“The Wedding” by Elizabeth Brown

The wedding dress was tailored, ready for pick up from Argelia Novias Bridal on LaSalle Road. Lorraine wanted a real wedding dress this time. She had money to spend from a lawsuit—a slip and fall in McDonalds. She lucked out, really, with just a few minor scrapes and a sprained ankle. She bought herself a few flashy outfits from Nordstrom’s, a coach bag, stiletto heels, and frequented an upscale nightclub. Emilio was sitting at the bar, sporting an Armani suit, coming from a cousin’s funeral. She later realized the cousin was killed in a drive-by shooting and the suit was from Tabitha’s Thrift Store on Franklin Avenue. But she fell for his dimple, and he was taking courses at a local community college. They had sex. Emilio proposed a few weeks later, and thrilled to have someone who listened to her complaints and didn’t say much, Lorraine said yes.

“It looked so good last week, Lorraine,” Celine, said. But Lorraine insisted she wanted to try on a few more. She looked at her new sister-in-law disdainfully, as if her new sister resented her.

“I want it perfect, you know?” And Emilio wasn’t one to argue. He just smiled and his dimple showed as he glanced at her like a young man thrilled to have a young fertile body at his disposal. He grew up in squalor, on the south side where gunfire was not uncommon, where his uncle sold crack and used him to deliver to the neighbors in the dilapidated Victorian house, the house with the creepy towers, with the broken porch stair and the rats as big as cats that peered out from beneath the lattice, yellow eyed, waiting, waiting to bite his face off. “They gonna get me?” Emilio had asked, his voice liquid, soft as pudding, rich as sweet papaya.

“You punk boy. Get your ass over there or I’ll whoop you,” his uncle had replied.

That boy grew up, decided he’d do what it took to get out, even shot his mother, got off on self-defense because she attacked him with a kitchen knife.

The original wedding dress was the best fit, for curvy bodies. Mermaid Trumpet style was too fitted.

“You need a flat stomach for that style, dear,” the stout lady told her.

Bitch, Lorraine mouthed to Celine.

But Celine knew the lady was right. She hung out, bulging over the top. She looked lascivious, more like a hooker than a virgin.

“It don’t look right, you know?” Lorraine kept repeating.

Two hours later, even Emilio’s smile started to fade. And the small boy with the caps and the rock, sitting squat on the curb, pounding red strips, thin wisps of smoke swirling around him, didn’t care. He only knew the smell of sulfur, the popping sounds, the cool space between his legs, the itch on his scraped knee where a scab was peeling.

“Is he still out there?” Celine asked.

Lorraine rolled her eyes, decided Celine wanted to ruin it for her. She did enough for him. This was her time.

Celine thought to go outside, but sensed Lorraine’s irritation. Besides, he was bad. He didn’t want to go, wanted to watch his cartoon, so he bit Lorraine, pulled her hair. “What the fuck do I do with him?” she had cried, lighting a cigarette, exasperated, blowing out smoke after she forced him down in the seat, belted him in, slapping his skin until it was scarlet. His screams pierced the air. “He lucky he live on Bellevue. He don’t know what he have. He could be living on Park Road. But no, I spend all my money on this rent so he can have it better and look what he do.”

Celine recalled her own mother, her rage, broken glasses and plates hitting the wall, how she held a gun up to her father, told him she’d shoot his balls off if he came back. “I hate you,” she had said to her mother and felt the swish of an object go by her head as she ran upstairs. She watched the man she knew as Daddy through a cracked window, obscured in the milkfish film, diminish until he was a dark spot. She watched it from outside herself, for some purpose she could never divine.

Soon, a dark cloud hovered over Argelia Novias Bridal, and a July chill settled on the swelled pavement, along the rims of tires, rusted car fenders and grates and dumpsters and on the exposed feet of a small boy who searched the red strips for live caps. “I don’t see none” he said to no one in particular. A Buick LeSabre pulled up next to him as if in response, just as Celine looked away, lured back to the wedding gown debacle where Lorraine grunted and groaned, complained about the heat, her swollen hands, and Celine zipped her or buttoned her, and Lorraine sauntered back and forth, mirrors reflecting back an imperfection she couldn’t place, a pall of undefined gloom.

“I love caps.” The boy looked up towards the gravelly voice with Lorraine’s green eyes and a pointy chin resembling a father he’d never met.

“I don’t see no caps left.”

“I got some for you,” the man said. And the boy wanted some so he climbed inside. The Buick was smooth as it sped away, as if it had all the time in the world. The tires kicked up dirt and grime like a sin as it turned onto Capen Street, disappeared around the bend, just as Celine returned to the window to notice the small boy was gone, that it was too late for the boy, for Lorraine and Emilio, for any of them.

“What?” Lorraine asked, sensing danger like a feral animal. Her fingers, the same ones she cursed as she buckled her son’s sandals and burned as she slapped his leg, froze now on satin and lace that felt, suddenly, foreign and horrid.

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