing the decision. I leaned into him, accepting the compromise he offered.
At my desk the next day, I made one phone call after another until I found The Right Reverend Doctor Wright. There were several gold embossed certificates on the walls of his office but I didn’t go close enough to inspect them so I didn’t know if that was indeed his right name. A couple of them looked a little too gaudy to be authentic and the name plate on his desk looked like it had been glossed over. But his ordination credentials checked out, and he had a church with high ceilings and a center aisle and when I went to see it, I gave him a check right away so he skipped the marriage counseling and looked past the bulge around my mid section. Four weeks later, we stood in front of him, Junior wearing the off-white suit I’d chosen but without a tie and saying yes to the generic vows although I’d begged him to write me something personal.
Afterwards, when Right Reverend Wright (for that’s how he asked us refer to him) asked if anyone objected, someone in the congregation chose that moment to drop something heavy on the ceramic-tiled church floor, and a whispered conversation followed.
-You do it.
-No, not me.
– It broke. I can’t fix it.
-Yeah, you can fix it.
I didn’t turn around. I didn’t want to see who. Junior did, so I watched his face as I would a television screen, his expression turning from curiosity to amusement and finally a full-blown smile that crinkled his eyes. Then he winked. I spun around, hoping perhaps to catch someone’s face still in that half smile. But I didn’t know most of the people on his side of the room, so their faces all bore the kiss of the island sun, as if its glistening memory was still brilliant enough to cause them to squint and I couldn’t tell them apart to find the malefactor.
So Right Reverend Wright cleared his throat and continued and when he pronounced us man and wife and Junior kissed me, inside what should have been ecstasy and applause, I heard
-You shoulda do it.
-Fi wha? You coulda do it too.
And I decided to ignore it because it was already too late to do anything then.
Down the aisle, some threw rice. Someone’s baby threw a fit as we made our way through the sea of mostly-smiling faces gathered at the corners of the pew, instant cameras flashing. Someone threw a couple of candy wrappers, the toffee-like consistency that still stuck to the thick paper landing soundlessly on the back of my heavy rented dress and attaching itself to the white satin skirt. I didn’t find them until we got into the limousine and Junior said,
-Where you get the busta them? Is a long time I don’t get a busta fi eat. You have more?
I yanked the offending candy fossils from my dress and picked at the edges of the stain it left behind, wondering if it would come out and how much extra the rental would cost if it didn’t.
When we got to the reception hall, I had to rouse Junior from sleep.
So La Vie En Rose? Not quite. Not even in memories. I listened to a few more bars of the instrumental song then stepped away from the sidewalk concert. I had two children whose hearts I now had to go break forever and a funeral I had to plan. The wreath I’d pay for now, would be the closest we’d come to roses in a long time.
Copyright (C) 2017 by Karen Wright
The above is an excerpt from an ongoing creative writing project which will probably be heavily edited in the future. Please do not copy or otherwise share this content.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
A few months ago, I started a new novel and shared some of these chapters on this blog. I am finally finishing up this project so I decided to start again at the top and release them to you. Over the course of April, I will share the entire story here on this page. Come back tomorrow for chapter 3.