You won't find this on iTunes, either.
The wooden folding chair is too small for Desmond. He crosses his legs. He uncrosses his legs. He turns slightly, hoping to minimize the surface area of his ass in contact with the seat, but succeeds only in knocking his knee into Molly, who nudges him discretely, but with purpose. She purses her lips and cocks her head toward the gazebo, where their only daughter, Suzanne Jones, is a few words away from becoming Suzanne Merchant. Desmond ignores Molly’s glare. He crosses his legs again.
At the center of the gazebo, Suzanne’s fingertips are perched in the Merchant boy’s left palm. Trembling in the callused, stubby fingers of his right hand is a thin gold band. Though he stands a full head taller than Suzanne, the Merchant boy looks at her from beneath his brow. He licks his lips and clears his throat as he repeats after the reverend. Next to Desmond, Molly wipes her eyes in a single, hurried stroke. Desmond uncrosses his legs and straightens his back. Still no relief.
The gazebo sits atop a slight incline, so that the bride and groom are visible to all in attendance. It is late in the afternoon and the sun is low enough to tint Suzanne’s dress amber. Desmond does not hear the vows as Suzanne speaks them. Around and behind him, he hears women sniff and men cough. He hears two waiters whispering at the clubhouse door fifty yards behind him, and he hears the distant scrape of tree branches in the wind. But when Suzanne—who is standing not ten feet from him—pledges to spend her life with that kind but stupid lump of a man standing in front of her, Desmond can only see her lips move. He looks away.
It is the same garden in which he and Molly were married three decades before, but the decision to use it was not sentimental. It is the most reasonably priced outdoor location in the city.
The Merchant boy kisses his new wife. The guests stand and applaud. Jonathan Jones—Suzanne's brother and the groom’s best man—places two fingers in his mouth and blows a shrill wolf whistle. There are scattered chuckles among the wedding guests. Molly smiles and shakes her head. Desmond's forehead creases. He wonders where his son learned to do something so common.
The bride and groom walk down an aisle formed by parallel rows of marigolds. Today, the flowers look less brilliant to Desmond than they did thirty summers ago. The spaces between them seem wider: rows of dirt interrupted by accidental spots of color. Suzanne beams at her parents as she passes. Molly is wiping her eyes fiercely now, trying to catch her breath. Desmond twists the corners of his mouth upward, hoping his expression does not look as grotesque as it feels.
* * *
Inside the clubhouse there are two dozen circular tables draped in blood-red linens arranged around a small dance floor. Musicians in tuxedos tune their guitars quietly in a distant corner. At the front of the room the wedding party faces their guests from a long rectangular table. Desmond and Molly share a table with their son-in-law’s parents, Richard and Tammy Merchant, who are part-owners of a small, inauthentic Indian restaurant, and as such are the reason that Desmond is eating something called “Tammy’s Tandoor-ific Chicken” at his daughter’s wedding dinner.
Also sitting at their table is a girl named Abby, who has come as Jonathan’s date. After seeing Abby abandoned by Jonathan for the head table, Molly invited the girl to sit with her and Desmond, despite having only met her earlier this afternoon. Abby’s smile is constant, but her eyes betray her terror. Molly casually places her hand on Abby’s and insists that Abby tell her where she has her hair done. Soon enough the two women are shoulder-to-shoulder, and Abby cannot stop giggling as Molly regales her with stories of Jonathan’s troubled adolescence. Desmond, meanwhile, is trapped in a discussion with the elder Merchants about the cheapest, quickest way to prepare mung dahl.
It had not occurred to Desmond that, as the best man, Jonathan would be delivering a toast. So when his son stands at his seat and begins knocking a spoon against his wineglass, Desmond stiffens in his chair. The last time he heard Jonathan give any kind of speech was two summers ago—at his grandfather’s eightieth birthday party—and Jonathan had concluded it with a joke about a man with testicles growing from his forehead. Afterward, Jonathan boasted that the politely received testicle joke “is always a sure thing.” Desmond glances at Mr. and Mrs. Merchant and braces himself for the worst.
