What are they good for?
The words marched through my mind to the tune of War. It was probably an inopportune time to be mentally humming such ditties disparaging the sanctity of that specific institution, considering I was participating in one at the time. It happened to be my sister Rachel taking the plunge, not me. Fuck that noise. A ball and chain was not exactly an accessory I was seeking to acquire any time soon, if ever. In fact, everyone I knew who had been married up until that point fell into two groups of statistics: The divorced or the eternally miserable.
I was in no hurry to join either party.
Yet, there I was, travel-weary from the overnight bus trip back to my hometown, superficially beaming with pride — which I tried to make appear as sincere as possible — that my sister decided to dedicate her life to the man she had been seeing on and off for five years. The man she played make up to break up with more times than the Stylistics. On-and-Off. Off-and-On. A light switch of a love affair about to be placed in the permanent “on” position, testing their capacity for electricity.
It wasn’t as though I didn’t want to be happy for my sister, but I had the feeling being in her first trimester may have had a little more to do with the decision than anything else.
Just keep smiling, I told myself, and it will all be over soon. Waiting for the processional music to begin, I stood in line behind the four other groomsmen who knew my sister’s betrothed far better than I. Frat bros forever bonded by keg parties, Greek weeks, panty raids, and circle jerks. Their ilk made me queasy, their phrasing and slang butchering the English language, communicating through abbreviations and text-speak. They took selfies with the groom, and one another, posting incessantly on social media before the ceremony. They wore their sunglasses.
Music began and the douchebag brigade and I marched down the aisle and lined up stage left, followed by the groom who took his place next to the ordained officiant of no particular denomination. The bridesmaids then sashayed their way down the aisle to some unrecognizable and interminable hip hop song, taking their place opposite of the men.
Here comes the bride sprang joyously from the boombox set to the side of the stage, triggering my gag reflex. The guests rose from their rented plastic folding chairs as my sister made her way down the aisle. Mom gave her away and the service commenced. I’m sure it was nice and all, filled with rose colored idioms and trite, if not impersonal, vows. Eye-fucking the hot brunette bridesmaid across from me, I hadn’t been paying close attention.
Was her name Jill or Jackie?
Israel, the groom, smashed the glass and shouted “Mazel Tov” — more for my family’s sake than anything else — signaling the end of the ceremony and snapping me out of the depraved porno film playing in my mind. The bridal party exited the lobby of the three star hotel where the wedding was being held, shuffling across the vaguely floral patterned carpet, and stuffed ourselves into the elevator making our way to the suite for pre-reception celebrating. Yucking it up with the lunatic espousal sympathizers was only made tolerable by the champagne toasts and other booze available in my sister’s and new brother-in-law’s room.
Dinner, catered by the hotel restaurant, was decent, albeit a little bland and overcooked. Meals back home mainly consisted of beans and cheap produce, off brand pastas and butter sandwiches, so such culinary mediocrity was certainly better than the alternative. I sat at the head table, gnawing on my tough cut of steak, wishing I had brought my travel bottle of Tapatio.
Rachel and Israel had hired a living, breathing band to perform at their reception, which delighted me to no end. I detested wedding DJ’s even more than weddings themselves. A contemptible bunch, spinning whatever piece of shit techno or house record was popular at the time, completely ignoring the play lists and wishes of those that employed their sorry asses. The mere thought of DJ’s gave me the runs.
My stomach gurgled.
The band roared into action, like Imodium to my knotted intestines.
The five piece outfit was fantastic, in the pocket and tight. Dancing had never been a forte, so I left the twirling revelers be and took up residence at the bar. The open bar. A couple of whiskeys in and prevailing thoughts turned to analysis on just how big a waste of money and time I found these ridiculous brouhahas to be. Flowers, food, eyesore dresses, strangling monkey suits, gifts. All for a union which most likely would end in abject failure only years —maybe months — after the festivities.
By my third drink the band decided to take a break. The bass player walked toward the bar and I was immediately struck by her presence. A gorgeous, slender, light skinned black woman with big hair who reminded me of Esperanza Spalding which made me all the more warm for her form.
She was so stunning I conjured terms such as ‘warm for her form’. Thank Christ I didn’t blurt that bullshit out loud. Jesus. I was already a mess — bow tie undone, vest hanging open to my sides — so the last thing I needed was to spout some pick-up line from the virgin playbook.
She ordered a whiskey, neat. If that didn’t make her the hottest piece in Ballroom C, her body certainly did. I ordered another one for myself. The bartender informed us that the tab for the reception had been closed at the request of the family, my family. My best guess was they discovered the rising cost of keeping celebrants lubricated all night.
Either way, it was no longer open bar.
“Motherfucker!” The bass player giggled as I spouted profanities and she offered to pick up the first round. What a woman.
“I’m Charlie.” I offered my hand. She shook it in return.
“Hi Charlie, I’m Shayleen.” Her voice was warm and soothing, low but not gruff. It was just as rhythmic as her bass playing. The bartender served up our drinks, we clinked glasses, and took a slug.
“You guys are great. I’m not usually a fan of wedding fare, but you and your band are rocking the place.”
“Thanks, Charlie. I saw you sitting over here the whole time, though. What gives?”
“Oh, I’m just not much for dancing, and even less for weddings.”
“What exactly do you have against weddings?”
Then I just launched into it. I didn’t necessarily even mean to, but the drink allowed for some conversational flexibility. An entire diatribe poured out full of ill-advised ramblings and rhetoric on the evils of love and marriage. On and on I slobbered about all my friends who had divorced, my parents who had divorced, and my pregnant sister who will probably be divorced as well. By the time I had finished pontificating from my ass we had both finished our drinks. I ordered two more for us, picking up the round.
