ffthe plane and into the arms ofthebride-to-be.She bumps my hip withhers as we flounce towards the airport exit.“I’m getting married,”she says,as ifthis justoccurred to her,as ifthe words fell strangefrom the sky.She steers me outside to a con-crete bench,laughing like a person in shock.“Married,”she says. We sit down.Her laughter has me wor-ried.“How are you?”I ask.Her face shuts into a frown.She pulls outa pack ofcigarettes,hands me one and lightsher own.“I fell in love a few weeks ago.He’scoming to the wedding.”Her smile trumpsmy surprise and I realize she has worked thisout.She is decided.“I’m getting married onSunday,”she says.Then louder,“I’m getting married to a wonderful,sweet,beautiful manon Sunday.”She’s looking up,speaking intothe air just over my head.I watch her breathefor a moment before she clutches my wrist.“You’re the only one I’ve told.I’m so gladyou’re here.”I take a deep drag offmy cigarette andgrin.“I thought you quit these things.”“You’re here.”She tucks her arm throughmine.“You’re my excuse.”
am the first to arrive from out oftownbut only by a few hours.Both familiesdescend before sunset,meeting for the firsttime in the couple’s lush backyard.The brideis too skittish to facilitate beyond introduc-tions.She cites her need to pack and fleesthe garden,disappearing into their basementapartment.The groom wanders amongst hisplants,pulling weeds from the soil,rubbing leaves between his fingers,and answering allquestions with a wan smile and a soft
.I know him to be a quiet man,but Iwon-der,ifshe hasn’t told him,has he guessed?Perhaps his instincts are troubling him and,though the easy explanation would be pre- wedding jitters,he can’t shake the feeling thatsomething real has gone wrong. Without the help oftheir hosts,the fami-lies settle into cheap,uncomfortable lawnchairs and fill the air with awkward conversa-tion.“Well,good to finally meet you.I guess we’re just about related.”“Yep.Just about.”One man nudges the grass with the toe of his shoe.The other glances up into the treesas ifthey’ve called his name.“Should be quite a weekend.”“Should be.Very exciting.”“Yup.Very exciting.” Their voices seep out ofthe garden,and we sit in silence,fiddling with the fabric of our shirts,staring offinto the dusky dis-tance,smiling at nothing.“You two have been friends for quiteawhile,am I right?” The group shifts toward me en masse. The bride’s mother’s question was for me.Ido the math in my head.“We’ve known eachother six years now.”“You went to school together?”“No,she went to school with my partner.My ex,actually.”I nod and keep nodding,anervous tic.“He came home from orienta-tion and told me he’d met one ofthe bestfriends I’ll ever have.”“Are they friends,too?”Her question makes the garden party nervous.They shift in their lawn chairs.“Absolutely,”I say.“In fact,he was planning to come up for the wedding.”I’m surprised to have offered this.It’s thelast thing I want to discuss.But her facerelaxes and I realize I’ve fooled her,acting like I can talk about Thomas as easily as the weather.Ihear his voice in my head.
We are fine
.He used to tell me this after arguments,during lapses in our happiness,difficulttimes.
We are fine
,and I’d think,Ifhe says so,it must be true.“So we’ll meet him,too?”“Unfortunately,no.He can’t afford thetrip.”That’s one way to put it,I think.“He’sreally disappointed.We all are.”Again,one way to put it.I catch myselfstaring at my hands and turn to the sky instead.“The sun’s fading fast,”says the groom. The group nods in unison reliefand heapproaches my chair,takes my wrist andsqueezes gently,then tugs until I stand.“Let’sfind some light,”he says.We march into thehouse together and return with armloads of torches that we light around the flagstoneperimeter.The groom’s five-year-old niecesettles into the bride’s mother’s lap.Thegroom’s father makes tea for everyone.Wecup steaming mugs in both hands and sipcontentedly between eruptions oflaughter asthe groom’s sister recounts being trapped inconversation with an awful seatmate on herflight that morning.“He smelled like milk.”She shakes herhead,nose wrinkled.“There’s something so wrong about a person smelling like milk.”