The testicle joke, however, never comes. Instead, Jonathan’s remarks are brief and thoughtful. He says he is happy that his friend has become his brother, and notes that love has transformed his sister from someone pretty into someone beautiful. He speaks of romantic love simplistically, but in earnest. He raises his glass to the couple. It is a man’s gesture—one he did not learn from Desmond. The guests applaud. There are no polite chuckles this time.
Desmond notices the elder Merchants smiling at him as they clap. He smiles back and nods. If only a man could love his son as simply as he loves his daughter.
Molly has to wipe her eyes once again. Abby looks at Jonathan in a way that gives Desmond pause. Molly leans over and whispers something in her ear, and Abby turns red. Upon meeting her, Desmond had dismissed Abby as simply a girl with a pretty face. Now he tries to look at her with a young man’s eyes. He thinks that maybe a pretty face is good enough. As a start, at least.
* * *
The band plays all the songs they are expected to play, enthusiastically. Everybody is drunk—Desmond included. Most of the tables are deserted, save the blazers and purses slung over chair backs. Desmond and Molly are among the few sitting. Desmond has had his dance with Suzanne. Molly has waltzed with her son-in-law. She leans into Desmond now, her arm draped over his shoulders. Desmond stares onto the dance floor at the Merchant boy, who leads Suzanne by the hips in an awkward approximation of a two-step.
As the song ends, Suzanne leaves her husband to speak with the bandleader, and then strides across the dance floor toward her parents. She pulls her mother by the arm, pleading for just one song, for old time’s sake. Molly looks genuinely terrified. She tries to refuse, but when the guests see what is happening, and the cheering begins, she relents and steps onto the makeshift stage, her cheeks ablaze. She consults with the band, and clears her throat before approaching the microphone.
She is hesitant for the first few bars of the ballad, and she trembles on the end of each note. Her eyes dart around the room, looking for expressions of derision or embarrassment among the guests. When she finds none, she closes her eyes.
Desmond cannot see the stage from where he is sitting, but by the beginning of the first chorus, he recognizes the woman he married. No one is dancing now. No one ever dances when Molly sings this song. He moves from his table to the far edge of the stage, where he can watch her in profile. There is no trace of anxiety in her voice now. Her hands make small shapes in front of her stomach. Desmond can feel his pulse behind his eyes. He takes quick, shallow breaths. Onstage, Molly’s eyes remain closed.
When the ballad is over, the band moves seamlessly into something more up-tempo, with a syncopated rhythm that makes it impossible for the crowd to stand still. Molly has obviously planned this, and everyone loves her for it. Now people are dancing, and Molly’s eyes are still closed, but she is smiling. Her hands make bigger shapes now, up above her head. She should look ridiculous—the mother of the bride playing at being a rock singer—but she is magnificent; she is something different from anyone here. Desmond’s palms sweat like a criminal’s. He has stolen her from the world, and dressed her up as a grocer’s wife.
Desmond looks to the dance floor, and finds Jonathan singing along to Abby as they dance. Nearby, Suzanne is doing the same to her husband. When they were children, Molly soothed them with this song many times, altering the tempo and melody to accompany Suzanne’s first heartbreak; Jonathan’s endless sprains, cuts, and bruises. When Desmond was laid off from his job just after Suzanne was born, he and Molly laid in bed together, and Molly held his head to her chest and hummed this tune until he fell asleep. When she quit the band to work, so that Desmond could get his business degree, she chose this as her closing number.
During the bridge, when Desmond returns his gaze to center stage, he finds Molly looking back at him. She nods in time with the music, but her brow is knit. She cocks her head. Desmond is desperate to apologize, to offer her a chance to reconsider every compromise she has ever made on his behalf. His jaw works behind closed lips. His eyes water; his vision blurs. Molly glows red, then blue in the rudimentary stage lighting. Desmond loses her for moments at a time as the colored bulbs turn on and off. He needs her to absolve him, but the transposition is only a few bars ahead, and he knows that—even at the risk of ruining a perfect performance—Molly will not sing until he is content. So he smiles, and her look of concern vanishes in time for her to begin the final chorus, and when the song reaches the point where it is supposed to end, instead it goes on.