WHEN YOU'RE INVITED
You arrive when you planned. You park next to other cars. You make an effort to fit well between white lines drawn on the asphalt. Your wife opens a mirror, puts lipstick on. On the way here, you fought once, when her directions almost got you lost. You remove your suit bag from a hook in the back seat, lift a duffle, and click the doors shut. A hotel employee greets you. Your reservation is in the system. You will be in a room on the fifth floor. Smoking is fine. Your wife is given a care bag, left by the bride for her guests. On a pedestal, you count three weddings happening at the same time tonight. Two women hold the elevator for you. They are wearing identical pink dresses. You get off at your stop. You squint at the sign with opposing arrows. You determine that your room is in the numerical cluster to the right. Your wife slides the magnetic key once, twice. The light still goes red. You take the key, swipe it your way, and you get in. There is a bed, a closet, a television on a dresser, three lamps, a desk, and a remote control. Your wife says the room is nice. You part the curtain a bit. You see a parking lot. You release the curtain. You hang your suit. You open a drawer to see if there is a bible. You don’t care about the object itself. You just always do that in hotels. It’s your own statistical thing. You peer into the care bag. Soft blue paper coats its inner surface, sticks up above the rim. You rummage and find a set of factory-sealed Twinkies. Two pretzels in the shape of hearts are inside another open bag. You break a piece and throw it in your mouth. A hotel brochure of the area’s activities stands on edge. There is a shopping mall. There is an Italian restaurant called Rocco’s or Pomodoro. There is an all-you-can-eat. You find two golden plastic wedding bands threaded into a white ribbon. On the ribbon, you read today’s date, the name of the bride, Suzy, the name of the groom, John or Jon, you won’t recall. You leave the bottle of water and the mints in the bag. Your wife is changing her clothes while you piss into the bowl. You flush. You put your suit on. She wonders about her earrings. You say they overpower her face. She asks you to get some ice. You walk out. You run into a woman opening the door to the adjacent room. She smiles, you smile. She is voluptuous. She is dressed up. For some reason you both roll your eyes and chuckle. You are certain she thought what you thought. She walks into her room. She glances back at you. You don’t go to the ice machine. You stand there, in the corridor, where you saw her last. Back in, you tell your wife there was no ice. You hear someone talking in the adjacent room. You notice a connecting door from your room to hers. Your wife is busy putting makeup on. You put your head to the door. You cannot comprehend the muffled words. You remember being in a suite once. Two parallel doors separate the rooms. One has a lock on your side, the other, on her side. You tap the door lightly with your knuckle three times, like a Morse, with unequal spacing between the knocks. Your wife is in the bathroom and does not hear. You put your ear against the door again. The voices have stopped. Your wife is now ready. You head down to the hotel lobby. You come across your wife’s friends. Some you know. Some you don’t. You are saluted or introduced. You take a seat in the wedding ceremony hall. A man stands at the altar wearing a black robe, ready to officiate. You scrutinize him. You decide he does not care about what he is doing, that he just wants it done. It reminds you of your job, and how you too don’t give a shit. You feel solidarity with him, share his automation. You remember that you are missing a tennis final on TV, but you don’t get upset when you miss things anymore. A violinist is playing the wedding package. He is not very good. A double entrance door opens. Two men wearing nametags hold the handles. The music skips to another tune with more circumstance. The parents walk in. The bridegrooms walk in. The bridesmaids walk in. They assemble around the altar. One side is canary yellow. The other side is penguin black. The music gathers majesty. Heads turn back. The bride enters with her father or stepfather. You stand up like the rest of them. When she nears your seat, you force yourself to smile, as if she is ravishing, as if you are thrilled. You have no idea who she is. The bride and groom are told to repeat, to vow. They mess up words and giggle. People in the audience find that amusing. They laugh. They want more of those mistakes. Your mind drifts. You think of banalities, but those you enjoy. Those are your banalities. You hear in fragments what happens up ahead: Dearly. Richer. Gathered. Poorer. Kiss. Health. Pronounce. Cherish. Death. Introduce. You find details in both groom and bride that irritate you. You miss seeing the kiss, or if you see it, you are revolted by it. You are herded to the cocktail hour space. It has wallpaper, carpet, air ducts. You look up and see a brass sign. It locates you in The Jefferson Room. To your right, there is a table with crackers, cut up cheese. A few grapes are used to decorate the colorless plates. You grab a few morsels and head to the bar. You order red wine. Your other choice is white. You turn around and the voluptuous woman is facing you, inches away. You are both surprised, and share a private moment of joy. Somehow, this woman knows immediacy. She understands what you are. A man holding a tray asks if you would like a bacon-wrapped shrimp. You say no thank you. Within those seconds that formed your answer, another man is already talking to her. You drift away, pulled by the tidal dynamics of the crowd. You beach next to the kitchen entrance. This time you take a shrimp from a tray. You dip it into a red sauce. You sever it with one bite. You hold on to the creature’s tail as you chew. The next three food trays avoid you. You hold yourself back from going after the one with miniature spinach pies. You hear someone discussing being bought out by the Darmon Group. Across the room, the voluptuous woman has positioned herself across from you. She is standing with an older man in black tie, which the invitation did say was optional. You shift sideways