Sandra Benedetto: The Happiest Day

Meg felt like she should be doing something but she wasn’t sure what. After months of research and spreadsheets, appointments and anticipation, it was strange to think that none of it mattered anymore. Her mom and Richard had loaded up the car with flowers, the card box, and whatever left-behind personalized mints they’d felt like gathering off the empty tables. Her cousin Amy had taken her bouquet for safekeeping, ever the conscientious maid of honor. The last of her friends had hugged goodbye and either promenaded to their hotel rooms or queued up at the taxi stand. Will was . . . where was Will? Maybe in the restroom, or getting one last cocktail at the hotel bar.

The only other people in the vacuous ballroom were the wait staff. They scurried like mice in figure eight patterns between the round tables, stacks of white plates and burgundy linens in their arms. The silence emanating from the dance floor hung its weight around Meg’s shoulders. She settled into it, contemplating the chandeliers and baroque fixtures that probably retained their gilded sheen but did not inspire the same joviality they had in their roaring heyday.

She remembered that her feet hurt and sat down far less carefully than she would have a few hours ago in one of the satin-backed chairs. What had they paid per chair? She guessed it didn’t matter at this point. Peering down to examine the hem of her dress, she was pleased to note that her heroic efforts to keep it from becoming soiled throughout the day had paid off, with only a slight graying and no obvious rips. She started fiddling with a drinking straw, tapping on the top to suck up watery gin, then emptying it onto the tablecloth. That was a trick she hadn’t done in years. As she did, faces and conversations from the hectic day replayed in her mind.

A nail technician at the salon this morning, which seemed like days ago already, gushing about her own wedding day and how she danced so much her feet were bleeding but she didn’t care because it was the most fun she’d ever had. “This will be the happiest day of your life,” she’d said. “Enjoy every second because it goes by so fast.”

Her dad’s friend Peter with an increasingly slurred “Happy wife, happy life” every time he encountered them on the dance floor or in line at the bar. They played along with mirthful laughter but the platitude didn’t mean much to Meg. Nor did the others she’d heard from well-meaning married couples since becoming engaged: Never go to bed angry, Love is all you need, Couples that pray together stay together. It’s not that Meg necessarily saw these as being devoid of truth, but she didn’t like the thought of applying bumper sticker slogans to her marriage.

Amy in the bridal suite before the ceremony, glowing with affection and optimism as she asked Meg, “Are you so happy?”

The aging limo driver who congratulated them drily the way he surely had many couples before them. Meg surprised herself by not at all minding his lack of effusion.

Will on the dance floor, in the first chance they’d had to catch their breath all night as they swayed to “At Last”. She’d said how for her the best part was knowing that even though the wedding would soon be over, the reason for the party didn’t end tomorrow. He’d leaned in and asked, “Aren’t you having fun?” That was just like him. Will had the best intentions but often failed to see the point. Or at least her points, which was all she could attest to firsthand.

Someone dimmed the lights in the ballroom, bringing Meg out of her reverie. It was like a curtain call on her big day. Everyone had played their part in the theatrical production of their marriage: she and her father walking down the aisle on cue, the Greek chorus of congratulatory guests, the stock characters like the nail tech, limo driver, and dinner servers. Although, there was no foil to her and Will as protagonists, no conflict to resolve. Unless, was the world itself their adversary? In that case the wedding was merely an entertaining prelude to a long fourth act in which they would strive to hang onto that shiny memory in the face of life’s mundanities. Maybe their antagonist was happiness, that shape-shifting spirit everyone sought like it was a birthright.

There was a term theater people used when an actor spoke directly to the audience, something about breaking a wall, if she remembered correctly. She felt like doing that now. Talking to an uninvolved party so that she could gain proper perspective on the events of the day. What kind of leading characters were she and Will? What sort of pathos did they inspire? She would ask the audience how she and Will were perceived and what their union meant.

“There you are.” Will’s laudable silhouette emerged from the semi-darkness of the dance floor, sans jacket, bourbon in hand. His voice was intrusive after the long silence. “Can I escort my bride to the honeymoon suite?”

Meg smiled and tilted her face towards his for a kiss. “I just need my purse. I think I left it in the coatroom if you wouldn’t mind getting it for me.”

“Of course.” He squeezed her hand and headed towards the exit.

Meg wanted just one more minute alone in the immense, empty ballroom before the final scene of the happiest day of her life played out upstairs.

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