tell the bride I’d like to camp out in thebackyard,even though they have a sparebed.After much back-and-forth,she agreesto it,and I spend the night curled in my sleeping bag within a dreamscape ofnorth- western fog.I have a dream that recurs forthe duration ofmy stay—ofa night sky crowded with moons,more moons thanstars,moons in all different phases.Theshock ofthis universe falls from me after amoment and I think,Ofcourse.It’s alwaysbeen this way.
wake up to chairs being delivered.It takesme a few groggy minutes to understand what’s going on,my only hints the clanging ofaluminum and the fuzzy outline oflegsstriding back and forth past the scrim ofmy tent.By the time I get out ofthe shower thehousehold is bustling.I move from room toroom,from backyard to basement,looking for things to do since no one will assign me atask.I feed the dog,water the garden,talk the manic bride into a lunchtime whiskey shot.Tea seems like a good idea,so I wanderaround the yard taking orders.Chamomile,mint,Darjeeling,green;repeat to rememberand swoop back inside to find a dark-haired woman in the bride’s kitchen.Pots simmeron three offour burners and she’s bent overthe sink,pouring dark liquid through a too-large funnel into tincture bottles.“Help me!”she barks without looking up.I don’t know how she’s seen me.I don’tknow who she is.I don’t know which way tomove.“Grab that bottle on the stove!”Her voice is pure inertia,and I follow.We standshoulder to shoulder at the sink,our skin warm in late spring.We are strangers,wristsand arms tangling,trying,I finally realize,tomove an overflowing funnel from her fullbottle to my empty without spilling.Theswitch goes badly—I don’t move fastenough—and the liquid drains out and downthe sink all at once.“Shit,”she mutters,dropping the funnel into the sink.I standholding the empty bottle,feeling distinctly like I’ve failed a test in a subject that doesn’texist.“What is this stuff?”I ask.She turns to me for the first time,her eyesjust as dark as the drop she licks from the ten-der muscle between thumb and forefinger.“A wedding gift,”she says.“It’s this really potentmarijuana liquor I make.”I run a fingertip upthe empty bottle and taste for myself.Shesighs,shaking her head.“Down the drain.” This,I learn,is Annabelle.
he cake will be tres leches,three denselayers piled high and soaking.The bride’sbest friend has no fear ofher task.She flitsthrough the kitchen in heels and an apron,smiling,smiling.I have confined myselfto arocker and sit drinking tea,keeping out of her way.After years ofhearing about eachother from the bride,this is our first meeting.“Your partner,”she says.“What’s hisname? Joseph?”“Thomas,”I correct,bracing myself.“And we’ve broken up.Two weeks ago.”She turns from the counter where I’ve
On the site of the future Railroad Reservation park in downtown Birmingham,
Ala., CSX rail lines split the graffitied south side from the increasingly shabby shrine of thefinancial towers to the north. It’s a clean split in spots, not so much in others, and the park holds the potential to blur the dividing line, like the one separating lives past and present in
’s “Small Country.”The elemental drama of marriage plays out in the gulf between humans finally, comically, apocalyptically hardened. Pretnar is a contributor to ouronline magazine and works in the Chicago theater scene, most recently with Teatro Luna’sproduction of
. For more of her work, visit the2ndhand.com.
was founded in 2000 as a free quarterly broadsheet and weekly online magazinepublishing new writing from a range of authors. Back issues are available as free pdf downloads at
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birmingham, chicago, ny c | new writing
by Lauren Pretnar
BIRMINGHAM ART WALK “mixtape” story contest
On the occasion of the 2008 Birmingham Art Walk Festival, Friday andSaturday, Sept. 5 and 6, downtown, THE2NDHAND brings the “mixtape”reading south. We invite Birmingham- and/or area-based writers to sendprose contest entries that are based on a song. Be sure to specify the song,and keep the story under three double-spaced pages (about the length of asong, read aloud). All contest entrants will be considered for participationin our Friday, Sept. 5, reading attendendant to Art Walk, and the ultimate winner will get a cash prize of $100 and publication in the Art Walk editionof THE2NDHAND. Deadline:June 30, 2008.
***Send entries in a word docu-ment or rtf file to:email@example.com. For more information see www.the2ndhand.com/artwalk.html and for “mixtape” story examples check out ourarchive of stories from prior events at www.the2ndhand.com/mixtape.html.