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Marry Me Quickly
Mary Beth Caschetta

Through the window you can see a little crowd of smokers on the doorstep. Each wears a watered-down version of your lover’s face and appears startled when you open the door.

"We were starting to think the bell was broken," one of them says.

You stammer and point absurdly. "We're just in the middle…."

The youngest smoker pushes a cloud of nicotine through her nose; her hair is a parade of yellow curls. "Sorry we’re late." For some reason, you are unable to step aside.

"I’m Wilhelm," you say, though at this point who else could you be? "I’m Andy’s…"

"I’m Andy’s sister," the blonde says, interrupting. "This is our mother, Rusty."

Rusty is a bird-like woman, nervous and quick; she steps forward to crush out her cigarette on the face of the mail slot, where you have recently spelled out your new hyphenated name in gold sticky letters: Wojak-Livingston. She points behind her, "That over there is Marion Carroll." You nod at an old man in a brown fedora, who waves a pipe, wafting a stream of cherry-flavored air. "He needs to use the head."

She begins to enter the house, a wrinkled paper bag blowing into the hallway; you feel uncertain about letting her in.

There is a brief silence.

"The head?" Marion Carroll says.

You point vaguely toward the back of the house, where all the guests are waiting, where a ceremony has begun. The sister hauls a long rectangular package inside the house. You stare at her, trying to decode the genetics of the situation; you can see your lover’s eyes in her eyes.

"This is a gift," she says. "A wedding gift."

You shift your weight and nod, unable to discern the irony.

The sister prods you: "Marion would still like to use the facilities."

"Yes, of course." You smile awkwardly and show the strange skinny man to the bathroom, politely pointing out the elegant paper towels for drying his hands.

"I’m very grateful for the kindness," Marion Carroll says, shaking your hand.

You are at a loss. "Any time," you say. "You’re welcome."

Back in the foyer, Andy appears, looking like the handsome groom in his expensive designer suit. "What’s going on?" He stops in the hallway when he sees the late arrivals. His sister steps back; his mother rushes forward, a small unpleasant breeze.

"Andy!" she says.

From where you are standing, you can see the minister checking her watch. This is my wedding day, you remind yourself, as Andy lifts his mother off the ground in an enthusiastic hug, and starts to apologize before she’s even begun to complain. "We waited as long as we could, Ma. The minister has another ceremony to get to."

"Oh, Andy, what a wonderful house! Just like you described."

Marion Carroll flushes the toilet and reappears. Andy looks at him and then at you, mouthing, "Who's this?"

You shrug.

"This is who drove us here," Rusty explains.

"What about Bo and Ginny? I thought they were coming."

You run through a file of family names, the ones you’ve heard about for years now, trying to pinpoint first Marion Carroll, then Bo, then Ginny. Ginny is the missing sister, you remember, the one in the middle, the one Andy loves best. Bo is her missing husband, the favored brother-in-law.

"Yes, where are Bo and Ginny?" you ask, vaguely proud of the recall.

An answer comes from the hallway: "They couldn’t make it."

"Alice-James," Andy says, inducing his sister out of the shadows. "Look at you!"

You stare at the large blonde woman intently, wondering what it is you’re supposed to see.

After a series of hushed phone calls from the bedroom, Andy’s mother and sister emerge refreshed, wearing tailored navy silk and pink brocade dresses. You pace in the hallway when they throw open the door. The sister is glum, but more presentable than expected. Her hair is styled into a soft cascade, her prominent face made up in the latest natural colors. She watches you blankly. "Aren’t we late for something?"

You usher them down the stairs toward the living room, where the situation has been explained. "What about you?" Rusty says to Marion Carroll, who is waiting at the foot of the stairs. He has made a go at the coffee urn in the foyer where the receiving line will be.

"Me?" he says, placing his cup on the fresh white tablecloth, a circular stain faintly appearing underneath. "I’m in."

