Something Was Bound to Happen
When he said they were getting married, I told him it was a mistake and that something was bound to happen. It was true she was very beautiful and talented and appeared on television, but I had noticed things. For example, when I answered her question about East Germany––where I had attended conferences for university teachers of German–and mentioned that some members of the Communist Party were not true believers and had shown notable levels of humanity and kindness, she had looked down at the ground,let’s face it, clearly suspicious that there was something very wrong with my thinking. This looking down happened each time I talked about the paradox of some people maintaining their goodness even during swings toward authoritarian societies, while others didn’t. I said I couldn’t explain it. Which only made her frown more.
I love my friend dearly, and wished him well, of course, and went so far as to offer him my home as a site for the wedding ceremony. His third. And who knew about her? Questions concerning her immediately came up against my own lack of grace. She was too beautiful, too shapely, too charming, overbred, privileged, and too far out of reach for someone like me, even if I could get beyond my lack of favor in her eyes , or ignore my usual poor judgement.
In any case, they accepted the offer, and the many guests arrived on a sunny warm day after a night of heavy California costal fog. They followed the slightly squishy newly mown path through the field to the top of the hill and the windbreak of ancient cypresses. The sun slanted down through the massive limbs, women’s eyes moistened, and children twitched and looked the wrong way. The couple, dressed in expensive flowing white linens, seemed to glow in the filtered light, as they began to exchange their vows. I had already mentioned that the place where she had chosen to stand was not ideal. The night’s fog had been dripping from the dark cypress needles above them. The ground under her pretty white flat-heeled shoes was a slippery white clay that sloped a little too much. When I tried to caution her, she dismissed me with a “Don’t worry about it.” A moment later, following the eyes of the child ring bearer, I raised my gaze and saw there was a red fox lying at nadir of a great limb that swooped down over the wedding couple and then up again. I knew from its behavior––it being so close to humans with its eyes closed––meant it was sick and probably from rabies. I put my forefinger to my lips to swear the very young ring bearer to silence. But by now all the rest of the children were looking up, too and whispering to each about the wonder of a sleeping, sweet little furry something just over their heads.
The officiating fellow, a close friend of the groom, was a tall bearded Mexican UNAM professor of Astro Physics from Mexico City with flashing eyes and Roman features. This man asked for the rings, both of which fell out of the young ring bearer’s hand and landed on the wet clay the bride was standing on. With a quick glance to the Mexican astrophysicist, the bride bent over to retrieve the rings and, in so doing, showed a generous amount of cleavage. I saw it and so did the astrophysicist, who met her second glance at him with a generous smile. At which, the bride dropped one of the rings herself, and this this time, when she bent to retrieve it, the fox fell, or jumped––no one really knows––onto her back, then to the ground where it staggered back toward her, baring its teeth. With a snarl, she handed my friend the rings. The children shrieked and backed away, while the bride, with dark look at me, began to slide downhill on the slick clay, barely gaining speed as jumpers do when they begin from the top a ski jump.
To save herself, the bride grabbed my friend by the tail of his expensive linen jacket and–because his shoes were also-high-fashion flat–he found himself slewed around in front of her, seeking his balance, raising his legs to chest level, first one, then the other, like a highly trained clown on a low high wire feigning losing his balance. But still holding the rings. As, one, the wedding party clapped, thinking it had been rehearsed that way, The couple were, after all, known to be good skiers. It had to be a new twist on an old ceremony, something different and very Northern California.
And so, they slid ever faster down the slope in the cleavage between two smaller slopes, the depression that had always carried runoff from the fog-dripping cypress down to the diminutive farm pond at the bottom of the hill. And when they hit the stone wall between us and the pond. And because the stones had been placed with a lack of expertise––mine, I confess–– and were not interlocking and keyed and laced and overlapping—the whole structure, like so many bowling pins, collapsed from the force of their ceremonial impact. The bride and groom landed in the brown water, where they were pinned to the bottom not even six feet down. The astrophysicist and I had sprinted down right behind them, albeit to the right on more stable ground, and leapt into the pond to save them. I, my friend. And the astrophysicist, the bride, whom he scooped in his arms and carried up out of the pond. A few of their friends at the top of the hill had continued clapping, still partially convinced, I assumed, that this had been the most extraordinary Northern California wedding they had ever witnessed. I held my friend around the waist and looked down at the brown water where the little male mosquito fish pursued the fat females in endless chase. My friend leaned against me, coughing. The water was cold, and I could feel him trembling. When I heard a car start, I looked up in time to see the astrophysicist and the bride drive down my driveway in his BMW and out onto the country road, heading east.