The limousine turned onto a busy thoroughfare, allowing his mother to try and shift the conversation.
“Well what do you think, Richard, do all men get cold feet?”
Richard’s mumble could neither be understood as agreement or contradiction. He went back to the radio dial and changed to a country station. Leon took a Pantera CD from his pocket, reached over Richard and stuck it in the player.
“It’s my wedding after all.”
When the church appeared, its gothic limestone arches gaped above the wide set of shallow steps, the big wooden doors carved with saints propped ajar. Familiar men with light-coloured suits and equally familiar women in bright summer dresses loitered before the doors in groups, clutching purses nervously, or slouching with hands in deep pockets.
The reverend took several digressions from the agreed-upon sermon to offer anecdotes of failed and successful marriages, as if every Bible passage somehow reminded him of a particular union and its tragic or triumphant outcome. The air conditioning was broken, and people in the pews used the wedding program to fan their faces in the swelter.
Throughout the fugue, his eyes not focused on anything particular, Leon thought about the weekend a month ago.
Two sets of cutlery lay on red cloth napkins in his parents’ dining room. A bouquet of orange Gerber lilies, left by Mrs. Eggertsen, lilted in a tall vase on the table. Store-bought garlic bread was turning black in the oven. Cheese bubbled and browned along the edges of a lasagne, its noodles hardened and stale. The salad was in the bowl, ready for its dressing, the leaves shrivelling.
The next morning they were to drive to George’s diner for breakfast, park and meander on foot through the market to buy lunch at a food stand, a quiet weekend before the busy Big-Day preparations.
Francesca walked in from the rain. Her blond hair glistened in the hallway light.
“Coming down in buckets.” She struggled to pull off her knee-high boots while resting on the stairway.
Leon wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed the back of her neck. “Finally.” He kissed her again.
“Yeah.” Francesca patted the side of his head and released herself from his arms, taking off her suede navy jacket. “Smells good.” She entered the kitchen, leaving Leon standing in the hallway, savouring the botanical smell of her hair.
In his mother’s cow oven mitts, Fran took out the garlic toast and placed it atop the stove.
“I’m cooking,” Leon protested.
“Whatever.” Francesca went for the tray of lasagne. Leon stopped her.
“No I’m serious. Let me do this for you.”
“Leon…” she said, expectantly. He let go and went to the cupboard to get the serving dishes.
“I just wanted to do something nice.”
“Why is it so hard…”
“Let’s not, okay?” She grabbed his forearm, softly, and pleaded.
Leon handed her the dishes. “Right.”
At the dinner table Francesca cut up the lasagne with a large knife and smothered the slices with parmesan cheese. Leon mentioned the heavy workload of his recent corporate cases. Francesca explained that a waiter didn’t show, forcing her to stay late.
“But why did it have to be you this time?”
“Because it’s always me, isn’t it? What movies did you get anyway?”
“A comedy, a romance, and a western. Take your pick.”
Francesca’s purse rested on the table next to the Caesar salad. When Leon went to grab more wine, it fell on the floor, spilling its contents across the rug.
“Sorry.” He bent and collected her things: her make-up kit, her cell phone, two tampons, a condom, lip gloss, lipsticks, a notebook, and her keys with the keychain from Puerto Vallarta. The trip had been a gift from his parents, for graduation. He stood up and held it in his hand, remembering the beach and Fran’s bikini, staring at all four keys – the one for her house, the one for her car, her locker key at the gym, and another one. He could not remember what it was for, but it was familiar, distinctive with its red plastic guard. He was about to ask when she snatched them away and dropped them back inside her purse.
“Which movies?” Fran asked, impatiently.
As she went into the living room, Leon went to the cellar, taking another Chardonnay from his father’s collection. With two crystal wine glasses from the cabinet in the dining room, he started to pour. That was when he remembered the key, with a half-filled glass of Chardonnay before him on the table, its chill already forming condensation on the glass.
At a loft studio in the warehouse district, they posed in front of a crumbling plaster wall lit with four large lights, a mint green Victorian chaise-longue to sit on: the bride and groom, the groom and family, the bride and family, the best man and bridesmaid, the bride and mother, an endless variation of awkward poses and forced smiles.
The Charivari evolved separately in several European communities. For some it was a form of coercion, a way to force unmarried, sexually active couples into socially recognized relations. For others it was a form of protest, against widowers who remarried younger men, or old men who married young women.
In some colonies it was simply tradition: The guests followed the wedding couple home and made consummation as awkward and difficult as possible. Sometimes windows got smashed or a barn burnt down. Deaths were rare.
The tradition mutated into more creative practices in some communities: filling the honeymoon cabin cupboards with puffed wheat and barley, putting honey between bed sheets, packing the groom’s vacation bag entirely with speedos, or bribing the hotelier into saying the reservation was lost for a few hours. Punishment for any union in matrimony, any public declaration of intimacy. Ritualized connubial sabotage. Leon still heard stories – distant cousins, friends of friends – where shenanigans went to far, leading to separations, divorce.
In some ways he was merely adding to tradition, taking something old and making it new.