“Those are certainly some interesting views, Charlie.” My name had been said a million times before, by a million different individuals, but somehow it never sounded as melodic or intoxicating as it sounded coming from Shayleen. “You must have been through so much in your day. What are you, fifty? Fifty-five?”
“Twenty-seven, smart ass.” I said, doing my best not to smile. She was spicy. I liked that.
“Well, as an older and wiser twenty-eight year old, I can tell you that it’s not all bad. I’ve been to many, many weddings and even been in love a time or two and it’s not all bad.”
“That so? The love obviously didn’t last. What’s so god-damn good about it?”
“There were quite a few good things, Charlie. I learned something about life, about myself, every time and came away from each experience with a better sense of who I am. Who I want. More importantly I came away knowing what and who I didn’t want and what to avoid from now on. Y’know?”
“I s’pose. It’s just… How do you know when it will last? What makes the risk worth it?” My glass was empty again. I took out my money clip which held a Safeway card, a Library card, a driver’s license, and no money. My collar was blue and my pockets were as empty as a reality TV show. I couldn’t even buy an interesting lady a drink.
Shayleen waved my hand away and picked up another round. “I hope that’s a rhetorical question, because I don’t have a clue. I only know at this point I'm more afraid of missing out on something special than I am of getting hurt. Like Bob Marley said, ‘Everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.’ ”
“In a few minutes I may have a snappy retort for that, Shayleen the bass player. But for now, knock it off with the sense making.” I took a long drink. She laughed.
“Haven’t you ever been in love? It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.”
“Shit, I don’t know. Who has time to figure something like that out?”
“That would be a ‘no’ then.”
“Oh is that right, miss thing?”
“I think your problem is you’re guarded. You clearly have this romanticized idea of being alone and won’t let anyone in. It’s going to be difficult to fall in love that way.”
“I could love you. I’m almost positive. Want to go up to my sister’s suite and help me find the answers?” I was drunk enough to only be half joking. A hard-on sprang to attention at the thought of being inside Shayleen, crowding the crotch of my pants. Shayleen sort of shook her head, smiled, and was about to answer when some eggplant-shaped cocksucker with a black hipster fedora and sole patch interrupted.
“We’ve got to go, Shay.”
“I’m talking with the lady here, fella, you got a problem with that?” The intrusion was taken as insult, and I stood up to square off with the Sole Patch. Gravity wasn’t working properly anymore and when I took a swing at the overgrown bastard I missed, losing my footing, slamming head-first into the bar.
“Jesus! Charlie, it’s fine. This is our keyboard player. I have to go, we’re back on. Sit here, have a drink and maybe we can chat more after the next set, ok?” She helped lift me up, placing my wobbly frame back on the stool. Luckily the bartender — and most of the guests in attendance — missed my pseudo-heroic gesture so when Shayleen flagged him and ordered me another, he obliged.
I nodded as she turned to leave with the beatnik. The band fired back up and sounded even hotter than they had during the first set as though the rest had sparked some previously hidden mojo. There was a string of wedding standards interspersed with a few newish songs to spice up the mix and ensure there was something for dancers of every age. Most of them couldn’t find the beat with a GPS though, so it didn’t matter in the end.
Celebrate, Brown Eyed Girl, Don’t Stop Believing, Shout, For once in my Life, interspersed with Sunday Morning, Rollin’ in the Deep, and Hey Ya! swept over the crowd, blanketing the dance floor with monster hooks and catchy melodies. I hated most of what they played, I hated most popular music in general, but at least they played the hell out of the terrible material. It wasn’t their fault this was what people wanted to hear and paid them to perform.
As I drummed along on the bar top, the bartender glared at me shaking his head in a disapproving manner. I stopped just long enough to flip him off, mouth fuck you, and continued right on with my percussive performance, creating even more of a production.
Shayleen was phenomenal. The way her slender fingers effortlessly ran up and down the fret board, skipping about the notes, chording when needed, was a sight to behold. Every so often she would look over at me and shoot a smile my way. I think she liked knowing that I was watching her, waiting for her. She had me in a trance and for one of the first times I could remember I thought that maybe, possibly weddings and the idea of love wasn’t as much of a pile of shit as I had believed. Maybe the notion of love wasn’t some unattainable, mythic beast, captured only with arrows from Gods or potions from Shamans.
I sat, and watched as Shayleen played. Her band was great. They eased into an older country ballad that I definitely recognized. The lyrics were simplistic, bordering on goofy, but that night I was able to extract a deeper meaning somehow. Whether it was the booze, or Shayleen, or the possibility I hit my head harder than I realized, the song sounded less cheesy than it had before.
It sounded honest.
Swaying to the rhythm like a buffoon, a giddy smirk smeared across my face, I knew there would be hell to pay in the morning for overindulging. The threat of hangover shits and throbbing headaches didn’t matter though. The threat of being hurt didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was Shayleen, and me, and The Dance.
Alex Schumacher has toiled away in the relative obscurity of underground comics and children’s books since 2009, having work published by Viper Comics, Arcana Studios, Wandering in the Words Press, and others.Currently he is working on his first novel, with short stories and poems recently appearing in or forthcoming from the likes of Every Writer’s Resource, The Round-Up Writer’s ‘Zine, and Yellow Chair Review. His feature, Decades of (in)Experience, will run weekly on the Antix Press website beginning October 19th.