A team of ushers glided the guests towards the larger marquee which was laid out with straight rows of chairs gilded with flowers and candles. Michael watched the milling crowd from the rear aisle. Rolexes, diamonds and the scent of flowers. Laughter and children and everyone being nice in the posh way they did in the English films Tracy loved. Michael thought darker thoughts about them when the hand of a smal usher brushed his collar and made no secret of his agitation that Michael was forcing the guests to divert around him.
‘Which side?’ The usher mouthed. Then in toddler-talk. ‘Which Party?’
Michael stared into his eyes for a moment.
‘…Groom?’ He said.
The usher sucked in his cheeks, pinned a red Naomi rose onto Michael’s lapel and pushed him firmly into an aisle seat.
‘I’ll have to assume you’re a Matthews,’ he said and swivelled away.
Michael scanned the congregation then the front row where he caught glimpses of the nervous groom seated in the aisle seat. He considered the grooms’ profile as he talked to a large, red haired man to his side. Michael considered Sean Matthews might be somewhat broader with darker hair, rather like his own. The groom checked his watch and glanced back beyond Michael to the marquee entrance and Michael avoided his gaze. Next to him an old lady in a light blue birds-nest hat, set within a halo of white feathers, folded her arm though his.
‘It’s been a while since I was on the arm of a handsome man,’ she said, squeezing her bony arm through his which he patted gently and smiled back. ‘I’m Maude,’ she said, ‘I’m nearly eighty-six and I expect the first dance.’ She fumbled in her handbag with her free hand and drew out a small, gold case. ‘I have dance cards too – you won’t get away, you know....’
Maude gripped Michael’s arm into a tight knot and he looked towards the front row, which he hoped might be less confrontational. The groom lock onto his gaze, which gave Michael the chance to study him straight-on. He had the face of one of the men Tracy found so attractive in the American slasher films - men who were the exact opposite of himself. High-school Jocks who had their own cars they could ‘make-out’ in the back of. Michael had darker hair, pale skin, brown eyes and wonky overlapping teeth. The groom appeared to be a good thirty-five with a tooth-perfect, preppy style. He could see his hair was fair and his skin even and clear, which he considered an indication of wealth in a man of his age. He had a seamless forehead and impossibly large eyes that appeared too big for their sockets, exposing only a tiny slither of white at either side. A real-life, door stepping Mormon, Michael thought.
When the groom scanned the congregation a second time he smiled and Michael turned back to Maude, not in an attempt to avoid the grooms gaze but because everyone now appeared to be staring in his direction. His breathing quickened and he unclamped Maude’s arm from his own moving slowly into the aisle, as if creeping away in this manner would make everyone notice him less. As he stepped out, the music whorled into a low Hammond organ rendition of I am what I am, and Michael walked, side-on into a dark-haired man standing alone in the aisle. It confirmed two things to him – that he was not the object of everyone’s attention and that he was standing next to another groom.
Maude attempted to pull Michael back to his seat but he stood, frozen, staring at Sean Matthews’s profile. ‘And there he is…’ he thought. When Sean smiled, Michael knew they were definitely not his teeth. The height and dark-brown hair was, and the profile identical. As if taking Michael’s lead, the congregation rose to its feet as Dr. Sean Matthews wandered down the aisle toward his future husband amidst the ‘oos and the ahh’s’ of all the guests. Michael failed to hear the growing hip-hop riff which invaded the ceremony until he was shunted from the marquee into the centre of the lawn by the now red-faced, usher.
He stepped backwards toward the house, unintentionally answering Tracy’s second call of the day.
‘Have you had me on fucking silent?’ she screamed down the phone, ‘You’d better be sober, Michael Lucas...’
He watched the two grooms kiss each other and the congregation cheer.
‘I am sober, Tracy.’
‘Have you given him the letter yet?’
‘I’m not even sure who he is, yet.’
Michael backed into the rear porch of the house where a waiter handed him a glass of Champagne and which he drank in a single swallow.
‘There’s two of them,’ he belched, ‘It’s a gay wedding.’
Throughout Tracy’s silence Michael observed a well-dressed, older couple vacate the marquee followed by another man pleading with them to come back.
‘What the…’ Tracy stopped dead, ‘Does a gay wedding even fucking count?’
