Zelda trots the asphalt as fast as her pumps will allow. It’s hard to resist the view, but this she does, eyes to the trail. She descends a series of brick steps, then opens a plain white door into the dressing room. Zarita lights up.
“Success.” Zelda hands her a little brown bag.
“I’m so sorry, Z. God, the things I put you through.”
Zelda points a finger. “Don’t you dare cry. You are not going to melt Cecily’s perfect makeup.”
“Someone call the goddess?” Cecily enters from backstage, flashing a snarly smile. “Holy shit, you wouldn’t believe this wall of autographs back here. Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison…”
“Oh! You probably want me to put those on for you, huh? One package, fakey-fakey lashes. You are gonna look like a Disney princess. I’m thinking Jasmine.”
“Oh!” says Zarita. “I love Jasmine. It was so nice to finally get a princess with my skin color.”
“Okay, hold still.” She leans over her subject and applies a lash. “Careful… there. How does that feel?”
“Like my eyelids are lifting tiny barbells.”
“Yep. That’s how it feels.” She leans in and applies the other. “There! You’re fucking gorgeous.” She looks at Zelda. “Oh! But you are not. You have sweat-ted all over my work.”
“A ten-mile dash to the drugstore will do that.”
Cecily grabs a cloth and pats Zelda’s face. Yo, bride, can you nudge that fan in this die-rection?”
“Thank you. Must reconstruct your maid of honor.”
“Dad! Check this out.”
Franklin Geary steps to the poolside, tugging at his cummerbund.
“For God’s sake, Jacks, what now?”
On the first wide step sits a large frog, giving his tuxedoed visitors a stern once-over.
Franklin laughs. “Well, okay. Y’got me there.”
“I imagine they get some unusual visitors up here. Friend of mine saw a coyote at a Lyle Lovett concert. Trotted right down the aisle.”
“You sure he wasn’t a roadie?”
Franklin stops and gives his son a study. Eventually, Jackson notices.
“What’s up, Dad?”
Franklin chuckles and taps his nose, an age-old habit. “You’re not even nervous.”
Jackson flashes his marketable grin. “Were you nervous at your wedding?”
Jackson splashes at the frog. He retreats with an impressive leap.
“I’m always in front of crowds, Dad. The stage fright wears off.”
Franklin rubs his chin. “Maybe I should become a team mascot. Those presentations scare the hell out of me.”
“Yeah, but you still do well, right?”
“Yes. I suppose I do.”
They fall into a traditional father-son silence. Jackson peers at the concert area, where the winery staff is setting out chairs.
“Thanks for all of this, Dad. It’s perfect.”
“Just make sure it’s your only one.”
“Oh, it is.”
Jackson pats a spot over his heart. “Here. That’s where Zarita is.”
Franklin Geary finds that he is frozen in place.
“Dad, if you start crying now, you’re never gonna make it.”
Franklin wipes his face with a handkerchief. “Sorry. You know this whole day is going to make me think of your mother.”
Jackson slaps his father on the shoulder. “She’s here, Dad. Hey, and thanks for being my best man.”
“Will people think that’s… unusual?”
Jackson looks out over the valley, the endless lines of roadwork, the surprising number of trees. “Only had one other candidate and, well, you know…”
“Yeah, I do.”
Barry comes over with a trio of champagne glasses.
“I don’t know if I should start,” says Jackson.
Franklin chuckles. “I don’t think it’ll hurt.”
Barry raises his glass. “To Zarita.”
Franklin sips and smiles. “My team-mascot son is marrying a girl named Zarita. The world is a mysterious and marvelous place.”
The ceremony is bridal-magazine gorgeous. The couple stands before the ancient doors of the winery, their guests seated before them on the stage. Zarita wears a traditional Pakistani wedding outfit: a blood-red gown dotted with green paisleys, laced with beadwork. She wears a necklace of cascading red and black beads. Another arrangement, this of red and white beads, drapes her forehead. Jackson wears a black tuxedo with a red bowtie and vest.
They read poems by an Urdu woman, Kishwar Naheed, and an American, Raymond Carver. A friend delivers vows that are traditional in nature but modern in style, including promises to maintain mutual respect and keep the lines of communication ever-open. All the while, a chair in the front row offers its own testimony, holding a dozen yellow roses to represent Jackson’s late mother. Zelda can’t stop looking at it.