The guests are sitting quietly, still cheerful despite the interruption. The minister resumes and asks if Andy would please now read his vows. Your lover takes your hand and begins to speak in a quiet, serious voice. He says, "I, Andrew Wojak, commit myself to you, Wilhelm Livingston." On his face he wears an open expression, as if behind his eyes someone has pulled open a shade in broad daylight. Andy runs through a list of remarkable promises. For a moment, you forget about the strange little mother and brooding sister in the back of the room, the man with the feminine name.

The minister blesses you and your lover, your life together. Andy smiles, tilting his head and softening his expression to kiss you full on the mouth. Everyone claps, as you walk among your friends, who tug at your arms and deliver kisses, transforming you into the bride your mother always feared you'd become.

"Thank you," you say. "Happiest day of my life."

Your own mother did not come to the wedding, which makes you all the more attentive and strained about Rusty, technically now your mother-in-law, who steps into the aisle at the very end of the folding chairs. You imagine for a moment greeting her warmly and saying something sweet about the son she created to make your life complete, but she looks exhausted. You pause as she stumbles slightly forward, pitching herself lighlty into a privately choreographed dance that somehow involves her diving clumsily into you arms. You can see it all unfolding gracefully, but before you can get in position to make the catch, she plunges face first to the carpet below.

"Mom," you say, choking slightly on the word.

Your own German-born mother does not approve of romance. "Married?" she said over the phone. "What for?" She was born in Hamburg where she met your father, an American soldier after World War II. She worked downtown in a US Central Intelligence office translating Russian into other languages. Your father asked her out on a date because she looked like Joan Fontaine. He took her to the opera.

"I only agreed to go because of Butterfly," your mother says, confiding. Of course, your father knew nothing about opera and talked through the entire performance, asking for her hand in marriage over coffee and dessert. "It was the chocolate cream pie that convinced me."

Your mother’s version is considerably less charming. "I married your father because we lost the war."

All your life, your mother has reminded you that the German people, her people, and by extension yours, were the victims of terrible luck and bad leadership: they lost everything, their shirts, their houses, their spirit. When a war is lost, it’s the people who pay. "We had no choice," she tells you. "And so we were punished. Do he understand what this means?" Your mother’s story pulses through your blood: Oma was the only one who ever worked for the war; she sewed buttons on those terrible brown shirts. Opa hid out at home in protest, listening to the radio. According to your mother’s story, no one -- not one single person in the family -- was a true member of that terrible party. Only your uncle, your mother's brother, a mere boy at the time, was forced against his will to join the Hitler Youth, forced to act as messenger, delivering codes across enemy lines. He rode his bike, was scared to death.

"A mere child," your mother says. "We were pacifists."

Now, sitting in the living room with your lover's family gathered around to watch you open presents, you know it’s a lie. Someone did those terrible things, someone let it happen.

"We brought you this present," A.J. says.

Nearly all the other guests have made toasts, eaten cake, danced to a three-piece orchestra, and now gone home. Rusty, who nearly split her lip after tripping over the carpet in the living room, sits shoeless on the sofa. She holds a melting ice pack to her face, which has been administered by the two lesbian doctors in attendance at the wedding. Her lip is swollen, a slight purple bruise beginning to form.

A.J. leans forward. "I’ll tell you this, little brother, it was hell getting this thing here."

"Thank you for coming, Alice-James," Andy says. "I know it was a lot of trouble."

Your mouth dries up at the sibling interchange.

"Trouble is only the beginning of what we had," Rusty says, barely audible through the zip-lock baggie of ice.

"Oh dear," Andy says. "I’m sorry."

You open your mouth, think better of saying the thing you are thinking, then say it anyway. "What are you sorry for?"

"Will!" Andy says.

But it’s too late: "They barely even got here. Why are you the one who’s sorry?"

"Please," you say. "They’re the ones with the car trouble."

A.J. corrects you. "Bus actually."

But you are on a roll. "Seriously. You offered to fly them in. You tried to reason with them: they could have come yesterday and been here today. But instead they chose to drive hours through the mountains in the snow, arriving just in time to interrupt everything." The house echoes with the sound of your voice. The fire crackles and hums in the hearth. "You’re the one apologizing?"

"It's been a long day," Andy explains, and you are relieved to know there is a reason for your irritation: "It's been very stressful planning this wedding."