to align yourself with her line of sight. She adjusts her position to further your alignment. Your wife and her friends surround you. It is time to get seated for dinner. You find yourself in The Lincoln Room. Your table is number 20. There is a hung ceiling. There is crown molding. There are Corinthian columns. Hello. Hello. Hello. You call out to people you don’t know. Nice to meet you, they say. The bouquet of flowers in the middle reminds you of carnivorous plants in the encyclopedias of your youth. A master of ceremonies introduces himself. His name is Albert. He offers no last name. Albert jacks the end of each sentence to a pitch. You wonder if he will yell Goaaaalllllllllll. Albert introduces the people of the day. They enter to a disco tune, flailing their arms. The father gives a speech. The mother says let’s party. You look for her. Not your wife. Her. You find she is not far: table 18. You butter a piece of bread and eat it. The maid of honor and best man give speeches. You hear fragments again. Best. Ups. Friend. Downs. Confidante. Happiness. Party. Partying. Parties. Partied. Someone has a first dance. You don’t bother to look. Others follow. You look toward table 18. She looks toward table 20. You look at each other. Someone asks where you live. Someone else answers that’s interesting. You hear more about the takeover by the Darmon Group. Someone from your table might get downsized. A DJ presses a button. A song about marriage and chapels goes on. You are thankful it is not a live band. It hurts you to watch the pain of wedding musicians. You look over to 18. She is talking to the older man in the tuxedo. A plate lands in front of you, like a surprise, like a boulder from outer space. You see chicken, beef, and salmon. Broccoli occupies the fourth quadrant. They are not taking any chances. You glance at table 18. You see her picking at her dish with slow disregard. Albert the MC starts every sentence with ‘At this time’… ‘At this time we ask everyone to gather around the bride and groom while they cut the cake,’ he says. You watch most of your table obey and walk away with cameras. You will her to look your way. You wait. She does. You smile at her. She looks at you with a mixture of amorousness and defiance. They cut the cake. You hear laughter. You surmise they just pushed the pastry into each other’s faces. ‘At this time we invite everyone to share in a traditional dance.’ You hear the tune for the chicken dance. You turn to look and see old women flopping. You ask your wife when she wants to leave the party. Two more hours at least, we just got here. You tell her that you will need to go out for a smoke once in a while. That’s where you will be, if you are gone a bit. No worries, she says. She gets up to dance with two of her friends. You are relieved she no longer gets surly when you don’t dance with her at weddings. Someone offers you coffee. The choice is regular or decaf. A song about shouting and kicking is being chanted or murmured everywhere. ‘At this time, we invite all single women to come up, for the tossing of the bouquet.’ You imagine huge carnivorous stems, and what fun it would be to toss that over, to let that kind of bouquet go loose. Albert the MC further defines who is single. ‘Women with boyfriends and widows are definitely single,’ he says. Somehow, you guess correctly that R.E.S.P.E.C.T is next. You have the urge to smoke. You remember that the woman at table 18 is in a smoking room, next to your smoking room. Your whole floor can smoke. You pull out a cigarette, and look her way. You bring the unlit cigarette towards your mouth twice in succession, and point with your head to the door. She nods faintly, and gets up. She walks ahead. You follow her. The women at your table are swaying and spelling with Aretha. A middle-aged man leaps to catch the garter belt. You don’t have time to follow his descent. ‘At this time we invite the…” You exhale as you exit. She walks a few paces ahead. You go through The Van Buren Room, past the Polk Conference Center. Above all, you are relieved to be heading outdoors. But she goes past the exit. She stops at the elevator bank. You follow into an elevator. You look at each other in silence. You swallow. You understand her. And obviously, she understands you. You get off on five. You slide your keys at the same time. You both get green lights. You open your room. She opens her room. You close the door behind you. You sit on the bed and look at the connecting internal door. You get up and run your palm on its surface. You put your ear to it. You take your time. You know she would not want you to rush. You sit on the bed, swallow again. Your saliva reminds you of the taste of gun metal in your mouth. It reminds you of the morning you came to a hotel room similar to this one, to kill yourself. You think of your wife hugging your head later that day, not knowing what you almost did. You remember her saying that you matter, that you are precious, although, you never said a thing about your state, or about that morning. You unlock the connecting door on your side. You don’t swing it open. You wait. She does not make any noise. She is contributing her part. The past two months, you had thoughts about quitting your job, boarding the first plane to Burma or Belize. Disappearing. But you didn’t. You think of another hotel room, where you used a Berlitz phonetic dictionary to write a speech welcoming a roomful of Swedes, in their language. It was at one of your wife’s fourteen nieces and nephews’ weddings. You think of the tepid applause by the Swedes. You remember how hard you laughed later in the room. You hear the lock on her side of the connecting door unlatch. You visualize your wife’s porcelain spoon collection, or stuffed bears, or snow globe souvenirs, whatever your wife actually collects. It makes you smile. You laugh. You lock the connecting door on your side. It makes a clicking noise. You leave the room. You take the elevator down to the Lobby. You go back into The Lincoln Room. Your wife is dancing with a group of people to Copa Cabana. You walk to the bar and order a Scotch bruised by ice. The next day you get into your car, and you drive home.
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