Cecily steps up with a guitarist and sings “Not Too Much To Ask” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. Up to this point, Zelda has held firm, but the song offers lines about the simple luxuries of love: speaking the loved one’s name, a touch of the hand, a look into the eyes. She begins to cry, so much that she fears she will disrupt the ceremony. But she looks around to find the other three bridesmaids doing the same – and Cecily, and Zarita, and Jackson. Fortunately, their friend delivers a benediction before they all drown, declares them husband and wife, and sends them off down the aisle.
The reception takes place on the far side of Paul Masson’s original chateau. A sprawling terrace of stone tiles offers a devastating view of the valley floor, the low-power suburban streetlamps blinking on as the sun fades behind the Santa Cruz Mountains. From what she has begun to think of as “the royal table,” Zelda surveys the guests and calculates one-third Pakistani, the rest a mix of Zarita’s co-workers, Jackson’s family and random, unfamiliar men who will later prove to be some of the Bay Area’s elite mascots: Sourdough Sam of the ‘49ers, S.J. Sharkey from the NHL Sharks, Lou Seal from the Giants’ big league club, and Mav’riks, the sea turtle who represents the D League Santa Cruz Warriors basketball team. (Many of them have an amusing devotion to their secret identities, as if they were superheroes.)
As if to baffle the gods of diversity, the cuisine is Italian. Zelda picks at a plate of shrimp scaloppini, chatting with the bride between royal visitations.
“God, Z, that Cecily has such a beautiful voice. I think I’m beginning to hate her.”
“I know,” says Zarita. “Save some talent for the rest of us, bitch!”
An older Pakistani woman comes up and rests a hand on Zarita’s.
“I cannot tell you how lovely you look. You remind me of my mother at her wedding.”
“Thank you!” says Zarita (her mouth growing tired from smiling).
Zelda looks at her friend anew. “Z, you are the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen.”
“Zelda! You make me blush.”
“Just reportin’ the facts, ma’am.”
A rain of chimes fills the terrace. Zarita turns to kiss her husband (husband! she thinks), but finds that Jackson is standing, holding a microphone.
“Hi. Can you hear me all right?”
“Thanks, Steve. I wanted to thank you all for coming today. We’re honored that you would spend the evening with us in this humble setting.”
He waits a beat for laughter.
“Right now, I’d like to bring up my best man for the toast. And if ever there was a man who was the best, it’s my father, Franklin Geary.”
Franklin sidles over and takes the mic as the guests deliver a golf clap. Although not as adept as his son, Franklin displays a certain ease with the microphone, treating it not as an enemy but an assistant. He clears his throat and begins.
“I remember when Jackson was a wee young lad, he really didn’t display any tendencies that would predict a life as a professional mascot. Unless you count the day that he dressed up all his friends as the superheroes of the League of Justice and forced, er, persuaded them to act out an original script that he himself wrote.”
A gentle roll of laughter.
“Okay. Maybe just a hint. But today… Today he takes on the greatest superhero role of all, that of a husband.” He smiles at Jackson and Zarita. “Perhaps a father. And to accompany him on this journey he has found a Wonder of a Woman. I know that if his mother were…”
That’s where it starts. The tear-filled wrecks of Franklin’s family speeches are well-known. In a way, they deliver a message more profound than anything he could say. He lowers the microphone – the assistant turned enemy – and clears his throat. And wipes his eyes. Clears his throat again. Makes another attempt.
“I’m sorry. But when I saw those roses in the front row, I…”
Strike two. He lowers the mic once more. Jackson is frozen, stuck between a need to get on with his wedding and a need to give his old man a chance to say what he wants to say. The silence stretches to an awkward twenty seconds, and then the silence is broken by footsteps. A man descends the stairs of the chateau and makes his way between the tables. He wears a black suit with a black shirt and a snow-white tie. He arrives at the royal table and extends a hand. Franklin smiles and gives him the microphone. The man turns to face his audience.
“Franklin has more feelings than most of us, and for that we love and admire him. Unfortunately, it deprives us of the pleasure of hearing the ends of his speeches.”
The guests, still a little mystified, give him a guarded laugh.
“Let me tell you a story. My mother was a terrible driver. On the day after I got my driver’s license, barely sixteen years of age, she asked me to drive us to the beach, over the treacherous curves of Highway 17, because already, on my first few hours of legal driving, I was better at it than she was.
“The occasion was Jackson’s birthday. His parents were off on a trip to England, so it was my job to drive our little group, the Future Hoodlums of America, to the coast. We stopped at a little spot called Bean Hollow. While my mother prepared the party, we climbed onto a marvelous rock formation that stood over the water. The crest of the rock looked like the bridge of an ancient ship. I had one of those plastic Kodak cameras, and I climbed an adjacent rock to take a shot. The magic of photography is that occasionally it captures something absolutely essential about someone. As I held the viewfinder to my eye, Jackson perched on the highest point of the rock and saw something on the horizon. He pointed it out to the others, using the entire length of his arm. His friends turned to see what it was and… Click!