Rusty shifts her ice pack and raises her hand, as if you might call on her for a second opinion. "We voted," she says. "We wouldn't have missed it. Besides, Bo couldn’t stay overnight, and he really wanted to come."

"Bo?" you say, repeating the name of the missing brother-in-law. "Bo isn't here."

You look at Rusty, small redheaded bird of a woman.

"Look here, Will," A.J. says, "it's not like Andy's been the ideal brother or son, or anything. We did what we could. We got here when we could. It’s more complicated than you think."

"Really?" you say. You are standing in the middle of the room, the fire roaring behind you. You are speaking in a calm tone. "Well, thanks for the effort."

"Effort? Let me tell you about effort," A.J. says hotly. "Do you know why Bo wanted to come so badly to your wedding? How about this? Bo is dying. Did you know that, Andy? No, of course you didn't. If you had called us, even once, during the last two years, you might have heard the news. If you had returned one of Ginny's phone calls, but no, not you. Not since Daddy died. Washed your hands and moved on."

You wince when your lover shrinks under his sister's forceful gaze, not managing so much as a syllable in his own defense.

"That's right, Andy. Bo is dying. And we tried to get him here because he loves you, and wants to see you happy. Ginny, too. She’s been distraught. She’s losing Bo and he’s all she has. Do you have any idea what it’s like trying to arrange getting a dying man across state lines?"

No one answers.

"Transportation alone is hell." She looks at you when she says the word transportation, drawing out every syllable so it sounds like several small hateful words. Her fierce eyes travel your face. "So he’s going to die without saying goodbye. And don't you lecture me about effort. Andy is the one who didn’t make the effort."

Worried that you might do something you'll later regret, you sit down to think, landing hard next to Rusty on the sofa, who tucks in her swollen feet to make room.

"I didn't know about Bo," Andy says quietly. "I didn’t know."

You watch your lover kneeling on the rug in front of the fire near a pile of presents, tears welling in his eyes. Something hot prods you in the ribs; you cannot simply sit back and let it happen.

"Why don’t you tell them, Andy?" you say.

Andy leans forward, looking down into the empty "o" his hands are making.

Technically this is not your business. Technically, you should stand up and clear the dessert plates. What happens now is no longer up to you; other people are at fault. You are a bystander, and yet there is a small window, an opening, a space for decisions. It’s a difficult position, but perhaps it’s the war you’ve been waiting for all your life, the one that proves you aren’t the product of your family’s collusion.

"Tell them," you say quietly.

Instead A.J. begins to talk in a don’t-push-me tone. "Listen, here, Wilhelm..."

You point to her left elbow for no reason at all, but it silences her. "You listen. Don’t think you can come in here, into Andy’s home, in to my home, and take that tone. You’re not the boss, here, Alice-James." Her name feels funny in your mouth.

A.J. gets to her feet about to take a stand, but the heat of the moment carries you toward her with a few quick footsteps.

Everyone tenses slightly.

"I don't have to take this kind of abuse," A.J. says

You are close enough now to see the eye make-up she's applied unevenly on her left lid. "Abuse? Childhood abuse? Oh, now we’re talking!"

A.J. glares, but does not back down.

Rusty leans forward to sip her coffee, careful of the swollen lip she rests on the rim of your good china. "What’s he talking about?"

"Let's not do this," Andy says softly. There's a slight hint of terror in his voice, and you are suddenly sorry that you are the one pressing forward. Stop now, you tell yourself, though you are not the cause of this tension.

"What on earth is he talking about, A.J.?" Rusty prods.

"Nothing, Ma."

You feel something dislodge in the very back of your throat, warm saliva moving forward. This is the catalyst for the chemical reactions that make sounds into words and words into meaning. (Either that or you are about to vomit.) Everything flashes in a jumble before your eyes.

"Take it easy, big fella," says Marion Carroll, who is standing in the doorway, drinking what must be his tenth cup of coffee.

Andy stands up, trying to walk over to a chair, as if he has lost his way. "Will, please."