For the umpteenth time on his wedding day, Sean Matthews observed his mother Georgina from the corner of his eye as she smiled tightly and shook the hands of the friends and colleagues he refused to introduce her to. Over the years, at occasions not dissimilar to this, he watched her reluctantly mingle amongst the great and the deluded from Westminster, The City and his own father’s corporate garden parties. But it was here, at her only son’s wedding, that she made her thoughts and damning observations clear to Sean in hushed tones. She commented on Sean’s medical colleagues and their immaculate wives as the wrangled immaculate children, and whose waistlines defied childbirth ever occurred. She made a comment to Sean about how the ‘bubble’ of the champagne was too large, implying it was perhaps from the cheaper borders of Rheims, Then she spoke about the lack of vigour of the waiting staff in relation to their hourly rate. She continued with this measured sotto rant as Sean smiled and shook the occasional hand, envying the ordinary lives of catering staff or anyone else on his wedding day. Respite came via the in-laws.
‘I knew you’d go Peach!’ Nancy Ganley yelled in her determinable American accent. ‘Sammy even said - look there’s Georgina in the same peach you were going to wear - how coincidental is that?’ She cackled at her own joke.
Nancy Ganley had in one day become Sean’s mother-in-law and the unwanted burdensome part Georgina’s latest family circle. Sean amused himself wondering if the guests would make the monstrous, yet hysterical, comparison between the Floridian brash of Nancy set against his mother’s pinched, Hampshire model. He felt the discrepancy obvious within Nancy’s choice of sale-rail couture, which manifested as a triple mix of Pepto-Bismol and baby-blue ruched taffeta, and hardly appropriate for an English country wedding. Georgina glanced at Sean then lowered her head at what was both her nemesis and, now shamefully, her equal. Sensing a new frisson, Sean stood between the two women.
‘Do you have everything you need, Nancy?’ he said.
‘Well,’ Nancy replied in a whisper, ‘I’d screw Satan for a mint Julep if that’s what you’re getting at.’
Georgina threw her head backwards and emitted a loud, half-embarrassed laugh.
‘I’m sure we can sort one out.’ Sean replied.
Sean knew he could do little about the fact the only thing these women would ever have in common was the fact their children somewhat recklessly decided to marry each other. The fact they were both men, as far as his mother was concerned only added more fire to the tinder - something she’d made clear to the congregation by grabbing her husband’s arm and storming out during the ceremony.
Sean’s father, John Matthews, had similar dark forces to conquer in the form of Nancy’s husband, Sammy. He’d arrived alongside Nancy and proceeded to slap John across the back, making him spit his single malt across the lawn.
More than anyone present, Sean knew first-hand about John Matthews’s temperament. As a young sergeant his father held a tolerance deficiency which, upon leaving the Air Force, he failed to shake off. Instead, he transferred it to the executive boards of heavy industry and his only child’s regimented upbringing. Throughout his career John employed various ‘subs’ whose sole intention was to prevent him from interacting with the ‘Sammie’s’ of the world. Sean found it amusing that, in his seventies, John was now legally trapped into his own unhappy marriage with the very people he once vocally despised and subjugated.
‘Not that bad was it, Johnny?’ Sammy drawled, shaking his highball glass within centimetres of John’s face. “Why did you up and leave? Dicky tummy? Yes – same here...”
“I believe it was, as you say - that bad,’ John Matthews growled back.
Sean knew that when his father occupied the senior ranks of the forces, he would have sent better men than Sammy to probable death in Burma. Here, the only ammunition at was the ability to walk away mid-sentence to suppress whatever fury he felt.
‘Whassup?’ Sammy shouted after him, ‘Come on, take a cocktail or two with the in-laws. It’s not like you’re ever going to get to wet the baby’s head, now, is it?’
Sean watched his father retreat into the garden and pace the perimeter of the marquee. He knew where John Matthew’s thoughts would be on the day of his only son’s wedding. He would be blaming and berating himself, taking his own silent punishment and becoming for just a moment, one of those men he once ridiculed and tragically failed.
‘Happy now?’ Georgina whispered into Sean’s ear.
‘Let it go, mother.’
Georgina smiled at Nancy but responded to Sean.
‘I merely asked if you were happy. After all, you have apparently just become married’.
‘Sammy just loves kids,’ Nancy said at an amusing thought, ‘I so wish our eldest would have been able to swing by. They’ve just popped their sixth, if you can you believe that?’
Sean decided he saw some neglected guests at the bar and excused himself. He suspected for some time this day would become more about corralling his parents away from the guests than it could ever be for his own, or even his spouse Doug's, enjoyment.
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