“The photograph looked very much like that painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. It’s an apt comparison, because even on his sixteenth birthday, Jackson Geary was a leader of men. That is the role he has always played in our lives. And, like any good and wise ruler, he has found a worthy queen – a beautiful, whip-smart Pakistani girl – to stand beside him.”
He pauses for a second to let the thought sink in.
“So! Allow me to raise a toast. Oh, crap, someone give me a glass.”
Jackson, looking a little dazed, hands him a wine glass half-filled with cabernet.
“Thanks. To King Jackson and Queen Zarita. Long may they rule!”
Steven (who did not win the award as Class Clown for nothing) yells “Huzzah!” No one can resist a “huzzah!” so many of the guests huzzah back. What few of them have noticed is Franklin, who has circumnavigated the table. He attacks the speaker with an embrace.
Zelda is grateful for the quantity of her assignments: posing for photos in front of the chateau, helping with the cake-cutting, videoing the garter toss, jumping for the bouquet (failing to catch the bouquet), and reminding everyone she meets to sign the register. They adjourn to the reception hall next to the swimming pool, where she gives the maid-of-honor toast. It’s largely a series of Irish blessings finishing with a quote from Oscar Wilde: “Women are made to be loved, not understood.” Then she introduces the band, a trio with the clever name of Up a Notch.
The drummer sings “Always and Forever” as the dance combinations proceed at a furious pace: bride/groom, bride/father-in-law, groom/mother-in-law; bridal party, and then to All Dance. The drummer lifts a finishing falsetto, waits a second, then revs up a familiar bass-snare beat. It’s “Love Shack” Two chick singers make their way to the stage. One of them is Cecily, wearing a dominatrix bustier. Zelda finds herself next to the groom.
“They only play party songs!” he half-shouts. “It was all we could do to get that slow one for the first dance.”
“I like it!” she shouts back. “Too much sappy shit at weddings.”
Jackson smiles and points. “Back to my bride!” He heads for Zarita and slips an arm around her waist. Zelda takes a dive into the maelstrom, partnerless, moving in any direction she so desires. Cecily rips her way through “Barracuda,” brandishing an impressive soprano. Zelda loses herself in the drive and shimmer, tossing her limbs in dangerous Calderian orbits. She feels the sweat building up inside her bridesmaid dress and does. Not. Care.
The song stops on a hi-hat cutoff. The guitarist, an angular black man with a salt-and-pepper goatee, speaks into his clip-on mic.
“This one’s a special request. We haven’t done it for years, but we’re always willing to try.”
He rings out a minor chord, then another, and gathers them into a galloping beat. The drummer stirs up a roll on the snare. Standing near the band, Zelda gets a sinking feeling. The song is “White Rabbit.” She turns to find the bride and groom motioning everyone to the side, creating a Soul Train path to the back of the room. At the end of the path stands Edward in his black suit, a red rose in his teeth, arms extended. Cecily slithers in on the vocals, but Zelda is frozen in place.
Zelda would like nothing more than to ignore the whole thing. To a dancer, however, there’s nothing more irresistible than a cue. When Cecily reaches the word “small,” Zelda rushes across the floor, geared up with ill intent, but Edward is ready. He matadors to the left, hooks an arm around Zelda’s waist and lifts her into a flying spin. It’s been three years, but the moves are tattooed on her muscles. They finish the spins, the charge, Zelda scratches his knuckles with her nails, into the foot parries she kicks his calf, he doesn’t even flinch, she hasn’t had this thing, this non-sexual sex in eons, her arteries and lungs not fully filled, limbs not wholly employed the end arrives he drags her across the floor in her brand-new useless dress, all the way out of the hall onto the patio to ringing applause.
The drummer shouts Ringo’s “One-two-three-FOUR!” and they’re off to “I Saw Her Standing There.” Edwards lifts Zelda to her feet. He’s different. The hair is groomed, the expression relaxed, but still the sad, dark eyes, the mist in the cold evening and behind him a banner of lights from the valley floor, like a bed of copper sequins.
He regains his breath, ducks his head and swallows. “Listen, I know I have a lot I to…”
She attacks him, tries to suffocate him with her lips, to swallow him whole, clutches her arms around his torso and drives on through. They land in the swimming pool with a bountiful splash and she keeps on going. If she has to drown him, she will.
Photo by MJV