"It’s not nothing." The room is too hot. You are straining forward, pacing in front of the fire, trying to decide.

Andy pleads. "Let's not do this today."

You walk toward the bathroom to wash your face, to calm down. Marion Carroll flinches in the doorway, as if you might rush him and tackle. You are not the violent type, despite your height and bulk.

You run water from the bathroom sink, splash your face with the cold, and stand thinking. You look at yourself in the mirror, red and distorted. Your tired eyes, your sharp cheekbones. This is not the face of your youth anymore. It is an important moment; all of them are, you realize. You are angry, but clear-thinking. Everything counts.

You open the cabinet and choose your weapons.

When you return, Rusty sees you first, tensing her jaw. A.J. stands solitary by the sofa, ready for anything, to step forward, if necessary, to take her turn at bat. At your approach, your lover freezes, except for his head, which he shakes vigorously back and forth. You glance away and aim for the sofa with the mother on it.

"I’ll tell you what," you say, calmly. "I think it’s time you know."

She glances nervously at the amber-colored bottles in your fists.

The room has gone dead silent. You can hear your lover swallow. "Not this way," Andy says gently, as if suddenly you are the problem.

You hold one of the bottles in the air above your head: the hand -- your hand -- swings forward letting the pills drop into your lover’s mother's lap. "AZT," you say, calmly. You choose another and fling it at the sister. "DDI." Before you know it, you are flinging all of the little plastic bottles into their laps, vials of poison that are keeping both you and your lover alive. "Crixivan! Bactrim!" You are shouting now. "You could have asked! You could have taken an interest!"

Pill bottles roll in every direction, bouncing off the sofa, spinning toward the curtains. The soft thud of plastic is in your ears as they bounce against the wall, rattle under the Bedemeyer, settle in a loose constellation where the old wood floor slants in the corner. Everyone watches them come to a rolling stop.

Marion Carroll touches one gently with his toe. "They’ve made quite a few scientific advances," he says quietly.

You turn away.

For a minute, no one speaks and then your lover’s sister cranks herself up into a full-blown shout: "Who do you think you are?" You cannot hear exactly what she's saying because there is a dull roar in your ears, which turns out to be the sound of your own voice yelling back at her: "Selfish people. You ruined his childhood. You’re at fault. Do you hear me?"

Finally, Andy rises to his feet. "That’s enough!"

You drop the remaining pills. Several lids pop open up, sending bright colored pills like confetti everywhere. Stavudine, didanosine, indinavir, testosterone, the list rattles on in your head.

"You’re crazy," A.J. says. She looks at her brother. "He’s crazy."

"I’m not crazy," you say. "I’m tired."

The truth, you decide, is the better heritage, even if it leads to certain misconceptions about your sanity. Even if it is a borrowed truth, not yours exactly, but your lover’s. His family’s truth. Still you are relieved to know that complicity is no longer your only inheritance. You smile, but it comes out a terrible snarl. Your lover's family looks afraid.

Rusty gets to her feet. To your surprise, she limps over to you. "No one tells me anything." She sits down on the brick edge of the fireplace.

"You should pay closer attention," you say.

Marion Carroll sighs.

You consider your own mother, how after the war the British came and lived in her house for 11 years. Was that a fitting punishment for looking the other way? Rusty and A.J. are quiet now, the room filled with loose pills. They are all watching Marion Carroll pour another cup of coffee, when the doorbell rings.

No one moves. It rings again.

Marion Carroll takes a step forward, but Rusty suddenly recovers: "Don’t you dare."

The front door swings open. "Ginny," says A.J. without getting up, her voice a mix of surprise and fear. "What did you do with Bo?"

In the foyer, stands Ginny, Andy’s missing sister, teeth clattering, hands raw and ungloved. She is blue-lipped with a lacey covering of snow down her black hair -- singularly beautiful -- a frozen bundle of expectation.

You cross the room to meet her, as if an invisible thread were connecting your future to hers.

Everyone stands.

"Is it over?" Ginny says, barely able to speak. "Did I miss it?"

Andy lifts a blanket from the sofa and rushes forward to cover her.




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