by V.J. Hamilton

Outdoor wedding reception

Blue was on the bottom. The popsicle was red on the top, pointed like a rocket; white in the middle, the cylindrical fuel tanks; and blue on the bottom, where its mighty boosters would achieve lift-off. Gigi’s tongue, that slick primordial muscle, rooted around for blue. She knew how red tasted, strawberry-raspberry-sillyberry jelly-candy red. And white was just sugar. But blue… Gigi had never tasted blue.

Blue was sky, was nodding bluebell, was cartoon character that injected happiness even when no-one would play with her. Blue was Heaven itself. She lapped strenuously at the blue stripe, pausing only to lick her own arm, in pursuit of fat syrupy drops escaping down her wrist.

Blue was sweet was gone. Without the blue support, the flashy red top and blah white band broke away from the stick. Gigi grabbed the red and white chunk; she clutched at that crumbling sweet ice. But her warm worm-like fingers could not stop the sweet joy from escaping. The sticky syrupy mass slid away. The top end – the melting red tip – landed in the middle of her chest.

Her eyes stung with tears. Her mouth contorted in disappointment. A cry broke loose. Then another. The snot inched from her nose to her lips to her chin in shining snail trails. The world was a terrible place, where red and white were sacrificed for blue and even this was not enough.

She bawled with abandon. She tore at the lawn, at her dress, at the delicate ringlets of hair, once pinned so inconveniently around her hot, wretched face.

“Oh no, look,” cried Aunt Abigail, the matron of honor, her wail nearly as loud as Gigi’s. Under the beaming sun, on a day so hot even the trees were looking for shade, Abigail had been watching her husband close-talking to a buxom caterer. But now, Gigi. Good Lord. Abigail picked up the hem of her heavy taffeta gown and clomped across the lawn. A cloud of perfume and sweat and yeast whooshed about her.

Du kleine Scheiszer,” she hissed at her niece, “What have you been into? Where did you get this? Where’s your mother?” Her thumb and index finger circled the girl’s hot slender wrist and shook her arm a little harder with each succeeding question. Gigi recoiled from the sour breath as disapproval flashed in Abigail’s eyes.

Aunt Carly, freshly rebuffed by the handsome six-fingered best man, heard the noise. She, too, was sheathed in Spanx and taffeta and traveled with her own atmosphere of sweat and perfume and alcohol. She swooped down on Gigi and Abigail. Her face, Gigi noticed up close, was smeared with the same stuff as Abigail’s, a paste that was almost their skin color, but it didn’t hide the bumps and spots. Crimson color on her lips looked like a freshly cut wound across her lower face. A sparkly green was smudged above her eyes, hard to see until Aunt Carly closed her eyes. Gigi grew quiet, watching Carly’s eyelids flip down (and show green) then flip up, showing slightly bloodshot eyes. “Omigawd, omigawd, just look at this, your frock is totally ruined,” Carly said. “Where is your mother?”

Unknown to all three, Mama had gone to the dark oven-like boathouse looking for shade. She was now lying under the weight of an old boyfriend, her gown pulled up, her back arching, her mind in a spin cycle. Weddings were a chance to reconnect and she hoped to God that the kid was finding a little friend to play with.

“Heirloom frock,” Abigail said, trying to brush the mess from Gigi’s bodice. “Your mom’ll kill you when she sees this.”

“She’s only four,” Carly said. “Besides, it’s hot enough to scald a duck. We’re all a little heat-crazy.”

“Wedding party photos,” hollered a man in a top hat and tails and striped pants. “Right this way.” His face was cherry-blossom pink and shining with sweat.

“Poor bugger,” Carly said and turned back to Gigi.

“Hand-stitched. This bloody red dye – it stains permanently.” Abigail’s pointy-nailed finger poked along a line of embroidered pearls on the bodice. Gigi stared at her aunt’s elaborate coiffure where small beads of sweat collected at the roots of her hair. The hair had circles of curls pasted in place, with bobby pins stuck here and there like locust legs.

“It’s that damn Rocky,” Carly said. “I saw him talking to the guy at the Icy Delights wagon.”

“Wedding party photos,” hollered the top-hat man. “Over here, at the bridge.” His face was now cherry red and even shinier.

“Rocky,” Abigail spat in disgust. “That guy is pure trouble.” Abigail turned to Gigi and said in the high pretend-friend voice, “Was it Uncle Rocky, Gigi? That tall guy – long hair – over there?”

Gigi shook her head “no” without even looking. Of course she would say no. She was glad to know his name now. With any luck, she could beg Rocky for a new Icy Blast-off, once the crazy aunties left.

Abigail said, “I told Beth not to invite him.”

“But he’s family…”

“He destroys everything he touches. He crashed Dad’s car, he squandered Mom’s savings, he ruined Loretta’s life –”

“Photos, by the bridge!” hollered the top-hat man, incandescent with heat. “Immortalize every member of the wedding party.” A few sweltering people began moving in his direction, especially the women who simmered in long dresses like Abigail and Carly. They moved like ships traversing torrid green tropical seas where steam rose from the surface and flying fish leapt like grasshoppers.

Slow and heat-stunned, the wedding party gathered at the bridge, murmurs floating in the sultry air: What a barn-burner … hot enough to cook a lizard … training grounds for down below, heh, heh. To divert their minds from torture, heads swivelled this way and that…where was the bride?

“Loretta ruined herself, if you asked me,” Carly said primly. Her eyes fell on Gigi’s upturned face, its fascinated expression, and she said, “Uh, Abigail, little pitchers, big ears…”

“Yeah, oh, right,” Abigail said, darting another look at Gigi. “They should cancel flower girl. You are such a wreck.”

Gigi’s eyes widened.

“No – no – don’t say that,” Carly said. “Look, you’ll make her cry.” She bent to look more closely at the big red blotch. “She’ll be carrying a honking big bouquet of flowers; no-one will ever see the food dye.”

“Flower girl – who needs it?”

“Abigail, you’re hurting her feelings. Besides, the rehearsal had the flower girl. She’s rehearsed all she steps, haven’t you, Gigi?”

Mercy weakened a dam within Gigi and a new torrent of tears burst forth.

“Come on, we’re late for the god-damned photos,” Abigail said, lifting the hem of her gown. The three of them navigated across the lawn.

The bedraggled wedding party sat with floppy corsages and constricting cummerbunds. Under wilting hairdos, a miasma of body odor wafted upward like swamp fumes. Sitting in their soggy stained finery, they were united in hatred of Beth the bride. Beth, selfish Beth: who had insisted on a July date, smack in the middle of heatwave and hurricane season.

“Hot as a stolen tamale,” one usher whispered to another. “We’re lucky if no-one dies of heat stroke.”

And then it was photo time. “Say cheese,” said the top-hat man, mopping his brow, posing people in groups of twos and threes and sevens, damply cursing.

And here was the newest disgrace of all, the flower girl, fresh from the throes of her tantrum, her lips and tongue and teeth stained an unnatural blue, the blue of toilet bowl cleaners. Her ringlets were knotted and clumped with bits of dead grass, as if she’d been herded in from the paddock.

Gigi’s tears picked up force when Beth stepped forward, a white satin cruise ship topped with a cloud of sparkles and tulle. Gigi locked eyes with Beth, who always greeted her with a big hug and double-kiss. Gigi stretched out her arms: “Bets! Bets!” she cried to her favorite auntie.

Small warning cries from Abigail and Carly crackled as Beth and Gigi drew closer, but the bride was oblivious.

“Mmf! Darling Gigi! You’re such a good girl! Thank you for being part of my very best day,” Beth said as she enfolded Gigi in her embrace.

The little girl hushed her sobs. She gave Beth a big slobbering kiss on her paste-painted face.

When Beth pulled away and smoothed the front of her shining dress, she shrieked.

“We tried to tell you!” The sisters filled the air with profanity and invective. Gigi, overtired, overheated, and overblamed, joined in the screeching.

Everyone craned to see the disaster. A large red stain approximately the shape of England had been imprinted on Beth’s front, transferred from the juicy stain on Gigi’s ruined dress. Beth’s haute couture gown, its style chosen to minimize her expanding girth, now bore the equivalent of a flashing red neon sign: baby bump. Forget the tasteful concealment of scandalous news from virginal Great Aunt Greta or shy bachelor Cousin Sheldon. Beth was preggers; no sense pretending otherwise.

“Hold it right there,” the photographer said, grinning. His specialty was “candid moments” and this was a doozie. “The bride… the dear sisters… the darling flower girl…” Within seconds he captured the fleeting image: the girl’s heirloom dress marked in red; the humiliated bride; the curious onlookers as they tried to understand what had hit the bride.

Thus the family legend was born: Gigi, the wedding-wrecker, whose temper and passion could never be reined in; Beth, the gullible bride; Abigail and Carly, the ineffectual aunties; and Rocky, the indulgent uncle who continued his string of destroying everything he touched.

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story